“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Heb 13:12-14)
The author encourages the readers to remember their leaders, consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Many Christian leaders at that time were killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Yet the author didn’t tell the readers to avoid suffering but urged them to remember their leaders and imitate their faith to the point of death.
It must have been very hard for them to keep their faith when the leaders they had relied on were dead. So, the author reminded the readers of the great truth. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8)
Nothing is eternal and no one can live forever, but Jesus remains the same forever. Only when we put our hope and trust in Jesus, who was, who is, and who is to come can we stand firmly on the rock of salvation no matter the circumstances.
Do Not Be Carried Away by Strange Teachings
There was another reason the author encouraged the readers to keep in mind their leaders’ teachings and consider the outcome of their faith. That was because many false teachings prevented them from having true faith and let them fall back from their faith.
Hebrews 13:9 says,
“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so” (Heb 13:9)
The Scriptures continually warn us about false prophets and their teachings. In the Old Testament, many false prophets prophesied incorrectly. They said things as if God had told them what to say, but their prophecies were not based on God’s revelation, but on their own thoughts and interests.
God said to Jeremiah,
“The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.” (Jr 14:14)
Jesus also warned about false prophets.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Mt 7:15)
So, false prophets have always been around. There are false teachers even now. They try to deceive people using God’s name and make them drift away from true knowledge about God.
The apostle Paul also warned about ‘the different gospel.’ He said in a letter to the church in Corinth,
“If someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached… or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” (2 Co 11:4)
Paul also said in Galatians,
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gl 1:6-8)
The false teachers preached about Jesus, but the Jesus they preached was different from the real Jesus the apostles testified about. They talked about ‘the gospel’ but their gospel was perverted, and thus made the listeners fall into confusion.
In fact, false teachings about Jesus and his gospel are worse than other teachings that aren’t relevant to Christianity because false gospel teachings deceive people and guide them on the wrong path, convincing them that they actually believe in Jesus.
It’s like the golden calf the Israelites worshiped at Mount Sinai. Worshiping the calf was wrong, but what was much worse was that they called it the God who had delivered them out of Egypt. If you believe in another religion, you may have the chance to convert to Christianity.
But, if you believe in a different Jesus and a different gospel while thinking that what you believe is true, it’s much harder to come back to the real truth of Jesus Christ. I think that’s the reason the Scriptures keep warning us about false teachings.
So, it’s always important to check that the faith we have is based on true knowledge from the Bible. Are you sure that the God you believe in is the same God revealed in the Bible? Or are you making your own image of God and believing in him the way you want?
Even though we can’t perfectly know who God is, our faith in him must at least be based on what God revealed about himself in the Bible. Otherwise, we’ll end up drifting away from Jesus, while believing that we have faith in him.
Hebrews 13:9 urges us not to be swayed by strange teachings. What do the strange teachings refer to? The author added,
“It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.” (Heb 13:9b)
In this verse, the author compares two elements related to salvation—grace and ceremony. They exemplify two types of religion—religion of grace and religion of law and works. Paul criticized the latter. While it sometimes appears to be so, Christianity is not a religion of works.
The heart of Christianity lies in God’s grace. We still obey God’s words, not to earn salvation, but to express our thankfulness in response to God’s grace. So, if you feel you are saved or not saved because of what you’ve done, it means that your faith is off the mark. The basis for our salvation must be what Jesus graciously sacrificed and achieved on the cross.
So, after sharply criticizing those who preach a gospel of righteousness earned by works of the law, not grace, Paul continued,
“We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. By the works of the law no one will be justified… I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Gl 2:15-16, 21)
“You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Gl 5:4)
The strange teachings mentioned in Hebrews 13 also likely refer to this distorted gospel. Some false teachers snuck in the church and taught people that one could be saved by keeping certain ceremonial laws related to specific religious days, rituals, circumcision, food, and so on.
That was what Judaism did at that time. And, that was what the original readers were continuously tempted to go back to. So, the author had to remind them that eating ceremonial foods has no benefit in salvation. Foods and rituals can never give us any benefit. It can never perfectly cleanse our hearts and make them the place where God dwells.
So, rather than relying on our own righteousness and works, we should rely on God’s grace alone. That’s what truly strengthens our hearts and builds up our faith.
Grace comes from God’s throne. God’s throne is often called ‘the throne of grace’. This grace comes to us through Jesus Christ, which gives us true confidence and comfort in our hearts. When our hearts are firmly rooted in this grace, we won’t be “carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” but will “be strengthened by grace” alone.
To further explain this, the author uses the concept of an ‘altar’.
Let’s read Hebrews 13:10-12 together,
“We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” (Heb 13:10-12)
Now, the author said that Christians have an altar. But this altar is different from the altar in the Old Testament. The author refers to the Day of Atonement again.
