Ellet J. Waggoner
The Signs of the Times : March 18, 1886
There is probably no one who gives the matter any consideration, who doubts that the offerings for sin, under the Levitical law, represented the real sacrifice made by Christ; although there are very many who fail to notice that the service performed by the priests was only a type of the real service which is conducted by Christ, our great High Priest, in the true sanctuary in Heaven. The Scriptures give abundant evidence of the fact that the tabernacle built in the wilderness was but a pattern of “the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man;” that the high priest was a type of Christ; and that, in short, the whole service was typical, or figurative.
But here some are liable to make a mistake. Many suppose that because the service of the sanctuary was only figurative, therefore the forgiveness which the sinner is said to have received was also only figurative. The fallacy of this supposition will be apparent if a comprehensive view is taken of the whole subject. It will be remembered that the figurative sanctuary service continued until Christ made the real sacrifice on the cross. Then if the supposition noted were true, it would appear that before the time of Christ no sinner had really been forgiven. But Elijah went to Heaven, and therefore his sins must certainly have been forgiven. David says: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Psalm 32:5. That is positive proof of sins actually pardoned. Therefore we must conclude that sins were pardoned in fact,before the time of Christ.
“But,” asks someone in astonishment, “Is there was any virtue in the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin?” Not at all; neither do we believe that there is any virtue in the ‘mechanical act’ of baptism; yet we are commanded to be baptized as a condition of securing remission of sins. What is it that secures our forgiveness? It is the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 4:25); it is not by the mere act of baptism, but by the faith which is thereby indicated, that we secure pardon for transgressions. So in the case of the man in the Levitical age - he was forgiven, not through any virtue in the blood of the goat or bullock which he offered, but by virtue of his faith in Christ’s sacrifice, which he manifested by offering an animal that typified Christ.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the plan of salvation has not varied in the least since the days of Adam. When man first sinned; then Christ was given as a ransom. It was then that Christ voluntarily offered to die in man’s stead; it was then that God’s love to the world led him to consent to deliver up his only begotten son; it was then that the promise of life through Christ was made to the human race. Now a promise on the part of God is just as sure as a thing that is actually performed; for he cannot lie. And for this reason it is that Christ is said to have been “slain from the foundation of the world.” It made no difference that the death was not accomplished until four thousand years after the fall; from the time the promise was made, forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ was just as certain to the man who repented then as it is today.
Notice the exact parallel between the case of men in the days before Christ and that of those after Christ. They had ceremonies by which they manifested their faith in Christ; and because of this faith they were forgiven. We have ceremonies (as baptism and the Lord’s Supper) by which we manifest our faith in Christ; and because of our faith we obtain the forgiveness of our sins. They looked forward by faith to the time when Christ, according to the promise, should be offered; we look backward to the cross and we see the promise actually fulfilled.
But while their sins were forgiven in fact, they were blotted out only in figure. Even in this the parallel holds good; for the sins of men now living, although forgiven, have not yet been blotted out. The exhortation to us is, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19. And because the way of salvation is uniform throughout and God deals with men in the same way in all ages of the world, we do not like the terms “old dispensation” and “new dispensation;” or “Jewish dispensation” and “gospel dispensation.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, lived in the “gospel age” as well as we. See Galatians 3:8. The gospel is the good news of salvation through Christ, and the patriarchs understood this just as we do. Forgiveness of sins has always been granted immediately upon repentance; and Christ’s blood was of just as much efficacy four thousand years ago as it is today. "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12