In the epistle to the Hebrews’ final chapter, the author begins by giving instructions to the Christian on how to live, in light of the greatness of Jesus Christ. This includes the exhortation to embrace sound teachers while eschewing strange doctrines that deny grace. Throughout the letter, the author emphasized the fact that Jesus is greater than everything that came before Him in the Old Covenant. In verses 7-9 he contrasts the stability and constancy of the grace of Jesus Christ with the shifting instability of false teachers who were concerned with ceremonial foods. A person who is inadequately grounded in the sure and steady foundation of the Gospel of grace in Christ is liable to be swept away by the current of strange teachings. It was their singular focus on Christ and His gospel that characterized the teachers who led these believers to Christ; and it remains their present trust in the very same gospel that will keep them from drifting away. Thus, the author exhorts them to remember their sound leaders and imitate their faith, while rejecting various strange teachings which were of no value to their spiritual life.
Lest these Jewish believers in Jesus imagine that their new-found faith be inferior to that of their fathers, the author once again emphasizes the superiority of Christ. In verse 10 he writes: we have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. In other words, our sacrifice is better than theirs. In contrast to the strange teachings about physical food offered in a physical tabernacle, in Christ they had superior “food” offered on a superior altar, one in which their fathers had no right to eat. Most agree that this alludes to the Yom Kippor sacrifice (Leviticus 16) which was commanded to be burned and not eaten by the priests. Comparing Hebrews 13:11 with Leviticus 16:27 make this quite clear; after the high priest made an offering of the blood of the sacrifice, the flesh and carcass of the animal was to be burned outside the camp (the very same language in both texts). Likewise, Jesus, in His flesh, suffered on Golgotha’s hill which was outside the gate of the holy city of Jerusalem – a place where carcasses were disposed of, and criminals executed. The author finally calls on his audience to follow Jesus outside the camp and bear His reproach (v. 13).
The meaning of verse 13 has been debated. But what is clear is that salvation and eternal life could not be found within the confines of the old religious system. Rather salvation can be found at a different altar – namely the cross on which Jesus died. It is as we take up our cross and follow Jesus, that we often bear reproach for our faith; however, we do not lose heart, because we look forward to the eternal city which is to come.