Chapter 13

Hebrews 13: Leaving the Camp

The thirteenth chapter of Hebrews is the conclusion to the book. In view of all that has been said in the first twelve chapters, what is the course of action that the author is recommending to the Hebrew people? The first is to remember to love one another.

1 Let love of the brethren [Greek: philadelphia] continue.

The Greek word, philadelphia, means “brotherly love.” Jesus had much to say about this, as well as the love of God (agape). Phileo means “love,” and adelphos means “brother.”

2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers [Greek: philoxenia], for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

The Greek word philoxenia means “love of strangers,” which manifests itself as hospitality. Paul speaks of it in Romans 12:13 as well, where it is translated “hospitality” in the NASB. Xenos is the Greek word for “stranger.”

3 Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.

Because the prison system was an invention of the world and was not based upon any biblical law, it was inevitable that virtually all prisoners were being mistreated. God’s law put lawbreakers to work if they could not pay restitution. If the crime was such that restitution was not possible, or if the lawbreaker refused to pay restitution, he was put to death. But no one was to be confined behind bars according to biblical justice. So in the eyes of God, all prisoners by definition are “ill-treated,” that is, treated unjustly.

Verse 3 reminds us that in a sense we are all prisoners “in the body,” for the real you is confined in “the body of death,” that is, a mortal body that sins. Thus, we all may sympathize with those in prison, since this condition is common to all men.

4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

Roman law prohibited polygamy and adultery, though it allowed the men freedom to commit fornication with as many women as they pleased. Christians are held to a higher standard by the divine law. That law was not abolished by the cross, and for this reason “God will judge” such sins. Obviously, if the law had been abolished, there would be no judgment for sin, because, as Paul says in Rom. 4:15, “where there is no law, neither is there violation.”

5 Let your character be free from the love of money [aphilarguros, “greed”], being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” 6 so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what shall man do to me?”

Here we see another form of the Greek word phileo. It is the Greek word aphilarguros, which is from phileo, “love,” and argurion, “money.” Paul uses this word in 1 Timothy 3:3, and these are the only uses of this term in the New Testament.

Most people’s love of money is rooted in the fear that God is not with them or that He has forsaken them. They do not have the assurance of knowing His presence, and so they put their trust in money, but find that no matter how much they have, it is never enough to alleviate their fear.

Thus, we are reminded that God has promised never to leave us. The quotation in verse 5 is not from any specific Bible passage, but the author may well have had in mind the story found in Exodus 17. In that story, the Israelites ran out of water and nearly stoned Moses for leading them into a seemingly godless wilder-ness. God then gave them water from the rock. Ex. 17:7 says,

7 And he named the place Massah [“temptation”] and Meribah [“strife”] because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

God often hides Himself in order to test our faith and see if we truly believe His word. Such testing is to show us the condition of our hearts, for God already knows. The problem is that we often think we have faith when in fact we do not. Faith is only tested and revealed through difficulties, for when all is going smoothly, there is no need for the exercise of faith.

Among Jesus’ final words to His disciples, when sending them out as apostles into the world, was the promise that He would never leave them. Matthew 28:19, 20 says,

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Yes, Jesus has indeed promised never to leave us or forsake us. For this reason, when our faith is tested, we may say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.” This is a quotation from the Septuagint version of Psalm 118:6. (It is actually Psalm 119:6 in the Septuagint, because the psalms are numbered differently.)

In view of the Great Commission, this is a wonderful promise, for the apostles were sent out into an often hostile world. In fact, this verse could be viewed as another of the Names of God—Yahweh Boethos, “The Lord our Helper.”

7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct [or considering the results of their manner of life], imitate their faith.

In those days, Church leadership was a matter of example for others to follow, on account of their faith in God and in their life style. Today, however, one should be more careful about following this advice, seeing as how so many leaders strive so hard to be wealthy and prosperous, rather than of having a virtuous life.

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes, and forever.

