Dear brothers in the Lord, we are bound to thank God for you, because you also believed in our Lord Jesus Christ, having been chosen by God, from the beginning, for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. However, we are also bound to remind you that “we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:14 – NKJV. In the second part of this passage the NIV reads: “If we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first”), which means that we have become one spirit with the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17) through faith in Him, but if we want to remain one spirit with Him and to inherit the Kingdom of God we have to keep our faith till the end of our life. What will happen to us if we cease to believe in the Lord, who saved us? We will lose our salvation and go to perdition. Through this writing of mine, therefore, I want to exhort you to continue in the faith till the end, so that on that day you also might obtain “the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).
The people of Israel: an example of disobedience
I am going to speak to you about the people of Israel and their example of disobedience in order to make you realize that the Israelites believed in God at first, but afterwards they drew back, and because of their unbelief their bodies were scattered in the wilderness and they could not enter the rest of God; I believe that we all must remember the obstinate and rebellious conduct of this nation during his journey in the wilderness and the consequences of that conduct lest we follow their example.
According to the Scripture, the children of Israel went down to Egypt with Jacob, while Joseph was ruling over Egypt. The reason why they went down to Egypt was that Joseph, after he made himself known to his brothers, sent for his father and his whole family. They came to Egypt and dwelt in the land of Goshen, where they lived peacefully as long as Joseph was alive and they survived the great famine which came upon all the nations at that time (which had been predicted by Joseph). But after the death of Joseph “there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), who, seeing that the Israelites had become more numerous than the Egyptians, lest they should become even more numerous and, if war broke out, they should join their enemies, fight against them and leave the country, decided to oppress the Israelites with forced labor and enslaved them to prevent them from multiplying. That oppression and slavery lasted a long time. However, all this happened by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God because a long time before God had told Abraham that his descendants would be strangers in a land that was not theirs, and would serve them, and they would afflict them four hundred years. But just as God had predicted the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt, so He predicted also their deliverance, for He had said to Abraham: “Afterward they shall come out with great possessions. …. But in the fourth generation they shall return here” (Genesis 15:14,16 – NKJV), that is, in the land of Canaan. And that is what happened, for God sent Moses to Egypt to deliver the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh, and after He had worked through Moses great and terrible signs and wonders against Pharaoh and the Egyptians (which were the judgements He executed on them), He brought His people out of the iron furnace, where they had been four centuries. After God divided the Red Sea before the Israelites and made them walk on dry ground through the midst of the sea, the Scripture says that “Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31). In the Book of Psalms also it is written that after the Israelites saw that wonder they believed in the Lord, for it is written: “Then believed they his words; they sang his praise” (Psalm 106:12). Keep these words before your eyes because they clearly show that the Israelites, after they had gone out of the land of Egypt with joy and gladness, believed in God and in His servant Moses.
But what happened afterwards, during their journey in the wilderness? Here is what happened according to the Scripture: “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul. They envied Moses also in the camp, and Aaron the saint of the LORD. The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered the company of Abiram. And a fire was kindled in their company; the flame burned up the wicked. They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image. Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass. They forgat God their saviour, which had done great things in Egypt; Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea. Therefore he said that he would destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them. Yea, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word: But murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the LORD. Therefore he lifted up his hand against them, to overthrow them in the wilderness: To overthrow their seed also among the nations, and to scatter them in the lands” (Psalm 106:13-27). As you can see, it is written that they did not believe the Word of God and they did not heed the voice of the Lord. The same Israelites whom God had brought out of the land of Egypt with joy and gladness, and who had believed the words of God at the Read Sea, cast the law of God behind their backs and refused to believe in God when God said to them: “Behold, the LORD thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 1:21). This is the sin committed by the people of Israel in the wilderness of which I am going to speak: unbelief.
Now, according to the Word of God, the Israelites, when God divided the Red Sea before them, believed the words which God had revealed to His servant Moses and feared God. Therefore, the fact that afterwards they rebelled against the commandments of God and did not believe the commandment of God, who told them to possess the land of Canaan, shows that they did not continue in the faith and in the fear of God. And consider also that those people who did not continue in the faith and in the fear of God were not people who had not seen God working miracles but were men and women who had seen with their eyes God working terrible things, both in Egypt and in the wilderness, who, after they had been delivered from the four centuries old bondage in Egypt, rejoiced greatly because after so long time they could relish their freedom.