On the day of Atonement, the high priest killed a bull and a goat and carried their blood into the Most Holy Place and the bodies were burned outside the camp.
Here, both the high priest and the animals represent Jesus. As our high priest, Jesus also entered the Most Holy Place to make atonement for our sin. What’s different is that Jesus didn’t enter with animals’ blood, but his own. So, Jesus is both the high priest and the sacrifice for our sins.
What the author emphasizes is the fact that the animals’ bodies used for sacrifice on the day of atonement were burned outside the camp. Outside the camp was considered the most impure place in the Old Testament.
Outside the camp was where the bodies of animals were burned, people considered to be unclean were cast out, and criminals were executed. These regulations were put in place because of God’s holy presence in the camp. Because God was in the camp, everything unclean had to be outside of the camp.
As Numbers 5:3 says,
“Send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” (Num 5:3)
Now, the author connects the bodies of animals burned outside the camp to Jesus’ suffering outside the city of Jerusalem. Outside the city gate was the place of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion—Calvary, the place of the Skull.
Jesus suffered and died on the cross set up outside the city. The fact that Jesus was crucified outside the city itself shows the disgrace and humiliation loaded on him. Just as the dead bodies of animals were considered to be impure and so burned outside the camp on the Day of Atonement, Jesus was regarded as an unclean, impure being, forced out of Jerusalem, and mocked and crucified there.
Jesus was denied by his disciples and abandoned by the people who had followed him. Even God abandoned him. That was the disgrace and humiliation Jesus willingly endured to bear our sin and shame and to make perfect and eternal atonement for our sins. “To make the people holy through his own blood, Jesus suffered outside the city gate” (Heb 13:12)
That’s the altar we have in Christ. This altar is different from the altar in the Old Testament because Jesus is the high priest and he himself is the sacrifice. Those who rely on the past altar of sacrificial rituals, such as an animal sacrifice, can’t join in this altar.
So, to deny Jesus is to deny the perfect redemption he achieved through his own blood. Those who try to obtain righteousness through works of the law by eating ceremonial foods “have no right to eat” (Heb 13:10) the new spiritual food Jesus gives us. That’s Jesus’ grace we must receive by faith in him.
Go Outside the Camp
After comparing Jesus’ crucifixion outside the city gate to the burned animals’ bodies outside the camp, the author wrote this.
“Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Heb 13:13-14)
The altar in the Old Testament was in the camp. But the altar where Jesus was sacrificed was outside the city. It means that God’s presence was moved from inside the camp to outside the camp. Now, what had been considered to be ‘unclean’ became clean and holy through Jesus’ suffering and death.
So those who want to experience God’s presence through Jesus Christ should go outside the camp even though the disgrace which was on Jesus is waiting for us there. Joining in Jesus’ salvation must include joining in his suffering and disgrace.
In fact, without joining in his suffering we can’t truly follow Jesus as his disciples. Becoming his disciples means that we follow his ways, not the ways of the world and face hardships on the path to true discipleship.
Jesus suffered and was disgraced because he bore our sins. He didn’t deserve the disgrace and punishment because it was ours. He took our place and died because of our sin. If we truly believe this, we should be able to go out of our own comfort zones to be with Jesus and join in his suffering and disgrace.
One survey of Christians in America shows that more than 70% of them say that ‘comfort’ is the biggest obstacle that prevents them from growing in their faith. We’re living in a country where we don’t have to risk suffering and hardships because of our faith in Jesus.
Some say that that’s God’s blessing. And it is. I’m thankful for the fact that I live in a country where freedom of religion is guaranteed. I’m also grateful for my apartment, car, clothes, and food. I don’t have much, but I think I have enough. I live a pretty comfortable life.
But paradoxically, I feel that that comfort often serves as an obstacle in my relationship with God. I feel like I’m forgetting to rely on him more.
In order to truly follow Jesus’ steps, we need to come out of our comfort zones whatever they may be. For the original readers, their comfort zone was Judaism. If they denied Jesus and went back to Judaism, they could’ve avoided the extreme suffering they faced. But if they decided to remain inside the city, in their comfort zones, they would end up missing the eternal city to come.
For us to go out of our comfort zone and join in Jesus’ disgrace won’t be easy. We may encounter difficulties and disgrace in this world. But we’ll know that it’s definitely worth it when our eyes are fixed on the kingdom of God, not on the earthly things in this world.
Again, we can’t go to the Father unless we go out of our camps. Following Jesus Christ is like walking the narrow path of suffering and disgrace, but that’s the only way that leads to the kingdom of God. Willingness to share Jesus’ suffering and disgrace is essential in discipleship.