Chapter 10:32-39 (ESV) - But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
Question to consider: Why does faith require endurance?
By the time this letter was written, people had begun to wonder whether the promises of Jesus would ever come to pass. Jesus had said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” (Matthew 24:34), and it had been almost 40 years since He gave this prophecy. During that time they had endured many years of suffering: public reproach and affliction and plundering of their property and had started to lose confidence in their Messiah. This is why they were considering going back to Judaism. If Jesus wasn’t really the Messiah, they still had a chance to repent and return to the synagogue.
It’s interesting that the writer encourages them with a reference to Habakkuk 2:4. The “righteous one shall live by faith” was also used by the apostle Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 to emphasize that our righteousness is by faith and not our works of the law. However, the Hebrew word for faith can also be translated faithfulness. Today we tend to separate our faith from our actions in order to keep people from thinking that salvation is gained through keeping the law. To the first century Jew, our faith and faithful living were interwoven and could never be separated. This is actually the better way to look at faith. As James said in James 2:17, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Although we cannot earn God’s favor through our works, a true faith reveals itself in action and endurance.
I think the author has a second reason for pointing the reader to Habakkuk. Habakkuk had asked God when justice would prevail in Israel because the wicked were prospering. God’s response was to assure Habakkuk that His judgment was indeed coming to Israel very soon… by the Babylonians. The author of Hebrews was essentially saying that just as Israel was about to be judged by the Babylonians at the time of Habakkuk, so at the time of the writing of Hebrews, Israel was about to be judged by the Romans. As we studied at the end of 1 Peter, the secret word for Rome at the time of the persecution was Babylon. So the readers of this letter were encouraged to endure in their faith because the end of the temple and their persecution by the Jews would soon be ended.
Again, Jesus said in Matthew 24:12-13, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” The writer of Hebrews is giving this same warning to his readers.
Our just and sovereign Father, help us to endure in faithfulness to you in the midst of our own persecution. We see increasing lawlessness in our land with no justice in sight, and the love of many are growing cold. All over the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ are hated, and many churches seem to be more concerned with finding earthly fulfillment than preaching Christ crucified for our sins. We look forward to the day when Christ will return in glory and pray for it to come soon. Amen.