For Jewish people who were used to relate to God through the Mosaic Law and to satisfy its requirements by offering sacrifices through their priests, trusting in Christ for their salvation demanded a major paradigm shift. How could that which was so right at one point (trying to keep the Law) be all of a sudden be wrong, now that Christ has come? It is hard for us—most of whom are non-Jews—to understand the difficulty with which Jews were faced in this regard.
Yet change they must—understanding, as Paul pointed out, that the function of the Law was limited to the time before Christ. The Law was a reflection of God’s righteous demands, upholding a standard of holiness, but in itself it was unable to save a person; this is something only Christ could do, and this is what he did. For this reason, it is imperative that we not “neglect such a great salvation,” as the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers (Heb 2:3).
To make his case, the unknown writer builds a powerful case, showing Jesus’ superiority to the angels (who had mediated the Law at Sinai), to Moses (through whom God had given the Law), and to the OT priesthood (who had administered the sacrificial system prescribed in the Law). The author shows how Jesus mediated a new covenant by serving as a priest of a different order than the Levites, a priest of the order of Melchizedek—a priest who would never die.
As the author’s point nears its climax, he launches a most daring proposal. In chapter 11, the so-called “Hall of Faith,” our author makes the argument that it is in fact this Jesus in whom he exhorts his readers to place their trust, this very same Jesus, on whom some of the greatest OT believers already had fixed their eyes—including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and even Moses himself!
How can this be? Well, it is so because all these people did not live by sight but by faith—faith in the God who could raise the dead (Heb 11:19), faith in the God who would lead God’s people to the land he would show them (Heb 11:10), faith in the God who would save those who believed in him apart from works through faith. This is how even an OT believer such as Noah “became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Heb 11:7)!
If even Old Testament believers, then, rightly understood, were believers, not only in God, but, in a sense, already also in Jesus, how much more must people now that Jesus has come, and died, and sat down to rest from his work at the right hand of God, fix their eyes on Jesus, “the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before him endured a cross and despised the shame” (Heb 12:2)!
“Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith … For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:1–3).