God was disgusted with that stubborn and rebellious generation, which did not set its heart aright and whose spirit was not faithful to God, and He said: “Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest” (Hebrews 3:10-11). That was the witness which God witnessed of those Israelites and the judgement He pronounced on them. As you can see, God swore that He would not make those Israelites enter His rest because of their unbelief. Indeed, when they arrived near the land of Canaan, the good news was preached to them as well, but that word did not profit them because they refused to believe it, as it is written: “But the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Hebrews 4:2 – NIV). Therefore, the behaviour of those Israelites must not be imitated. However, it must be remembered because what they did occurred as example and was written for our admonition. For it shows us what destiny is awaiting those who cease to believe the word of God.
Now, let’s talk about us because our story, in certain things, looks like the story of the Israelites. For a certain period of time we lived under the power of Satan, who oppressed us and enslaved us with his strength and his craftiness; we don’t recall that period of our life with joy (because we are now ashamed of all those things which we did while we were under his power); however, we must recall it because it helps us to understand how great and glorious is the deliverance God worked for us. Yes, because we also have been delivered from a slavery, yet not from the slavery of some earthly tyrants, but from the slavery of sin and of the devil. However, we all recall with much pleasure the day on which, by the grace of God, we were delivered from that slavery, because on that day our sins were blotted out and the joke which oppressed us was broken. We thank God for He did this through Christ Jesus, namely, the One whom God sent into this world to deliver us from our sins and from the power of Satan. On that day, our heart overflowed with joy, with a joy that we had never felt while we were under the power of Satan and slaves of sin; personally I have to say that the day I repented of my sins and called upon the name of the Lord, asking Him to have mercy on me, at first I wept because God caused me to feel sad (as it is written: “Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation” – 2 Corinthians 7:10 – NKJV), but then I rejoiced because He turned my sadness to joy setting me free from my sins and forgiving them. On that day I tasted the true freedom which is in Christ Jesus, I tasted the true peace which is given by the Lord, I tasted the joy of salvation; at last, after many years of hard slavery, I was able to proclaim that the Lord Jesus had set me free, that I was a son of God; thanks be to God for saving me, as well as you, from the power of the devil. For us on that day a new life began, we began to live in the Lord Jesus Christ; we began by faith because it was by faith that we obtained the deliverance from our sins and from the power of the devil. And by faith we must continue to live this life till the end, in order to enter the Rest of God. Otherwise, that is, if we cease to believe in Him who saved us, we will go to perdition. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews exhorts the saints to continue in the faith and tells them what will happen to a believer if he draws back. Here are his words: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation” (Hebrews 3:12-15). Brothers in the Lord, I want you to know that just as a heart that believes in God is a good heart, so an unbelieving heart is an evil heart; and that you must see to it that you prevent your good heart from becoming an evil heart of unbelief. That kind of heart is called evil because induces a person not to believe the Word of God and thus it prevents him from inheriting eternal life. We know that God says: “My righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him” (Hebrews 10:38 – NIV); therefore, since an evil heart of unbelief induces a believer to draw back and to become an enemy of God (Because “without faith it is impossible to please Him” Hebrews 11:6 – NKJV), we must watch lest unbelief enter us and make us draw back to perdition.
The Scripture teaches that “all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20) and that we inherit them through faith and patience. Now, this is the promise that God has promised us – eternal life, for He said through His Son: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). However, it is clear that we will inherit eternal life if we continue in the faith till the end; which means that we have need of endurance so that we may receive eternal life, which God promised us. When I say that we have need of endurance, I mean that we need to believe in the promise of eternal life daily, or rather continually, because we know that we will inherit eternal life through faith and patience, but we will lose it if we cease to believe in God.
The story of the people of Israel teaches us that they could not inherit the promised land because of their unbelief; God had promised them through Moses (while they were still in Egypt) that He would give them a wonderful land flowing with milk and honey, and at first they believed in God, but when they were on the point of possessing the land God had promised them, they hardened their heart and refused to believe in God, because they thought that God was not able to give them the land he had promised them because that land was inhabited by the giants. The fear of the giants induced them to doubt the promise of God and they could not obtain its fulfilment. Let us see to it that we don’t doubt the promises of God, because anyone who doubts them makes God a liar, as it is written: “He who does not believe God has made Him a liar” (1 John 5:10 – NKJV).
