Before the birth of Jesus, when the souls of all men were under the law, where did their souls go when they died? They had no salvation plan and surely not one of them lived perfectly according to the law. What does the word of God have to say about this?
It is incorrect to say there was no salvation plan before Jesus went to Calvary. God had a salvation plan from the foundations of the world (1 Peter 1:17-21, Revelation 13:8)
There has been a salvation plan ever since Adam and Eve who tried to use fig leaves to cover themselves (Genesis 3:7) after they brought sin and death into the world by disobeying God (Romans 5:12). These fig leaves were man’s way of covering sin. But God rejected their covering and made them a covering of skin. This required God to sacrificing an innocent animal to provide the skin to cover Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21).
Noah offered sacrifice of an innocent animal (Gen 8:20). Job also offered sacrifice in case his sons had sinned in their hearts (Job 1:5). Abraham also offered sacrifice (Gen 22). All of these were before the law was given to Moses. It is clear that God revealed His plan for salvation to the Old Testament saints, a plan that would require a blood sacrifice. Even Abraham knew that the animal sacrifice was just a foreshadowing of the Messiah coming to lay down His life for the salvation of man (Gen 22:14 with John 8:56).
Therefore, everyone in the Old Testament who believed a Messiah would come through the Jewish race to take upon Himself the punishment for sin on our behalf was “saved” when they died.
However, they were not allowed entrance into heaven until Jesus paid the actual price on the cross. The souls of those who died in belief of a coming Messiah went to the comfort of “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22). Those who died in unbelief are sent to a tormenting side of Hades (Luke 16:23). When Jesus died he descended into Hades, preached to the souls who died before the flood, and released those who had been captive (presumably in the area of Hades in the comfort of Abraham’s bosom) and who were waiting for the Messiah (1 Peter 3:18-20, Isaiah 61:1 with Luke 4:18, Ephesians 4:7-10, 1 Peter 1:10-13).
In summary, God did not give the law in order for man to become perfect through obeying it (Romans 3:20, Gal 2:16). Instead, He gave the law to show us how sinful we are and thus try to humble us so we would accept His gift of grace (Gal 3:22-25).
Those who accept this plan are saved. Those who do not are damned. Those who die with belief in Jesus as their savior go directly to heaven now that the debt for sin has been paid. Those who reject God’s sacrifice, and instead try to cover their sin with fig leaves (works) will go to the tormenting side of Hades when they die. Then, in the end of time they will be called up to the throne of God to be judged by their works and sent to the Lake of Fire forever.
Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead [unbelieving dead], small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life [believer in Jesus] was cast into the lake of fire. (NKJ)