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Wilderness Generation Saved?
Destiny of Old Testament Faithful   

"I Found It"

Many of us grew up with black-and-white thinking regarding our salvation and those around us who either had it or did not have it. We even resorted to gimmicks to share our faith. I remember the yellow buttons we wore in the mid 1970's that read, "I Found It". Theoretically, strangers might ask us what we had found, and then we would have an occasion to explain our faith. But, many of our astute Jewish neighbors responded by wearing buttons that said, "I never Lost It"! Good point. It has become an even more provocative point as we have matured in our faith.

Disciplined or Unsaved?

Is it possible that Paul viewed the Exodus wilderness generation of Israelites as mostly "regenerate" or saved from hell even though they were disobedient and suffered severe discipline for their misconduct?

Dillow points out,
"With warnings from Israel's history, he [Paul] admonishes the Christians at Corinth that they face the possibility of sin unto physical death just as the believing, regenerate nation of Israel did. He addresses this warning to 'brothers' (10:1) in whose lives God can work and give them a way out of every trial (10:13). These 'dear friends' are urged to flee idolatry (10:14). That the wilderness generation is similarly viewed by Paul as mostly regenerate is indicated by the fact that he says they experienced God's leading (v. 1); they were baptized unto Moses (v.2); and they 'ate' and 'drank' of Jesus Christ (v. 4). These phrases are used elsewhere of regenerate people (John 6:55-56)."
(2012, 534).

Covered by the Blood

We need to remember that the Exodus Israelites had just fled Egypt where they had spread blood on their doorposts to escape the angel of death who killed all of the firstborn throughout Egypt (Ex. 12:7; 27). Only those who had been covered by the blood of a firstborn lamb on their doorposts were spared.

Shadows and Types

This is what scholars call "shadows," a "type" or a "model" of Christ's sacrifice. In other words, the Jews of the Old Testament were actually trusting in the Messiah and His redemptive work even though much was hidden from them. Thus, we find atonement ordinances throughout the Old Testament. When Jesus appeared He fulfilled the substance and reality of those very atonement practices. His sacrifice was of a trans-historical nature…"to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; Hebrews 13:20).

Paul even explains that New Testament saints are like branches being grafted into the original tree whose "root is the Abrahamic covenant that promised blessing to both Jew and Gentile through Christ" (Ryrie Study Bible, Romans 11).

Paul's Old Testament Typology

The Old Testament illustrations are frequently used in the New Testament; they are clearly meant for present day Christians. For instance, Paul explains some of those parallels in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 ,

"For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved."

Bread and Wine

Jesus identified Himself as the Exodus Jew's "manna", the "bread which came down out of heaven" in John 6:55-58:

"For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever."

Serpent on a Pole

Not only that, but Jesus identified Himself as the bronze serpent on the pole that Moses held up before the children of Israel in the wilderness. Deadly serpents had bitten and killed many of them because of their sins. Missler explains,
"In response to Moses prayer for the people, God instructed Moses to set up a bronze serpent on a pole, and everyone who looked upon it would live." Jesus himself clearly identified the serpent on a pole as a "type" or model of himself hanging on the cross:

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" - John 3:14, 15.

In fact, this would occasion the most well-known verse in the Bible:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life - John 3:16."

(Missler, Chuck. 2006. The Brazen Serpent. khouse.org)

The Promised Land and the Millennium

It is notable that only two leaders from at least two million ancient Israelites, Joshua and Caleb, plus those under age 20, actually entered into the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the desert. It should have taken them only eleven days to reach the Promised Land!

Temporal Realities

But, was the Promised Land "heaven"? Or, is it a "type" of the heaven to come? Yes and no. It was a temporal,, earthly place for victorious Jewish conquerors and their obedient families. Had they closely followed the Lord's guidelines and laws they might have rested from their years of hardship in the harsh desert. They would have built permanent homes and thrived in a "land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 33:3).


We tend to fix blame upon the errant, disobedient ancient Israelites. But, In a parallel world to our own, all believers may look forward to the Millennium, or the thousand-year kingdom reign of Christ. This will occur when Jesus returns to earth to set up His kingdom and clean up mankind's mess after the ghastly tribulation period. Note that the earthly kingdom occurs prior to the "new heavens and new earth" and the "New Jerusalem" promised in Revelation 21 and 22.

Millennium and Beyond

In fact, the angel told Mary, the mother of Jesus, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:32-33). Jesus will return to a literal earth and assume control of a literal kingdom. After the thousand year reign Christians may be involved in ruling over the new earth or beyond in a new universe for eternity.

Coming Soon

At any rate, all of this may happen sooner than we think. Peoples of Hebrew descent are already being regathered from among the nations to form the completed nation of Israel as prophesied in Isaiah 11:11. Then, following the complete establishment of Israel and the last individual to be converted, Jesus will return again (Romans 11:25).

The future millennium will be a time of great peace, joy and comfort for all living on the earth at that time (Micah 4:2; Isa. 32:17; Isa. 40: 1-2; Isa. 61:7). The parallels to the Promised Land are abundant. However, they are most meaningful to those who believe in the reality of the future Millennium and who believe that the ancient Promised Land was a literal, physical place. Those who tend to allegorize Scripture lose the richness and joy of finding such treasures throughout the Bible.

