Salvation First Mention
(When does the Bible first mention salvation?)
Question: Where is it first mentioned in the Bible about salvation? What is the Scripture?
Answer: Interesting question. And before we look for an answer, let me make several points to lay a foundation.
1) God’s revelation was progressive. That is, century by century, more was revealed about a particular subject–whether it was faith, prayer, the coming of Christ, or this subject of salvation. More and more is explained as we go along through the Scriptures.
That being so, it’s not until we get into Acts and the epistles (on this side of the cross, in other words) that the fullest explanation is given about how God saves lost sinners, and what the Lord Jesus did for us at Calvary.
The Old Testament saints couldn’t put their faith in the death of Christ, since He hadn’t come and died yet. They could only believe what God had revealed at that time.
The great prophetic puzzle, that continued to baffle believers until after the Lord’s resurrection, was how Christ (the Messiah) could come and rule in glory forever, if He also had to die (cf. Isa. 53:9). Christ’s death on the cross seemed like a great defeat (Lk. 24:20-21), but of course it wasn’t.
The prophets of olden times "inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you" (I Pet. 1:10). To them, "He [the Holy Spirit] testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (vs. 11). They wrote what God revealed to them, but didn’t fully understand it. Apparently, even the angels didn’t know the full story, as we now comprehend it (vs. 12).
2) In saying more is revealed about salvation, as we go through the Bible, I want to be very clear that this does not mean that the basic method of salvation changed. Salvation has always been by grace, through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
It is God’s gift to us, given by His unearned favour, and received through the individual’s faith in Him. It is "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Tit. 3:5).
When the Lord promised Abraham that a mighty nation would come from him (Gen. 15:5), we’re told that "he believed in the Lord and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (vs. 6). That is, God credited righteousness to Abraham’s heavenly account in response to his faith.
In the New Testament, Paul uses this as an evidence that salvation has always been by grace, not by works (Rom. 4:3). "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (vs. 4-5).
3) There’s another thing that has always been the same. If we were to be saved, rescued from eternal condemnation and ruin, an innocent substitute had to die in our place. Each sacrificial animal that was slain in the Old Testament was, in effect, an innocent substitute, dying in place of the guilty.
When the offerer laid his hand upon the sacrifice (Lev. 1:4), it was a way of identifying himself with it, a way of saying, "This animal is innocent; I’m the one that sinned, but it is dying in place of me."
If that was done in faith, God accepted the sacrifice and forgave the sins of the people. "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul" (Lev. 17:11).
However, the Bible clearly teaches that it was impossible for an animal to pay for the sins of a man in any full and final sense.
The fact that sacrifices had to be offered again and again indicates they weren’t the final answer (Heb. 10:1-4). But God accepted the sacrifices, offered in faith, and forgave the sins of the offerer, because He knew what was to come. Each sacrifice was a picture, a foreshadowing, pointing forward to what the Lord Jesus would do one day.
He is our innocent Substitute, "the Lamb of God" (Jn. 1:29), the full and final sacrifice for sins (I Pet. 1:18-19). "He Himself is the propitiation [the full satisfaction of God’s justice] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (I Jn. 2:2).
The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross was sufficient to pay for all sins. All that is needed now is for each individual to believe on Him, accepting His death as paying for his or her sins (Jn. 3:16; Acts 16:30-31).
4) Another thing–that may seem rather obvious. Salvation was only needed when sin entered the picture. Until the fall, until Adam and Eve sinned (Gen. 3:6; cf. 2:17), they had no need of a Saviour. However, God is able to see the end from the beginning. He knew what would happen, long before it did.
Because of this omniscient foresight, He planned for His Son to be a sacrifice for sin, even before sin became a reality in Eden. Christ is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). "He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you" (I Pet. 1:20; cf. Eph. 1:3-4).
5) Now we get to the answer to your question. The first hint of a coming Saviour is found in Genesis 3:15, when God declared that one day a descendant of the woman ("her Seed") would crush the head of the serpent (Satan). This is a very preliminary promise, and its meaning only becomes clear as God’s revelation unfolds, but it is the gospel in embryo.
And right away the principle of the death of an innocent substitute is introduced. In order to cover our first parents with animal skins (Gen. 3:21), the animals had to shed their blood and die. This theme is carried into the next chapter, where Abel offers a lamb as a sacrifice to God (Gen. 4:4). Later, we’re told that Abel presented his offering in faith (Heb. 11:4).
6) As far as the actual words "saved" and "salvation," they are almost always used in the Old Testament of physical deliverance, rather than spiritual and eternal salvation. For example, when Moses told the Israelites at the Red Sea to "stand still and see the salvation of the Lord" (Exod. 14:13), he was speaking of God’s rescue from the hands of the Egyptians.
The focus on this kind of "saving" is understandable, given the nature of God’s promises to Israel. They mostly concerned His material blessings of the people in the Promised Land. We can think of Israel as God’s earthly people, and the church born at Pentecost as His heavenly people (cf. Phil. 3:20).
Having said that, however, the Old Testament saints certainly did believe in a life of blessing in the presence of the Lord, after death, which means they also saw the eternal aspect of His salvation. "Israel shall be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation" (Isa. 45:17).
¤ Thus Job (who likely lived around the time of Isaac or Jacob) could look forward to the resurrection, when he would stand in the presence of the Lord (Job 19:25-26).
¤ David looked forward to dwelling in the house of the Lord forever (Ps. 23:6), and he wrote, "In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11).
¤ Another psalmist wrote, "God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me" (Ps. 49:15).
As I said at the beginning, God’s revelation was progressive. A full understanding of this subject too is unfolded more and more, mostly in the New Testament. Today we can rejoice in the full revelation of God's plan and share it with a needy world.
Today the message is: "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (I Cor. 15:3). "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). "This is the testimony: that God has give us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (I Jn. 5:11).