“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
Like any good writer, the author of Hebrews moderated his approach to help capture and engage his readers’ attention. Here in Hebrews 11:13, our author took a brief pause to summarize what we have read so far: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised…” (NIV).
So what are the promises referenced here? Well, those promises would include the arrival of God’s Savior, the One who would open the way to true fellowship with Him. Our author then went on to say, “…they only saw (those promises) and welcomed them from a distance” (NIV).
Jesus verified that statement in speaking of Abraham with the religious leaders of His day. Abraham is a prominent figure within this epistle, and Jesus offered the following insight regarding his faith in God…
” [Jesus said] ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death’.
At this the Jews exclaimed, ‘Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?’
Jesus replied, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’
‘You are not yet fifty years old,’ the Jews said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (John 8:51-59 (NIV).
Although there is much to learn from this exchange, we can focus our attention on Abraham’s faith in the context of Hebrews 11:13. Even though the fulfillment of God’s promises were far distant, Abraham accepted them in recognition of the God who made them. In addition, Abraham could have returned to his country of origin (as our author will allude to next), but his faith in the God who made those promises helped motivate him to follow God’s path for his life.