All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. ~Hebrews 11:39-40
In our culture today there is a heavy emphasis on individualism that spills over into the church as well. We tend to want to focus on me and God and salvation becomes mainly about what God has done for me. Yet the Bible challenges our individualistic tendencies on many fronts. Part of this we see at the end of Hebrews 11 where the author reminds us that though each of us approach God through our own individual faith, God’s greater focus is dealing with us as part of the Family. We are part of something bigger than ourselves.
Through much of the first ten chapters of Hebrews we see how Jesus is truly better than everything else: the angels, Abraham, Moses, the High Priests, and the atoning sacrifice. Jesus fulfills and accomplishes everything all the persons and rituals in the Old Testament longed for and pointed to.
Towards the end of chapter ten we begin to see more of the practical realities of what Jesus being better means for our lives. The author, who seemed to be very close to the people to whom he wrote yet separated due to persecution, wanted to encourage his readers to be faithful in the midst of suffering. Persevere, run the race, and don’t be like those who get tripped up and weighed down by sin.
In 10:32-34 he reminded them of the faith they had when they first came to Christ, even though it cost them personally. Yet with ridicule, the loss of property, and jail time for some they kept looking forward for they knew “there were better things waiting.” In 10:35-39 he again offered the charge to be patient and confident, to not turn back but rather to live by faith. After all, quoting Habakkuk, Jesus will return and God’s righteous will live by faith waiting for this promise.
To encourage his readers, the author spent chapter 11 detailing the lives of men and women of the Old Testament who lived by faith. Many experienced great things while nameless others suffered painful persecution. In all situations, faith caused these saints to look forward and long for something better.
So a man like Abraham left his homeland and dwelt in a strange place in a tent because God promised him numerous offspring and a homeland. The same was promised to his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Yet though these men, and the other men and women listed in the chapter, kept looking forward and trusting God’s promises they only tasted part of it.
All of these faithful earned a good reputation and a declaration that the world was not worthy of them (11:38-39) yet each of them died not receiving “all that God promised.” They benefited in various ways individually, but God was working a greater plan of which they were a part.
That greater plan was “something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us” (11:40). That greater plan was Jesus.
Through the lives and works of his faithful followers, God created and sustained a people through whom he would deliver his Son, the Savior of the world. God’s great plan is centered on the joy and glories of Jesus who redeems for himself a people, a Family from throughout the world (Titus 2:11-14, John 17).
Like the saints of old, this is the bigger story of which our individual lives are a part. We still look forward in longing for its completion—that day that Jesus returns to finally judge sin and sinner, to fully rescue those who have trusted in him, and to perfectly restore creation as he glorifies it together with us. This is the great hope and the great promise.
As those saints died without fully seeing the promises so will we if Jesus’ return is past the end of our lives on earth. Yet knowing that we are part of something bigger, we keep looking forward, eyes set on Jesus as we run the race (12:1-2). As we run we have those saints of old, our elder brothers and sisters in the Family, who cheer us on as part of our great cloud of witnesses. And should we pass before the promises come in full, we will join with the chorus of witnesses cheering on future generations whether we’re remembered by name or whether we are shrouded as the nameless others.
Through Jesus our lives are part of something much, much bigger and grander than ourselves—the hope and story of the Family played out over thousands of years.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.