Jesus Christ is unchanging in His essence, His life, and His righteousness. Even so, He has given Scripture in a progressive manner, not revealing His entire character all at once. For example, He revealed Himself as El Shaddai to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but later He revealed Himself as Yahweh to Moses (Exodus 6:2, 3). It was the same God, but men’s perception of Him was progressive and cumulative. Finally, He came in the flesh and revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. He continues to reveal different aspects of Himself progressively until the day when we see Him as He fully is. When we are like Him, we will be able to comprehend Him as well (1 John 3:2).

9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefited.

In this progressive revelation of Jesus Christ, let us not be carried away by strange teachings—that is, unbiblical understanding of His Person and character. It is unfortunate, however, that as the Church became more and more carnal in its view of God, the truth itself became “strange.” Hence, we are to look to Scripture to see the truth, and not judge the truth by its divergence from standard Church teaching or “mainstream” Christian thought. Let us remember that the church in the wilderness found Moses’ faith to be strange, and they disagreed with Him more often than not. The Church under Pentecost is not so different.

The physical heart, like all other organs, is certainly strengthened by the kind of food that we eat, along with exercise. But the “heart” referred to here is the inner man with its will, emotion, and desires. Physical foods have their place for the body, but the “heart” is “strengthened by grace.”

In other words, the true “food” for the heart is sound biblical teaching. If we do not feed the heart “varied and strange teachings,” but rather good biblical teaching, then the heart is strengthened. This is another reference to the Hebrew idea that observing the food laws in a physical way had something to do with one’s righteous character. The food laws were Israel’s health laws that have physical value, not spiritual value insofar as one’s character is concerned.

10 We have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.

In other words, those Levites serving in the temple in Jerusalem, who daily ate of the sacrifices (Lev. 6:16-29, 7:6 etc.), “have no right to eat” of the Sacrifice of Christ in the true Temple of God. This is perhaps one of the strongest statements against Judaism in the book of Hebrews. After showing the “better” things of the New Covenant, the new temple, the new priesthood, and the new sacrifice, the conclusion of the matter is that those who continue in the old religious manner have no right to partake of Christ. Jesus Himself explained this principle in John 6:53-58,

53 Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever.”

Jesus Christ is the true Sacrifice that is to be eaten. He is also the manna that came down out of heaven, by which the church in the wilderness was fed for forty years. Only those who eat of His flesh—rather than the flesh of animals in the temple—have any life in them.

In the Age to come, this truth will not change, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). This truth will not change to accommodate Judaism in the coming Age. Judaism and all other religions will have to change their views to conform to the truth of Jesus Christ. The Dispensationalist idea that animal sacrifices will be reinstated in a physical temple in Jerusalem is one of those “varied and strange teachings” of verse 9.

11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp.

This is a reference to Exodus 29:14, which says,

14 But the flesh of the bull and its hide and its refuse, you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.

Because Jesus is the antitype of all of the animal sacrifices in the law, this is why He had to be crucified “outside the camp.” This was defined in those days as meaning 2,000 cubits outside of the city walls—that is, “a Sabbath day’s journey.” When the red heifer was burned “outside the camp” (Num. 19:3), its ashes were to be kept in a clean place also “outside the camp” (Num. 19:9).

These ashes were to be mixed with water and sprinkled upon the unclean to purify them as they came into Jerusalem from the east. Historical records show that these ashes were kept on the top of the Mount of Olives, which was 2,000 cubits outside the East Gate of Jerusalem. It was the place where David too made sacrifice (2 Sam. 15:30). This was also where Jesus bore His cross and was crucified in order to fulfill all things.

12 Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

Even as Jesus Christ Himself suffered “outside the gate” and “outside the camp,” so also are we—His body—admonished to go out with Him, “bearing His reproach.” Keep in mind that these words are written primarily to the Hebrew Christians who seemed unable or unwilling to leave the old order of temple worship. Many were afraid of the reproach that would come upon them if they were to leave. Certainly, they would be considered sinners and godless.

