Enduring With Christ
Hebrews 13:8–14 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
In the broader context of this passage vv.7-14 should be taken together. The exhortation to remember past leaders should logically connect us to the constancy of Christ in v.8 which in turns reminds us of our need to be constantly nourished on the New Covenant grace of God which was revealed and realized at the cross, which is the better “altar” of the New Covenant vv.9-14. These verses, especially vv.8-14, constitute a call to maintain our fidelity to the New Covenant. In order to do this we must understand three distinct things about Christ and the New Covenant.
The Enduring Character Of Christ
As students of Scripture we must come to realize the organic continuity of Christ throughout the Scriptures. The reason I say it is an organic continuity is because as we are thinking in the categories of Hebrews, we are thinking of Old and New, past and present, this age and the age to come. In other words, as these believers have just been exhorted to listen to their past leaders (v.7), the author of Hebrews now wants to remind them that past and present leaders are valuable because Christ himself is constant. Just as He fueled their lives and worship, Christ stands ready to fuel our lives today because His character is constant and endures forever, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”(Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ἐχθὲς καὶ σήμερον ὁ αὐτὸς καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας). He may have disappeared from sight but His grace and nature is the same “forever” (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, lit. ‘into the ages’). He is the way, the truth and the life that we can build our lives on; that’s the meaning of constancy:
Matthew 7:24–27 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
The Empowering Grace Of Christ
The author of Hebrews does not want us to move from this rock of constant grace, therefore, he seeks to warn us to remain faithful to the New Covenant grace of God in Christ. This begins with a warning concerning false teachers who were seeking to undermine the all-sufficiency of God’s grace, “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited” (13.9). The general warning here is always valuable for the church for although it may not be a Jewish influence today looking to bring us back to the dietary laws of the Old Covenant, it may be any other kind of influence that would seek to do the same in principle i.e. move us away from the sufficiency of God’s grace.
Particular to Hebrews, whatever the church was facing is here called, “varied and strange teachings” (διδαχαῖς ποικίλαις καὶ ξέναις). This shows us the influence of false teaching and false teachers. These false teachers were preoccupied with “food” (βρῶμα) which did “not benefit” (οὐκ ὠφελήθησαν) them. In other words, legalism, whether it was some kind of insistence of OT dietary laws or some other form of restrictions on food beyond what the New Covenant called for (e.g. Acts 15.20; Rom. 14.20-23; 1 Cor. 10.25-29); the result was the same; a preoccupation with what goes into the body rather than what comes out is not the way of grace. This was after all, the error of the Pharisees (cf. Mt. 15.11, 15-20). The author has already informed us that “food” regulations are rooted in the external, the temporal and the typological (9.9-10). Christ brings what Hebrews calls, “the time of reformation” i.e. the New Covenant order that internalizes God’s Law in the believer’s heart (10.16).
The exhortation is not to be “carried away” (μὴ παραφέρεσθε) by such foreign and false teachings. This shows us the importance of Jesus’ sacrificial death. To show us the significance of this, the author returns to the cultus of the Old Covenant where the imagery of the sacrifice is connected to the “tabernacle” (σκηνή), “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp” (13.10-11).
To show us that the New Covenant does not consist of food regulations, the author reminds us that the “altar” (θυσιαστήριον) we are concerned with transcends the earthly altar because in reality, it is the heavenly tabernacle that are we most concerned with. That is the place of Christ’s altar where God is fully pleased and propitiation is fully made and atonement is made fully acceptable to God:
Hebrews 8:1–2 1 Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.
Hebrews 9:24–26 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
The “altar” (13.10a) here is metaphorical of the sacrifice of Christ which corresponds to heaven not earth. This is the “altar” believers in the New Covenant have, “we have an altar” (ἔχομεν θυσιαστήριον). From this “altar” (θυσιαστήριον), the metaphorical heavenly realm where Christ presented His blood (9.24-25), “those” who are still serving the Old Covenant “tabernacle” (13.10b) have no right to eat. They have no right to “eat” which refers to partaking of Christ sacrifice because they are still attending the earthly “tabernacle.” In a sense, the author turns the false teacher’s theology of ‘eating’ against them to show them that what they really need to partake of is Christ’s offering but they cannot so long as they attend to the earthly or “outer tabernacle” under Old Covenant regulations. Such Old Covenant retrogrades have no right to partake of the New Covenant sacrifice of Christ.
The argument is even more penetrating since “those who serve the tabernacle” under the Old Covenant order were the Levitical priests (13.11; Num. 16.9). The false teachers were no doubt grounding their emphasis on “foods” on the Levitical code. Here the author probably anticipates or knows they are trying to hide behind the Old Covenant Levitical priests so here he excludes them from partaking of the antitypical sacrifice of Christ! The reality is that this “altar” is out of man’s reach (cf. 7.13). It can only be accessed by grace!
To strengthen his argument further, the author reminds the readers of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 where the Levitical priests could not eat of the food of the altar because the animals had to be “burned outside the camp” (κατακαίεται ἔξω τῆς παρεμβολῆς). In other words, on the highest holiest day in Israel, the Day of Atonement, the day of sacrifice, the day when the high priest would bring sacrificial “blood” (τὸ αἷμα) into “the holy place” (τὰ ἅγια), the Law stipulated that the priests could not eat this offering (cf. Lev. 6.30) but that it should be consumed “outside the camp” where it would die beyond the gates of Jerusalem in order to symbolize, among other things, that the offering was bearing the curse of God that it should die rejected and in shame (we will come back to this below).
