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Hebrews 11:39–40

“All these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

Saving faith, according to Hebrews 11:1–38, takes God at His word of promise and believes that He will keep it even when this word is all that one can rely on. Moreover, it looks forward, anticipating the day when the Lord visits His people with salvation.

The old covenant saints mentioned in Hebrews 11 had such faith, and the author’s use of them is particularly important given the original context of his epistle. After all, many in the original audience of the letter were tempted to go back to old covenant ways in order to escape persecution for their testimony to Christ. They would have held the old covenant men and women of faith in great esteem, thinking that they could continue in their faith by leaving Jesus. Yet, the author’s point in Hebrews 11 is that this would be impossible. The hope of the Old Testament saints never lay in the earthly blessings conveyed by the old covenant. Those saints looked beyond that covenant to something better, to something everlasting (vv. 13–16). Jesus brought this new, everlasting covenant.

Today’s passage makes that point one last time in Hebrews 11 by reminding readers that the Old Testament examples of faith never received what was promised. God would not give it to them apart from us. Apart from us, they would not be perfected in the full enjoyment of God forever (vv. 39–40). Thus, the author of Hebrews explains that the person and work of Christ constitute the something better for which the old covenant saints hoped and believed (see 10:14). To leave Jesus, therefore, would not be to return to the faith of the old covenant saints but to join a religion devoid of God’s promises and power. Jesus fulfilled Old Testament Judaism. There is no hope for anyone who attempts to walk in the footsteps of the old covenant saints apart from faith in Christ.

Under the new covenant, faith has a future-oriented aspect as well. Jesus has initiated the renewal of all things, but He has not yet brought it to completion. We await the appearance of Christ a second time to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him to usher in the new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells (9:28; 2 Peter 3:13). Yet, we remain in a better position than the old covenant saints, having seen with clarity the ministry of Jesus and having heard fully about the nature of our redemption. God purposed not to perfect the old covenant saints apart from us, and He perfects us—and them—only in and through Christ.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Calvin comments, “If [the old covenant saints] on whom the light of grace had not as yet so brightly shone displayed so great a constancy in enduring evils, what ought the full brightness of the Gospel to produce in us?” Given the richness of the salvation we now enjoy, including the full revelation of the saving work of Jesus, we have no excuse for falling away. We are in a better position, with all the more reason to hold on to the end.

For Further Study
  • Isaiah 65:17–25
  • Micah 4:1–5
  • Matthew 13:17
  • Acts 3:19–20

The Faith of Many

Running the Race of Faith

Keep Reading Christian Discourse

From the August 2020 Issue
Aug 2020 Issue