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NOT APART FROM US – Hebrews 11:33-40

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on November 9, 2016 under PM Bible Study |

PM Home Bible Study Group; November 9, 2016

Hebrews 11:33-40

Theme: It was God’s plan that the faithful Old Testament saints were to be one in faith with us through the hope of Christ.

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

We have been examining the names that the writer of Hebrews mentions in Hebrews 11—the great “Hall of Faith” passage of the Bible—who were examples of his great principle that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6).

So far in his great list of heroes of faith, he has mentioned specific names—some along with a brief telling of their story, and some with only a mere mention of their names in order to recall their stories in the minds of his readers. But now, in the remainder of this chapter, he ceases to mention names altogether, and only mentions—in a few words—brief stories. Many of these stories we can easily recognize and recall from the Old Testament. But because only the briefest description of their story is given, and without much of any elaboration at all, these references become somewhat timeless; and their examples become remarkably applicable—in wide ways—to the saints throughout the ages.

Key to appreciating these closing words is the writer’s affirmation that, even though they had their faith in specific promises of God, those Old Testament saints did not—in their own lifetimes—receive the fulfillment of the great promise of the coming of Christ. Instead, they are said to be vitally connected to us who live in the age of grace—we who have received from God something even better than they in Christ; and all so that “they should not be made perfect apart from us”. They looked ahead by faith to the fulfillment of messianic promises that we now enjoy; so that together, we and they together enjoy the blessings of the promises kept; ”that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him” (Ephesians 1:10).

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Note how the writer shows us this through the stories of …


A. He begins by mentioning those “who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises …” (33a). Since he doesn’t mention by name who it is that he is speaking of—and since it’s logical to assume that he is speaking of those whose stories we know from the sacred history of Scripture—it’s reasonable that he’s speaking here of the great works of conquest that the people of Israel were able to accomplish after their time of deliverance under bondage in Egypt. The people of Israel—first under the leadership of Moses, and then under the leadership of Joshua—saw the overthrow of the Egyptian armies in the Red Sea; and then the conquests of the powerful nations of the land that God promised them. Early on—in the conquests first of the kings on eastern side of the Jordan River, and then on the western side in the southern and northern conquests of the land of Canaan—the people of Israel went forth by the promise of God and gained great victories against overwhelming odds. Only through faith in God’s promises—the God who commanded them to go forth and conquer—could this have been done.

B. He next mentions those who “stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire …” (vv. 33b-34a). This brings to mind immediately the stories of Daniel and of his three friends. By faith Daniel refused to comply with the king’s command to cease praying to God. He—and, in fact, the king himself, who later regretted his own command—trusted in God’s protection of Daniel in the lion’s den. But even before then, the Bible tells us the story of how his three friends survived the irrational wrath of the king for refusing to bow down and worship his image. They went willingly into the fire; saying,

our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

And, of course, He did deliver them all!

C. The writer goes on to mention those who “escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (v. 34b.) These are stories that are hard to pin down on any one person. But perhaps many of these stories touched on the lives of the faithful kings of Judah—and most outstandingly, King David. Some of the stories may also involve the prophets. Some still may have involved common, ordinary, everyday people who were faced with a great challenge of danger or threat, and found that the God they trusted in proved faithful. Some have even suggested that the stories may have involved those who trusted God during the challenges of the inter-testament period; whose stories are told in the apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.

D. Interestingly, the writer mentions this interesting reference: “Women received their dead raised to life again” (v. 35a). We may not know many such stories; but one for sure that we can recognize is the story in 2 Kings 4 of how Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite woman from death. What a powerful proof of faith in the promise of God! She had been told by the prophet that she would have a son; and when that son suddenly died, she appealed by faith to the prophet for her son’s life—and her son was restored to her! Perhaps there are more such stories that we don’t have recorded in Scripture.

Now; not all received such immediate answers to their faith. And in a sense, their trust in God exhibited an even greater faith. The writer next, then, mentions …


A. He writes, “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection” (v. 35b). The sincerity of our faith in God’s promises does not guarantee that we will be exempt from suffering in this fallen world. Many have suffered greatly for their faith—even suffering the cruel torture of their bodies. Many suffer this even today. One of the great heroes of the Old Testament who exemplified this much was Jeremiah—’the weeping prophet’.

B. The writer goes on; “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment” (v. 36). Here again, we can’t help but think of the many prophets of the Old Testament times. This story may also be a reference to Joseph, who was rejected and scorned by his brothers and was thrown into prison until the time of God’s use of him. But it’s also very curious that he uses the word “yes” and says, “yes, and of chains and imprisonment”—seeming to call special attention to this particular form of suffering. Clearly, the writer of Hebrews was writing while under confinement (see 13:18-19), and wrote also of Timothy and his freedom from confinement (v. 23). Could the writer be Paul? And if so, was he using himself as an addition to the Old Testament examples? (See 1 Timothy 1:8).

C. The writer—whoever he is—goes on to speak of the many ways others had suffered. “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted [note that not all ancient manuscripts contain the words “were tempted”], were slain with the sword” (v. 37a). Again, the prophets of the Old Testament come to mind. Some suggest that this is a reference to the prophet Isaiah who, according to tradition, was himself sawn in two by a sword. “They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—“ (v. 37b). This makes us think of such great prophets as Elijah of old—and his successor Elisha. They were men of the wilderness—not by choice, but by necessity. They gave up the comforts of this world in order to fulfill God’s purpose for them.

D. The writer adds these words—certainly true of many of the Old Testament heroes of faith—that they were those “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38a). They were men and women whose hearts were in heaven while they were still on earth; and who, because of this, had no home upon the earth. “They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” (v. 38b). Later, the writer of Hebrews will say this of the saints in Christ; “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14); and many of these Old Testament saints, by faith, lived out this truth quite literally!

And finally, notice that he tells us these stories of these Old Testament saints—both those who received the benefits of their faith in their lifetimes, and those who did not—in order to show …


A. He states quite clearly, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise …” (v. 39). Note the singular—“the promise”. This looked ahead to the one great promise that is the grand theme of the Old Testament. It speaks of the promised coming of Christ; who came “in the fullness of the time” (Galatians 4:4). As F.F. Bruce put it so wonderfully well;

none of them received the promise in the sense of witnessing its fulfillment. They lived and died in prospect of a fulfillment which none of them experienced on earth; yet so real was that fulfillment to them that it gave them power to press upstream, against the current of their environment, and to live on earth as citizens of that commonwealth whose foundations are firmly laid in the unseen and eternal order. Their record is on high, and on earth as well, for the instruction and encouragement of men and women of later days (NICNT, The Epistle to The Hebrews, p. 343).

B. And why did they not receive the fulfillment in their time? The writer affirms the reason as being this: “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (v. 40). We have received the fulfillment of the promise of the coming of Christ in our time—a promise which they could only see from afar, but for which they gave their all. And this makes us one with them in Christ.

* * * * * * * * * *

This leads to the writer’s great appeal in Hebrews 12:1-2. He points back to all these great heroes and says;

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Given how they gave their all on the basis of their faith in the promise of God in Christ, how can we—who now live in the light of the messianic promises fulfilled—do any less?

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