Here the writer makes a switch from strong warning to encouragement and reassurance. First, he tells them to remember how they used to be when they first heard the gospel, understood it and believed it. He said “when your were enlightened”. The NIV says “when you received the light.
Remember back in 6:4, he said “it is impossible for those who have once been enlightened...if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.” They would have that phrase in mind as this letter was read to them. In chapter 6, he warned them not to leave after they were enlightened. Here he encourages them to recover the spirit they had when they were first enlightened.
What spirit did they have? They suffered but they endured. (32) LIfe was not always easy for Christians in the Roman Empire. Periodic persecutions occurred even before it got really bad. Jewish converts also faced persecution from other Jews.
Acts 5 tells us of the high priest and the Sadducees arresting the apostles and putting them in prison. (Acts 5:17) Acts 7 tells us the Sanhedrin arrested Stephen and had him stoned to death. Paul (Saul) was there and approved. (Acts 8:1) Then Paul went n a rampage. Acts 8:3 says he was ravaging the church, going house to house, arresting men and women, and putting them in prison for converting. Acts 9:1 says she made threats of murder against the apostles. Paul was on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus when he was converted. (Acts 9) Then the Jews sought to kill Paul.
Acts 12 tells us King Herod had James and other believers killed. He had Peter arrested.
The Roman government periodically persecuted Christians even in the early years. Here the writer mentions being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction (33) Paul told the Corinthians the apostles had become a spectacle to the world. (1 Corinthians 4:9) He said they were hungry, thirsty, poorly dressed, buffeted and homeless, reviled, persecuted, slandered, and treated like the scum of the world. (1 Cor. 4:10-13)
Jews considered converted Jews to be apostate. Romans considered them to be pagans. Sometimes their property was confiscated. (34)
But despite this persecution, these Hebrew Christians endured, stood with those who were persecuted, had compassion on those in prison for their faith (34), and joyfully accepted the plundering of their property.
The reason they accepted the plundering of their property is that they has a better and permanent, or abiding, possession. They knew they had eternal life and a place in God’s kingdom. In chapter 11, the writer will say the same thing about Abraham: “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God”. (11:10) This reflects Jesus’ teaching. He said not to build up treasures on earth. Those treasures can be destroyed. Rather, build up treasures in heaven which are permanent. (Matthew 6:19-20)
So, in verse 35, he says they now need that same endurance. They had confidence or boldness. When they have done God’s will, they will receive their promised reward of eternal life.
I would personally add that trials reveal who we are. Persecution reveals the true believers. For example, my college in the 70s was anti-Christian. Professors ridiculed believers, often having them stand up and declare themselves. Many students pestered and made fun of Christians. One guy in my dorm would get into step with me as I walked to our noon time Bible study off campus and make fun of me all the way. We were not allowed to hold any meetings or events in campus facilities for several years.
That caused many to leave the faith or hide their beliefs. They did not want to stand up for Christ. Some could not stand up to the intellectual challenge and left he faith. Some just could not face up to peer pressure.
But others rose up and fought the good fight. The stood up to professors, they witnessed, they attended Bible studies, they took the abuse of fellow students with grace and ministered to hurting kids. The trial made some and broke some.
Remember that Jesus said “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) He told the church in Sardis “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Revelation 3:5)
James wrote about this. He wrote “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4).
And this was a guy who knew about trials and persecution. As the brother of Christ, he had seem him executed by the Romans at the urging of the Jews. He then saw the Jewish persecution of the early church, from the stoning of Stephen to the driving of many Jewish Christians out of Jerusalem. He himself was eventually executed by the Jews.
So the writer of Hebrews says you used to be like this, enduring and rejoicing, so get back to that. And to further encourage them, he again reached back into the Old Testament. This time, in verses 37-38, he cited Isaiah 26:20 and Habakkuk 2:3-4 (in the Septuagint) by combining them, which encouraged the Israelites to keep the faith until the Lord comes and not shrink back.
They are not to be those who shrink back and are destroyed, but those who keep the faith and are saved. Habakkuk was written in the context of the coming invasion of Babylon. The Israelites were to keep their faith in God in the face of invasion, defeat and exile. Since these Jewish Christians faced persecution from another invader, this reference was meaningful to them.
There is a tendency for Christians to withdraw and conceal themselves in times of persecution. Many Christians today only circulate in Christian circles. They live in the same neighborhoods, socialize only with fellow church members, buy from Christian vendors and avoid non-believers. But remember what the early church did when Peter and John were arrested in the first persecution? Read Acts 4:23-31. They claimed God’s sovereignty, submitted themselves to his will and prayed for boldness to preach even more.
Sometimes it is good for us to look back at how we were when we were first saved. We had enthusiasm. We had joy. If you have lost that, it is time to get it back. I remember one summer in college, back in my home church, a girl came to Sunday School who had just been saved. She was over the top in her excitement and enthusiasm. That actually bothered some of the people there. They wanted her to tone it down. I, on the other hand, felt convicted. I wanted that enthusiasm.
In verse 39 of Hebrews 10, the writer gives a good testimony to them. He said we are of those who shrink back and are destroyed. Instead, we are those who have faith and eternal life. I think you are the same here in my class. I pray that you will persevere.
Next week, we will begin to study the “faith chapter”, Hebrews 11. It will define faith, then give us many great examples of those who had faith in the Old Testament.