Posted by: Billy Marsh | August 17, 2007

IV. Sojourners: Hebrews 11:16 (A) A Better Country

Sunset in the Mountains

Finally, I have reached the climax of Heb 11:13-16 where the author discloses the true destination of the hearts of the heroes of the faith. In this verse, he reveals three main aspects of the city to come: (1) it’s a better country; (2) it’s a heavenly country; and (3) it has been prepared by God. This post will briefly look at (1) before presenting just exactly what it means for God not only to prepare a city for us, but also what it means for him not to be ashamed to be called our God.

So far, in vv 10 & 14, the author of Hebrews has given glimpses of the eschatalogical outlook of the ones of old. However, in v 16, this heavenly transvision comes to fruition which carries with it a great hope, an unspeakable joy, and an everlasting promise.

This verse comes immediately off the heels of the disparaging temptation mentioned in v 15 which tells the reader that looking back fosters the desire to return to the land which God has called out his people. He powerfully contrasts the notion of forsaking the grand journey with the actual affections which sustained these OT sojourners as they refused to settle for tainted treasures. According to v 16a, these men and women of the faith longed for a better country. They were eager to arrive at home with God. Their desire to be joined with their Heavenly Father surpassed the tugging yearning on their hearts to make life easier on earth.

A simple fact that strikes me as a powerful point of interest is that this was a physical longing. By relegating this principle to merely a perspective or mindset would not do justice to what the author of Hebrews is trying to convey. These heroes of the faith embodied a real deisre, a heart-felt longing for the country that is home to God. He compliments this teaching with Heb 13:14 when he preaches, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Similarly in Heb 11:10, the author speaks of Abraham stating, “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Both of these verses in congruence with Heb 11:16 portray the Christian sojourner, whether OT or NT, as one who has a true longing for the city of God.

But isn’t this a logical conclusion for the Christian life anyway? It should be at least. Doesn’t Paul tell us plainly in Phil 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await the Savior? Typically, home is where our citizenship resides. Thus, we long to go home (Heb 11:14). We desire to come to journey’s end and take up residence in the place where we rightfully belong.

A second unique feature to this verse is the attributive use of “better”. I feel the need though to go ahead and address this issue which I know that is a common misconception among some believers. Notice that the author of Hebrews names the heavenly country a better country, but never calls earth a bad country. However, there is a whole study on this concept that I would like to deal with later, and is not necessary for discerning the meaning of v 16. Still, part of the reasoning behind their longing for an eschatalogical city is that they knew it was better. The city to come encompasses a dwelling place that is removed from the curse of sin, void of evil, a place of rest, a place of eternal joy, and most of all, the mutual home of God and his saints. There are many other things that contribute to the fact that  heaven is better than the earth we know, but I would like to reserve them for a later post.

Do you long to be at home with Jesus? Do you thank him for preparing a place for you? Do you tell others about the “better country” and what believers can expect for the life to come as part of their inheritance in Christ? Do you allow the sojourner mentality to shape your attitude on earth? Fellow strangers and exiles, let us yearn together to be joined with Christ eternally, to dwell in his great, eternal city, and to receive our resurrection bodies where we will be holy as we were meant to be from the beginning.

It is not for me to be seeking my bliss
And building my hopes in a region like this;
I look for a city which hands have not piled,
I pant for a country by sin undefiled.

~ From a hymn by Henry Francis Lyte

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