Hebrews 11:39–40, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
Remarkably, some in the original audience of the epistle to the Hebrews thought that they could still be faithful if they were to abandon Christ. After all, they reasoned, they would be returning to the same faith as the saints who had gone before them. They thought that they would be returning to the blessings given to the old covenant saints. They thought that they would be returning to a superior age.
The book of Hebrews points out the foolishness of these assumption in several places. Chapter 11 especially demonstrates that if the audience were to return to the old covenant, they would not be returning to the same faith as the saints of old. For these saints of old, though they trusted in God until the end of their lifetimes, never received the final and truest fulfillment of God’s promises (vv. 13, 39). All they could do was trust that God would one day bring about these promises and not leave His people waiting forever.
Once these promises come, the people of God must see their faith in a different light. They must understand that once the day of perfection begins, their faith will not manifest itself as it did before this day came. The people of God will then no longer approach God in terms of temple shadows but by means of the One who brings perfection.
Verse 40 tells the original audience (and us) that this day of perfection has come in Christ. Jesus Christ has come and inaugurated the final age in which all the promises of God will finally find their ultimate fulfillment. This is the day for which the old covenant saints waited. If these saints had lived to see it, they would not be attempting to go back to the time before Jesus but would join with the new covenant saints in drawing near to God, not through the shadows of animal sacrifice but through the person of Jesus Christ.
In short, the message of chapter 11 is: “Can you not see? Do you not understand? You are living in the age for which these saints you admire so much awaited. You might think you are being faithful to their God if you turn away from Christ. But if you abandon your confession, you will no longer be standing with them. If you really want to be faithful to God, if you really want to be true to the witness of those who have gone before, then you will press on. You will cling to Jesus even when it brings suffering.”
If the old covenant saints were not to be perfected apart from us, then we are united with them with Christ as our head. Sadly, new covenant believers do not always realize the unity they have with old covenant believers or even with fellow new covenant members. Pray that believers today would be one in truth and love.