PERSEVERE IN LOVE, HOPE AND FAITH CONSISTENT WITH YOUR EARLY CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE
This passage tracks nicely with vv.22-25 in terms of working through the triad of love, hope and faith from the orientation of perseverance. The author also works through the challenge to face persecution and suffering from the time perspectives of past, present and future. The author wants to encourage his audience after the strong warning in vv. 25-31 that he judges most of them to be solidly in the camp of genuine believers who will persevere in the faith rather than those who be exposed as falling away to destruction. The prospect of future rewards and the soon return of Christ should be helpful motivators for perseverance. But the reality is that believers should not be surprised to face suffering and persecution as they identify with the body of Christ.
Ray Stedman: Once again, as in chapter 6, we see the writer’s confidence that most of those he addresses are not apostate, as he describes in He 10:32-34. He seeks to recall them to the love and steadfastness they had exhibited when their faith in Jesus was new. They had received the light as had also those now threatening apostasy, as He 10:26 makes clear. But most had:
(1) accepted insult and persecution to their own person, or supported others so treated;
(2) visited and sustained those put in prison for their faith; and
(3) actually felt joy over watching their property confiscated, since they took comfort in the fact that their true treasures were in heaven, not on earth.
Such actions were the product of true faith, and he urges them to keep this confident faith in verses 35-36, since perseverance is the proof of reality. The persecutions and injustices they endured presented strong temptations to give up, to accept the values of society around, and to forget what they had learned about the realities of life, death and eternity. Many are tempted today to throw away [their] confidence. Confidence is what motivates appropriate action in view of the times in which one lives.
I. (:32-34) PERSEVERE IN LOVE AS YOU ENDURE SUFFERING AND PERSECUTION – FOCUS ON THE PAST EXPERIENCES
A. (:32-33) Reminder of Endurance During Past Persecutions
1. (:32) Impressive Endurance
“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened,
you endured a great conflict of sufferings,”
Richard Phillips: The writer of Hebrews places great stock in the use of historical examples. In Chapter 11 he will make a tour de force through biblical history, but here in the last verses of chapter 10 he turns back to the history of this particular congregation.
Mohler: The author calls these believers to remember the earlier days, which most likely means the years just after their conversion. They should remember their strong zeal for the Lord and how they handled the difficulties they experienced on account of following Christ in a world opposed to him. They endured sufferings for their faith then, so they can endure suffering in their present situation.
Hewitt: In the early days of their Christian experience the readers had given proof of their Christian constancy and love in the face of uncompromising hostility form the Jews and persecution from the Gentiles.
2. (:33) Intense Persecution
a. Personally Targeted
“partly, by being made a public spectacle
through reproaches and tribulations,”
Leon Morris: The readers had been made a spectacle by being exposed to insult and injury.
Wuest: In this verse we are given two forms in which the persecution was aimed at the recipients of this letter. They were made a gazingstock. The latter word is the translation of theatrizo from which we get our word “theatre,” and which means “to bring upon the stage, to set forth as a spectacle, expose to contempt.” This was literally true in the case of the Roman Empire exposing Christians to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre. But in the case of apostate Judaism in its treatment of its former adherents who became converts to the New Testament truth, it was not by means of lions but by means of reproaches and afflictions. The word “reproaches” is the translation of oneidismos. The verb of the same root means “to upbraid, to revile, to cast in one’s teeth.” It is used of unjust reproach. Here the word refers to a bitter invective hurled at the Jews for having forsaken the temple sacrifices and having embraced the New Testament truth. “Tribulations” is the translation of… thlipsis. The word means “a pressing together,” thus, “oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, straits.” All this was the result of the persecution.
b. Voluntarily Shared = Fellowship in the sufferings of others
“and partly by becoming sharers
with those who were so treated.”
