Hebrews 11 is a favorite chapter of many Christians–it defines faith (v. 1) and illustrates faith (the rest of the chapter).
Why is this chapter where it is in the letter though? What is its purpose? In other words, what is the context in which it needs to be correctly understood and applied to our lives?
What can easily happen with a “great” chapter like this one is it is read alone, apart from the context of the letter. Don’t get me wrong; it is a great read, and can stand by itself. But the author of Hebrews didn’t write it under the guidance of the Spirit simply to be an inspirational chapter to encourage us to keep reading after wading through all his deep teaching about priests, sacrifices, and the Melchizedekian aspects of Christ’s priesthood!
Why was this portion of Hebrews written? What is its purpose? Well, remember a phrase I often mention: “Context is king.”
First, remember the occasion of this letter. In other words, what was going on in the readers’ lives that motivated the author to write? The readers were in danger of falling away from Christ and the Christian faith. They were being persecuted because they were Christians, and so they were tempted to leave Christianity and go back to Judaism.
Second, remember the purpose of this letter. In other words, what was the author of Hebrews wanting to do in this letter? He wrote to urge them to persevere (stay faithful) to Christ, to grow more mature in Him, and gave several warnings of the terrible consequences they would face if they went back to Judaism.
Third, remember the theme of this letter. From its beginning this letter demonstrates the superiority of Jesus Christ to everything in Judaism: its prophets, priests, and sacrifices cannot compare to Christ. He is “better,” “greater,” and “more excellent” (1:4; 6:9; 7:7, 19, 22; 8:6; 9:23; 10:34; 11:16, 35, 40; 12:24).
Now, consider Hebrews 11 with these things in mind. To encourage his readers to stay faithful to Christ, the author of Hebrews gives Old Testament examples (note that!) of believers who persevered in their faith in God’s promises. In essence, the point of this chapter is, “stay faithful to Christ, no matter what you’re experiencing now. Don’t go back; keep your eyes on Christ. These folks did, and you must too.”
Indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 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 a city for them (11:15-16).