“Let God be true but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4 – NKJV), therefore, since He who has promised us eternal life cannot lie, let us continue to believe His promise till the end, without wavering at the promise of God through unbelief. Only those who believe till the end will enter the rest of God, while all those who draw back like the Israelites in the wilderness, will not enter it; therefore, as the Scripture says, “let us be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11 – NKJV).
Examples of men who inherited the promises of God through faith and patience
Brethren, you know that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4) till the end. Let us now look at some biblical examples of men who inherited God’s promises through faith and patience, because they encourage us to hold fast the confession of our hope to the end and they comfort us in the midst of the afflictions we endure for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
● Noah was a just and upright man and walked with God. However, he lived in the midst of a wicked generation, so wicked that God, seeing that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, was sorry that He had made man on the earth and decided to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which was the breath of life. So God brought flood-waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh, but before bringing the flood He warned Noah and commanded him to make an ark of gopherwood for the saving of his household. The Scripture says: “And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them” (Genesis 6:13-21). Now, we learn from the Scripture that after Noah was five hundred years old he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth, and that Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters were on the earth. However, we do not known the exact time when God warned Noah commanding him to make the ark, because the Scripture is silent on this point. However, we know that many years elapsed from the day on which God warned Noah to the day on which the flood-waters came on the earth. And it was during those years that Noah, by faith, moved by godly fear, prepared the ark: therefore, Noah did see the fulfilment of the promise of God not after a few days but after many years and during those years he had to wait with patience and to continue to believe in what God had said to him. Noah was warned of things not yet seen, but after God spoke to him he believed that God would do exactly what He had said to him, that is, that God would bring a flood of waters on the earth to destroy all flesh. He did not doubt the words of the Lord thinking that such a thing could not occur because it was too hard for the Lord, rather, he feared the Lord and began to build the ark. The work was hard and lasted a long time because Noah had to make an ark of the above mentioned dimensions. Considering all things on the whole, bearing in mind also that Noah lived among people who did not fear God at all, we have to say that both Noah’s faith and patience were tested by God; but he was approved by God because he did not draw back, in spite of the strong opposition he met with, but with faith and patience he went on until the day on which God brought the flood on the world of the ungodly, as He had promised. Of course, Noah was tested by God, but he was not put to shame by God because it is written that by his faith “he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
● The prophet Jeremiah spoke from God to the people of the kingdom of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for many years; we can say that he spoke for dozens of years, because according to the Scripture about forty years elapsed from the time God began to speak to Jeremiah (in the thirteenth year of Josiah king of Judah) to the time Jerusalem fell by the hand of the Chaldean army (in the eleventh year of Zedekiah king of Judah). Jeremiah was persecuted and insulted by all those who did not want to obey the word of God which Jeremiah delivered to them. One day Jeremiah himself said: “ I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me” (Jeremiah 15:10). However, in the midst of his afflictions God promised him: “Verily it shall be well with thy remnant; verily I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil and in the time of affliction” (Jeremiah 15:11 – the NIV reads: “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose: surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress”. In other words, God promised Jeremiah that He would cause his enemies, who said all kinds of lies against him, to come to him and to plead with him. However, in this case also, Jeremiah had to wait for the fulfilment of that promise with patience for many years because God fulfilled that promise after Jerusalem was broken up and many of his inhabitants were carried into exile, as it is written: “Then all the captains of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least even unto the greatest, came near, And said unto Jeremiah the prophet, Let, we beseech thee, our supplication be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the LORD thy God, even for all this remnant; (for we are left but a few of many, as thine eyes do behold us:) That the LORD thy God may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do” (Jeremiah 42:1-3).
● Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. So he came to a certain place (which afterwards was called by him Bethel) where he stayed all night because the sun had set. During that night he had a dream in which God spoke to him and promised him: “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:15). Now, according to what the Scripture teaches, Jacob saw the fulfilment of that promise after twenty years, for he dwelt twenty years in the land of the people of the East (Paddan Aram). After twenty years God appeared to Jacob while he was in Paddan Aram and told him: “Now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred” (Genesis 31:13). We know that Jacob endured many afflictions during his stay in Paddan Aram, but God eventually caused him to return to the land of Canaan with several wives, some children and many goods. So we affirm that Jacob also continued to believe in the promise of God during those years, thus he also waited patiently in order to obtain from God what God had promised him.
● Just before Jesus was taken up into heaven, He commanded His disciples not to depart from Jerusalem “but to wait for the Promise of the Father, which, he said, you have heard from Me, for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5 – NKJV). In this case, the disciples obtained the fulfilment of that specific promise of the Lord after a few days, for it was on the day of Pentecost that the disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit; they waited with faith and patience for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, and at God’s appointed time the Spirit came upon them all.
Brothers in the Lord, we all have a certain number of years to live on this earth, this number has been fixed by God and we don’t know it. Now, we don’t know whether the Lord will appear from heaven while we are still alive (in this case we will not die) or after we have departed from this earthly house (in this case we will taste death); anyway, we must live the rest of our life by faith in the Son of God to the end of the days God has ordained for us. In the midst of our necessities and our afflictions we endure for the Gospel’s sake, we must be patient and must have faith in the holy and faithful promises of our Saviour, knowing that it is impossible for God to lie.
Jesus said to His disciples: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3). Therefore, we know that Jesus will come from heaven (where he must remain until the time comes for God to restore everything). Of course, many centuries have elapsed since the day on which the Lord spoke those words, but this does not worry us at all and does not induce us to doubt His words because we know Him who spoke those words. We know that the first coming of the Christ into this world had been predicted by God through His prophets many centuries before the Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh. The Jews also had to wait for the redemption of Jerusalem with faith and patience for a long time, but eventually they saw the fulfilment of the promise of His coming. It is true that not all those who waited for the coming of the Messiah saw Him in the days of His flesh because many of them died and “did not receive the promise” (Hebrews 11:39 – NKJV) – that is confirmed by these words Jesus spoke to his disciples: “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them” (Luke 10:23-24) – yet all those who waited for Him with patience and then died (without seeing the Messiah), died in faith believing that the Messiah would certainly come at God’s appointed time. Consider this: the very prophets who spoke about the coming of the Son of God into this world did not see Him in the days of His flesh, but they died believing in the promise of His coming and confessing their hope. However, if on the one hand many of the Jews did not have the honour of seeing with their own eyes the Christ of God who had been promised in the Holy Scriptures, on the other hand there were many who saw Him after they had waited for Him for many years, like that old man called Simeon who was “waiting for the Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25 – NKJV) to whom it had been revealed “by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26 – NKJV), and the day on which Joseph and Mary brought the Child Jesus in the temple, Simeon took Him up in his arms and blessed God. Anna also, who was a prophetess, who was about eighty-four years old, saw the redemption of Jerusalem with her own eyes (Luke 2:36-38). The disciples of the Lord also waited for the Messiah and had the honour of seeing and touching Him. Anyway, there were many others who on those days were waiting for the Redemption of Jerusalem with faith and patience, of some of them we know the names, while of others we don’t know the names. Even among us many brothers and sisters have died in faith waiting for the appearing of the Lord; and as long as they lived they believed that the Lord will come and confessed with their mouth that they waited for and loved His appearing. They remained faithful to the Lord until their death, and they went to be with the Lord in the Paradise of God, but they had to keep their faith with patience until the end, in order to enter the Kingdom of God. We are called to imitate those who have already entered the rest of God because of their faith and patience. We know that our faith also will be tested during the rest of our earthly life because God has determined to test it, but we know that those who stand the test will receive the crown of life, as it is written: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12 – NIV).
Therefore, brethren, stand firm in the faith, do not throw away your confidence, but hold fast the confession of your hope because He who promised is faithful. He will surely come and will not tarry; if He tarries, let’s wait patiently for Him, for He will certainly come. We don’t want to be counted among those who draw back to perdition, but among those who believe to the saving of the soul. To Him who establishes us with you in Christ in order to present us holy and blameless before Him, be the glory both now and forever. Amen.