Online Bible Commentary
Just Passing Through
Hebrews 11:13 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. And they admitted that they were aliens 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. (NIV)
The writer of the book of Hebrews is in the process of identifying men and women of great faith. We might call this collection of the faithful the Hall of Faith. The writer has already named Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, Abraham’s wife. In this passage he writes of that which all these great people of faith had in common.
All of the aforementioned people “were still living by faith when they died” (v. 13a). None had proven to be apostate. None had abandoned their faith. They all had faced tremendous opposition. Abel was opposed by his big brother Cain, who eventually killed him in a jealous rage. Enoch walked with God for 300 years, so you know he faced adversity at some point. Noah built his ark preparing for rain, an event that had never occurred. He surely faced opposition from naysayers. Abraham and Sarah faced the opposition of old age when God promised that they would give birth to a great nation while in their nineties. All remained faithful to their God, despite opposition, until their dying breath.
Not only did these people of faith remain faithful through opposition, but they also remained faithful when “they did not receive the things promised” (v. 13b). They never lived to see their promises from God fulfilled. Abel was praised by God for his sacrifice, but then Cain cut his life short. Abel lost out on a lifetime of God’s blessings. Enoch did not see his prophecies come true (Jude 14). Like most who prophesied, Enoch expected to see an earthly return by the Lord to set up His kingdom. Noah, through his shame, brought a curse on his youngest son. Even though Noah’s family was the only one spared by God, not all of his family lived a blessed life.
Abraham and Sarah also did not live long enough to see the promises of God. God promised Abraham when he was 75 years old that he would father a great nation. However, when Abraham died at the age of 175 all he had to show for his promise was a 75 year old son and two fifteen year old twin grandchildren.
So none of these great people of faith lived to see God’s promises fulfilled. “They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (v. 13c). They waved at them from a distance, never seeing them close up. They believed that God’s promises would be fulfilled, but never experienced them. Despite not seeing God’s promises fulfilled, these great people of faith remained faithful to Him throughout their lives.
These members of God’s Hall of Faith “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (v. 13d). They knew they were just passing through. They would not receive all of God’s promises in this lifetime. Their real home was in Heaven. There was more to come.
“People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own” (v. 14). By admitting that they were foreigners and aliens, these people of faith were admitting that they were not satisfied where they were. They knew there was something bigger and better. They were looking for a better “country”. Otherwise, they would have been content to settle down where they were.
They also “had the opportunity to return” (v. 15) to where they had been, but this was not their choice either. “Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one” (v. 16a). They were longing to be with their God, to abide with Him. Because of this, God was “not ashamed to be called their God” (v. 16b). God rewards faithfulness with blessing. These people of faith knew that the ultimate blessing was ahead, in their heavenly home, which God had prepared for them. They were just passing though where they were, because “He has prepared a city for them” (v. 16c), a city called Heaven.
Just as these great people of faith, we too are just passing through. This earth is not our real home. We are aliens, foreigners in a strange land. Our Christian values do not fit this land in which we are living. We face opposition, adversity, and persecution because we are different. Those who cry the loudest for tolerance and political correctness are the same ones who persecute us.
God sees us in our persecution. He knows what we are going through because he also experienced it in this land. He is testing us, looking for us to remain faithful. He wants us to remember that there is more to this life, that the best is yet to come. He wants us to persevere, to remain faithful. He wants us to realize that we are just passing through, and this too shall pass.