Abraham Believed in Jesus

A few months ago I was sitting late one night deep in theological discussion with another pastor (which, believe it or not, is a rarity for me). Somehow we had gotten from the outright heresy of Oneness theology (i.e. denying the Trinity) to election and the nature of faith, and then from that onto the question of the unevangelised. (I’m convinced that the only response to the question of the unevangelised is to evangelise – to preach Christ to them.) Now my friend and I have our differences, but we’re both conservative evangelical pentecostals. As I was lamenting the arguments of some of a new wave of, shall we say, less conservative Pentecostals who say that explicit faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation, my friend suddenly stopped me and said, ‘But Abraham was saved without explicit faith in Christ.’

Needless to say, the night went on much, much later, for while my friend was adamant that Abraham was saved by faith in God, I was adamant that Abraham was saved by faith in Christ. I may not have succeeded in convincing my friend that night (it got very late and we had to get up early for a day of meetings, so we had to call it a day), but let me at least attempt to persuade you now.

1) Abraham saw Christ’s day

Jesus said that Abraham saw His day, rejoiced and was glad (John 8:56). Those who were listening to Him at that time knew exactly what that meant, for they immediately reacted by saying, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ (John 8:57). They knew that for Abraham to have seen Christ’s day, then Christ would have had to have seen Abraham back then in Abraham’s day. For Abraham to see Christ’s day doesn’t just mean that Abraham was looking forward to some far-future day when God would bring salvation to His people. No. For Abraham to see Christ’s day meant Abraham seeing Christ who brought to him salvation. 

This whole exchange ended with those who heard Jesus taking ‘up stones to throw at Him’ (John 8:59). Why? Not simply because he has linked himself to a, for Abraham, far-distant day of God’s salvation, but because He has said that He is the eternal One who was before Abraham (John 8:58), that He is the I AM (John 8:58), that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that He is the God who appeared to Abraham and brought Him salvation (John 8:56). For Abraham to see Christ’s day and be glad was for Abraham to trust in Christ and know His salvation.

2) Abraham was justified by faith in Christ

How was Abraham saved? Abraham ‘believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6). We know that verse well, as the New Testament picks it up in Romans 4:3, 4:22, Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23. But perhaps we tend to think of it as a New Testament quotation rather than in its Old Testament context. In the New Testament quotations we’re told that Abraham believed God, and given the way we tend to talk about believing in God, maybe we subtly translate that into a general belief in the Godhead. 

But the Old Testament actually uses the name of God. Abraham ‘believed in the LORD’, he trusted in YHWH. This isn’t a general belief in the Godhead, but a personal trust in the One whom he knew as the LORD. And if we zoom out a bit in the Old Testament context, we see exactly who this LORD is.

Genesis 15 starts off by telling us that ‘the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision’ (Gen. 15:1). The Word comes. Abraham sees the Word. And the Word speaks. And the Word says to Abram that He (the Word) is Abram’s ‘shield [and] exceedingly great reward’ (Gen. 15:1). Abram responds by calling the Word ‘Lord GOD’ (Gen. 15:2). Again in verse 4 we’re reminded that it is the Word of the LORD who is speaking, yet this Word of the LORD says ‘I am the LORD’ in verse 7. And right in the middle of all this speaking by the Word of the LORD who is the LORD and whom Abraham calls the Lord GOD, we find our famous verse, Genesis 15:6 – ‘And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.’

So who is this LORD in whom Abraham believes? It is the Lord GOD to whom he is speaking. It is the One who says to Abraham ‘I am the LORD’. It is the Word of the LORD. And just in case we’re a bit confused about who the Word of the LORD is, John clears that up for us in the first chapter of His Gospel; the Word of the LORD is Jesus.

So it’s not just a general belief in the Godhead that Abraham has here in Genesis 15, but a personal trust in Jesus the LORD, who is the Word of the LORD.

3) Abraham’s Faith is set forth as an example for our Faith

The reason why Genesis 15:6 is such a well-known verse, quoted so many times in the New Testament, is because the New Testament sets forth Abraham’s faith as an example or model for our faith. Romans 4 makes this clear:

Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:23-25)

But doesn’t that talk about faith in the Father, rather than faith in Jesus. No, not at all. It talks about faith in the Father of Jesus, the Father who raised Jesus. It’s faith in the Father who is only the Father in connection with the Son. So this isn’t talking about a general belief in the Godhead, but a belief in the Triune God. And that includes explicit faith in Jesus (which is why Paul goes on to write verse 25 about what Jesus has done).

Now, if Abraham’s faith is supposed to be a model or example for us of the faith through which we’re justified, then it must be the same sort of faith as the faith through which we’re justified. If we’re justified through faith in Jesus (who reveals the Father), but Abraham through general belief in the Godhead, then how could his faith possibly be a model for ours? It would be a completely different thing altogether.

4) There is no other way to the Father, except through Jesus

Jesus said: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6). He didn’t say that from now on He would be the way, but that in the past there used to be some other way. No! Jesus has always been the only way to the Father – even way back in the days of Abraham (and before). As John 1:18 tells us: ‘No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.’ Jesus is the revelation of God and Jesus is the salvation of God, and that has always been true and will always be true.