When the old covenant church exercised persevering faith, God caused many great things to happen. By faith, Sarah conceived despite her advanced age (Heb. 11:11). By faith, Joseph foretold the Exodus and pointed toward the truth of resurrection (v. 22). By faith, the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land (v. 29). By faith, Rahab hid the spies and preserved her life (v. 31). By faith, the judges and the kings subdued kingdoms and established justice (v. 33).
These heroic exploits evidenced persevering faith — faith that believes God can do the impossible (v. 19); faith that fears God and not the king (v. 23); faith that obeys God’s commands (v. 30). This is the kind of faith that preserves the soul, enabling the people of God to escape eternal destruction (10:39).
However, lest we assume that persevering faith always leads to miraculous deliverance in this lifetime, the author reminds his audience that faithful saints also suffer. Even those who did mighty things often had to suffer before, while, and after God intervened, for no matter how great the deliverance, until the earth is renewed, suffering will be the lot of God’s people. Sometimes this suffering was so intense that persevering in faith led to martyrdom (vv. 35b–37).
This message was especially pertinent to the original audience, some of whom thought that they would not lose anything if they abandoned Christ to escape suffering. Today’s passage implies that they thought it more important for the world to accept them as worthy than to continue in faith (vv. 37b–38). They thought it better to be safe and secure, free from the poverty and persecution that comes with following Christ. They thought it better for the world to accept them as worthy citizens than for the world to be unworthy of them.
The priorities of this audience were severely out of order. For the world is worthy only of those who join with it and reject the Lord. But if the world is worthy to call us citizens, then we shall be unworthy of heavenly citizenship. Heaven belongs only to those who persevere, and if we ever want to inherit the earth, our concern must not be that the world is worthy of us, but rather that heaven is. Faithful endurance during suffering proves that heaven is worthy of our citizenship because only those who belong to Christ may be citizens of heaven.
Many Christians live in relative comfort with no real threat to their lives. Others live under the very real threat of martyrdom. Think of a country where Christians are in real danger of losing their lives. Over the weekend, pray for that country that the believers there might endure and that the persecution of believers there would cease.