B. (:34) Commendation for Past Demonstration of Christian Virtues
1. Risky Love and Compassion
“For you showed sympathy to the prisoners,”
Leon Morris: In the world of the first century the lot of prisoners was difficult. Prisoners were to be punished, not pampered. Little provision was made for them, and they were dependent on friends for their supplies. For Christians visiting prisoners was a meritorious at (Matt 25:36). But there was some risk, for the visitors become identified with the visited. The readers of the epistle had not shrunk from this.
2. Radical Joy and Eternal Perspective
a. Radical Joy
“and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property,”
Richard Phillips: This readiness to share in suffering has always confounded tyrants who tried to suppress the Christian faith. They put Christians in prison to isolate them, but other Christians just came to prison to keep them company. They confiscated their homes and possessions, seeking to break their spirits. But it was they, the persecutors of the church, whose spirits fell when the Christians responded with sacrificial sharing to provide for all the believers. This was the testimony of the wonderful Christian congregation in suffering, to whom the writer of Hebrews was writing. This was the display of faith by which Christians turned the ancient world upside down.
b. Eternal Perspective
“knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession
and an abiding one.”
Kent: Not only had they been sympathetic when their Christian friends had suffered, but they also had known what it was to suffer personally. They had experienced seizure of their possessions, and the inference from the previous clause is that they might have escaped some suffering and loss if they had not openly sympathized with other suffering Christians.
Mohler: These believers understood that “better” possessions were in store for those who persevered in the midst of persecution, so they continued to align with Christ – even when it cost them in earthly matters. Moreover, they knew the possession that awaited them was “enduring.” They knew their possession in heaven was an everlasting possession that would not be taken away from them and would never expire. This knowledge helped them endure early in their faith, so the author exhorts his readers to recall those days to help them endure in their present circumstances.
F. F. Bruce: The eternal inheritance laid up for them was so real in their eyes that they could lightheartedly bid farewell to material possessions which were short-lived in any case. This attitude of mind is precisely that “faith” of which our author goes on to speak.”
II. (:35-37) PERSEVERE IN HOPE AS YOU ANTICIPATE CHRIST’S RETURN – FOCUS ON THE FUTURE REWARD
A. (:35) Motivation Tied to Future Reward
1. Motivation to Maintain Christian Confidence
“Therefore, do not throw away your confidence,”
Spurgeon: Those who are acquainted with the original will know that it is not very easy to explain this word in one English word. The nearest approach to it would be boldness — “Cast not away your boldness,” and it is frequently translated by that word. In the Acts, where we read, “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John,” it is the same word in the Greek as that which is here translated “confidence.” But it means something rather different from boldness, because we read of Christ, in the gospel by Mark, that he spoke openly, and there the word is precisely that which is here used, and translated “confidence.” And the apostle says, “We use great plainness of speech,” and there the word is the same also. It means that freedom, that peace, that at-home-ness, which makes a man feel bold, free, confident. We come back again to the word in the text — your confidence, your child-like plainness, freedom, quietude, peace of heart, rest, sense of security, and, therefore, courage. The apostle meant a great deal when he said, “Cast not away therefore your confidence.”
Kent: All Christians have need of patience in times of stress. Otherwise the temptation to despair, to discouragement, and even to abandonment of the fellowship of the saints may become too strong to resist. Patience (hapomones) denotes endurance, a willingness to remain under adverse circumstances without compromise or defection.
Mohler: They are urged, therefore, not to throw off their Christian confidence as they would a worthless garment, but to continue to speak and act boldly for Christ as they had so gloriously done in those former days.
Hughes: After joyfully enduring severe afflictions and losses for Christ’s sake, to throw away their confidence as though it were after all something worthless and dispensable would not make sense. Of all desertions apostasy is the most unreasonable, for it means turning one’s back on him who has been professed before men as the sole source and ground of our confidence, and through whose blood we have freedom of access, in full assurance of faith, into the eternal sanctuary of God’s presence (Heb 10:19-25. above; cf. Heb 3:6; 4:16). Discouraged by the perils and hardships of the wilderness, the forefathers of those to whom our letter was sent were moved with a spirit of apostasy when they asked, “Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Nu 14:3). These Hebrew Christians of the first century were in danger of following this evil example (cf. Heb 3:12) by “forsaking the God who made them” and “scoffing at the Rock of their salvation” (Dt. 32:15). To do this would be evidence that they had indeed “thrown away their confidence” and returned to the deceptive and impermanent material things of the present world which previously they had professed to “throw away.” It would be a tragic failure of “earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end” (He 6:11)
2. Future Reward Makes Present Suffering Worthwhile
“which has a great reward.”
