39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. – Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV
Now that we’ve reached the end of the chapter, let’s go back through the list of the faithful again.
Abel died at the hands of his brother. Enoch was taken by God in the prime of life. Noah survived the flood that destroyed the earth, only to watch sin raise its ugly head again and infect his own family. Abraham would never occupy the land God had promised to give him, and he would die long before his offspring would grow to be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Sarah would bear a son in spite of her old age and barrenness but die without ever giving birth again. Isaac would watch his sons, Jacob and Esau, spend years of their lives separated from and loathing one another. Jacob would die in the land of Egypt, the patriarch of a family that numbered no more than 70 – not exactly a mighty nation as God had promised. Moses led the people of Israel to the promised land but never stepped foot into it himself because of his sin against God. The people of Israel made it into the land but failed to obey God’s commands and eventually ended up being removed by God and forced to live in exile in Babylon. For Rahab, other than her mention in the lineage of Jesus, she passed into obscurity, living among the people of Israel.
Their life stories, while marked by faith, are not all pictures of the good life. Their lives were not trouble-free or devoid of difficulty and doubt. They are recognized for their faith, but the author makes it clear that though they lived lives of faith, they also experienced their fair share of trials and troubles. He describes those who were tortured for their faith, “refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (Hebrews 11:35 ESV).
These unnamed but faith-filled individuals refused to recant their faith in God even under the pain of torture. Instead, they trusted that, should they die, God would raise them again to eternal life. The author speaks of women who “received back their dead by resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35 ESV). I don’t think this means that their dead loved ones were raised back to life, but that these women had faith that they would see them again in heaven. They were willing to suffer loss in this life because of their faith in the life to come.
What is amazing is that the author makes it clear that many on his list “did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39 ESV). Why? Because the promise was future-oriented. The fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. His death and resurrection opened up the gospel to all people. No longer would the Jews be the sole beneficiaries of God’s blessings. Today, people from every tribe, nation, and tongue have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and have become part of the family of Abraham. The book of Revelation tells us of a scene that will take place in the future where all the offspring of Abraham, both Jew and Gentile, will gather before the throne of God.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV
Abraham longed to see that day and died believing that it would come. He was a living, breathing example of the author’s definition of faith.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV
Each of the individuals in the Hebrews 11 list received something better in the end. Because of their faith in the promises of God, they eventually received entrance into His presence. Ultimately, their faith was in the hope of God’s redemption. None of them lived long enough to see the coming of Jesus into the world. Yet, they lived their lives longing for a Messiah, a deliverer from the sin that surrounded them. Paul tells us, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22 ESV).
This includes those who lived before the coming of Christ. Their belief in the promises and power of God was considered by God to be faith in the coming Messiah. They were willing to trust God with their present circumstances, knowing that He had a future solution in mind.
Ultimately, their faith was in God. They trusted Him for things they could not see. They had hope for the future because they had an assurance that He could deliver what He had promised. They were able to endure because they believed He would come through. And every promise God made to these individuals was finally realized in the coming of Jesus Christ. He was and is mankind’s hope. And while they may not have fully realized it, every one of the people in the Hebrews “Hall of Faith” was placing their faith in Christ; God’s redeemer, deliverer, savior, sinless sacrifice, and the ultimate key to experiencing all the blessings God has in store.
Abraham lived in tents all of his life, but we’re told “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). He knew that God had something better in store for him and he died believing in that reality. But Abraham was not alone. The author of Hebrews tells us that every one of the individuals on his list “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV).
They knew something better was in store for them, so they were willing to live as “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). They desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16 ESV). They put their faith in God and their hope in something they could not see. “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16 ESV). And the Book of Revelation paints a vivid picture of what that long-awaited city will look like when it comes.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. – Revelation 21:1-7 ESV
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.