Strangers and Exiles
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”- Hebrews 11:13
Today’s passage makes it clear that the examples of faith from Hebrews 11 are not given only so that we will know what faith looks like. Rather, these examples show us the superiority of the new covenant and encourage us to be faithful to the witness of the old covenant saints through our faithfulness to the new covenant.
You may remember that many in the original audience of Hebrews thought that they could abandon Christ without any dreadful consequences. They thought that they could be faithful to the example of the old covenant saints if they returned to the old covenant system. Most amazingly, some thought that by going back to the old covenant, they would be returning to a superior age.
However, this was (and still is) a false assumption. For verse 13 tells us that the old covenant saints “all died in faith, not having received the things promised.” The old covenant system was a system lacking fulfillment. The people under it could only hope and wait for final redemption without being completely aware of how it would come. The author is here demonstrating that the old covenant period is not superior to the new covenant brought by Christ. He is teaching that to abandon Christ would be a dreadful mistake. He is telling his audience that they must not forsake the day the old covenant saints waited for — the day that begins our final perfection (v. 40). This day Jesus has brought, and it must not be abandoned.
Moreover, the author also corrects the idea that his audience could be faithful to the example of the old covenant saints if they went back to the old covenant system. For in verse 13 we also read that even though the old covenant saints never received the things promised, they still saw them, however dimly, and “greeted them from afar.” All those who live after the first coming of Jesus, live in the last day in which God has begun to fulfill, continues to fulfill, and will complete the fulfillment of, all His promises. This day is what the old covenant saints waited for. To be faithful to their example means not that the new covenant community abandons Christ and follows the old covenant system exactly as the old covenant saints did. Rather, we live in faithfulness both to God and to their example only if we hold onto Christ, the one who brings the kingdom for which they waited.
John Calvin said that if the old covenant saints, having only a shadowy glance of Christ, could persevere in faith to the end of their lives, how much more ought we do the same? We know more fully the superiority of Christ Jesus. Let this awareness be your primary motivation to hold onto Him with all your strength.
Passages for Further Study
- Pss. 24:7–10; 96:7–13
- Hag. 2:6–9
- Matt. 13:17
- John 8:56