United by Faith
“For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Heb. 4:2).
Today we will see how faith is essential if a person desires to enter into God’s promised rest. When God makes a covenant with a group of people, that group of people always includes both believers and unbelievers. True believers, because of their faith, receive all the promises of the covenant while unbelievers, because of their lack of faith, ultimately receive only the curses of the covenant.
With this background, we can now look at Hebrews 4:2. The author tells us that “good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” The Good News that “came to us” must refer to the Gospel message that comes to those under the new covenant.
This is the same Good News that came to “them,” the Israelites who left Egypt. Clearly, the author is telling us that both old covenant and new covenant believers receive the same message of salvation, though there are slight differences in the message’s administration. Old covenant believers had to look forward in faith to the Messiah who was yet to come. New covenant believers like us have to look back in faith to the Messiah who died and rose again.
This Good News did not benefit all of the members of the old covenant because some were not “united by faith with those who listened.” In this verse, we have to understand “listened” as meaning “obeyed,” which is also an acceptable rendering of the Greek. All old covenant Israelites heard the Good News but it did not benefit some of them because they did not have saving faith like those who obeyed. Some translate this verse to say that the message did not benefit some Israelites because “it did not meet with faith in the hearers.” This translation makes the same point. The Good News does not benefit a person if he does not believe it.
More than three thousand years ago, the Good News came to the generation that left Egypt, but few benefited because only a few had faith. The implication is clear. The Good News has come to a new generation and only those who listen in faith will receive its benefits.
Unfortunately, there are many in the church today who think Old Testament believers had a different path to salvation than New Testament believers. As we have seen today, this view is foreign to Scripture. Remember that salvation is accomplished for all of God’s people by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.
Passages for Further Study
- Num. 13–14
- 2 Kings 20:12–19
- Rom. 2:25–29
- Rev. 3:14–22