No Continuing City: The Eschatology of Hebrews
The opening verses of the book of Hebrews include the line ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων which literally translated is “at the end of these days” (Heb. 1:2). The phrase is translated by Lane and by Attridge as “in these final days.” Lane has a note claiming it is “a common Septuagintal idiom.” The phrase likely refers to the times after the ascension of Christ to the second advent. I say “likely” because if Jesus detains His coming for another two thousand years or so it would seem that the phrase will lose its coherence. It could be that the idea is of a more proleptic order. However it is understood, the phrase is a verbal springboard which focusses attention on the future.
Hebrews 1:2 also mentions that the Son is “appointed heir of all things” by God. We are not told precisely what “all things” is, but one is reminded of Jesus’ own words to His disciples in Matthew 28:18: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” But even this saying does not tell us concretely what Christ’s use of power will look like. He has an inheritance (Heb. 1:4), and the citation of Psalm 45:6 (Heb. 1:8) speaks of a throne and a scepter (cf. Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:17). There is an intimation then that the New covenant Kingdom is in view.
This inkling receives solid confirmation in Hebrews 2:5 and the author’s declaration that he is speaking of “the world to come.” The word rendered “world” is oikoumene which means “the inhabited earth.” So the reference is to the next age when the earth will be inhabited by those who qualify through their faith in Jesus. Attridge observes,
Hebrews mentions that world not only because an eschatological dimension is present in the texts cited and interpreted in the first two chapters but also in order to emphasize the reality of that new age.
The future age is in the author’s sights as he composes his letter. The Son’s “house” (oikos) is to be equated with “the world to come” (Heb. 2:5) and with the “inheritance” (Heb. 1:4). This is why the reader is urged to “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.” Something similar is stated in Hebrews 6:11 (“we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end”). The word “end” (telos) refers then to the onset of the “world to come” which the addressees are to strive for that they may “inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). Hence, there is a case for seeing Christ’s “house” in Hebrews 3:6 as His inheritance; an inheritance that His saints may enter (Heb. 1:14).
The reference to Hebrews 1:14 brings up the author’s use of the term “salvation,” which in Hebrews speaks of completed salvation (Heb. 2:3, 10; 5:9; 6:9; 9:28). Hence, “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Heb. 7:25).
Hebrews 4 is where the author explores the concept of “rest,” although notice its introduction in Hebrews 3:11 sandwiched between Hebrews 3:6 and 14 and their warnings about the end. Certainly, in Hebrews 4:1 the “promise… entering His rest” is eschatological. This “rest” is connected with the seventh day sabbath in Hebrews 4:4, quoting Genesis 2:2. Again the eschatological focus is found in Hebrews 4:3: “For we who have believed do enter that rest.” Is this rest the individual soul’s journey to heaven after death? That is how many take it, but a good argument can be made for it being the coming aeon. The rest that Joshua led Israel to in Canaan had physical dimensions and topography, yet that was not permanent (Heb. 4:8). Therefore, we are told, “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9), and diligence is needed to enter into it (Heb. 4:11).
Eschatology resurfaces in chapter 9 where the theme of inheritance of again brought up (Heb. 9:15). Christ will be returning, and when He does, He will bring salvation with Him (Heb. 9:28). Because this will be Christ’s second coming in glory the salvation here is the completed redemption of both body and soul. Until that time, Christ is depicted as “waiting till His enemies are made His footstool” (Heb. 10:13 cf. Psa. 110:1). The saints are therefore to urge holiness and obedience upon one another in light of the approaching Day (Heb. 10:25 cf. 10:37). Endurance is required, that “you may receive the promise” (Heb. 10:36, 39).
As I commented above, the whole of Hebrews 11 with its great “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), contains a noticeable forward thrust. So that at the end of a chapter which includes the record of Abraham looking for a city “whose Builder and Maker is God” (Heb. 11:10 cf. Heb. 11:16), we are told,
For all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. – Hebrews 11:39-40.
The reader is thus thrown into the narrative. “We” along with “them” will one day be “made perfect.” In Hebrews the word “perfect” (teleioun) means the bringing of someone or something to completion in God’s eyes. Hence, in Hebrews 2:10 Jesus becomes our High Priest and I think “the captain of [our] salvation” (cf. Heb. 12:2) by being made perfect through suffering. In Hebrews 12:23 we read about,
the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.
Through the work of Christ these saints have been perfected (cf. Heb. 10:14), and those in the assembly of the firstborn are those who have gone before and who now reside in a blissful state in heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22). Although many differ from me on this, I do not believe the “church of the firstborn” means the Church from Christ’s ascension to his return. I may be wrong, but I believe this ekklesia is “the people of God” of Hebrews 4:9 who are Israelites. If it is the New Testament Church the picture above remains unchanged, although I question whether the translation “church” is warranted in the context.
Hebrews 12 closes with a reference to “Him who speaks from heaven” (Heb. 12:25), and a quotation from Haggai 2:6 about the shaking of the created order (Heb. 12:26); no doubt meaning the second coming (cf. Matt. 24:29). After this “shaking” of creation Hebrews 12:28 declares, “we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken.” This is only the second time the word “kingdom” has been used in the book. The other time was in Hebrews 1:1:8 in a quotation from Psalm 45:8.
Finally, in the middle of chapter 13 the author writes,
For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.
The “one to come” will be in “the world to come” (Heb. 3:5). Whether he has in mind New Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12; 21:2) or not I cannot say. If he does, then he is looking beyond the millennial Kingdom into the New heaven and new earth of 2 Peter 2:13 and Revelation 21:1.
In conclusion, the book of Hebrews is a very prophetic book. The book is an extraordinary piece of prophetic literature which, when the historical realities of Jesus’ death and resurrection are acknowledged, would fit quite nicely within the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Yes, this is an “outrageous idea”, and most will dismiss it. But IF pretribulationism has anything to it (which I believe it does), then precisely which NT books address Tribulation saints? None? With the Church gone does any book directly speak to God’s people in the very worst period in earth’s history? It is worth pondering.
 William L. Lane, Hebrews 1 – 8, 4-5, 10. Harold W. Attridge, Hebrews, 35.
 Ibid, 5.
 See also 2 Tim. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 18.
 See also Romans 14:9.
 Harold W. Attridge, Hebrews, 70.
 “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” – Hebrews 3:14. Notice the conditionality attached to the promises in Hebrews. Cf. Hebrews 6:4 (“partakers of the Holy Spirit”).
 See also Hebrews 4:10.
 See Hebrews 2:17.
 Homer A. Kent, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 272-273.
 Lane believes it is all the saints from both Testaments. William L. Lane, Hebrews 9 – 13, 469, although he includes an interesting note: “Lecuyer has shown that the entire formulation in v. 23a is rooted in the description of Israel in the Pentateuch. The Israelites are designated the ἐκκλησία, “’congregation,’ in Deut. 4:10; 9:10; 18:16 LXX (cf. Acts 7:38), while the occasion when God addressed the people at Sinai is called ἡμέρα [τῆς] ἐκκλησίας, ‘the day of the gathering’.” – Ibid, 468.
 On this subject see e.g., George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, Volume 2, 494-498.