Bible Studies on Hebrews 11: Real Heroes of the Faith
Part 15: Something Better

By I Gordon
 

Well, we only have two verses left in the book of Hebrews so I’ve done some complex calculations and determined that we are down to the last 14 messages in this series. Ok... my nose is growing. But if you have made it through to this, the last study in the Hebrews 11 series, then you have done well. [1] So here are the last two verses that are left unstudied in Hebrews chapter 11.

Hebrews 11:39-40 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. (40) God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

As I read the last verses, there were two words that stood out to me. If you have seen the title then my little surprise has already been popped, but the two words are ‘Something better’. Something better... It is what most people through the whole world look and long for is it not? Well, as Christians we have far greater reason to be filled with confidence in ‘something better’ for it is the very thing promised by God! So as we explore these last two verses we’ll look at the following:

  1. The ‘something better’ of salvation by faith
  2. The ‘something better’ of a believers position compared to the Old Testament saints
  3. And most importantly, the ‘something better’ that is still to come.

Something better - Commended by faith!

Hebrews 11:39 These were all commended for their faith...

As we have moved through Hebrews 11 we’ve looked at a lot of ‘big name’ characters like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and many others. This verse tells us that they all had something in common – they were ALL commended for their faith. The word translated as ‘commended’ here is ‘martureo’ and it has the thought of ‘a good honest report or witness’ [2] , ‘to be well reported of’, Other Bible versions say that they ‘gained approval through their faith’ (NASB), ‘obtained a good testimony through faith’ (NKJV), ‘won divine approval by [means of] their faith’ (AMP), It is good to remember that they received divine approval by their faith. It doesn’t say they were commended by their holiness, their service or even love for others. These are all important and we want to grow in these important fruits of the faith do we not? But when it comes to our standing before an infinite holy God, when it comes to gaining approval by Almighty God, it... is... by... FAITH in the work of another – the Lord Jesus. That is the ‘something better’ that makes Christianity stand apart from every other religion in this world. To illustrate this, I recently saw the title of a blog post on the internet that said ‘Hebrews 11 – An alternative reading.’ It talked about how Hebrews 11 would have read quite differently if they had not been commended by faith. Instead of the hall of fame, it said it may have been the ‘hall of shame’. Instead of the heroes of the faith, it could have been the ‘zeroes of the faith’. The author then gave his alternative reading, rewriting Hebrews 11 using actual events in the lives of these ‘saints’ [3] :

By recklessness Noah got drunk and his nakedness was exposed to his son Ham (Genesis 9:20-27).
By fear Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah, calling her his sister instead of his wife (Genesis 12:10-20). By fear he did it again (Genesis 20:1-18).
By anxiousness Sarah offered her servant Hagar to Abraham so that he might have an heir (Genesis 16:1-16).
By favouritism Isaac loved his son Esau more that his son Jacob and this caused all kinds of problems with his family (Genesis 25:28).
By deceit Jacob stole his brothers blessing by tricking his blind father Isaac (Genesis 27:1-46).
By rage Moses murdered an Egyptian taskmaster, hiding the body in the sand and fleeing to the wilderness (Exodus 2:11-22).
By anger Moses struck the rock to bring forth water instead of speaking to the rock as the Lord had commanded (Numbers 20:10-13).
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of the sins of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David, and the prophets – who through faithlessness erected an idol for Israel to worship (Judges 8:22-27), who refused to fight for the Lord (Judges 4:8-9), who made a rash vow (Judges 11:29-40), who was a womanizer (Judges 16:1-22) who took another man’s wife and then murdered the man (2 Samuel 11:1-27), and who out of fear ran from his responsibilities (1 Kings 19:1-18).
All of these were condemned because of their sins.

The article went on to say, “But PRAISE GOD, the story of the salvation is so very different. Rather than being condemned for their sins, those who put their trust in God were commended for their faith (Hebrews 11:2).” And that is something better than all other religions!