But that is precisely the point of the book of Hebrews. Even as Jesus Christ Himself was crucified as a blasphemer and considered to be a sinner and godless, so also the body of Christ was to identify with Him, “bearing His reproach.” There is no admonition to become a Christian Zionist here. There is no admonition to Christians to convert to Judaism, as so many have today in the past few decades. There is no admonition to honor the old Jerusalem and its covenant, as if to say that Hagar can bring forth Isaac.

Even as the glory of God was seen to leave the temple and go to the top of the Mount of Olives in Ezekiel 10 and 11, so also Jesus took that same path carrying His cross. Likewise, His body is called to bear His reproach and go “outside the camp” of Jerusalem into a New Covenant, a New Jerusalem, a New Temple, and a New Priesthood.

Christian Zionism is the antithesis of the book of Hebrews. The author says that such people have no right to partake of the altar in the New Jerusalem.

14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Jerusalem was not a “lasting city,” though it was “eternal” to Jewish eyes. Neither is Rome the “eternal city,” as both the pagan empire and the Roman Church thinks. True Christian believers, who believe what the book of Hebrews teaches, do not have “a lasting city” on earth that is the center of worship. The New Jerusalem is not the same as the Old Jerusalem, nor is it Rome or Salt Lake City or any other place on earth.

We seek a city which is to come, even as Abraham looked for the heavenly Jerusalem whose builder is God (Heb. 11:10). If anyone seeks a different city, such as the Old Jerusalem, he confesses that his mother is Hagar and that he is a spiritual Ishmaelite.

15 Through Him, then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

True sacrifice, pleasing to God, is not a matter of killing animals. The requirement of God is shown even in the Old Testament. Psalm 51:17 says,

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.

The blood sacrifices of animals were intended only to prophesy of the true Sacrifice. The fact that God never liked animal sacrifices is clearly seen in Hosea 6:6,

6 For I delight in loyalty [chesed, “mercy, or kindness”] rather than sacrifice, and in the know-ledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

In fact, the “burnt offerings” were meant to give us, through types and shadows, a better knowledge of God and His great plan of redemption and salvation. Mercy and the knowledge of God were the intent of God, the spirit of the law of sacrifice. The author of Hebrews refers also to Hosea 14:2 when he speaks of “the fruit of the lips” in connection to true sacrifices:

2 Take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips.

This is the sacrifice of praise that pleases God. Without this, the animal sacrifices and drink offerings were “an abomination” to God (Isaiah 1:13).

17 Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

The Bible often admonishes us to submit to the leaders, both civil and spiritual. There are limits to one’s submission, of course. Daniel’s three friends submitted to King Nebuchadnezzar, until he commanded them to worship a golden idol (Dan. 3:18). Even so, they did not use the situation as an excuse to foment a violent revolution or to plot the king’s death. They acted righteously in the balance between “civil disobedience” and “submission to authority.”

So also is it with spiritual leaders. If one cannot submit to a leader without violating the law of God, then one should leave altogether. Church membership obligates a person in various ways, depending upon the denomination. Some denominations allow more freedom of thought than others. Each person must make his or her own decision in that regard.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. 19 And I urge you all the more to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

These closing remarks in the book of Hebrews give us evidence that Paul was the author of the book. Verses 18 and 19 imply that the author was in prison and was being restrained from visiting the people to whom he was writing. Verse 24 tells us that the letter was written from Italy. Verse 23 tells us that Timothy had been arrested with him, but had been released. He was no doubt the one who delivered this letter from Italy to the churches in which Paul had ministered.

All of these things indicate that Paul was the author of the book. Paul was in Italy twice. The first time was when he spent two years there (61-63 A.D.) before appearing before Nero the first time. He then was acquitted and make his final missionary journey to Spain, Britain, and Gaul before returning to the churches in Asia to whom he addressed this book—that is, the Hebrew believers in those churches. He was then arrested again between 64-67 A.D. He was tried and convicted and beheaded as a Roman citizen, while Peter was crucified upside down as a non-Roman. (See chapter 22 of Lessons from Church History, Book 1, The Apostolic Period.)

20 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

This is the benediction of the book of Hebrews before giving final instructions:

22 But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I shall see you. 24 Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. 25 Grace be with you all.