“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, AV)
Having done some home renovation work, one of the things that Chris and I like to do is watch shows on home restoration. There are shows about people who purchase older homes and completely redo them from the inside out. On occasion, they will find homes that have foundation issues. This is a major problem since the houses may settle, creating structural issues, that if left unchecked could be disastrous. The point is that the home must have a solid foundation on which the rest of the structure sets.
The author of Hebrews here speaks of a foundation for our hope. He previously has been addressing the need for the Jewish recipients of the letter to have true saving faith. Now he goes on to define and illustrate faith for them.
In the first verse, the author indicates that “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” The word “substance” in the KJV is translated “assurance” in other translations. The word, in the Greek is hupostasis, which refers to “a setting under (support)” (Strong). It refers to a solid foundation. The writer is telling his readers that true faith is the foundation of one’s hope.
Connected with this, he goes on to state that faith is the “evidence of things not seen.” Evidence, elegchos, refers to the proof or conviction of something. In this case, it is the proof or conviction of things unseen. In fact, things may somewhat mislead us since the word, pragma, can refer to not just things that exist but also things that are accomplished.
We need to understand what the author is trying to communicate to his Jewish audience. Previously, he demonstrated that under the Mosaic system of sacrifices, that they really had no assurance since they needed to sacrifice repeatedly. That is their system of sacrifice never permanently dealt with the problem of sin once and for all. He also showed that their priests in this system were mere men who could not permanently mediate the covenant for them and that the earthly Tabernacle/Temple was only a shadow of true things in heaven. He went to great lengths to show the Jews that Jesus, who they could not see was the great high priest. He impressed that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was the final and complete sacrifice for sin.
The author’s goal is to get these Jewish readers to transition from faith in what they could see in the earthly Temple, priesthood, and sacrificial system, to faith in what they could not see in the heavens. For unless they could trust in the unseen things, they would never have hope. For faith is the foundation of hope. As he wrote, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”