I say this because i recently had someone write in very scared. After watching a YouTube video they had become to doubt whether there is such a thing as ‘imputed righteousness’. Now we don’t use the word ‘imputed’ very much anymore but it simply has the thought of Jesus’ righteousness being ‘credited’ or ‘reckoned’ to our account by faith. It is a thoroughly biblical thought and term. But this person was scared. The message on YouTube said that imputed righteousness was a ‘wicked doctrine’... one that sends ’people to hell’. So the person writing in was fearful that salvation is not based on Jesus’ righteousness being credited to the account of those that believe, but by allowing God to work in our lives so that sin is overcome and we live a righteous life. I wrote a fairly long reply but I started by saying that I understand where her fear comes from. Firstly, she was hearing something that cast doubt on the very foundation of what she believed. And secondly, if what she was now hearing is true, then we should all be fearful for though we desire to live righteously through the Lord’s work in our life, who amongst us could say that we have overcome sin enough or are now pure enough to be accepted by an infinitely holy God? That is a very unsteady foundation. There is a reason we sing some of the old hymns we do like this one:

"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand."

So there is something better that sets true Christianity apart from all other religions and that is that we are commended by faith. We are commended by trusting in the merits of another on our behalf – Jesus Christ.

But didn’t receive what was promised???

Hebrews 11:39 ...yet none of them received what had been promised.

Earlier in Hebrews 11 we had read that through faith these men and women had ‘conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises...’ (Heb 11:33) But now it says they didn’t receive what had been promised. ‘Whatcha talkin bout Willis?’ What is that all about? It is actually speaking of two different things. Yes they received many promises, small and great, and saw the fulfilment of many things. But they didn’t receive the fulfilment of ‘the promise’ as the KJV puts it. And what was ‘the promise’? It was the Messiah Himself and the promise of the grace and blessing that would be manifest at His coming. It was what the saints and prophets of old were all looking for. It is even what the angels long to look into. [4]

‘Something better’ which believers today have over the Old Testament saints

Hebrews 11:40 God had planned something better for us…

So God had planned something better for us. This something better is both what we currently have and what is still to come. We have, through the covenant of grace and the gift of righteousness, a wonderful taste of this ‘something better’. The ultimate fulfilment still awaits our glorification – the perfection of our new bodies and the glory to come. As the great theologian Jonathon Edwards said ‘ "Grace is but Glory begun, and Glory is but Grace perfected."

So let’s look at this word ‘better’. ‘Better’ is quite a big word in the book of Hebrews. You will remember that the author (likely Paul) is writing to Hebrews, fellow Israelites who were believers but were coming under tremendous pressure to abandon their faith in Christ and return to Judaism. The writer of Hebrews gives many warnings concerning that but also talks about what we have that is ‘better’. Here are some examples:

Verse

What is better?

Hebrews 1:3-4 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature... having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.

A better mediator
Angels were involved in the giving of the law but the New Covenant come with a much better mediator – Jesus! He is the Son of God. The exact representation of God’s nature in human form.

Heb 7:19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.

A better hope
Christians have a ‘better hope’ than those under the law (which made nothing perfect) – This better hope allows us to draw right to God Himself!

Heb 8:6 But now He (Jesus) has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

A better covenant & better promises
Jesus brought in the New Covenant which is a better covenant in that it is based on better promises.

Heb 9:23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

A better sacrifice
The earthly tabernacle in the time of Moses had to be cleansed by the animal blood sacrifices but the Heavenly tabernacle was cleansed by a better sacrifice – that of Jesus Himself.

Heb 10:34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.

A better possession
Christians know that even if they lose everything on this earth they still have a better possession, a lasting one, that no one can take from them.

Heb 11:16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

A better home and country
Believers look forward to the heavenly city knowing that it is a better home than anything ever experienced down here!

Heb 11:35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection

A better resurrection
Even for believers, there is such a thing as a better resurrection and there should be a desire within to obtain this better resurrection by living for God today.

