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Let’s return to our theme verses for November in Hebrews 11.
- Hebrews 11:39-40 – And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
The Hebrew writer has taken us on quite a journey. Our look at faith has spanned the entire O.T., reaching all the way back to the first family in Abel, to the later days of the Israel and the prophets. There have always been men and women who have displayed true faith, even in the most difficult circumstances.
The writer would have us consider what these men and women did and did not obtain in the exercise of their faith:
1) They did “obtain a good testimony through faith” – God has commended them here and elsewhere. He does not overlook or despise those who have suffered because of their faith.
2) They “did not receive the promise” – It is interesting to note that the writer had earlier stated that Abraham had received the promise. (Hebrews 6:15 – 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.) There is no contradiction here. Although Abraham was childless when he first received the promise of a prosperous seed, he did not doubt, but endured through faith. When he was 100 years old, Isaac was born. In Isaac, Abraham received the promise. But we know that he did not see the full consummation of God’s promise. So there may have been some elements of God’s promises that these people of faith received in their lifetime. But in its fullest and greatest sense, they “did not receive the promise”. What does this teach us about God’s promise and our faith?
I. The Promise: What promise is under consideration here? Several of the promises of God transcended generations in their fulfillment. Neither Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob saw the fulfillment of God’s promise of the land of Canaan. They were pilgrims all their lives. It was not until the days of Moses that Abraham’s seed became a great nation, and inherited the land under Joshua.
A. The promise spoken of here went far beyond the inheritance of a land or national status. God told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 22:18). This promise of “a seed” became the greatest expectation of God’s people through the ages. The O.T. saints were consistently anticipating the coming of the “Anointed One”, or Messiah.
- The One who was coming was typified as a “prophet like Moses whose voice the people would obey (Deut 18:15)
- He was to be a King like David, whose kingdom would never end (2 Sam. 7)
- He is viewed in Isaiah’s prophecy as the righteous Servant, who will have the Spirit of God upon Him (42:1), and justify many through His suffering (53:11)
- He is the Sovereign King of Daniel’s prophecy; The Righteous Branch of Jeremiah; the Son of Man in Ezekiel; His coming is anticipated in every line of the O.T. Burton Coffman says the promise of Hebrews 11:39 is …”a reference to the Great Promise of true and total redemption in the true and only seed of Abraham, which is Christ. Faithful as the ancient heroes were, the fullness of time had to arrive before they could obtain THAT promise.” (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)
1. Paul confirms the identity of this promise received by Abraham through faith. Gal 3:8 – And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” Gal 3:16 – 6 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.
2. God’s people in the O.T. received His approval (good testimony) because they trusted in God’s words, even when there was no apparent fulfillment in sight. True faith has the courage to count on salvation. These faithful ones had abiding confidence that one day God would do what He promised and send a Redeemer and Savior. Their faith was not in some immediate fulfillment, but in the ultimate fulfillment of the promises
- 1 Peter 1:10-12 – 10 Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven — things which angels desire to look into.
3. Sometimes their faith saved them from death; sometimes it brought them death. No matter. They knew that God had provided something better. The Hebrew writer is giving the 1st century Christian’s real encouragement. If those who came before retained their faith, despite not having seen the coming of Christ, how can those who live after He has come turn away in unbelief?
II. “Something Better for Us” God has provided this “something better” for us. This statement points to three important elements of our salvation in Christ.
- Without the revelation of the New Covenant, the faith of those who lived before would be incomplete.
- Without Christ’s atoning work on the cross, no one could be saved.
- All of God’s people share in the blessings of Christ through faith. There is one Church.
A. Throughout the book of Hebrews the key word has been “better” (13 times). To those who were tempted to return to the Law of Moses or place their confidence in the sacrificial system of Judaism, the writer has said, “God has provided something better for us” – What was better was Christ.
1. Jesus is the better and final Messenger. Hebrews 1:1-4 – 1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
a. He goes on to teach that Jesus is superior to Mose and Joshua. (Heb 3:3 – For this One has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house. )
2. Jesus is the better High Priest. He is superior to Aaron, the High Priest of the law of Moses – Heb 4:14 – Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
a. What a blessing it is to have Jesus as our High Priest. Heb 7:22-28 – so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. 23 Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. 24 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. Jesus’ sacrifice was faultless. There is no need for another to “follow up” on what He has done.
B. The perfect and “better” work of Christ is the basis on which the Hebrew writer can affirm that those who were faithful in the past were “not made perfect apart from us”. There was nothing that the first century saints did of themselves that completed the faith of the patriarchs and prophets. But what had happened in their time (time of Christ) made salvation possible and faith effective. Until Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was accomplished, no salvation was complete, no matter how great the faith a believer may have had. Their salvation was based on what Christ would do; ours is based on what Christ has done. Their faith looked forward to promise; ours looks back to historical fact. Read these verses with me:
- Eph 1:9-10 – having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ,
- 1 Peter 1:20-21 – He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
- Hebrews 9:15 – And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
- Hebrews 10:1 – For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.
- Hebrews 10:4 – For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
- Hebrews 10:19-23 – 19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
III. Solidarity in Christ: These verse draw an amazing and exciting conclusion concerning these phenomenal characters of faith. They are perfected in Christ with us. They are not perfected apart from us (as those who live after Christ); and by implication we are not perfected apart from them. God determined to save us all in Christ.
A. In Ephesians Paul says that God has “raised us up together to sit in heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). I believe that this is another way of saying that God has given us a stake in what has happened and is happening in spiritual realms we cannot see.
B. Later Paul says in Eph. 3:8-12 – To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. God intended to show His manifold wisdom through His one church (all the saved). There are many places to see the power and wisdom of God. But no place is it more evident that in His church. His plan to save all through Christ did not fail.
C. All those who have lived by faith are made complete in Christ’s work.
- Col 1:19-22 – 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight —
- Gal 3:9 – So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
- In the only place in the book of Hebrews where the word “church appears, the author has in mind this one assembly finally made perfect in Christ – Hebrews 12:22-24 – 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel
Conclusion: What will it be like to get to heaven and meet the people we have been studying about all year – Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Jepthah, Rahab, David, Daniel, and all those who lived by faith? What will we talk about? What will be on our minds? There is a hi not the answer in a N.T. event. When Jesus was miraculously transfigured on the mountain , Luke 9:30-31 tells us, “And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Moses and Elijah wanted to talk to Jesus about Calvary. Everything depended on it. In fact, the verse describes Jesus’ death as an accomplishment. It was the something better that had been coming for a long time. Every saved person shares in it. Do you? If you have faith in Christ today, where will it lead you?
- Acts 2:41 – Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
- Gal 3:26-29 – 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.