B. (:36) Mission Tied to Future Reward
1. Perseverance is the Key
“For you have need of endurance,”
H. Griffith Thomas: The safeguard against degeneration, isolation, and consequent failure is to make progress in the Christian life, and to proceed from point to point from an elementary to the richest, fullest, deepest experience.
2. Mission = Perform the Will of God
“so that when you have done the will of God,”
3. Future Reward = Receiving What Was Promised
“you may receive what was promised.”
F. F. Bruce: What they need is patience. God will certainly fulfil His promise; they will enter into the utmost enjoyment of it; but in the meantime they must remain loyal, and not give up doing God’s will.
C. (:37) Soon Return of Christ Tied to Future Reward
“For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.”
Hewitt: The quotation (Isaiah xxvi. 20) is adapted from Habakkuk ii. 3, 4 where the prophet speaks of the fulfilment of the prophecy regarding the overthrow of the Chaldaeans. The Hebrew text of this passage makes it plain that it is the vision of approaching salvation which will not tarry, but the LXX introduces a personal aspect. A rescuer is to come. The author follows the LXX, but by inserting the definite article makes it clear that the coming One is Christ whose return will bring to an end all trials and usher in the promised blessing.
Manson: More clearly than anywhere else in the Epistle it would appear that disappointment over the delay of the Parousia of Christ was one cause at least of the community’s apathy and loss of faith.
David Guzik: The toughest and most discouraging trials are when we are called to obey God’s will when the fulfillment of His promise seems so far away. This is why we need endurance. Faithfulness during the time when the promise seems unfulfilled is the measure of your obedience and spiritual maturity. This endurance is built through trials, the testing of our faith (Jas 1:2, 3, 4).
Richard Phillips: Donald Grey Barnhouse emphasized that this is why Christians never simply tolerate their circumstances. We do not descend into stoic resignation, but rather are enlivened by a mighty hope:
“There is no thought of, “I can stand it.” The pagan, in dull hopelessness, bows
to the inevitable. The Christian accepts the suffering, knowing that God is
bringing him through to glory; and from the hope of the past to the hope of the
future, he sees the connection running through his suffering like a thread that
binds all together. His life is like the turbulent rapids of a river, but he knows
that the river comes from a still spring and is flowing to a calm ocean. In this
knowledge, the Christian has settled peace.”
All of this being true, the only real danger to a Christian is that of abandoning the faith.
III. (:38-39) PERSEVERE IN FAITH AS YOU REMAIN ON TRACK UNTIL THE FINAL GOAL – FOCUS ON THE PRESENT CHALLENGE
A. (:38a) Principle to Live By in the Christian Life
“But My righteous one shall live by faith;”
B. (:38b) Parenthetical Warning
“And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
C. (:39) Pastoral Expectation and Encouragement
1. Apostasy Not Expected
“But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction,”
2. Perseverance in the Faith Expected
“but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”
Richard Phillips: “The perseverance of the saints” is one of the defining doctrines of Reformed theology. This doctrine teaches that while we are saved by grace alone, because of God’s sovereign predestination, Christians must yet persevere until the end of their lives, or until Christ returns. Probably the clearest statement linking these two ideas of sovereign grace and the necessity to persevere comes in 2 Peter 1:10-11 . . .
The same God who ordained he end of salvation for his elect also ordained the means by which we will get there, and that is perseverance in faith. Perseverance means acting in faith, and acting in faith means growing. We cannot sit still.