Few instincts are more innate to personhood than the desire to be safe. We crave security. If there is a fence, a gate, or a wall, we want to be within it. This is a good instinct.
That is why it is so remarkable that the Son of God left heaven for earth. If ever there was a realm of safety and serenity, it was heaven. Yet Jesus gladly left heaven. He went outside the heavenly city. His ministry continued this pattern. He did not build for Himself a palace. He had “no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). If ever there was a humble way of life, this was it.
But Jesus was not only a pilgrim in life. He was a pilgrim in death. The book of Hebrews interprets His crucifixion in just these terms:
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Heb. 13:12–14)
Jesus gave His body as a “sin offering,” as in the days of the old covenant (Lev. 16:27). The offering for sin made by the high priests was located outside the gates of Jerusalem. This was no lofty place. The setting indicated the awfulness of sin. So, too, was Jesus’ death a lowly ending to His life. He could not die with the respectable and the well-born. He was taken “outside the gate,” forsaken and derided.
God loves to take the despicable and make it beautiful. Through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus, the Father rendered Calvary a place not of desolation but of ultimate triumph. God’s people are made holy by the blood of Christ (v. 12). In coming upon Jesus at Calvary, however, we do not leave Him. In the stirring words of Hebrews, we see Him from a distance, and we “go to him” in order to “bear the reproach he endured” (v. 13).
It is right to seek security and safety in this life. We should build foundations, walls, and roofs. We should protect ourselves and our families. But Hebrews reminds us that we must have an “outside the camp” mind-set. We are called to continually remember that Jesus is our life. Whatever our location, Scripture reminds us that this earth is not our home. We await the “city that is to come,” the new heavens and the new earth (v. 14).
We live in tension between the two cities. Our allegiance, though, is to the heavenly one. Knowing that we are its citizens frees us to endure the scorn of being a Christian. We recognize that persecution was Jesus’ fate long before it was ours. It is part of going outside the camp, as we all must. It is part of suffering with Him.
In bearing the wrath of God, Jesus rendered the wrath of man and the pain of life ultimately ineffective. Even as we travel beyond the gates, we find ourselves strangely at home, with a sense that the best is very much yet to come.