This reminds us that what our standing before God consists of, whether from a forensic aspect, as seen in Paul’s argument in Romans, or from a covenantal aspect as taught here in Hebrews; the bedrock of the believer’s standing and subsequent access to God is grace. Here grace is identified as that supreme means of spiritual strength and vitality that it is, “for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” (καλὸν γὰρ χάριτι βεβαιοῦσθαι τὴν καρδίαν). God’s grace, supremely found in the death of Christ for us, not only saves us but sustains us to the end. God’s grace is designed to empower the heart and the grace of the gospel, the grace found in the cross of Christ (God’s ‘altar’), which excludes works (cf. Rom. 4.16), strengthens “the heart” (τὴν καρδίαν). The “heart” in Hebrews has been at the core of the letter’s argument. After all, it was because of the heart that the wilderness generation fell away (3.9, 10), it was the heart that needed to be renewed and regenerated by the New Covenant (8.10; 10.16), also the heart in the New Covenant has been sanctified by the blood of Jesus (10.22). But here the author insists that the heart needs to be continually “strengthened” (βεβαιόω). Vigilance of the heart is something Hebrews has already addressed:
Hebrews 3:12–15 12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, 15 while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”
The Eternal Goal of Christ
The exhortation that follows from this amazing exposition is equally staggering for, we are called to identify with Jesus at this pivotal place of suffering and death:
Hebrews 13:12-14 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
Notice here that there should also be a comfort in the cross we are called to bear for we do not bear it alone. “let us go out to Him” (ἐξερχώμεθα πρὸς αὐτὸν) that is, we are called to identify with Him because we are with Him and more importantly, He is with us! This really is a paradoxical truth. The church is being called to identify with the sufferings of Christ knowing that His goal and His desire is for their eternal good. Christ’s eternal goal can be summed up in two ways: He wants a holy people in a holy realm.
Christ Desires A Holy People:
First, Christ desires for His people to be holy. That is what the sacrifice of Christ is all about, the purification of God’s people, “that He might sanctify the people through His own blood” (ἵνα ἁγιάσῃ διὰ τοῦ ἰδίου αἵματος τὸν λαόν). The whole goal of redemption is not simply to bring us to heaven but to fit us for heaven not only by identifying with His people and suffering on their behalf but also by calling us to identify with Him in that place of suffering, “Jesus… suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Ἰησοῦς... ἔξω τῆς πύλης ἔπαθεν. τοίνυν ἐξερχώμεθα πρὸς αὐτὸν ἔξω τῆς παρεμβολῆς τὸν ὀνειδισμὸν αὐτοῦ φέροντες). This is ultimately owing to God’s own eternal purpose to have a people redeemed and renewed through Jesus Christ so that we would stand in perfect solidarity with our High Priest in the context of suffering and ‘bearing His reproach’ (τὸν ὀνειδισμὸν αὐτοῦ φέροντες):
Hebrews 2:10–13 10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. 11 For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 saying, “I will proclaim Your name to My brethren, In the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.” 13 And again, “I will put My trust in Him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.”
Even as Jesus was appointed to suffer, to be glorified through suffering, to be perfected through suffering; believers who have been put into the New Covenant must now face the reality of bearing Christ’s shame, His reproach. To suffer outside the camp was the place of exclusion, shame, abandonment and guilt. This Jesus took upon himself willfully and obediently. Now this rejection serves to indicate that the nature of following Christ involves being rejected by the institutions of Israel including the Jewish people (John 1.11), the Sanhedrin (Mark 14.63–64; Mt. 27.64–65; see Lev. 24.11, 16), and in reality the entire world (1 Cor. 2.8). This is why Jesus calls believers to share in His suffering and to bear His reproach:
Luke 14:27 27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Mt. 10.38; Mk. 8.34)
Perhaps no one wrote so extensively on this than the apostle Paul who knew all too well what it meant to suffer for and with Christ. He often reminded the Church not only of His willingness to suffer with Christ, to bear His reproach but he also prepared us for the same:
Colossians 1:24 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
Philippians 3:10 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
Romans 8:16–17 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
Philippians 1:29 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
This whole theology of suffering eventually was codified into a confessional statement in the early Church:
2 Timothy 2:10–14 10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. 11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. 14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.
Christ Desires A Holy Place:
The reason Christ desires a holy people of course is because it conforms to the holy place that He is preparing for us. Hebrews sees the Christian life as a wilderness experience where we, like those in previous generations, are made to wander through a strange land and are made to feel like strangers and exiles in this world even as Abraham did (11.9). Hebrews makes it clear that God is pleased with us when we see the temporal dissatisfying nature of this world (11.13-16). The reality is, for any committed believer, we understand that “here we do not have a lasting city” (οὐ γὰρ ἔχομεν ὧδε μένουσαν πόλιν). Everything in this world is destined to fall, fail, and fade away (12.27 cf. 1 Cor. 7.31; 1 John 2.17).
As we identify with Christ and indeed suffering because of Him and for Him, we reveal that “we are seeking the city which is to come” (τὴν μέλλουσαν ἐπιζητοῦμεν). Thus, to suffer is to seek! It is to live eschatologically. Our suffering is not aimless, especially when we suffer for Christ, when we suffer persecution, which is to suffer His “reproach.” It is to long for future belonging and future residence in the “city of the living God”, “the heavenly Jerusalem” (12.22). Moses lived for this future city because he understood that only reward that Jesus gives will truly endure and truly satisfy:
Hebrews 11:24–26 24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
Enduring with Christ is virtually synonymous with being satisfied in Christ. That is the key, that is the hope and the grace that will get us through it all.
- Bernad of Clarivaux