Inside and Outside
The Hebrew epistle views the nation of Israel as being in the wilderness rather than the land and, as a consequence, it presents the Jews as God’s chosen people within the camp. Now being in the camp placed Israel in a separate position apart from all other nations—as befitted those who were recognised by God as being His particular people (see Deut 14: 2). Furthermore, the camp was greatly favoured by its association with the tabernacle—the tent in which was the sanctuary where God Himself dwelt. However, despite all this relative nearness, God’s law kept the Israelites outside of the sanctuary, for at that time the way into the holiest had not yet been made manifest (see Heb. 9: 8). What access they had to the holy place was merely through the priests and the high priest, and even that was limited, occasional and insecure. The position of the Jew then was to be inside the camp, but outside the sanctuary.
The cross of Christ brought in that which is in complete contrast with these two prominent characteristics of the nation of Israel. On the one hand the Christian is invited and emboldened, as sprinkled by blood from an evil conscience and washed with pure water, to draw near into the holiest of all (see Heb. 10: 19–22). On the other hand, he is equally exhorted to go forth to Christ outside the camp, bearing His reproach (see Heb. 13: 12, 13). The position of the Christian then is to be inside the sanctuary but outside the camp—a reversal of what pertained in Israel.
Thus if God’s word governs our thoughts, then we must recognise ourselves as being among the “holy brethren” (Heb. 3: 1) who have been invited to draw near into the holiest of all. But how can we? On what possible ground could any man or woman enter into the presence of a holy God if his sins were not completely gone? Now the Jews only knew of sacrifices which “can never take away sins” (Heb. 10: 11), and as a consequence could not really draw near. Christians, however, know One who “having made [by himself] the purification of sins” has “set himself down on the right hand of the greatness on high” (Heb. 1: 3). By His one offering, He has “perfected in perpetuity the sanctified” (Heb. 10: 14)—you and I—and it is on that basis that we are made suitable for the presence of God. All is settled: there is nothing which can possibly be added to what Christ has done and what God has accepted on the Christian’s behalf. If repetition were needed, then Christ would have “been obliged often to suffer” (Heb. 9: 26), whereas the whole force of the teaching of Hebrews is that His work and death is once for all. Having been thus purified in conscience (see Heb. 9: 14) the Christian can boldly enter upon the new and living way which Christ has dedicated for us “through the veil, that is, his flesh” (Heb. 10: 20). We can “approach with a true heart, in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10: 22)—into that very place where no Jew would dare to go, save the high priest once a year, and that not without blood (see Heb. 9: 7).
Alongside the exhortation to draw near into the holiest is the call to go forth to Christ outside the camp. What is this outside place? It is the place of reproach (see Heb. 13: 13). Christians therefore, ought to seek no place of honour on earth, no position of reputation and no outward distinction. The Jews might once have looked for these, and rightly so. Through unfaithfulness they have lost all (we do not meet the camp of the saints again until Rev. 20: 9), but Christians, rather than being promoted in their place, are called to join Him who “suffered without the gate” (Heb. 13: 12). The Lord had no place here (see Ps. 41: 5), and therefore neither should those who now belong to Him. The Church was not called to take the place of the camp when the Jews lost their standing—instead, Christians are to “go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach” (Heb. 13: 13). No doubt this instruction would have a particular resonance with those that had been Jews, but the Christian position nonetheless applies to all: they are not only exhorted to draw near within but also to go forth to Him without the camp.
The two truths flow together, and what God has thus joined, let no man dare to separate. Indeed, receiving the privilege of access into the holiest of all conveys with it an obligation to follow the Lord Jesus as the One who suffered without the gate. Thus if you value your title to draw near within the sanctuary, then do not shrink from going forth without the camp. Both are equally your place while journeying through the wilderness that is this world. If your faith leads you to Christ in the true and heavenly sanctuary, remember that to you “has been given, as regards Christ, not only the believing on him but the suffering for him also” (Phil 1: 29). Let us be then with Christ in faith both inside the veil and outside the camp.
By and large, Christendom has reversed all this. In theological eyes it is presumptuous to speak of drawing near into the holiest while we are on earth. God remains remote, and is addressed in language that betrays this: ‘Almighty God’, ‘Most High God’ and so on. The true Christian position is to know God as my Father (see John 20: 17), and in that place of nearness, to worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4: 23). Is this presumptuous? Not at all. It is rather the obedience of faith. Indeed, to not approach as God bids us is to doubt the new and living way—to say, in essence, that we do not really believe what Christ has done.
Again, how many have any real understanding of being “strangers and sojourners on the earth” (Heb. 11: 13)? Is it not true that many elements in the professing Church crave instead an official place and recognition down here, and seek acceptance as part of ‘society’ and the normal fabric of this world? Thus, at one end of the scale, there are the ‘national’ churches, and at the other end, are so–called ‘community’ churches. Do not all of these, in principle, belong to the camp? How does any of this fit with Paul’s remark as to himself and his companions that “we are become as [the] offscouring of the world” (1 Cor 4: 13)? Our proper position is reproach not recognition. Let me ask you, was the cross of Christ a respectable thing? Was it looked on as such when He suffered without the gate of Jerusalem? Beloved friends, your place on earth is that place of scorn. Furthermore, if you really and truly enjoy the nearness of the heavenly sanctuary, then that will strengthen your faith to go forth to Christ without the camp. As the Scripture says, not only was the blood was brought into the holiest, but the bodies were also burned without the camp (see Heb. 13: 11). Therefore, during the little while that you are on earth, be not ashamed of His rejection: shrink not from the call to be with Christ outside.