Hebrews 11: Persevering Faith

Faith is the foundation of all we believe (11:1–3).
In the first nine and a half chapters, the writer of Hebrews has made his case theologically for the superiority of faith in Jesus Christ to the Judaism of Israel. His conclusion is that, in spite of the persecution, the readers must persevere in their faith in Jesus Christ. If they turn away from Jesus Christ, they can only expect judgment and destruction.

But to persevere in faith through persecution? The writer’s answer is that godly men and women from ages past were commended by God because of their faith (v. 2). Faith in God is the foundation of our understanding of everything, including the very existence of the universe (v. 3).

Persevering faith through persecution was the hallmark of Old Testament believers (11:4–38).
This idea of perseverance in faith in spite of difficulties was nothing new; in fact, the writer walks through Old Testament history, demonstrating that the godly men of the past had something in common: they all persevered in faith through difficulty. Look at the list:
  • Abel obeyed God and brought a pleasing sacrifice. He was murdered by his brother for his obedience, but God was pleased with him (v. 4).
  • Enoch pleased God and God took him up (v. 5).
  • Noah obeyed God and demonstrated his faith by building an ark for 120 years when there was no rain. The flood proved his obedience was right (v. 7).
  • Abraham left his family and his homeland and obeyed God. He never actually inherited all the land God promised to him (vv. 8–10).
  • Sarah believed God's promise of a great nation to come from her and Abraham, even though she never lived to see the nation of Israel (v. 11).
  • Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God, even though he knew that Isaac was the promised son. As far as Abraham could figure, the only way the situation could work out was if God raised Isaac from the dead (vv. 17–19).
  • Isaac demonstrated faith by giving the blessing to Jacob, his younger son, instead of Esau (v. 20).
  • Jacob demonstrated faith by blessing Ephraim, again, the younger son, over Mannasseh (v. 21).
  • Joseph demonstrated his faith by charging his descendants to take his bones back to the Promised Land from Egypt (v. 22). It was more than four hundred years before this happened.
  • Moses, the mediator of the Old Covenant, demonstrated faith throughout his life, as he led the children of Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land (vv. 23–30). He made choices based on God's revelation and not on what appeared to be enjoyable around him.
  • Rahab demonstrated faith by siding with the Israelites over her own people (v. 31).
Others also demonstrated faith by obeying God and were victorious in their exploits (vv. 32–35a). Yet others endured persecution (does that sound familiar?) and were even martyred for their faith, but still remained faithful (vv. 35b–38). The thing that they all had in common was that they believed God and obeyed the revelation he had given, even though they never received the eternally complete salvation that we now have available in Jesus Christ (vv. 39–40; 13–16).

Now the readers of the book of Hebrews have before them the perfect and complete salvation that these great men and women of faith never enjoyed. They had simply believed what God told them and obeyed, but they never had the "perfect" salvation that we have available. Why would anyone turn away from "so great a salvation"?