Last time, we started exploring Hebrews 11 – the so-called “hall of faith.” The writer began the chapter with a succinct definition of faith…
Hebrews 11:1 – NKJV
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
He then continued with his first example of faith from Israelite history – Abel whom Jesus called “righteous” because he acted in faith – offering the firstfruits of the offspring from his flocks to God.
Hebrews 11:5-12 – The Great Hall of Faith – Part 2
The writer continues now with examples of the faithfulness of the Hebrew patriarchs. Using these examples, he will continue to develop the theme of the chapter, equating faith with righteousness – not innate righteousness of the faithful, but righteousness imputed to the faithful by the grace of God almighty.
5By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.Hebrews 11:5-6 – NKJV
The next example of righteousness through faith among the Israelite patriarchs chosen by the Hebrews writer is Enoch.
5By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; [Genesis 5:24] for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.Hebrews 11:5 – NKJV
As intriguing as Enoch is, we are given very little about him in the scripture. His entire history is found in a scant six verses.
18Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and begot Enoch. 19After he begot Enoch, Jared lived eight hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 20So all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years; and he died.Genesis 5:24 – NKJV
21Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. 22After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 23So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.
NOTE – Enoch is intriguing not only because he is one of only two people who God’s Word tells us have never died, but also because his name is the first one in scripture to be re-used. The Enoch referred to by the Hebrews writer is the son of Jared. This Enoch was part of the sixth generation after Adam and Eve. He should not be confused with Enoch, the son of Cain (Genesis 4:17-18)
Apart from the the succinct history of his life in Genesis, and the reference to him here in Hebrews 11:4, Enoch is mentioned only in the genealogies found in 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3, and in an enigmatic reference found in Jude. In his exhortation for believers to contend earnestly for the faith, Jude warns of ungodly people who have insinuated themselves into the Church.
4For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
14Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, 15to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”Jude 4 & 14-15 – NKJV
The source for Jude’s quotation of this prophecy of Enoch’s is a mystery, as is Jude’s statement about Michael contending with Satan for the body of Moses (Jude 9).
Of course the most intriguing aspect of Enoch’s life is that he never experienced death. Elijah is the only other person mentioned in the Word of God of whom this may be said.
9And so it was, when they had crossed over, [the Jordan] that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?”2 Kings 2:9-12 – NKJV
Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.”
10So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” 11Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
12And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces.
It has been conjectured that the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation 11:1-14 are Enoch and Elijah. The reasoning behind this conjecture is that we are given no information in God’s Word about the origin of these witnesses who just suddenly appear on the scene. Furthermore, it is clear that they are mortal men who are given extraordinary powers (breathing fire, and stopping the rain) for a limited time. It is clear from the fact that they are killed by the beast, that they are mortal. The two witnesses may indeed be Enoch and Elijah – who having never tasted death are nevertheless mortal men, and thus able to be killed by the beast in fulfillment of John’s prophecy. We do know from Revelation 11:4 that the two witnesses are also the two olive trees that stand beside the LORD, who Zechariah saw in one of his visions (Zechariah 4). Another indication that Elijah will be one of these witnesses is the fact that he also was able by his prayer to cause the rain to cease for 3-1/2 years (1 Kings 17).
The idea that Enoch and Elijah are the two witnesses of Revelation 11 is bolstered by the Hebrews writer’s statement in Hebrews 9:27.
27And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.Hebrews 9:27-28 – NKJV
Since neither Enoch nor Elijah ever experienced ordinary death, but were both nevertheless mortal men who are appointed once to die just as we all are, it may be that their deaths have simply been reserved until the time of the great tribulation when the beast will kill the two witnesses. Intriguing as these speculations are, their Biblical support is tenuous. They are entertaining to discuss, but they are indeed mere speculation. The important point that the Hebrews writer is making here pertains to the reason that Enoch never died, not to the fact of it. The Hebrews writer states here in Hebrews 11:5 that Enoch obtained a good testimony by his faith, and that his faith pleased God. Apparently, Enoch’s faith so pleased God that He chose to take Enoch to Himself rather than allowing him to suffer death in the ordinary way – perhaps reserving his death for a future time.
6But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.Hebrews 11:6 – NKJV
Having stated that Enoch’s faith pleased God, the writer now goes on to state the converse – that we cannot please God without faith. This is an interesting point, since we have already established during our study of Hebrews 1:1-4 that our faith itself is a gift of God – given by Him in a measure appropriate for us to fully exercise the other spiritual gifts with which God has blessed us. So what is the writer trying to say here in Hebrews 11:6? Once again, it seems to me that the point the writer is making here is in service of the overall theme of Hebrews 11 – the relationship between faith and righteousness. God’s Word makes it crystal clear that our own good works do not make us righteous before God. Any righteousness we might attain must be imputed to us by faith in the Wellspring of all righteousness – the living God Himself.
But we are all like an unclean thing,Isaiah 64:6 – NKJV
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
20Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.Romans 3:20-26 – NKJV
God’s Righteousness Through Faith
21But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The writer goes on in Hebrews 11:6 to say the in order for us to approach God, we must believe that He exists. Yet the Word is clear. Mere belief is not enough.
18But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?James 2:18-20 – NKJV
Jesus also taught about the relationship between righteousness and works when He spoke of His coming judgement when He will divide His sheep from His goats.
31“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’Matthew 25:31-45 – NKJV
37“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
But let us be very careful in examining this passage. It is tempting to see it as Biblical support for a works-based Gospel, when the Word makes abundantly clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. For us to properly understand this teaching of Jesus, we must remember the theme of Hebrews 11 – righteousness imputed to believers by faith. Recall that faith itself is a gift from God – given in appropriate measure to each believer in accordance with God’s will to empower us to perform the works of righteousness which Jesus speaks of in this teaching.
Before we move on let’s take a brief look at the magnificent promise we find at the end of Hebrews 11:6. God promises us that if we seek Him diligently, we will find Him.The writer reminds us here of the promise God made through the prophet Jeremiah to His people when they were in captivity in Babylon.
11For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:11-13 – NKJV
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reiterates this promise.
9“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.Luke 11:9-10 – NKJV
Once again, we find that we need to be very careful how we examine a well-known, straightforward teaching of Jesus. This simple passage is frequently used as a scriptural justification for the popular so-called “prosperity gospel.” Those who promote this false teaching bend Jesus’ words here and elsewhere to say that we can have whatever we desire if we only have enough faith in our asking for it. Often, this feel-good heresy goes hand-in-hand with the idea that one must first “sow” into the “ministry” of the preacher who promulgates this deception in order to receive the manifold blessings of God in return. This lie of the devil has shipwrecked the faith of many, who having asked in faith did not receive their desire, and when they complain to the false teacher, s/he claims that they simply didn’t have enough faith in the asking – often adding that perhaps a little more “sowing” into the “ministry” of the charlatan might help.
But this teaching of Jesus here in Luke 11 isn’t referring to our seeking after material goods, and the other trappings of this fallen world. Jesus is speaking here of spiritual gifts. In fact, later on in this teaching, Jesus says so explicitly.
1If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”Luke 11:13 – NKJV
In fact, with regard to worldly goods, Jesus makes crystal clear in the Sermon on the Mount that we are not to lust after them. Instead we are to seek after God.
32For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.Matthew 6:32-33 – NKJV
Jesus’ half-brother James expresses this truth a little less gently and subtly.
1Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.James 4:1-4 – NKJV
Next time, God willing, we will continue our study of the Great Hall in Faith chapter – Hebrews 11, taking up our study with the story of Noah’s faith.