The Text (from the ESV):
32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
As we have seen in 6:4-8, this stern warning is followed by words of encouragement (Bruce, 267). The author is encouraging his readers to recall the former days. They already had endured many kinds of struggles and that’s why he can encourage them to not throw away [their] confidence (v.35); but endurance is still of need (v.36).This recalls some of the things the author already talked about earlier in the epistle.
This confidence, as Moffat observes, “here as in 4:16 and 10:19, 35 […] denotes the believing man’s attitude to a God whom he knows to be trustworthy” (44). This is the confidence which leads to joy in the hope of God (cf. Rom. 5:2). “Nowhere in the New Testament more than here do we find such repeated insistence on the fact that continuance in the Christian life is the test of reality” states Bruce (94).
The endurance of hardships by the readers was possible because they knew that they themselves had a better possession and an abiding one(v.34c). This is recalled in 11:6 where the author speaks of “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
The coming of Christ is the motivation for endurance, because he is the blessed hope we are waiting for. Yet “God will not be pleased with those who shrink back in unbelief: they will be destroyed in the coming judgment” writes Peterson and he continues “[h]owever, the writer ends the chapter on a positive note by suggesting that his readers are those who believe and are saved (lit. ‘who have faith which leads to the preservation of the soul’)” (in loc.).
This last paragraph and esp. v.39 sets the stage for the upcoming chapter, the chapter on the “Hall of Faith” (see upcoming post).
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Peterson, David. “Hebrews.” New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. Ed. D.A. Carson, et al. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.