Heb 11:40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Something still better
Faith experiences now, and ends with, something better! Faith becomes sight. The imperfect becomes perfect. Sorrow becomes everlasting joy! Something better!

The ‘something better’ still to come

So what of the something better still to come? As I come to the end of this Hebrews 11 study on faith I wanted to study how faith ends. The Bible says that we walk by faith and not by sight but our faith definitely ends with sight. Faith is ‘the conviction of things not seen’, but it ends with everything revealed. As I mentioned earlier, everyone in this world seems to be looking for ‘something better’ – in all sorts of places, some good and many not so good. It causes some to spend every day on the golf course in the pursuit of a better handicap. I’m not dissing that - we all know how important that is! : ) It causes others to leave their job or home in the hope of something better on the horizon. Some, tragically, even leave their wives with the misplaced thought of getting something, or more accurately someone, ‘better’. But it is to believers that the true promise of something better has been made.

We have received ‘something better’ than what the saints of old knew but the best is yet to come! Oh the mystery in the thought that God has prepared ‘something better’ for us still to come! Let me just say that it cannot be overhyped. It cannot fall flat. It cannot let down. As an example, I recently bought some new curtains for my lounge. I went to a shop in town and picked out some lovely ones. In the shop they had some little spot lights shining down on them from the ceiling which made them just gleam and glisten in the light. They looked fantastic. I’ve looked forward to replacing my drab lounge curtains for a while and after a bit of a wait they were installed last week. As I watched them get installed I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say that there was a bit of flat feeling in my stomach. To use a technical term, in the shop they were ‘ooooh!’ In my home it was ‘hmmm... argh’ There was a general feeling of ‘well, that’s not quite what I hoped for!’ They had glistened and gleamed gloriously under the lights of the shop but my home has successfully managed to strip them of all life and bring them back down to earth quite quickly! : )

Now I’m exaggerating a bit but the point is this... We all look forward to different things on this planet and are often let down, but God’s ‘something better’ is that which no believer will be disappointed with. No one having seen and experienced our heavenly home or the coming Kingdom age at Jesus’ return will be saying ‘yeah... it’s nice, it is good, but, argh, like if I’m honest I was kind of expecting something more.’ God is the master of the understatement so when He says He has ‘something better’ planned, BELIEVE IT! Now people have been waiting a long time for the return of Jesus to make things better. But though it has taken longer than expected, we should not lose heart in the plan, promises and the ‘something better’ that God has in store.

Elizabeth, Zacharias and John

I read an interesting example of this recently where Jonathan Cahn was writing about the events leading up to the first coming of Jesus. Between the Old and New Testaments is a period that Bible scholars call ‘the silent years’. For hundreds of years God had sent prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Haggai etc saying ‘thus saith the Lord...’ The last of these was Malachi in 430 BC and the last thing he prophesied was that Elijah would come again to turn the hearts of the sons back to the father and vice versa. But then the prophets stopped. For 400 years leading up to the first coming of Jesus no more prophets came with a word from the Lord. It’s why they call it the silent years. Now God is never silent and was still speaking to people but there wasn’t the same manner of Prophets coming and declaring the word of the Lord as they had previously. It became silent in that respect. The years became decades and the decades many centuries. Many would have wondered about the promise. Where is the promised Messiah? Where is the coming of Elijah to prepare the way and restore the hearts of Israel? Why has nothing happened? Has God forgotten to fulfil what He said? 400 years... And then, suddenly, the ‘something better’ came.

Luke 1:5-17 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. (6) They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. (7) But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. (8) Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, (9) according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. (10) And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. (11) And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. (12) Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. (13) But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. (14) "You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. (15) "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb. (16) "And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. (17) "It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Now this is a wonderful story. We have a priest called Zacharias who was married to Elizabeth. They have wanted children but she is barren and the years have rolled on, well past the age when she can conceive. But it just ‘happened’ that Zacharias drew the lot to minister in the temple before the Lord and there he meets Gabriel, an angel of the Lord, who tells him that God will give them a son. But this is to be no ordinary child. Gabriel himself says that the child will come in the power of Elijah, preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah by turning the hearts of the people back to God. And note that they were specifically instructed by Gabriel to name the child John. Now what Jonathon Cahn pointed out was something hidden in the meaning of their names. We have Zacharias, Elizabeth and John.

