Hebrewsby Robert M. Solomon
All those mentioned in Hebrews 11, whether named or unnamed, ″were all commended for their faith″ (Hebrews 11:39; see vv. 2, 4). Firstly, they were commended by God himself. It was God who commended Abel as a righteous man (v. 4). God was pleased to be called the God of the faithful, who had set their eyes ultimately on invisible realities and destinations (v. 16). Second, these were commended by the people of faith. They were recognised for their faith and faithfulness to God, so much so that the writer creates a ″Hall of Faith″ in chapter 11. The writer himself gives the verdict that those who suffered for their faith were outstanding, as ″the world was not worthy of them″ (v. 38).
Yet ″none of them received what had been promised″ (Hebrews 11:39). This does not mean that they were not blessed or failed to experience God's presence and power. What this refers to is the fullness of God's promises in Christ. While they had faith in God's promises, they had to wait for the appearance of Christ to receive the fullness of God's blessings (Ephesians 1:3). They ″did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance″ (Hebrews 11:13). The writer assures his original Jewish Christian readers that ″God had planned something better for us″ (v. 40). They had the advantage of knowing Christ which their forefathers did not have. Hebrews establishes the superiority of Christ above all the old religious systems of the Jews, valid as they were for a period. But now that Christ has come, He has replaced all the shadows of the past with His reality. The faith of the fathers was not wasted, though. There was continuity between their faith in a distant Messiah and the faith of the Christians who had heard and experienced this Messiah. This was the ″something better″ that the text indicates. French theologian John Calvin challenges us that while ″a tiny spark of light led them to heaven″, we who have ″the Sun of righteousness″ shining on us have no excuse to ″still cling to the earth″.47
The splendid truth is that ″only together with us would [the heroes of faith] be made perfect″ (Hebrews 11:40), by experiencing purification from sin at the resurrection. God has a single plan for all of us-in Christ.48
47 Stedman, Hebrews, 135.
48 Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 516.
How do you think God would commend your faith? If you lack faith, ask Him to help you (see Mark 9:24).
Reflect on Calvin's point. In what ways do Christians cling to the earth? How should our choices be even better than those of the Old Testament saints?