"Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us." (Heb 11:35b-40)What might be so precious to God that He might delay the fulfillment of His promises in order to achieve it? Why would even the faithful martyrs have to die without seeing certain promises fulfilled?
According to the passage above, God has "something better" in mind for all of us; for the Universal Church all through the ages.
"That they should not be made perfect apart from us."
What does that mean?
God has existed eternally as One God in Three Persons, a union that Christians call the Trinity. Because of His trinitarian nature, He has always known the bliss of perfect love and fellowship. And He wants us to enjoy that kind of bliss, too. He's wired it into us to hunger for oneness with each other and with Him...though with our sinful natures, we cannot achieve it very well on this earth.
But God invites us into an ever-growing fellowship with Him and with one another, and He planned our salvation before the foundation of the world so that we could enter into such fellowship at great cost to Himself. Jesus prayed eloquently that we, the people of His church, would be one, as He and the Father are one (John 17:11).
Do you feel any kinship with the martyrs of old? Do you consider yourself as part of one body with them? Do you even feel any kinship with the martyrs of today around the world, our brothers and sisters? Are you inspired by them as the "great cloud of witnesses" bearing testimony that Christ is worth whatever we lose in this life?
If not, you're probably a modern Western individualist. And so am I. And as such, you and I want to see promises fulfilled NOW. What good is a promise if I don't see it fulfilled in my life!
God says it is "something better for us" if we wait for some of His promises to be fulfilled when we're all together, when the church as one body stands before Him in glory. A great consummation. A holy celebration.
Do you believe that? Do I?
Could it be that the "fellowship of His sufferings" which Paul prized so highly (Php 3:10) is not just fellowship with Christ, but fellowship with all the members of His body who have suffered throughout all time?
Because of our individualistic mindsets, we miss a great source of patience, hope, and fellowship. We fail to see that some of the promises may wait until after our deaths, but that doesn't make them any less precious. We may see some promises only from afar; in fact, they may not have earthly fulfillment until multiple generations have come and gone (Heb 11:13). But unlike the heroes of old, our faith staggers when we don't see fulfillment almost as quickly as we see our meals prepared by our microwaves. We lose heart and become discouraged because what doesn't happen for me seems worthless to me.
"By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites (something which would not happen for nearly 500 years), and gave directions concerning his bones" (Heb 11:22, parenthetical comment added by me).
We can't see past our own noses, much less past our own lifetimes. "If it's not here in time for ME, it's too late!"
When we begin to get a glimpse of the grand scale of God's design, of His plan, of His Kingdom purposes, it will free us from so much of our impatience and doubt.
"Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it." (Ps. 22:30-31)Do you have a heart for future generations which you'll never see? Do I? Or is it all about us, "right here, right now?"
"And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us."
They were made to wait, and it was for our good (both theirs and ours), so that we can one day celebrate together at the fulfillment of all things, in a blissful fellowship like only the Trinity knew before.
It really isn't all about me. Or about you. And when we begin to get the long view, may it free us from the tyranny of self.