Hebrews 11 lists a galaxy of Old Testament ‘stars’ and gives key episodes in their lives to show their amazing faith. What was Joseph’s stand-out moment that demonstrated above all others his complete trust in God? Someone once asked me this question, and I remember that I didn’t know without looking it up. Do you? Was it his brave resistance to the temptation of Potiphar’s wife? His dignity in the prison? His interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams? His management of Egypt’s entire food supply? None of these!
God has prepared a city for Abraham and family, but here is a city in heaven with a heavenly temple at its heart. Surely this is something better even than the land God promised to Israel.
“By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.” (Heb. 11:22)
Why did Joseph’s funeral plan impress the writer of Hebrews so much? It showed that, despite his rich life in Egypt, Joseph still had his eye on God’s bigger plan. He remembered the promise God had made to his father about his people having their own land. Over 400 years later, these directions were followed and this land became his final resting place (Jos. 24:32). He died, not looking back to the past, but looking forward to the future.
This is true of every single person mentioned in Hebrews 11:
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Heb. 11:13-16)
The believer in the Lord Jesus can live by faith and die in faith of something better to come. When our turn comes, we can have Joseph’s confidence that God will keep his promises. These Old Testament people will have a place of honour in the Millennium when, having already taken us to be with himself, the Lord Jesus will come down with us to rule on the earth:
“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 8:11)
Having the whole Bible to read, we have far more information about this glorious time than they did, to say nothing of the New Jerusalem itself, so beautifully described at the end of Revelation. Do we look forward to it with the same excitement? Hebrews 11 concludes by saying that these people died without having seen the promises fulfilled precisely because he had greater plans that include you and me:
“all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Heb. 11:40)
What is this ‘something better’ that God provided for us whereby they would be ‘made perfect’, but not ‘apart from us’? The next chapter talks about where God’s people come in worship:
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 11:22-24)
The believer in the Lord Jesus can live by faith and die in faith of something better to come.
God has prepared a city for Abraham and family, but here is a city in heaven with a heavenly temple at its heart. Surely this is something better even than the land God promised to Israel. These Old Testament people of faith are ‘the spirits of the righteous made perfect’. They could never be there until the Lord Jesus died for their sins and liberated their spirits from captivity. Now they are pictured there in heaven even as we spiritually ascend there with our worship week by week. In our own lifetime we enter into privileges greater even than those for which they longed in theirs. How wonderful to be part of that plan for them and for us!
Karl Smith, The Church of God in Kirkintilloch