Print This Page Print This Page


Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on February 24, 2016 under PM Bible Study |

PM Home Bible Study Group; February 24, 2016

Hebrews 11:13-16

Theme: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob illustrate what it looks like to be ‘pilgrims’ on this earth by faith.

All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated.

In our study of Hebrews 11, we found that the writer highlighted many great Old Testament heroes of faith. He began by telling us about Abel—the first man in the Bible to have made an offering to God by faith (v. 4). He also told us about Enoch—the first man in the Bible to have been said to “walk” with God by faith; and to have been ‘taken’ by God into His presence apart from death (v. 5). He went on to tell us about Noah—the man who believed God’s promise concerning the coming judgment, and preserved his life and that of His family by an act of obedient faith (v. 7).

And then, most recently in our study, we’ve seen that the writer highlighted the patriarchs of the Jewish family—Abraham, and his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob; and along with them, Sarah, through whom Abraham’s offspring were born (see vv. 8-12). These patriarchs—and Sarah their mother—are the subject of the word “these” found at the beginning of the passage before us. The writer now goes on to tell us something important about them—something that relates very much to the great theme of ‘faith’ that we find in this chapter;

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

These were called “pilgrims”. When we think of pilgrims, we have become conditioned to think of quaint people with tall hats and bonnets who shoot turkeys with muskets. Those were, of course, pilgrims; but the word itself means much more than the image we typically have. The word that the Bible uses is parepidāmos; and it refers to someone who travels or stays in a foreign place for a while—a sojourner. To ‘make pilgrimage’ (parepidāmeō) is to stay for a short time in a foreign land. When the apostle Peter wrote to his persecuted Christian brethren, he addressed his letter “to the pilgrims of the Dispersion . . .” (1 Peter 1:1); and he wrote to them and said, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lust which war against the soul . . .” (2:11). To be a ‘pilgrim’ in Christ is to live and walk and work in this world as someone for whom this world is not their home—someone who is only passing through a strange land for a while; and whose true home is elsewhere.

And that’s how we are to think of ourselves in this world as followers of Jesus! We are only pilgrims. Our true home is elsewhere; and we’re just passing through. We don’t store up our treasure here; because we won’t keep it here. We store our treasure for keeping elsewhere. We belong to another land. We put our faith in the promises of God; and look toward and live for a land that we have not yet seen. As the apostle Paul put it, “ For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (Ephesians 3:20).

And how do we do this? The writer of Hebrews points our attention to the patriarchs Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob as examples of what it means to live like pilgrims on this earth.

* * * * * * * * * *

Notice first what we’re told about those Old Testament ‘patriarch pilgrims’; that . . .


A. Pointing to these patriarchs, the writer says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises . . .” (v. 13). And this, of course, was true. Abraham walked the land that God had promised to give to his descendants when—at that time, he neither owned the land or had any living descendants. And even after Isaac was born, he still lived as an alien upon the land of promise. Likewise Isaac died in that land of promise without seeing the promise fulfilled in his own day. And the same was true for Jacob—and for the twelve sons that were born from him. Jacob and his sons lived out their remaining days in Egypt. The twelve tribes grew in number while in bondage under the Egyptians, and only returned to their homeland under the leadership of Moses and Joshua many centuries later. Jacob himself had to ask that, when the tribes returned, they would bring his bones with them back to the homeland (Genesis 50:25). These all died without receiving the promises personally.

B. But though they didn’t see the fulfillment of those promises with their own eyes, they nevertheless believed them and made them their own by faith. The writer says, “but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

1. How was it that they “saw” them from afar off? It would have to be that they saw the promises of God by faith. As the writer said earlier, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (v. 1). Faith doesn’t see things with the eyes of the flesh; because the things that God promises—at the time He promises them—are not yet present to be seen and handled (see Romans 8:24). They are nevertheless real—very much present to the God how lives in an eternal “now”. So, faith perceives these things with a confident trust and assurance in the faithfulness of the God of the promise.

2. Being thus assured of them, these believing patriarchs “embraced” the promises as their own. They committed themselves to them. They cut the ties that bound them to the present world in which they lived, and gave themselves over to that which God said was to belong to them and their descendants in the generations to come. They willingly lived as “strangers” (zenoi) and “pilgrims” (parepidāmos) in this present world that everyone else calls “home”.