Divine Discipline

The apostle Paul had many things to say about the coming kingdom ruled by Jesus Christ. For example, Paul continues to warn Christians that they must pray for a misbehaving brother so that he may not lose an "abundant" life in the Millennium. In other words, how Christians behave today will clearly affect their future roles and position in the kingdom. Paul explained that some of the first-century carnal Corinthians who had come to the Lord's table were weak and sick and a number had died (1 Cor. 11:30).

Dillow highlights the fact that,
"The brother in 1 Corinthians who was caught in adultery with his stepmother, was turned over to Satan 'for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.' No doubt, Ananias and his wife Sapphira, regenerate members of the early church, experienced the sin unto physical death when they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). There are, then, ample biblical parallels to justify the doctrine of the sin unto physical death"
(2012, 534).

This is also what happened to the wilderness generation. Paul points to the Corinthian church and warns us against committing the same sins as the ancient Israelites. We are not to set our hearts on evil things as they did. We are not to be lured into sexual immorality. We are not to grumble, complain or test the Lord.

Sin Leading to Death

What is the danger if we fail? We can commit a sin leading to death, just as our Exodus brothers did! As Dillow points out,
"The final consequence of protracted carnality is forfeiture of reward and stinging rebuke when the King returns to establish His rule. No tragedy could be greater than for the Christian, saved by grace and given unlimited possibilities, to forfeit all these blessings and fail to participate in the future reign of the servant kings."

…"The recovery of the carnal Christian requires that he 'repent' (2 Cor. 7:10; Rev. 2:5). Elsewhere this repentance is called confession (1 John 1:9)." Repentance and confession is pivotal and key to leading a full life here and in the future."

"While some say that Christians do not need to confess, that God takes no notice of our sins because they are buried in the sea of forgetfulness, the Bible seems to say otherwise. …" To clarify, there are two kinds of forgiveness in the New Testament. One pertains to our eternal salvation (justification by faith), and the other to our temporal fellowship with the Father"
(Dillow 2012, 535).

Therefore, it is clear that the pattern of temporal discipline is taught in both the Old and New Testaments. Of course, temporal discipline does not equate with being sent to hell. The Bible teaches that God loves and instructs those whom He disciplines as sons (Heb. 12:6).

In fact, we know that the beloved leader of the wilderness Israelites, Moses, was not permitted to enter the Promised Land. Dear, faithful Moses was kept out! That is because he brought water to the thirsty by "striking" the rock rather than "speaking" to it as God had instructed. Missler explains,
"Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that the rock was Christ (speaking idiomatically). There were two episodes with the rock; in the first one, the rock was smitten and they benefited with living water; the second rock was not supposed to be smitten. If Moses had done what God told him, these rock incidents would have modeled the first and second comings of Jesus Christ" (2002, 61).

Yet, we still see Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration talking to Jesus about His Second Coming (Matt. 17:1-13). We also see Moses in the New Testament "Hallmark of Faith," chapter 11 of Hebrews. There he is listed with the venerated saints of the Old Testament.

One Plan of Salvation

Venerated saints of both the Old and New Testaments were always saved by the blood of the lamb. Before they left Egypt the Israelites sacrificed a lamb without spot or blemish and applied its blood to the doorposts of their houses. God promised, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you" (Exodus 12:13).

MacArthur posits the following:
"Did Abraham really believe in Christ? …John 8:56, 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day and he saw it and was glad.' Could it have been that in the occasion with Isaac God gave him some personal instruction that taking Isaac and laying him on the altar and then providing a ram out of the thicket as a substitute, could God have given him the full theological lesson of substitutionary atonement by a provision that God Himself would bring? And then that God would raise that one from the dead, as Abraham believed He would have done in Isaac's case if he had taken his life?"… (2009, 17).

The Lord always provided a substitute where one life was given in place of another. There was always one plan of salvation, not one for the Jews and one for the Christians. Dispensationalists sometimes err when they teach the Old Testament "time of the law" and New Testament "time of grace." There was one plan of salvation based on the Lord Jesus Christ who is "the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). No one, Christian or Jew, has ever been saved other than by grace, through faith. It was always based on a blood sacrifice.

Unity of Redemptive History

The organic unity of redemptive history transcends all time.

"For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works; 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account'" (Romans 4:3-8


Benjamin, Jerry. 1994. What is the first indication of turning away from God? Little Nuggets Series. Elm, PA: Executive Printing.

Benware, Paul. 2002. The believer's payday. Chattanooga, TN: AMG.

Dillow, Joseph. 2012. Final destiny: the future reign of the servant kings. Monument, CO: Paniym Group.

MacArthur, John. 2009. Abraham: The Old Testament pattern of saving faith, part 4. May 09. Sermon transcript #80-349 . Available from gty.org.

Missler, Chuck. 2002. Learn the Bible in 24 hours. Chattanooga, TN: Nelson.

New Jerusalem artwork by Duncan Long. Artwork used with permission of the artist. See Mr. Long's stunning paintings at duncanlong.com.

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