Today we begin to study one of the most well-known and beloved passages in the book of Hebrews, if not the entire New Testament. Hebrews 11 gives us a roll call of the faithful saints of the old covenant — saints who persevered in faith throughout their lives despite never receiving the ultimate promises of God while they lived (11:13).
Since the book of Hebrews was written in order to encourage perseverance, this point is important in our study of this chapter even though we will not discuss verse 13 for several days. Remember that the original audience was persecuted for professing faith in Christ. Many of them considered returning to the old covenant so as to avoid persecution. They thought that they could be true to God and to the witness of the old covenant saints if they made such a return.
However, nothing could have been further from the truth. The original audience was living in the latter days after the incomplete revelation of the old covenant had been completed by the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, the Lord Jesus Christ (chaps. 1–7). This Jesus inaugurated the new covenant and did away with ineffectual animal sacrifices by the perfect sacrifice of Himself (8:1–10:18).
Living in the latter days requires faithfulness to the Lord of the new covenant. It means bearing the name of Christ publicly even if it brings us reproach (vv. 19–34). We cannot do this, however, without the faith that preserves our souls (vv. 35–39).
Today’s passage defines this faith for us. This faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Persevering faith is a firm confidence in God and all of His promises. It is a persuaded trust that God will be true to His Word. This faith is not something that we conjure up ourselves. We have this faith only if God first gives it to us (Eph. 2:8). As Owen says, the faith spoken of in Hebrews 11:1 is “the faith that is not of ourselves but God’s work, with which all true believers are endowed from above.”
This is the kind of faith the old covenant saints were commended for (v. 2). It was a persevering faith that endured despite never having received what was promised (v. 13). We will discuss this idea more in the coming weeks, especially as we consider how, in some, but not all, ways, we still wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled.