Considering everything the writer has said previously, it makes all the sense in the world that Hebrews 11 focuses on faith. In chapters 9 and 10, the writer describes how Jesus made one offering for sin for all of time. Since He bore away sin and finished the work of atonement for all time, He is seen apart from sin within believers. No other offering for sin is available or needed.
Chapter eleven is a montage of first covenant saints who lived by faith. Verse one says, “Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This verse is often translated to say faith is the assurance of things hoped for. But the Bauer, Art, and Gingrich Greek lexicon says the word “assurance” carries the idea of substantiating or realizing something—not in the sense of coming to understanding but in the sense of making something real. Faith enabled first covenant saints to grasp spiritual things and manifest them in this world.
Through hints and allusions, the writer enables us to see how each of these first covenant saints knew Christ by faith. When they manifested the One they knew by faith, their lives became living types and shadows of Jesus.
Abel offered a better sacrifice—a firstborn from his flock (Gen. 4:4). His offering was in the image of the Lamb of God. He was also an innocent victim whose blood was spilled so he himself was in the image of the Lamb.
Noah’s ark was a picture of Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Peter 3:20-21).
Abraham offered up his only son, Isaac, who died and rose again in a figure (Heb. 11:17-19).
Moses instituted passover and the sprinkling of blood (Heb. 11:28). Christ is our passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7).
These are just a few examples. The implication is that the first covenant saints also believed in Jesus, through types and shadows (see also Heb. 10:1). Faith in Jesus is the original faith of Judaism. The writer wanted to assure Jewish converts of this: they were not abandoning their original faith for something new and strange. By believing in Jesus they were embracing the fullness of Judaism, the same reality embraced by first covenant believers.
This is why chapter 12 begins with the great cloud of witnesses. It evokes the image of all the first covenant saints in a coliseum, spectators as believers run the race of faith. The first covenant saints are all looking to Jesus, as they always have. They shout the encouragement, “He has done it! Look to Him!” The writer wanted Jews of His time to see themselves, not as apostates who abandoned their ancestral faith, but as those joining their ancestors in the true faith—faith in Jesus.
Hebrews encourages us to see ourselves in this same place. Jew or gentile, we are part of this cloud “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Like all the first and second covenant saints before us, we are seeing Him who is invisible by the Spirit (Heb. 11:27). By faith, we substantiate and manifest the One we know by the Spirit. In this way, we embody Christ.
We noted in chapter one, Jesus is an engraving of God’s substance. As an “engraving,” Jesus is not just an outline of God; He is the very thing He images. We too become engravings of Christ’s substance. We are not merely imitators of Jesus but what He is, we are.