Meditations in Hebrews 13: 66. A City to Come
Heb 13:14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
At times the Christian life is a strange contradiction of feelings. For example, we have already considered the subject of contentment in an earlier study but now we come, in our verse above, across a familiar experience that is unhappy about the status quo and longs for something better. Perhaps we should first put this verse in context.
Recap Context: The writer has taken us through a number of practical issues, for example, marriage (v.4), avoiding love of money (v.5), realizing that Jesus is our helper and is always with us (v.5,6) and is always the same (v.8), but that we have leaders to act as examples for us (v.7) as we struggle to counter false teaching (v.9), remembering we have a much better access to our Saviour than the people of old did (v.10) and yet one who was rejected thus brining us a life that is often one of rejection (v.11-13). All of these things speak of a Fallen World in which we live where we have to resist temptations and battle untruths and opposition.
Something Better? It is not surprising, in the light of all this, that sometimes we are left feeling, “There must be something better than this!” Indeed there is something inside us that yearns for something better that God has for us and it is in respect of these feelings that the writer now says, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (v.14) Much of the struggle is to do with people. Even within the church there are people who seem to fall far short of what we might expect of the people of God, and outside it there are certainly people with whom we often do not feel comfortable.
Desiring Real Community: We long for a community (for that is what a ‘city’ is) that is not constantly changing, that is not constantly expressing stress and conflict. In one sense it is good that life is constantly changing and we are glad that circumstances change and we’re able to move on, but the next set of circumstances so often are little better. It is true inside church and outside it. The bigger the church the less obvious are the tensions but look deeply into any smaller church over a period of time and you will see the stresses and strains of being human beings; delivered from being in bondage to sin, yes, but nevertheless so often handling life in a less than perfect way. There must be a better way!
Back in chapter 11 we have the gallery of faith, the heroes of faith from the Old Testament, headed up by Abraham who had an amazing relationship with the Lord, only exceeded by that of Moses with the Lord, but when he received his call to go to a new land, he went as a nomad looking for something better, a city or community or people built by God: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10) Thus now we have an exact echo of that. Just like Abraham we have received a calling and we have responded to it and gone and followed the Lord, and yet as wonderful as that is, we are so often left feeling, there must be something better than this. In chapter 12 we caught a glimpse of ‘this’: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” (Heb 12:22) The ‘City of God’ is in fact heaven, the dwelling place of God. That is our destiny.
Back in chapter 11, the writer explained this all more fully: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:13-16) Let’s examine this passage more fully.
The people of faith: “All these people were still living by faith when they died.” (v.13a) It is a life of faith right up to the end (or the beginning!!!) That is what they were and that is what we are, people of faith, and in that we are not failures and we do not fall short.
And yet! “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” (v.13b) Despite being people of faith they had not received the full package, everything promised by God. That is how it is this side of eternity.
Still looking: “ People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.” (v.14) All these people had this same feeling of life falling short of what they wanted, of there being something better ‘just over the horizon’ we might say.
A Different Country: “ If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” (v.15,16a) It wasn’t as if they yearned to have a ‘retake’ of their past years. No, they wanted something better.
Accepted: “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (v.16b) It didn’t matter that they were dissatisfied with their past experience, they were people of faith and indeed it was their awareness and their faith that pleased the Lord. So many other people are content with the world that they know and just want more of it – more money, more prestige, more fame, more possessions, more experiences. The fact that all these things are tainted with sin which makes life ‘second best’ doesn’t appear to matter to them and until the Holy Spirit comes and convicts they rarely say, “There must be something better than this.”
So where do these thoughts leave us. First, with a reminder that we live in a fallen world where things go wrong, circumstances are sometimes bad and people even worse and, it seems, life seems ‘second best’ i.e. it could be better! Second, it is not wrong to yearn for a better experience, indeed it is an awareness not only of this world but of the world God has put on our hearts, the world yet to come. So, third, despite this we need to take hold of the grace of God to remain faithful and true to Him while we live and work out our time on this earth. Reach out for the better where you can and don’t accept second best if that is possible.