Faith acts on the basis of the unseen. That is far from saying that faith acts without any foundation. Faith’s foundation is the sure Word of God. Faith is an essential link to all aspects of God’s Word. When that Word is a call to trust, faith embraces the promise and waits for the promises’ outcome. When that Word is a call to obey, faith embraces the command and submits to its orders. So for Abraham, believing God meant that He would wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises as well as comply with the instructions to follow God’s commands. So, while faith acts on the basis of what is unseen, faith always expresses itself in some seen manner. For instance, faith is not obedience (obedience is not faith), but faith expresses itself in obedience (obedience shows faith).
Hebrews 11:1-7 introduces faith by describing it as a kind of seeing the unseen. The bookends of this unit revolve around the mention of “things not seen” (11:1), which references the creation of the world, and “events as yet unseen” (11:7), which references its destruction. Hebrews 11:1 is not a complete definition of faith, but it does describe some essential characteristics of faith through two parallel descriptions: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The first aspect of faith is that it is a resolute confidence. Faith realizes that some realities are future, not immediate and that some realities exist in a spiritual realm and are physically unseen. Faith is a resolute confidence in God, rooted in His Words and actions. Faith is a response of resolute confidence because something here and now (i.e. God’s Words and actions) creates a calm anticipation for something that has yet that fully unfolded and also a peaceful courage for something real and solid, though as yet unseen.
The ability to see and celebrate greater realities than those immediately observable, which strengthened them in the past, would need to be refocused upon in the present: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (10:35). The author is encouraging his readers to not retreat from the practice of publicly identifying with the body of Christ (10:25) by reminding them of the great reward that comes through such identification. To that end, they were in, “need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (10:36).
The first exhortation “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance” (10:22) is grounded in the effectiveness of the sacrifice of Christ’s high-priestly work. It is a call to approach God Himself. “Since” Jesus is the “great priest over the house of God” (10:21), but also, “since…by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,” we now “have confidence to enter the holy places” (10:19-20). The result of Christ’s priestly, sacrificial work is the confidence that it provides to both the author of Hebrews and his readers. Jesus had entered into the presence of God by His blood (9:12, 14, 25). And now, because of what He has done, Jesus has now obtained the right of entry for His people.
The decisive character of Christ’s finished work toward His new covenant people is concisely expressed: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (10:14). By His one sacrifice at the cross, Christ “has perfected” His people “for all time.” The tense of the verb “perfected” stresses that the task has been fully accomplished in the past and yet the results continue into the present. This perfecting work by Christ speaks of how He has qualified believers to draw near to God in relationship, having provided forgiveness of sin and a purified conscience from guilt. Thus, believers are consecrated unto God for proper service before Him. This consecrated relationship is expressed by: “those who are being sanctified.” Even though believers are already qualified in their relationship with God, there still remains an ongoing operation in them. At present it is designed to continually weaken the remaining aspects of indwelling sin as well as produce fuller effects of actual likeness to Christ.
But what Israel lacked in terms of a true heartfelt devotion toward God as they practiced the prescribed sacrificial rituals, Jesus would sacrificially display, “but a body have you prepared for me” (10:5a). Jesus was acknowledging that His body was prepared as the means by which “an eternal redemption” (9:12) would be secured. To accomplish this, Jesus would not just be willing to offer a sacrifice; He would be the willing sacrifice: “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book” (10:7). These Words of the Psalm are used as Christ’s declaration of His willingness to obey. Christ discovered His duty as set out for Him in the Scriptures and He purposed to carry it out with whole-hearted obedience. Thus, as a truly acceptable worshipper, Christ offered Himself as the only satisfactory sacrifice.
Just as certain as human beings die and then face judgment, so also Christ, who died, “will appear a second time.” Christ’s return is cast as an absolute certainty. Whereas Christ’s first appearing was “to deal with sin” and so He offered Himself “to bear the sins of many,” He “will appear a second time…to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (9:28). On the Day of Atonement, the people of Israel gathered around the High Priest as he came out of the Most Holy Place. Similarly, God’s new covenant people have an eagerness for the return of Christ because of the expectancy that the richest blessings of salvation—the final rescue from judgment as well as the fullest enjoyment of the “promised eternal inheritance” (9:15) awaits. So, Lord Jesus, come!
So while, both covenants needed shed blood to place them into effect, they are still very different. Hebrews’ use of Exodus 24:8, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you” (9:20) finds it’s contrasting parallel with: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Under the terms of the old covenant, “if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish” (Deuteronomy 30:17-18). The first covenant brought the curse of death upon all who broke it (and all did). But in identifying with sinners, Christ, died as a sacrificial representative for His people. In so doing, “He sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship” (9:21). In both covenants, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (9:22). But now, in the new covenant, true forgiveness has come, unleashing the mercies, which come from the disbursement of the “will.” So now, “the promised eternal inheritance” (9:15) has been freely given. Through His death, Christ secured “the good things that have come” (9:11a).
Hebrews than draws out an important implication: “the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing” (v. 8). The Holy Spirit revealed to the author that there never was nor ever would be, real access to the presence of God during the tenure of the old covenant. The people and the ordinary priests were completely blocked from entering the Most Holy Place, which is where God manifested His presence. Even the High Priest was barred access except for once a year. The chasm between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man was never bridged in the old covenant: “gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper” (v. 9). Any thought of cleansing was merely external, for the worshippers sin and guilt were never truly removed. Thus, the “regulations of the body” consisting of matters of “food and drink and various washings” (v. 10) never purified a person’s internal moral and spiritual faculties of the conscience.
Hebrews quotes the final parts of Jeremiah 31:31-34 as an explanation of the “better promises.” First, the new covenant provisions include the implantation of God’s law in His peoples’ hearts: “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (8:10). The internalization of God’s law describes a radically new obedience from the heart that characterizes new covenant people (See also Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27).
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