Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hebrews 11:13-16 -- The Heavenly City

Paul will go on to discuss the great cloud of witness in chapter twelve, but that cloud of witness (both a cloud of testimony and a cloud of testifiers) are at the end of faith's race. They are the list of heroes of faith, standing in the grandstands and also at the winner's pedestal. They are urging the earthly believers home.
Because ultimately, it is heaven that matters. If our salvation is only for the earth, it is an unworthy salvation. Heaven is the ultimate destination. Specifically, the Christian believer is looking for a city.
This ultimate destination was important in Paul's time because of the persecution the Hebrew Christians were suffering from their own people and from the Gentiles. Pharisaical Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel were convinced that if Jesus had been the Messiah, then he would have ushered in an earthly kingdom. But Jesus had bought in a spiritual kingdom and spoke of a future heavenly kingdom. The Hebrew believers had to made to understand the Messiah the Scriptures had spoke of, not the One the scribes and religious leaders had trained them to hope for. So, the Jewish believers --who had been taught that the Jewish Messiah woud subdue the nations under His feet-- now had to accept that the Gentiles were now part of God's kingdom and that the Jewish and Gentile believers had no real home here on earth. To come to terms with being sufferers, rejected, and nationless on earth was difficult. But if Paul could convince them through the Scriptures, they would hold onto their salvation, even through suffering. Because all who would follow Christ must suffer persecution.
This passages is also important for many modern Christians who might also be taught that being a Christian means a life of ease and wealth. True, there are many Scriptural promises that we are able to receive now because of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension and because Christ sent the Holy Spirit to live permanently with us. These promises could not be attained by the pre-resurrection saints. But the primary issue being discussed here has always been the great issue: God preparing a remnant of earthly people for His heavenly kingdom.
It is somewhat old-fashioned in certain circles to speak of Heaven, even more old-fashioned to speak of hell. But yes, there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.

13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16

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