Outside the Camp
There is a school of theology that interprets much of the OT as applying to the Assembly. Revealingly however, its adherents are very selective in their approach. When these Scriptures speak of blessing this is automatically ascribed to the Assembly, yet whenever the same Scriptures speak of judgement, then this is made to apply to Israel! Man acting according to the flesh is always easy on himself and hard on others.
This kind of spiritual presumption affects us all in some measure, and often to a greater extent than we realize. Thus when we read of the necessity to display things like love, kindness and generosity in our lives, we are often quick to think of others who need a little more of these qualities when often we would do well to look no further than ourselves!
Now the expression outside or “without the camp” (Heb. 13: 13) has been widely interpreted as an ecclesiastical position, and as such is therefore vulnerable to being used in a presumptuous way. Thus we are swift to point the finger at what we see to be ‘the camp’, while quietly congratulating ourselves on being outside it. But what is ‘the camp’? And are we really sure that we are outside of it, or is that nothing more than an assumption? It would be easy to dismiss these questions out of hand, but they need to be faced. Indeed those that avoid such questions are very often those that are deluded!
What then is the camp? In the New Testament (NT) this term only occurs in Hebrews: “We have an altar of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle; for of those beasts whose blood is carried [as sacrifices for sin] into the [holy of] holies by the high priest, of these the bodies are burned outside the camp. Wherefore also Jesus, that he might sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered without the gate: therefore let us go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach: for we have not here an abiding city, but we seek the coming one” (13: 10–14). The camp here alluded to is that of Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 14: 19) with which the readers of the epistle would be familiar. Of course by this time the camp of Israel had long ceased to exist. Thus the term is being used allegorically to describe conditions prevailing when Hebrews was written.
On the Day of Atonement the bodies of the sin offering were to be burnt outside the camp (Lev 16: 27). The writer of Hebrews takes up this fact, and draws a parallel between it and the death of Christ: “For of those beasts whose blood is carried [as sacrifices for sin] into the [holy of] holies by the high priest, of these the bodies are burned outside the camp. Wherefore also Jesus, that he might sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered without the gate” (13: 11–12, my emphasis). The clear link between “outside the camp” and “without the gate” shows what the camp represents in Hebrews. The gate was the gate of Jerusalem, Judea’s capital and hence representative of Judaism. To the Hebrews, then ‘the camp’ would be Judaism.
It was to this rejected Christ Who had “suffered without the gate” that the Hebrew Christians are encouraged in verse 13 to go forth: “therefore let us go forth to him without the camp”. Now this reference to leaving the camp is taken from another Old Testament Scripture, Exodus 33. What took place in chapter 33 was occasioned by the events recounted in the previous chapter. There Moses, type of Christ, had gone up the mountain into the presence of God (figurative of Christ ascending into heaven into the presence of God). The people knew that Moses would return, but it was when “the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain” that they instructed Aaron to make “a god” for they said of Moses that “we do not know what is become of him” (Ex. 32: 1). Following the making of the golden calf, God refused to be present any longer in the midst of Israel (see Ex. 33: 3), and thus “Moses took the tent, and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the Tent of meeting. And it came to pass [that] every one who sought Jehovah went out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp” (v7). Hence though the camp of Israel still bore the name of Jehovah––they were still the people of God––He was not there. To get into the presence of God an Israelite had to leave the camp and go out to the tent of meeting.
How then is this Scripture applied to the conditions prevailing in Hebrews? Just as the rejection of Jehovah by Israel in Exodus 32 changed everything, so the rejection of God’s Christ by Judaism altered matters irrevocably. Not just their rejection of Him culminating in the cross, but their rejection of Stephen’s testimony to the position that God had given Christ in heaven. Thus though the Jewish religion still bore the name of God, like the camp of Israel of old, God was no longer in it. His house was now their house and left unto them desolate (Matt. 23: 38). Previously the sphere of God’s dealings with man had been through Israel. Israel was now to be replaced by the Assembly, and thus the exhortation for every Hebrew Christian who sought the real presence of God was “let us go forth to him without the camp”. Judaism was to be abandoned. “Jerusalem which [is] now” (Gal. 4: 25) was to be left “for we have not here an abiding city, but we seek the coming one” (Heb. 13: 14). A few years after Hebrews was written the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in fulfilment of the Lord’s prophecy in Luke 21: 6, 20.
