Christianity 201

March 30, 2014

They Did Not See, And Yet Believed

Hebrews 11 39


This morning I was struck by the verse that appears at the end of Hebrews 11, the passage sometimes referred to as “God’s Hall of Faith” or “God’s Gallery of Faith.”  After the long list of names,

Heb. 11:39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised

The Reformation Study Bible highlights a progression of thought that is also running through Hebrews 11 that might get overlooked in the list of people. Here are the verses, with the notes:


8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Abraham’s faith regarding the promise of a homeland was demonstrated: (a) when he obeyed God’s voice, leaving Ur for a future inheritance, the location of which he did not know (v. 8); (b) when he lived as a stranger in the land promised to him (vv. 9, 13); and (c) when he looked beyond Canaan to a lasting, heavenly country and city, designed and built by God Himself (vv. 10, 14–16; 13:14).

13 All 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. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, 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.

The inheritance on which the patriarchs’ faith was fixed was invisible for two reasons: it was heavenly, not earthly; and future, not present.

33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions,

That is, they saw answers to particular promises along the way. For the promise of Christ’s coming they still waited in faith (v. 39). The promises made to Abraham were partly fulfilled in this world, as his descendants multiplied (v. 12) and lived in the Promised Land (vv. 9, 33). But to the extent that these promises referred to the heavenly reality, “his rest” (4:10), they could not be fulfilled until Christ came.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised

Although some Old Testament promises were fulfilled, their true hope (the promise of the coming Messiah) was yet to come.

The passage then goes on,

40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

This verse asserts both the redemptive-historical difference between the Old Testament and New Testament periods, and the unity of the people of God in both eras. Though the Old Testament believers lived by faith (10:38), they were not privileged to witness on earth the fulfillment of the great promise of God. Nevertheless, they too participate in the benefits of Christ’s high-priestly work, and, along with new covenant saints, they are “made perfect.” Those of the old and new eras together await the perfection that will appear only at the Second Coming (12:26; 13:14; Rom. 8:18; Eph. 1:9, 10).

This latter note is more than just on these verses or this chapter; it really summarizes a lot of the mega-theme in all of the book of Hebrews.

Go Deeper: From the website Berith Road:

In the plan of God, “God foresaw something better for us” (Heb 11:40), i.e., God had in mind that the full realization of his promise of blessing and life would be experienced by us, the new covenant believers. Hebrews 11:40 acknowledges that God’s plan of salvation is worked out in stages that lead to an eschatological climax. Believers under the old covenant by definition could not receive the fullness of blessing and salvation, because the fullness of blessing and salvation is something that was going to be achieved as part of the new covenant. It is for this reason that the ancient heroes of faith did not receive in full the promise of eternal life in their lifetime, “lest they be perfected without us” (Heb 11:40).

Through faith, and ultimately by way of resurrection, old covenant believers and new covenant believers alike will experience together the reward of faith, the fullness of the blessing of eternal life.

Today’s graphic is from the website Re-Ver(Sing) Verses; which also has a study on this passage, concluding:

Have you ever wondered why only the Biblical Characters from the Old Testament were mentioned? By the time the book of Hebrews was written, there would have been many many New Testament characters whose faith would have made them a convincing entry into the Hall of Faith. People like Stephen – immense, immense faith, seriously. Apostles like Paul, Peter, John, James – though most of them were probably not dead yet; and what about Christ? How can you leave Christ out of a Hall of Faith? That doesn’t quite make sense, does it? I believe that Hebrews 11:39 explains this for us. This Hall of Faith was inducted for those whose faith is commended despite them not receiving the promise of the Messiah. They lived out the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 – being sure of what they hope for and certain of what they did not see.

Even today, there’s no guarantee that our faith will result in earthly rewards that we can see in our lifetime. Our faithful perseverance may only result in unending misery. Our faith may cost us our lives. But even so, even if we will not receive our deliverance, and even if we do not see the second coming of Jesus, the examples of the ancients who were inducted into the Hall of Faith show us that this faith is worth every effort.

It doesn’t matter if at the end of the day, our faith results in nothing earthly. Our assets are in heaven.


Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29 ESV)

all other quotations NIV

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