The writer of Hebrews has an aim. It was to urge Hebrew Christians NOT to bow to the pressure to reject Christ by returning to the temple and its services. Hebrew Christians were being persecuted in a number of ways: treated violently, made fun of, and had their emotions worked on—tradition, loyalty, life-long practices. The book urges Christians not to look at what is visible, but, by faith, to hold on to the invisible things revealed in God’s word, the Bible. The letter starts with a discussion of God’s speaking to the fathers of old (meaning the believers we come across in the OT) and finally God speaks to us, in these last days, by a Son.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
The Bible uses the word ‘faith’ in at least two ways.
The first way of using the word faith indicates that it has the meaning of ‘what is to be believed’, that body of knowledge about Jesus Christ, who he is, what he has done, and what the means for us.
Jude, in his letter, speaks about [contending for] the faith which was once (and for all) delivered to the saints (Jude 3); an unchanging body of truth. ‘The faith’ is the great gift of God to a sinful world. The Faith is God’s revealed will regarding our salvation through the life, the death and the rising again of Jesus Christ. This Faith comes to us in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
So the letter to the Hebrew Christian is very concerned about the Faith. For instance:
Chapter one–the word reveals the divine nature of the Son,
Chapter two–the word reveals the incarnation of the Son
Chapter three–hear the word, trust the word; do not harden your hearts
Chapter four–the word is a two edged sword, revealing the Son as our only hope, our rest.
Chapters five to nine–the word reveals the Son as both priest and sacrifice. God, who cannot lie, has sworn by himself as to the truthfulness of the message,
Chapter 10–the Son is presented as the new and living way.
The second way the word ‘faith’ is used in the Bible, shows that it means ‘the appropriate response to that body of truth’. We are to trust ourselves to the Saviour of whom God has told us about in the word.
This faith is the gift of God; he gives this faith to his children. This faith is not just that a person can repeat the things that God has revealed, but it is our relying on what God as revealed as our only hope in this life and in the life that is to come. Again, the letter to the Hebrew Christians deals at length with the vital necessity of this faith:
Chapter 2: How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
Chapter 3: Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your heart.
Chapter 4: The promise [God’s revealed will for our salvation] did not benefit some, since it was not received by faith
Chapter 6: Warns against rejecting the word which we have heard.
Chapter 10: Warns against rejecting the Son as he is revealed in the word.
Which of these two meanings of the word ‘faith’ is Hebrews 11 dealing with particularly? Both of them.
Faith is the assurance (foundation, substance) of things hoped for,
This clause comprehends both the facts that are presented to us to trust and our trusting of them. The assurance (foundation) are the things God has assured us of in the word. They are the statements – objective truth — of the God who cannot lie.
Things hoped for refers to our trust in these statements. We put our trust – base our hope — in these statements from God.
The second clause of the first verse does a similar thing; it also refers to the message(s) and the trusting of the message(s):
(Faith is) the evidence (something proved or tested) of things (deeds done/actions/promises) not seen (but reported to us in God’s word, the Bible).
The idea is that true things — things past, present or future, which we have not seen, but have had reported to us by God in his word — are the appropriate object of faith, our trust. Because God is both the giver of the message and the faith to receive that message, faith is evidence. It produces conviction in us regarding unseen things:
- God is not seen—He is a spirit, invisible, eternal and unchangeable. Revealed equally to all in nature (Rom 1), but without saving faith, the truth is rejected.
- Jesus Christ, and all his deeds (life, death, resurrection)—we have not seen him or his doings, although others have seen and have told us of him. (1 peter, you love him whom you have not seen—2 peter, gives us eyewitness testimnoy of his glory.)
- God’s unchanging favour toward his people, in the midst of changing circumstances. In this sin blighted world, Christians suffer the same troubles as those who do not trust God. God’s favour is certainly on His people whereas His anger remains on those who reject His offered mercy.
- all the promises Christians have in Christ: the resurrection; that we are priest and kings unto God.
- judgment to come, and new heavens and earth.
2Co 4:18 While we look not to the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
The Christian martyr, Polycarp, was certain that the One whom he had trusted for 86 years would not prove false in the final trial. The Roman proconsul urged him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set you free. Reproach Christ!” Polycarp is said to have answered, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”.
For the Christian, faith is not a vague wishing for something that is uncertain—like wishing on a star. No, the faith to which we trust ourselves has been revealed to us in an objective word. God has spoken repeatedly and consistently to the world in the scriptures over hundreds of years about the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
Continued in part 2.