The law commands that unclean things be separated from clean. After blood from the sacrifice was taken into the most holy place on the Day of Atonement, the animal’s body was taken outside the camp and burned (Lev. 16:27; Heb. 13:11). The animal (who was innocent) took on the spiritual filth of the people. Yet the animal was separated (as an unclean thing) from the people (as if they were clean).
Jesus, too, was treated as an unclean thing and suffered outside the city-camp of Jerusalem. This, despite the fact He was without sin while the people were consumed by sin and executed Him. The writer of Hebrews calls this “His disgrace.” Isaiah says, “He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him. Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains” (Isaiah 53:3). The writer of Hebrews tells us to go to Jesus outside the camp, bearing His disgrace, joining Christ in being treated as unclean.
This would’ve been very real to the writer’s audience. Having left Judaism, they would’ve experienced alienation from family and the wider community. They would have been viewed as blasphemers, followers of a discredited prophet. Embracing Jesus meant being viewed as unclean and unfit for inclusion.
It is important to note this isn’t rejection by the world or the godless. To be put outside the camp is to be rejected by God’s people, to be judged unholy by those who would seem authorized to make such a judgment. This can, and does, happen in Christian circles.
If we find ourselves in such a season, it is a comfort that we do not merely go outside the camp to disgrace. We go to Jesus. Though we are with no one else, we are with Him. Though we have been exiled from everyone, we are not alone. Jesus is there, and came there before us. We are joining Him in *His* disgrace; it is not our own disgrace.
It might be beyond us to bear such alienation. But if we are just taking His yoke on us, and Jesus has already carried the weight, then we can bear the portion He has made us fit to bear (and no more).
That said, it is a horror to our souls to be seen as filthy, to bear the hardly concealed looks of disappointment on faces that once smiled; to have arms that enfolded us now locked at the elbows to distance us; to feel that they must break fellowship or risk their own holiness (and therefore God’s acceptance). Could we curl up and die we would suffer less.
The only way to live through this is to live by Christ within; to know, truly, we are one with Him. Jesus’s disciples abandoned Him when the cross happened; He told them ahead of time they would leave Him alone. “Yet I am not alone because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Jesus was unmoved from His relationship with the Father when every other person turned away from Him. We can also nestle into Jesus, held firmly by His arms when no one else will get close. As He promised, He will never leave us or abandon us (Heb. 12:5).