What then about our day? Has this exhortation no present bearing? It must have, else why has this epistle been placed in the canon of Scripture by God when the vast majority of Christians are Gentiles and not Jews? God foreknew that the professing church would degenerate and go back and embrace all those features of Judaism that God had set aside at the cross, such as a selective priesthood, a material altar and a continuing sacrifice. For a converted Jew, the camp of course would still be Judaism, but what about Gentile believers? Now while ‘the camp’ has no direct application to a Gentile, the general principle continues to hold true, namely that there ought to be separation from anything that bears the name of God but not the reality of His presence. The camp order of things can be seen in many sections of the professing church whereby they have a form of piety but deny the power of it (see 2 Tim. 3: 5). From such we are exhorted to “turn away”. The final chapter of the Assembly’s responsible testimony here is pictured by Laodicea (Rev. 3:14–22), where the name of Christ is claimed when in reality He is unwanted and unloved. In each of the seven assemblies the name of assembly indicates its state. Laodicea is a compound of two Greek words. The first laos, means the people, the masses; the second, dike, is the word for right. Put together they mean the right of the people––in a word democracy. When democracy is inside the church, Christ is outside. What the church goes along with today is determined by public opinion, whether it be women ministers, divorce, or homosexuality––all is determined by the will of man and not the Word of God. In Laodicean conditions, Christ is outside.
But what caused Moses to take the tent of meeting outside the camp in Ex. 33? In Ex. 32: 1, we read “that Moses delayed to come”. Of course Israel believed that Moses would return just as the professing church holds as a tenet of faith the second coming of Christ. But the delay is the test. They say of Moses “we do not know what is become of him!” (Ex. 32: 1). Moses was out of sight and so they no longer owned his authority, the authority of the man on high, and turned to a man on earth (Aaron) for guidance. Has not the church done the same? Do we know what has become of our Moses? Oh yes, the church teaches that He has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God. Yet is this truth really known? Do we know why Christ is in heaven? If the truth of why Christ is in heaven has not affected my soul I will never realize His position morally here. Christ is in heaven because He has been rejected on earth. All that which claims the name of Christ at the present time does not necessarily have His presence. Aaron said “To–morrow is a feast to Jehovah!” (v5). Yet they bowed down to the golden calf. Again the truth of the Gospel may be accepted within the camp by people initially, for they acknowledged that Moses “has brought us up out of the land of Egypt” (v1) but ultimately the man they looked to (Aaron) attributed that to the golden calf (see v4). It is striking that when Paul applied Ex. 32 in 1 Cor. 10: 7 he said “Neither be ye idolaters, as some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” Not a word about the golden calf! He identifies the idolatry with the eating, the drinking and the rising up to play. In Christianity idolatry is not the worship of material objects but enjoying myself in the absence of Christ.
Whatever else might be said about the camp it is clearly something of which Christ is outside. The Greek word exo meaning “outside” or “without” occurs three times in Hebrews 13: 11–13. In verse 11 it is used in connection with the type; in verse 12 in connection with the great antitype, and in verse 13 in its application to believers. Here then is the Scriptural warrant for leaving the religious systems of men. We do so, not just because there may be a great deal of evil in these systems, but because Christ is outside of them, and our desire is to reach Him. We “go forth to him”.
