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Hebrews 6 - The Better Way of Faith (10:19 - 12:39)

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Also available:

Introduction
1: Superior Revelation (1:1-4) 2: Superior to angels (1:5 - 2:18)
3: A Superior Rest (3:1 - 4:19) 4: A Superior Priesthood (4:14 - 7:28)
5: A Superior Covenant (8:1 - 10:18) 6: The Better Way of Faith (10:19 - 12:39)
7: Practical Instructions (13:1-25)

Hebrews 10:19 marks the major division in the book. The author moves from the doctrinal and teaching part into the more practical section of how to live out what has been taught. The most important being how to approach God by faith.

Exhortation 3: Draw near to God by faith (10:19-22)

This is the third of the exhortation passages, in which there are three exhortations which are all based on what Jesus has done, and are each introduced, 'let us'.

The first exhortation is to approach (v22) and to enter the sanctuary (into the presence of God). We approach through the curtain, or veil, as the high priest did on the Day of Atonement. The curtain is now open through his flesh, alluding to the curtain in the temple being torn when Jesus died (Mt 27:51). We can follow Jesus through the curtain into the presence of God. We have full access to God, whenever we want, not just once a year.

He gives two reasons why we can approach (v19-21). The first is that we have confidence to enter the sanctuary through the blood (v19), because of what Jesus did once and for all. Jesus shed his blood, meaning that he gave his life on the cross, giving us access to God. This is the result and conclusion of the argument running from 8:1 to 10:18. Jesus is the better and once and for all sacrifice, which can give us full access to the presence of God, in contrast to the OT priesthood, which was unable to achieve this.

The second reason why we can approach is that we have a great priest (v21), which describes what Jesus continues to do. This looks back as the conclusion of the argument in chapters 5 to 7, that Jesus is the Great High Priest, who is of a better order of priesthood than the Levitical priests. We can come to the Father through Jesus, our great high priest, the mediator between sinful man and holy God, who intercedes for us (7:25). He can identify with us, because he became human and suffered.

He also gives three ways we should approach the throne of grace (v22). The first is with a true heart in full assurance of faith. We can have a genuine attitude of confidence to come into the presence of God, knowing that we have a right to be there, because of the work of Jesus. The second is with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience. The work of Jesus is to cleanse away all sin once and for all, so we can have a clean conscience. This is a strong contrast with OT sacrificial system which could not clean the conscience. The third is with bodies washed with pure water, probably a reference to baptism, which is an outward washing to show and symbolise the inward cleansing of conscience from sin.

The second exhortation is to hold fast to the confession of hope without wavering (v23). We are called to persevere, to press on, and not to shrink back, particularly when faced with challenges, difficulties and persecution. A gritty determination is often needed to hang on in faith, in spite of what is going on around us, or in our own lives. However, even this perseverence is based on God’s faithfulness, not just our own efforts (v23b).

The third exhortation is to provoke one another up to love and good works (v24), and not to neglect to meet together (v25). We need encouragement from each other during hard times. Some were not meeting (the apostates) perhaps because they had left the fellowship of believers and returned to the synagogue. We should notice the eschatology to stimulate the readers, as part of the call to godly behaviour and to meet together in fellowship. Throughout the NT there is a sense of imminence of the second coming (the Day), as a stimulus to greater faithfulness, as well as hope and comfort.

B: Warning 4: No sacrifice, but judgement (10:26-31)

This is the fourth warning in the book (2:1-4, 3:7-19, 5:11-14). The description of the apostate is in the third person (v29) as in chapter 6, using the pronoun 'those'. The man who has has spurned the Son of God and treated him with contempt. He has profaned the blood of the covenant, and outraged the Spirit of grace.

This is a another strong warning to the apostates, addressed to those neglecting to meet together (10:25). The author is not addressing about an individual case of sin or minor backsliding, but again the outright rejection of the gospel by people who once believed and are returning to Judaism. People who are now opposing the faith they once believed in. They are rejecting God’s truth. They have heard the truth and then are deliberately sinning, ignoring the truth of the gospel. If they reject the gospel, there is nothing else, no sacrifice for sins (v26), so no forgiveness. The warning contains an example of judgement (v28). Under the OT law, the penalty for breaking the law of Moses was physical death, so in the NT, the penalty for rejecting the superior revelation of gospel is so much greater - spiritual death. He ends by warning that God will avenge, and punish such apostasy.

The final sentence is quite stark, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v31). Even in the New Covenant we need to remember that we are called to live in the fear of the Lord. We can only come into his presence and enjoy a relationship with him because of his grace, as demonstrated through the Gospel. Outside that grace, we deserve his wrath and judgement.

