The first verse of Hebrews 2 introduces “faith;” its closing verse alludes to “some better thing,” which God had “provided,” or “foreseen” for us, who are Christians, compared with the saints of Old Testament times. This better portion which is ours does not consist of things visible to our natural eyes, and therefore faith is a prime necessity for us.
Have we all realized what a remarkable chapter Hebrews 11 is? The actual word faith only occurs twice in the whole of the Old Testament, and the first of these is a negation, for Moses had to complain of the mass of the people that they had, “no faith.” And this is alluded to and endorsed in Hebrews 3 and 4, where it is pointed out that Israel’s failure sprang from their unbelief; the word that reached them not being “mixed with faith.” Yet in chapter 11, the Spirit of God reveals to us that all that was vital in these godly souls of pre-Christian times was the fruit of faith. What lay so largely beneath the surface in former times, now stands clearly revealed.
We have long thought that this chapter might be summarized under three headings; the first of which is:
The offering that Abel brought was not the result of a fortunate guess but the fruit of faith, which perceived that on him as a sinner the death penalty rested, and so God could only be approached on the ground of death. Thus he was accounted righteous, and he knew it. So also, faith enabled Enoch to walk with God, though surrounded by fearful evils, and at last enabled him to escape death by translation. And further, what was it that enabled Noah to persist year after year building the enormous ship on dry land?—which must have seemed ridiculous to the men of his day. It was faith, believing that God would do what He had said He would do. It resulted in salvation when the antediluvian world (the world before the flood) was destroyed. Yes, it is faith that saves.
But then we pass on to Abraham, and the middle of the chapter shows us that
It gives a spiritual conception of things that lie outside our natural vision. Abraham departed from Ur of the Chaldees, though it was no mean city—as modern excavations have proved—to go forth into the unknown. His faith enabled him to envisage (form a mental picture of) a city that had foundations that were laid by God Himself. And so we move on through the patriarchs until we come to Moses, when we find a man, who “endured, as seeing Him, who is invisible.” So clearly it is faith that sees.
Then in the latter part of the chapter we discover that
The one who possesses it is endowed with the power to endure. Indeed we may say that faith never shines more brightly than when it is confronted by adverse power. Moses chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” And a long list follows of those who endured persecution and suffering in the energy of faith.
Thus God makes known to us that even in these earlier days, when what was revealed was often in connection with things that were visible, audible and tangible, what was of supreme importance for man was faith. Equally so, indeed even more so, is it thus for us today, seeing that the “better” thing, that we are to know and enjoy, lies outside our natural powers.
Some better thing then have we. Let us notice how this word, better, occurs, as we glance over the epistle. To begin with, we have it in Hebrews 1:4. The Son, who was the Creator, had become the Revealer and the Redeemer, and is declared to be “much better than the angels.” Now the law was given by “the disposition of angels,” as Stephen said in his last address, recorded in Acts 7, and this is alluded to in our epistle, when we reach Hebrews 2:2. Hence this first great contrast in the epistle. The law conveyed some revelation of the mind of God, and it reached them through angels. The full revelation of God, which lies at the base of the better thing that has reached us, is found in the Son, who stands far above and better than all angels.
The word “better” does not actually occur again until Hebrews 7 is reached, but there it occurs thrice. In the first case it stands connected with a type. The priesthood of Christ is “after the order of Melchizedec,” and eternal. Now Melchizedec blessed Abraham, out of whom sprang the Aaronic priesthood, and he who blesses is better than the one who is blessed. The priesthood of Christ is eternal, and exists far above Aaron and his family, established under the law.
Then, as verses 18 and 19 remind us, the law made nothing perfect, and so the commandment going before is set aside, and a better hope is brought in. Now why is the better thing spoken of as a hope? Our reply would be that, as stated in Hebrews 3:1, ours is a “heavenly calling,” that will not be fully realized until heaven itself is reached. Hence a large element of hope enters into the Christian calling, and is of a character that surpasses any hope connected with the calling of Israel. But though this is the case its present effect is to bring us near to God. Before Christ came and accomplished His redeeming work, the way into the holiest was not made manifest. Now it is, and we have boldness of access to God, as is stated in Hebrews 1.
Verse 22 makes this manifest, for a new “testament,” or “covenant” has been established, and of this covenant the Lord Jesus is the “Surety.” If at this point the reader will turn to Genesis 43, and particularly note verse 9, the force of “surety” will be plain. The new covenant is a declaration of the grace of God; and it is as if our Lord said, “Should it not stand imperishable and forever, let Me bear the blame of it forever.”
Stand it will for it is “the everlasting covenant,” as Hebrews 13 states; and how much better it is than the old covenant of Sinai is abundantly clear. This is confirmed when we reach Hebrews 8:6, where the promises connected with it are mentioned. The hope connected with these promises we have just referred to.
If we pass on now to Hebrews 9:23, we get the statement that the heavenly things themselves are purified with better sacrifices than those offered under the law for the purification of the patterns of those heavenly things. The word here is in the plural—“better sacrifices,” because, we judge, the Hebrew reader is referred back to Leviticus 1–5, in which various offerings were commanded, all of which had typical reference to Christ. His whole pathway from the glory was marked by continual sacrifice, which culminated in the one great, atoning sacrifice of the cross, of which the rest of Hebrews 9 speaks. Here indeed was the one sacrifice of infinite value, which far outshines any sacrifice previously known.
The early part of Hebrews 10 continues this theme, and shows us that sin having been put away by the sacrifice of Christ, the believer today has boldness of access to “the holiest”—the very presence of God Himself. And in the later verses of that chapter we learn that consequently we are possessed of “substance,” of an “eternal” nature, which is “better” than anything that was promised to Israel under the law. Had they been obedient, they would have been prospered and multiplied in their families and all earthly possessions. The Hebrew Christian had substance that lay outside earthly things, in keeping with the fact that they, and we also, are “partakers of the heavenly calling,” as Hebrews 3:1 states.
It was the realization of this that enabled these early Hebrew believers to take “joyfully the spoiling” of their “goods.” It would have been a great thing if, when some of their homes were smashed up by an opposing mob, they had faced the loss with resignation and meekness, but they actually faced it with joyfulness. It served to emphasize in their minds the glorious fact that their real portion lay outside earth and in heaven, far beyond the power of all their opponents.
And what was it that made the heavenly portion that was theirs so real to them? The answer to this is of course found in the first verse of Hebrews 11, which in Darby’s New Translation reads, “Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The better and enduring substance was substantiated to the early Hebrew Christian by faith.
Exactly thus it is for us today. We, who are English-speaking Christians, are like men walking amidst a forest of pleasant and attractive things. The few of us who can look back through sixty or even seventy years, can realize how great has been the advance in pleasant and profitable human inventions. At the moment money abounds and every kind of invention and contrivance abounds; often useful and always very attractive, and therefore bidding for our attention, Our modern “goods” are very absorbing in their nature, and at the moment there is no “spoiling” of them by active opponents. But what about that unseen, yet better and enduring substance which is ours in heaven? Is faith active with us, so that the unseen, heavenly substance is really filling our thoughts and dominating our lives?
“Some better thing,” then as compared with what was revealed to the worthy saints of pre-Christian times, has been provided for us, and the knowledge of it, received by faith, is to dominate our lives. But we shall all be ushered into the full enjoyment of our respective portions together. They will not “be made perfect” without us, and we may add, nor we without them; for we shall all reach final perfection together, at the day of resurrection and glory, when the Lord Jesus comes again.