To come to the place where Christ is, is very different from merely leaving a sect because there exists in it bad doctrine, bad practice, or bad ecclesiastical procedure. We may indeed separate from some system and come together in a somewhat more Scriptural fashion, and yet fall far short of coming to Christ. The exhortation in Hebrews 13: 13 is “let us go forth to him without the camp”. TO HIM! It is not enough to leave what is seen to be camp–like in character––to be in the good of this Scripture I must be in the company of the Lord. A man might leave the encampment of Israel in the wilderness, but the vital point was that he “went out to the tent of meeting” (Ex. 33: 7) where Jehovah was. We may profess to be ‘outside the camp’ and yet show by the deadness of our arrangements that the practical presence of the Lord is unknown. Indeed it is to be feared that many who boldly claim to have left ‘the camp’ have only succeeded in setting up another camp. Separation from is useless without separation to, and thus a place “without the camp” must be coupled with going “forth to him”. Separation from does not guarantee separation to; separation to the Lord will guarantee separation from all that He is outside. Now you cannot go forth to Christ without personal spiritual exercise. It is not achieved, as many seem to think, by virtue of belonging to a company of Christians who profess to be outside the camp! Exodus 33: 7 is distinctly singular: “And it came to pass [that] every one who sought Jehovah went out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp” (my emphasis). I may very well be positionally ‘outside the camp’ on account of my association with others, but I will never know the reality of the Lord’s presence on that basis. Abraham had faith for the position, Lot did not. Going forth to Christ must be the result of personal soul exercise, the exercises of others will never take you there even if they are there themselves. Just as the exercises of others will never set me right for heaven, so the exercises of others will not set me right for earth.
We have seen that to remain in the camp order of things, where Christ is in name but not reality is wrong. We have also seen that our going forth from such systems must be to Him and not merely from error. There is, however, a third matter and that is that the outside place with Christ is one of reproach. For the Hebrew believers this would, of course, be very significant: they were followers of a Christ who instead of being crowned King in Jerusalem, had “suffered without the gate” (Heb. 13: 12). Instead of exaltation, He had died a shameful death. To the Jewish mind the very idea that Israel’s Messiah should be crucified was offensive (see 1 Cor. 1: 23). Hence for a Jew to be a Christian was no light and easy matter. Yet if the grace of God had associated them with the glory of Christ in heaven, they must also share the reproach of Christ on earth. They could not follow Him to the outside place when he bore the judgement of God against sin, but they could and should follow Him there to bear the reproaches of men. Thus when He sanctified the people by His own blood, He suffered without the gate alone, yet as to His reproach, they were exhorted to “go forth to him … bearing his reproach” (Heb. 13: 13). Hence it cost them much, and it will cost you dearly also. But is His presence not worth it?
Now while a place without the camp is one of reproach, it must be His reproach. Christians are reproached for all kinds of things––the newspapers are full of examples––but a good many of these have nothing to do with the reproach of Christ. We might very well bear many reproaches on account of our current ecclesiastical position but again this might not be the reproach of Christ. The reproach of Christ comes on account of our being associated with Him in a real and living way. From where does this reproach come? Not the world, not unbelievers, but from those who claim the name of Christ! It is the camp we have left that reproaches us. What body has been instrumental in the torture and deaths of countless believers down the centuries? The professing church! Who is most likely to ridicule the brother or sister who feels bound to be governed by the Word of God? Professing Christians! From where do the cries of “Extremist!” come? From so–called believers! Separate from evil and you will be taunted as “ungracious” and “unloving”. Make the NT your only guide for ‘Assembly order’ and you will be mocked and derided. Argue for the fundamentals of the faith, and you will be dismissed as a “Bible thumper” and a “fundamentalist”. One wonders what such would have made of the apostles, those men who “set the world in tumult” (Acts 17: 6).
In closing I would draw your attention to Exodus 33: 11. There I read that “Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, departed not from within the tent”. Happy position to be in! The camp had its religion; he had Jehovah. So what about you? Have YOU gone forth to HIM? There were thousands of tents in the camp of Israel, from each of which the worship of God took place (see Ex. 33: 10). At only one, however, the tent of meeting, outside the camp, was the presence of Jehovah known.