Encouragement after the warning (10:32-39)

After the strong warning, there is an exhortation to persevere and endure. As before, the pronoun changes from 'those' to 'you'. He reminds the readers of an earlier time of persecution, when they endured and suffered joyfully, looking with hope to a better life in eternity. They clearly understood that thieves cannot steal their true inheritance, but only their material things. The persecution had positive effects in strengthening their fellowship and their compassion on prisoners. If they endure now, they will receive what is promised (the future resurrection to life, deliverance and rewards from God).

With faith, they can endure, looking to God, not to man. If they endure, they will receive the promise. Chapter 11 gives examples of many who had faith, endured but still did not receive the real promise in their lifetimes. The quotation from Habakkuk 2:3-4 is the same passage that Paul refers to at the beginning of Romans (Rom 1:16-17), that righteousness before God is by faith (not by works), but the author extends the quotation to include a warning against shrinking back. The exhortation is to hold on because Jesus is coming and we do not want to be those who shrink back, but those who have faith and keep their souls (10:39). The is a choice between two alternatives: either to shrink back and be lost, or to have faith and be saved.

Examples of Faith from the OT (11:1-40)

Hebrews chapter 11 is the roll call of those who have not shrunk back, but those who had faith and kept their souls. 10:39 shows that faith is the key to endurance, so in chapter 11, the author defines and illustrates what faith is. The people in chapter 11 are approved because they had faith, not because they observed the law.

The definition of faith

The author begins by defining what faith is by describing two aspects of faith. The first is the assurance of things hoped for. This is looking to the glorious future and hope of glory, believing what God says is true, and basing our lives on it. This includes the promised second coming of Jesus, the rewards for faithful service, deliverance from suffering, the resurrection and life in the age to come. The second is the conviction of things not seen. This is in the present. Faith is believing that the physical world is not all that exists, but believing in the invisible. We are called to believe in God, even though we cannot see him. In the context of this chapter, faith is a belief that the things promised by God will one day be fulfilled, even though they are not a physical reality in our experience yet. Faith is living one’s life on the basis of what God has promised. Faith is doing and trusting in what God has spoken. Faith is man’s response to what God has already said. Once the promise is fulfilled, there is no more need for faith.

In each situation there are three options. The first is to hear God’s word and act upon it in obedience. This is faith, which leads to growth and maturity. The second is to hear God’s word and do nothing. This is disobedience and unbelief, which leads to doubt and uselessness. The third is to act without God’s word. This is presumption, which leads to disappointment, disillusionment and living in unreality.

Creation (11:3) (Gen 1 & 2)

The physical creation is an example of something coming into being because God spoke it into existence. The seen came from the unseen by God’s spoken word.

A chronological list of those approved for their faith:

These were all ordinary people who were enabled to do extraordinary things by responding to God’s word in faith.

Abel (11:4) (Gen 4)

Abel’s blood sacrifice was offered in faith and a pure heart, and he was approved as righteous. Through his faith, he is still speaking because Abel is not dead. Abel is called righteous (Mt 23:25), while Cain was evil because he killed the righteous Abel (1 Jn 3:12, Heb 12:24), after God rejected his sacrifice of vegetables. We can wonder why God rejected Cain’s sacrifice. After the fall, God had vividly demonstrated that blood sacrifices were necessary to atone for sin when he made garments of skins (involving the death of the animal) for Adam and Eve and clothed them (Gen 3:21), replacing the fig leaves that they originally made (Gen 3:7).

Enoch (11:5) (Gen 5:21-24)

After the birth of his son, Enoch walked with God, which pleased God, so he must have had faith, because without faith it is impossible to please God (v6).

Noah (11:7) (Gen 6 - 9)

By faith, Noah believed in the yet unseen flood, taking God’s word for it, and in obedience to that word, built an ark and became the heir of righteousness which comes by faith. Noah preached judgement to this world by building the ark, which revealed his faith and their unbelief. God warned Noah of the coming judgement and how to escape it. God has done the same for us, we escape by faith in Jesus.

Abraham (11:8-10) (Gen 12)

Abraham had faith and trusted in God’s spoken word, obeyed and went to an unseen place which was to be his inheritance. He had faith to leave home for something unseen and which was he never saw fulfilled in entirety in his lifetime. For Abraham, the promise was as substantial as the fulfilment. He was not looking for or trusting in an earthly inheritance, but a heavenly one (v10).

Sarah (11:11-12) (Gen 17 & 21).

