Thursday, September 29, 2022
The opening verse of this chapter sets forth the premise of what is to follow: “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (v. 1). The author will go through no less than 10 explicit individuals, and mentioning a list of several more, who exhibited faith in their life. And then the chapter concludes by saying “All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us” (vv. 39-40).
The chapter’s conclusion draws together the litany of exemplary witnesses by tying it to the faith that they share with the audience. And while the exemplars of old had not received the promise, it was by no fault of their own, but it was determined beforehand by God that in his grace, he planned for “something better” to be available to the readers that was not available in the past to all those faithful witnesses that were mentioned. And that “something better” was “to be made perfect” (v. 40).
Now, to modern readers the idea of being made perfect might not be the same as the biblical idea of being made perfect. In Hebrews, the idea of “perfection” entails the definitive forgiveness and putting away of sin, purification and consecration to God, and glorification (i.e., resurrection). And so, to be “made perfect” refers ultimately to eschatological salvation that is bestowed on the worshiper through the high priestly ministry of Christ (cf. 10:14).
But let’s think for a moment, why does the author need to go to such a great length throughout the chapter to simply demonstrate that believers prior to the new covenant did not receive what was promised? Why make the emphasis so extravagant?
One reason for the author’s inclusion of such a long description of exemplars of the faith is to celebrate those who stood with faith looking forward to the promise, but yet not receiving it in their lifetime. The testimony of all these witnesses is that “Faith holds onto the promise, even when the evidence of harsh reality impugns its integrity, because the one who promised is himself faithful” (William Lane, Hebrews [WBC], 395).
I think we have all probably dealt with times when we are holding on to faith, but it doesn’t seem like anything is happening or changing, and we didn’t actually get to see the outcome of our faith. This is what it was like for the believers in the old covenant who looked forward to the coming Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise. But we don’t have to look forward since Messiah has already come and has begun to fulfill what God promised.
Therefore, while we have not been “made perfect” yet to the fullest extent of what God has planned for those who trust in him, in Christ we have the definitive sacrifice for sin, the cleansing of our conscience, and a taste of the powers of the age to come. Let us continue to hold fast to our faith in hope of what God has promised that is yet to come: resurrection and final victory over the power of death, so that those who stood by faith before us can also be made perfect with us in God’s coming kingdom.
- What encouragement do you gain from reading of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11?
- Which heroes of the faith are you most looking forward to being with when we together receive God’s promise and reward at the resurrection and coming Kingdom? Why?