Occasionally, I am asked about how people in the OT received eternal life. Unfortunately, even Free Grace people will sometimes say that OT people were eternally saved by the OT sacrifices, or by keeping the Law of Moses, or simply by believing in the God of Israel in some very general sense. But eternal salvation has always been by grace through faith. Paul says this was the case with Abraham, and that he is an example for all who were saved in the OT (Rom 4:1-4). All these people believed in the coming Christ, who would bring in an eternal kingdom. Abraham was promised that the Christ would be a descendant of his, and Abraham believed it.
An issue related to that is the salvation of Gentiles in the OT. How were they saved? Many would say that none of them ever heard about the coming Christ. But that is not true.
It is true that the OT was written for the Nation of Israel. It is not surprising, then, that the OT does not give much information about God’s reaching out to Gentile nations with the message of the coming Christ. But there are examples showing that the Jews did, indeed, spread that message to surrounding nations.
One such example is found in 2 Kgs 20:12-13. Hezekiah, the king of Judah, was a very righteous man who pleased the Lord. The Lord blessed him. The author of 2 Kings has very high praise for Hezekiah because of his faithfulness to the Lord (18:3-8).
One of God’s blessings in response to Hezekiah’s faithfulness was that He delivered Judah from the hand of the king of Assyria when he threatened Judah with his army. Assyria was the dominant military power of the world, and God miraculously killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers.
When Hezekiah fell deathly ill, the Lord miraculously saved his life and told him he would live for fifteen more years. In both cases, God did what He did because Hezekiah prayed to Him and relied on the Word of God as delivered by the Prophet Isaiah. Hezekiah knew well the promises God had made, including the covenant He had made with David. This covenant included the promise of the coming Christ, who would reign forever (2 Samuel 7; 2 Kgs 19:34; 20:6).
After God had performed these miracles for Judah and Hezekiah, the word of what had happened naturally spread to the surrounding nations. They too were threatened by Assyria and would have been pleased about what the God of Israel had done to the Assyrians in Judah. In the east, another nation, Babylon, was rising to power and was fighting against Assyria. A mighty prince from Babylon traveled to Judah to see whether Hezekiah would ally with Babylon against Assyria.
This was completely logical. Judah was a nation that had defeated Assyria in battle. The prince of Babylon and all those who traveled from Babylon with him had heard about how God had blessed Hezekiah and his people (2 Chron 32:31). They knew that Hezekiah’s God had miraculously saved his life (2 Kgs 20:12). What better ally could they have? Maybe they could benefit from the power that Hezekiah and his people had experienced.
As these foreign leaders spent time with Hezekiah, what did Hezekiah tell them? Did he explain to them how his small army had defeated the mighty Assyrians? Did he tell them of the Word of God spoken to Isaiah and the promise made to the nation that one day the Son of David would rule in Jerusalem over an eternal kingdom? Did he explain that his victory over Assyria and his miraculous healing were accomplished because he was a son of David who believed what God had said?
The OT does not record these conversations, but can there be any doubt that the answer to these questions is “yes”? These foreign leaders wanted to know the secret of all of these remarkable events. They saw that Hezekiah was a picture of health after having been deathly ill. They knew that their mortal and mighty enemy, Assyria, had been severely weakened because of what happened in Judah, even though Judah’s army was insignificant (2 Kgs 18:23). How did such wonders happen?
Hezekiah was a righteous king who relied on the Word of God. He would have told these men what God had said and done. They would have returned to Babylon and told many others the things they had heard and seen. They surely knew about the God of Israel and His promise of a coming King.
We don’t know how many of those who heard believed what Hezekiah had said. There was ample evidence that he spoke the truth—it was right before their eyes. But one thing we do know: The message of the coming Christ surely went out to the nations.