As mentioned earlier, we have had close to 2000 years of waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus. Many godly men and woman have lived and died with this hope without seeing this promise fulfilled. Many have turned off thinking it won’t happen... But fulfilled to the letter it will be. The last promise given in the Bible is in the second to last verse where Jesus says ‘Yes I am coming quickly.’ That word quickly also means ‘suddenly’ in the Greek. He will come suddenly and the ‘something better’ will be suddenly realised.

Jesus first miracle – saves the best for last... and a God-given dream!

It is important to remember that God saves the best for last whether it be the end of a believers life or the end of this age. What was Jesus’ first ever miracle? It was turning the water into wine at the wedding. And what did the people attending find odd about that wedding? It was that they had saved the best wine for last. This is a picture of how it is with God. About a year ago Mum had a God-given dream. This doesn't happen at all often... Only really had three in her life she said. But this was God given. In it she became acutely aware that she was in another realm with the Lord. And her overwhelming feeling was one of amazement that all the problems, all the trials, all the difficulties that had gone on for so long, where all now passed, completely, never to be experienced again. She said that she had this great sense of relief that the problems of this world would never be seen again. The other overwhelming feeling was one of harmony. She knew that she belonged in this new world. She knew she was home at last. She looked around in her dream and behind her was this current world and before her she could see meadows and a river and she saw her brother walking along the river with someone else (she doesn't know who that was). As they came close she saw that their clothing and being was glowing and vibrant with the life of God. She then woke up but has never forgotten it. It was a glimpse into the ‘something better’ still to come. When I asked her to summarise the feelings she had, it was these that I have said - an overwhelming sense of belonging, of being home where she always wanted to be and of having left every trouble and weight behind, never to experience them again. There were no regrets whatsoever of that which was left behind.

Hebrews 11:16 They (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) 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.

Something better – the unity of all saints

Heb 11:40 ‘…so that only together with us would they be made perfect.’

If you were to go to heaven tonight, you would dwell among the spirits of the righteous men made perfect (according to Heb 12:23). You would be amongst Moses, David, Daniel... and more importantly, my father and grandmother! : ) But they still await the final state of perfection with a resurrection body. And what do they wait for? Us. Only together with us will they be made perfect. At the return of Jesus there will be a unity of all believers. The New Jerusalem that comes down out Heaven has 12 gates, which are for the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. And it has 12 foundations with the names of Jesus’ 12 Apostles. A perfect unity of old and new. Their perfection awaits us. Our perfection awaits the return of Jesus. The return of Jesus awaits the full number of the Gentiles coming in. But the ‘something better’ includes bringing the saints of all generations together as one.

We have much to be thankful for and to look forward to. Whether we live to see the return of Jesus or not, God has something wonderful still to come. I’ve quoted Vance Havner, a southern Baptist preacher from North Carolina, before. But I like this one. Looking ahead to what is still to come and said ‘The hope of dying is the only thing keeping me alive!’

Be assured that for believers in the Lord Jesus, something far far far better is in store!



[1]  Of course, if you read the first study and then just skipped straight to this to see how things end, well... argh, I’ll let you off... I did the same thing in school with most English reading assignments!

[2]  Remember your days at school when they gave you your report which you had to take home to your parents? Gulp! You would open it thinking you’ll see comments like ‘F - Must try harder’, ‘D - Not fulfilling his potential’ etc Well, with God we obtain a GOOD report through faith! That way we can all get a good report (for once!)

[4]  1 Peter 1:8-12 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, (9) for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (10) Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, (11) trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow... Even angels long to look into these things.