Over the years, different models have been developed as frameworks for understanding Scripture. Several of these have been helpful to me in my personal studies. For the purposes of today’s message, let’s view the Bible in terms of 3 distinct periods or eras. Each of these is characterized and distinguished by it own covenant.
The first era is known as “The Age of the Patriarchs”. It spanned from the creation of man through the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. The covenant associated with this period is called “The Redemptive Covenant”, and was God’s promise to redeem or save those who placed their faith in Him. The Redemptive Covenant was widely unknown and often misunderstood during these generations, however there were some to whom it was revealed. These included Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (among others) - all named as heroes of the faith in the first half of Hebrews chapter 11.
The second era is referred to as “The Age of Israel”. It covered the centuries from Moses through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The covenant associated with these years is known as “The Old Covenant” or “The Law”. It was given specifically to the Hebrews and included numerous commands that governed all areas of life. The Old Covenant did not replace or change the workings of the Redemptive Covenant, but rather sought to make God’s plan of salvation more widely known by providing a literal representation of it. Unfortunately, much confusion still remained. Several more heroes of the faith lived during this period, and we will mention some of them in today’s reading through the latter half of Hebrews chapter 11.
The third era is called “The Age of the Church”. It began on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, continues still today, and will end with the Rapture takes place. The covenant associated with this time period is called “The New Covenant”, which states that salvation comes through the repentance of sin and profession of faith in Christ alone. The New Covenant did not replace or change the Redemptive Covenant either. However, unlike the Old Covenant which merely sought to symbolically represent God’s plan, the New Covenant provides a complete and clear revelation of it through the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
Salvation is a work of God’s grace, received through faith. Under the first covenant this truth was largely hidden and remained secret, under the second it was hinted at with physical clues such as the priesthood, animal sacrifices, and the sanctuary, and under the third it was finally and fully revealed by the atoning work of the Lord Jesus. I referred to this process earlier in the series as “progressive revelation”. It is our faith that pleases God and garners His approval. That said, let’s resume our 2-part message titled, “Faith Is Better”.
I. FAITH UNDER THE OLD COVENANT (v22-32)
By faith, Moses’ mother hid him for 3 months after his birth. When he had grown to adulthood, it was his faith that compelled Moses to identify with and endure the sufferings of His Hebrew brethren. By faith he left the Egyptian palace, instead choosing to live in obscurity on the plains of Midian. By faith Moses boldly confronted Pharaoh and observed the first Passover. By faith he led the Children of God out of captivity and across the Red Sea.
By faith, Joshua led the sons of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land and oversaw the conquest of Canaan. Faithfully trusting in the bizarre battle plan that he’d received, Joshua marched around the city of Jericho and its walls fell flat. By faith, Rahab the harlot was spared from the slaughter because she had helped the Hebrew spies.
By faith, numerous judges delivered the various tribes of Israel from their enemies. These included faithful men such as Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah. After becoming a nation, Israel was led most notably by the faithful King David. In addition to these, numerous faithful priests and prophets - such as Samuel - lived and served during the era of the Old Covenant. Though it emphasized obedience to the law , even then faith triumphed.
II. FAITH OF UNNAMED HEROES (v33-38)
Having already listed several heroes of the faith, the writer says that time simply wouldn’t allow him to name them all. There were numerous godly men and women who had lived during the Old Testament era who exemplified faith in God. The Hebrews to whom this letter was written could find encouragement and strength to stand firm on their convictions by remembering the precedent of faith that was set and demonstrated by these countless unnamed saints.
By faith they were able to accomplish many amazing things. They “conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, and put foreign armies to flight.” There are even 2 accounts of faithful prophets raising young children from the dead. All of these remarkable occurrences took place as the result of faith.
That said, faith does not always result in earthly success. Sometimes faith leads to severe persecution and even martyrdom. Many of these unnamed champions of the faith were “tortured” or chose to remain imprisoned rather than denying their beliefs. Some experienced “mockings”, “scourgings”, and other forms of punishment. Others were “stoned”, “sawn in two”, “tempted”, and “put to death with the sword”. Some “went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated” and “wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” Sometimes holding on to one’s faith is difficult, but the promises of God are worth the struggle.
III. FAITH GAINS APPROVAL (v39-40)
These men and women of old, who practiced sincere and saving faith in God, did not immediately receive that which had been promised. Rather than entering immediately into Heaven when they died, these redeemed people went to a place called Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise. There they waited patiently, separated from those condemned in Hell, until the crucifixion. The Bible teaches that, after His death on the cross, Jesus descended into this place, freed those who were there, and led them to Heaven (Eph. 4:8-10, 1 Pet. 3:18-20).
These Hebrews, and all other born-again believers who’ve lived since Jesus’ resurrection, now go directly to Heaven when they die. Abraham’s Bosom has been permanently vacated. This is definitely “something better”, as God’s promised inheritance of rest is now received immediately. The Old Testament saints were not “made perfect” differently or “apart from” the New Testament saints. All reside together in the same Heaven, as recipients of the same inheritance, in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, each having gained God’s approval through faith.
To make the point a final time, all people are (and always have been) saved on the basis of faith. We cannot (and never have been able to) earn our salvation through good works or self-righteousness. We cannot (and never have been able to) live in perfect obedience to God’s will or in perfect adherence to His commands. We cannot (and never have been able to) purchase salvation with material wealth or acheive it through fame, popularity, or status. The only way to merit the Lord’s favor, to win His approval, and to attain His saving grace is through faith. And in the light of the New Covenant, we know that our faith is to be placed in Jesus Christ - the Savior who died to pay mankind’s sin debt and give us the hope of eternal life!