Where did OT saints go when they died?

Question: “Since Christ had not been crucified in Old Testament times, where did Old Testament saints go when they died?”

Bible Answers

We know today that when a person dies, their body returns to dust, their spirit returns to God (Ecc. 12:7), and their souls goes to heaven or hell in preparation of the Lord’s final judgment after the millennium.  But where did Old Testament Saint’s souls go before the crucifixion of Jesus?

There are two camps of belief.  One camp says that without the blood of Jesus, there can be no forgiveness of sins and God must have provided a place to keep the saints until after Jesus’ crucifixion.  This idea arose in the Middle Ages. Some go further and declare that the place God prepared for the saints must be in hell because of the Rich man in hell and Lazarus someplace else far off but not so far that they could talk (Luke 16:19-31). Assuming that people talking must be close, their must be a way to protect the saints, such as Abraham, from the plagues of hell. When this theory was developed, it was based on man’s physical limits that two could not speak with each other over more than maybe a few hundred feet.  But they forgot the examples of God in the spirit, could talk from heaven.  The Rich man and Abraham where in the spirit and could likely have talk over thousands and millions of miles.

Paradise is not mentioned in the OT but is mentioned three times in the NT (New Testament)  2 Cor. 12:4 tells us that Paul was caught up to Paradise and from Rev. 2:7, we learn that the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God. In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul states that Paradise and Heaven are the same. Paradise is heaven.

They also believe that Ephesians 4:8 demonstrates Christ returning with all the OT saints to heaven. Therefore it is said, When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive and He bestowed gifts on men. But OT saints would not be captives, but rather God’s beloved children.

We see that the theory of Paradise being in hell is predicated on three primary assumptions.  They are:

The other camp maintains from scripture that the same saving faith that believers have in Jesus today, also saved those who believed in the coming Messiah.

The real basis of this conflict is, could Old Testament saints have been forgiven of their sins  before the crucifixion of Jesus and gone to heaven.  If true, then the idea of Paradise in hell has absolutely to basis.  

Did Forgiveness Exist Before Christ

Many people falsely assume that NT believers are saved by grace whereas OT believers were saved by their obedience to the law of Moses and not by grace. However, both the OT and NT clearly teach that everyone who is saved, throughout all history, is saved the same way: by grace, through faith, on account of Christ alone.

In fact, the NT writers argue their case primarily based on OT Scriptures (Romans 1-3). The apostle Paul concludes, Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law (Romans 3:20).

“Forgiveness” is seen 59 times in the OT.  In this way the priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven (Leviticus 4:31).  Forgiveness in the OT is everywhere taken for granted, Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered (Psalm 32:1).  Moses asks God to forgive Israel (Exodus 32:11-14) and Israel sang their prayers for forgiveness as well as singing their thanks for forgiveness received. Job offered burnt offerings for his children in case they had “sinned” (1:5). And the concept of “forgiveness,” was required in disputes among men (Genesis 50:17). Scripture assuredly implies a pardon that must occur if one is to stand before the Holy God, a God who forgives all your sins (Psalm 103:3).

The concept of “forgiveness” comes into full vision under the Mosaic regime. For instance, in the early portion of Leviticus, regarding various sacrifices, Moses records that these offerings were a “sweet savor” to the Lord. As defined: The priest shall burn [the sacrifice] upon the altar for a sweet savor unto Jehovah; and the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).

Atone and atonement are mentioned 69 times in the King James Old Testament and can be defined as: To make us one with God by the taking away our sins.  The Old Testament saints sins where forgiven through ceremonial atonement.

Salvation is mentioned 109 times in the OT and only 49 times in the NT. …he crowns the humble with salvation (Psalm 149:4).  Isaiah 43:25 said, I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Forgiveness and salvation existed before Christ, and are based on what Christ was about to accomplish.

Forgiveness was obtainable under the ministry of John the Baptist before Christ’s crucifixion.  John came, who baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4).

So sins were forgiven before Christ’s death and they were forgiven based on God’s free grace. The coming cross of Christ vindicated God's extending grace to sinners in the OT. The forgiveness was predicated on the future occurrence and sacrifice of Christ.  They had faith in a savior whose name they did not know just as we have faith in the same savior whose name we do know.

The belief that OT saint’s sins were forgiven is clearly supported by scripture. If the sins of OT saints were forgiven by God, then the OT saints would have gone straight to Heaven just like NT saints go straight to Heaven today and there would have been no need or reason for Paradise to have ever been in Hell.

God foreknew that the death of His Son was certain. And on this certainty and His own fidelity to keep His promise of redemption, He could, and did, grant forgiveness to the OT saints of those previous ages. David wrote. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord [heaven] forever (Psalm 23:6).

The psalmist believed his spirit would be with God in the next world. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? (Psalm 73:24-25).              

When Old Testament believers died, they went immediately into the presence of God just as NT believers do today. For example, in Psalm 16:11, the psalmist was anticipating leaving this world and going into the presence of God to find pleasure and fullness of joy forever.  

These early believers listened closely to the words of God as they were revealed by the prophets and the Scripture. As a result, they understood the nature of grace. David, for example, wrote about God’s forgiveness and grace.


Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin (Psalm 32:1-2, 5).

I believe that scripture supports that by God’s grace, that Old Testament saints went directly to heaven based on faith of what Jesus was about to do in the same way we exhibit faith in what Jesus has done.   

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