Sarah, the wife of Abraham received the power to conceive a child in her old age by faith because she had assurance that God keeps his promises.

All these died in faith (11:13-16) (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah)

A summary of the characters introduced so far. None of them ever received the fulfilment of the promise in their lifetime, but saw it and greeted it from afar (v13). They looked forward to the coming Messiah and all that he would bring, realising that they were strangers and exiles and that their homeland was in heaven.

This had a strong message for the readers, they may also have to die in faith, losing their life for the gospel. It is also an encouragement not to return to what they left (14-16). Faith does not always mean receiving immediate rewards. These saints died without receiving what was promised.

Abraham’s test of faith (11:17-20) (Gen 22)

Abraham’s test was to sacrifice the promise. God gave a promise and then asked for it back. Abraham trusted the promise-maker (God) more than he held onto the promise. Abraham’s test is put before the readers who are experiencing a time of testing. The test was whether they would lay down a promise from God in obedience to his word, even though it seems contrary to the promise, even destroying it? By faith, Abraham passed the test, believing that even if he killed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead through resurrection.

Isaac (Gen 27), Jacob (Gen 48), Joseph (Gen 50:22-26) (11:20-22)

All three of these patriarchs believed God’s promises, passing the blessing and promises onto the next generation. None saw them fulfilled in their lifetimes, but they knew that in time they would come to pass.

Moses’ parents (11:23) (Ex 2:1-10)

The parents of Moses showed their faith in God by disobeying Pharaoh, hiding Moses in the river, rather than throwing him into the river, and trusting that God would look after their son.

Moses (11:24-28) (Ex 12)

By faith Moses left his position as Prince of Egypt and the life of luxury in the king’s palace and chose to identify with the people of God. He chose ill-treatment over the fleeting pleasures of sin. He endured by seeing him who is invisible. The key to endurance is seeing Jesus, who is invisible. He kept the Passover, obeying God’s warning of the yet unseen death (similar to Noah). He rejected his known world for a yet unseen world in the Promised Land, which he did not even live to experience for himself.

Children of Israel (11:29-30) (Ex 14)

The children of Israel crossed the Red Sea and received deliverance, by faith. They took the risk to walk between the walls of water, trusting that God would keep the water apart for long enough for them to cross to the other side. The Egyptian army tried to cross after them, without having received the Word of God, and were drowned, an example of presumption. The walls of Jericho (11:30) (Josh 6).

Joshua showed his faith in God by obeying his command to circle around the walls of Jericho in silence without fighting (an action which would seem ridiculous at the time), trusting that God would deliver the city to them.

Rahab (11:31) (Josh 6)

The Canaanite prostitute Rahab illustrated her faith in the true God by hiding the spies, so she did not perish with the disobedient. Her faith was shown in her obedience. Rahab later became part of the Messianic line (Mt 1:5), and is given as an example of faith by James (James 2:25).

The two sides of faith (11:32-38)

From this point on, the author moves into more of a summary, naming several of the Judges, and introducing the two sides of faith. There was Gideon (Judges 6), who hid in the wine press out of fear, Barak (Judges 4), who was hesitant, Samson (Judges 13-16), who was rather flippant and did not demonstrate much godliness, Jephthah (Judges 10-11), who made a rash vow he later regretted, as well as David, Samuel and the prophets.

One side of faith seems victorious, glorious and successful. The other side involves hardship and apparent defeat.

Although the individuals are not named in this section, it is possible to suggest who the author may have had in mind. On the glory side (v33-35), they conquered kingdoms (David and Joshua), they enforced justice (the judges and Samuel), stopped the mouths of lions (Daniel), quenched raging fire (Daniel’s three friends), escaped the edge of the sword (David), won strength out of weakness (Samson?), became mighty in war and put foreign armies to flight (David and some kings). The women receiving their dead by resurrection (unknown).

On the hardship and defeat side (v35b-38), they were tortured, suffered mocking (Isaiah, Jeremiah and others), imprisoned (Jeremiah and others), stoned to death (Jeremiah?), sawn in two (Isaiah?), killed by sword, ill-treated, afflicted and wandering.

These are examples of the two sides of faith, some people get glory, others hardship and apparent defeat. The lesson is that faith cannot be judged by outward appearances or apparent success (or not). The readers of Hebrews were suffering hardship and therefore doubting their faith.