C. It’s very hard to live as “strangers” and “pilgrims” in this world. It can be costly too. Jesus once told His disciples:

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:18-22).

But as Jesus also said elsewhere;

“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).

* * * * * * * * * *

Note also that . . .


A. People who talk about being “strangers” and “pilgrims”—people who trust in the promises of God and sing,

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through;

My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue—

these are people who give clear evidence that their heart is not bound up to a home on this earth. As the writer of Hebrews puts it with reference to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: “For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland” (v. 14). They didn’t yet possess what God was giving them. They have not yet arrived to it. But they sought it. They were living on earth; but they were on pilgrimage upon the earth as they lived.

B. It’d be hard to find someone who modeled this attitude for us better—in a New Testament sense—than the apostle Paul. He was a man who gave up everything in this world in order to live fully for the homeland of heaven. He counted all “loss” for the promise of Christ; and lived in the context of that hope. He had a tough time deciding which situation was best; because he told his Philippian brothers and sisters;

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you (Philippians 1:21-24).

He only wanted to remain on this earth for as long as would be necessary for the ministry of his fellow Christians. When the end of his earthly life finally came, he declared;

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

C. May it be that we have our hearts so fixed on our homeland in heaven that it becomes obvious to others around us that that’s where are heart truly is. May we be like was once said of one of the Puritan preachers—that we have heaven in our hearts before we ourselves are there. May it be that people hear our speech so distinctly, and detect the longing in our hearts so clearly, that they can’t help but say, “You’re not from around here; are you?”

* * * * * * * * * *

Thirdly, we’re told of those Old Testament pilgrims that . . .


A. The writer speaks of the commitment that the patriarchs made and said, “And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return” (v. 15). The chance to go back was there for them, if they wanted it. If they no longer wished to live as strangers and pilgrims in the land of promise, they could have returned back to Ur of the Chaldeans, taken up once again the earthly inheritance that father Abraham had set aside, and have mixed and mingled themselves with the people of their homeland. That would have ended much of their hardship on this earth. They wouldn’t have had to live for four-hundred years in a land of bondage. They wouldn’t have had to be delivered by God from out of Egypt. They wouldn’t have had to travel across the hot desert to the promised land. They wouldn’t have had to take possession of the land as they did in the days of Joshua. Things do seem to go easier for “residents” than they do for “aliens”.

B. But these patriarchs would also not have seen God fulfill His glorious promise to Abraham:

“I will make you a great nation;

I will bless you

And make your name great;

And you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

And I will curse him who curses you;

And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).

So; the writer says, “But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country” (v. 16a). They were willing to forsake the temporal “good” for the eternal “better”. It is a homeland that is “better” because it is “heavenly”.

C. That’s what we—as “pilgrim” followers of Jesus—also do. We willingly give up the temporary pleasures of this world in order to gain the eternal riches that are offered us in Christ. It is a far better inheritance we seek! As Peter wrote;

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).

* * * * * * * * * *

And that leads us to note a final quality of those Old Testament pilgrims . . .


A. They have a great faith in the promises of God; and as the writer puts it, “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God . . .” (v. 16b). To say that He is “not ashamed” is a figure of speech for how pleased He is to claim them as His own. He introduced Himself to Moses at the burning bush by saying, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). He is forever known to us as their God. And because they trusted His promise for a better homeland, we’re told, “for He has prepared a city for them”. Jesus Himself affirmed that they will be found in that city; because He warned unbelieving people, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out” (Luke 13:28). Theirs is “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10); a homeland that will never fade away.

B. And that’s the promise that is held out to you and me. It’s ours if we place our faith in the promises of God, become assured of them and embrace them, and live as strangers and pilgrims on this earth for Jesus Christ. As the writer says later, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). The promise of the coming of that city is assured to us in Revelation 21:1-5;

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful” (Revelation 21:1-5).

That’s our true home! And as pilgrims on this earth, our true homecoming is yet to be!

* * * * * * * * * *

May it be said of us, then, with regard to the promises of God in Christ, that we “having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them”, and confessed that we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth”.

  • Share/Bookmark
Site based on the Ministry Theme by eGrace Creative.