Conclusion (11:39-40)

All of these people were well attested and approved for their faith, yet did not receive what was promised. They never witnessed the fulfilment of the promise in their lifetime. They all looked forward to Jesus and his better hope, better covenant, greater promises, his priesthood, sacrifice and revelation, his rest and perfect access to God, but did not live long enough to see it. However, the promise they looked forward to has now been fulfilled. The age of the New Covenant has come. Christ has come and procured perfection, access to God for them and for us. In company with us, they can now reach their perfection.

The author urges his readers not to fall away, because it is God’s plan that the Old and New Testament saints together comprise the people of God. Those approved by faith in both testaments are those who receive salvation. Faith is not only the better way, but is the only way to life.

Exhortation 4: Respond to the discipline of the Lord (12:1-14)

This chapter continues and brings the argument of chapter 11 to a conclusion. We are surrounded by a great host of witnesses to God’s faithfulness who have been described in the previous chapter. They can testify to God’s faithfulness in their lives. They ran and completed the race, even though they did not live to see the fulfilment of the promise in their own lives. Chapter 12 contains a number of exhortations and warnings, encouraging his readers to respond positively in a time of testing and persecution.

Exhortation to run the race (12:1-3)

This is the fourth of the five exhortation passages, which contains two exhortations, both introduced, 'let us'. The first is to lay aside weights and sin, anything that is a hindrance from running the race (v1b). These weights can include worldly cares and worries that can distract us and hold us back in any way. The second is to run the race with perseverance, urging the readers to keep going in the Christian life, while relying on His strength.

Paul also uses the analogy of running a race to describe the Christian life a number of times. He describes his life as straining forward to what lies ahead, and pressing on towards the goal (Phil 3:13-14), and urges the Corinthians to run the race in such a way that you may win it (1 Cor 9:24). When facing his own death he could say, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).

The way to run the race is by looking to Jesus. He is our example, as the author and perfecter of our faith (v2). It was for the joy set before him, that he endured the shame and the cross. He had a great confidence and hope of the resurrection and glory (v2b) after the cross. We also need to keep the hope set before us, that we too will have a better life after death. Only then we can endure persecutions and troubles. We need to look beyond the immediate circumstances to the end result. When we look to Jesus, the troubles seem less of a mountain to endure. Jesus received hostility from sinners, so we should also expect it (v3). Jesus endured much and he will help us to endure.

See persecution as the Lord’s discipline (12:4-11)

The next exhortation is to consider Jesus who also experienced hostility, much more hostility than we can ever expect to receive (v3). The readers are still alive as they read this book, so they have not yet been called to follow Jesus to the ultimate level of suffering, which is death.

The author then brings a strong challenge, to a change of mind-set. They are called to change their thinking so they see the persecution, not as mere suffering, but as discipline from God (v7). This is a most unusual way of looking at it from a human point of view. Discipline, not because they have been naughty, but because God loves them (and us) and wants them to grow and have their character shaped by it. He introduces this argument with a quotation from Proverbs (Prov 3:11-12), about the discipline of the Lord. Discipline comes because God loves his people, not because he merely wants to punish.

Discipline comes because we are God’s children, and actually proves that we are God’s children. He gives the example of a parent disciplining their child (v7). A child is disciplined because their parent loves them and wants them to grow up to be better person. Without discipline a child is treated like an illegitimate child, so if God does not discipline us, then we are not his children (v8). If we responded positively to our parent’s discipline, how much more should we respond positively to God’s discipline, so we can become more like him, sharing his holiness (v9-10). The thinking behind this passage is that troubles and persecutions come because God allows them. God is sovereign and in control of everything. Nothing happens unless he allows it, so we need to see God through and in spite of troubles.

The author introduces some honest realism (v11): discipline and troubles are painful. He is not trying to make his readers super-spiritual and deny the reality of suffering. Discipline certainly is painful, but it is worth it. The end result is good if we response to it in the right way - in faith, rather than bitterness.

Exhortation to endure (12:12-17)

Again using theme of a race, the author urges his readers not to fall behind in their race toward their heavenly goal (v12-13). God’s desire is not that we are put out of the race, but that we endure and finish the race of the Christian life in faith. The exhortation is to lift our drooping hands, strengthen our weak knees, like an athlete limbering up before a race, then to make straight paths for our feet. We can easily feel weak and wobbly in times of troubles, but it is then we need to grit our teeth and get on with it, being totally determined to run the race. It is at that point the grace flows, otherwise we can all too easily give up and wallow in self-pity.

Next comes an exhortation to strive for peace and holiness (v14). Even in the midst of troubles, we need to keep harmonious relationships with other people, and keep communication open, which helps to avoid bitterness. Bad attitudes and bitterness prevent us seeing the Lord in difficult situations.

Importantly we need to reach out to receive grace from God in times of trouble (v15), otherwise we become bitter at circumstances and other people. This bitterness defiles us and gets us into more trouble. The combination of maintaining peace and relationships with other people and seeking grace from God avoids bitterness. The alternative to responding in faith is to fall into bitterness, turning inwards in self-pity and casting blame on God and people around us. The result is isolation which can lead to deeper bitterness, creating a vicious circle which is difficult to escape from. During times of difficulty we need the grace of God, made available in relationship with him, but this grace often comes through our fellow-believers as they reach out to help in our time of need.

Esau is given as an example of a bitter man, jealous of Jacob (v16-17). The readers are urged not to give up, not to sell their birthright for physical pleasure or to avoid difficulties. It is not worth it. Esau gave up his birthright as the first-born son for the fleeting, temporal satisfaction of a meal of lentils (Gen 25:29-34), but later regretted it. His choice was irreversible, so he was unable to get it back later. The readers are encouraged not to spurn the birthright and the inheritance that the Lord has given them in Jesus. The warning is not to be like Esau, who took his birthright and inheritance lightly, and fall away from grace. The implication of the warning is that if you do deny Christ, there is no way back (as in chapter 6).

Mt. Sinai or Mt. Zion (12:18-24)

The giving of the old covenant is contrasted with the giving of the new. Mt Sinai (law) is contrasted with Mt Zion (grace). Sinai was a physical mountain that could be touched. Looking back to the original giving of the covenant (Ex 19), there was blazing fire, gloom, tempest, the sound of a trumpet, and a frightening voice (v18-21). The experience of Sinai was terrifying, that even Moses trembled with fear (v21), and the people begged Moses to stop God speaking to them (Ex 20:19).

By contrast, believers have come to Mt Zion, the city of the living God - the place of glory and grace (v22-24). He gives a dramatic description of the glories of the believer’s position in grace and in the presence of God. Mount Zion was the location of the temple in Jerusalem, the physical place where people could worship God under the old covenant. However Zion is often used in the OT to look beyond the physical temple to the blessings of a relationship with God. “He chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves. He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever” (Ps 78:68-69).

As explained earlier (ch 9), believers have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the heavenly temple, following Jesus into the very presence of God. Here will be innumerable angels, and the assembly of the firstborn. These are the believers who have already gone ahead of us into the presence of God (v22). They are enrolled in heaven because their names are in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21:27). They are also described as the spirits of the righteous made perfect (v23). They are perfect in that their salvation is now complete, and they are enjoying the blessings of the age to come. These will include the heroes of faith in the OT, together with the NT believers who have already died. The heavenly Jerusalem is the place of the presence of God, who is judge of all (v23), and the presence of Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, by which we can enter in. This new covenant is brought in through the sprinkled blood of Jesus, who is even more righteous than the innocent Abel (Gen 4:9). After his murder, God said to Cain, “your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground”.

Warning 5: God is a consuming fire (12:25-29)

After the inspiring description of the glorious future for believers, comes the last of the five warnings. If you do refuse Jesus, you will miss all these glories, and there is only the prospect of frightening and fiery judgement. The author uses a similar argument to 2:1-4, if they did not escape when they rejected the old covenant, how much less will they escape if they reject the new. The contrast is between the one who warns from earth (in the Old Covenant), and the one who warns from heaven (in the New Covenant) (v25). Looking back to the giving of the Old Covenant, at that time the whole mountain was shaken (Ex 19:18). The quotation from the prophet Haggai (Hag 2:6) warns that God will shake both the earth and heaven (v26), probably referring to the final judgement. However it is only the physical world that can be shaken, as we are to receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken (v28). He ends with another exhortation to give thanks, and offer worship to God with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. It can be alarming to read this in the New Testament when we are used to the message of forgiveness and grace. However it is important that we maintain a sense of the fear of the Lord, a great reverence and awe, as he is the holy Creator-God of the universe. It is only through his grace made available through Jesus that we can enter into his presence and enjoy a relationship with him. If we reject that grace, the only thing we can expect is fiery judgement, and we should be fearful of that.

Also available:

Introduction
1: Superior Revelation (1:1-4) 2: Superior to angels (1:5 - 2:18)
3: A Superior Rest (3:1 - 4:19) 4: A Superior Priesthood (4:14 - 7:28)
5: A Superior Covenant (8:1 - 10:18) 6: The Better Way of Faith (10:19 - 12:39)
7: Practical Instructions (13:1-25)