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Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. ~He 13:9-14

In the Old Testament, food was divided into two groups, those considered as clean and those considered as unclean. Abiding by these dietary laws by consuming clean food, could perhaps reap certain health benefits; but in terms of spiritual benefits, there was none. Yet when the Old Testament Israelites kept these dietary laws, they grew spiritually. Their spiritual growth was made evident through their obedience to God’s Law and it was not because of the food they ate which made them clean or unclean. In the time of the New Testament, the Lord had declared all foods to be clean (Mk 7:19). The Old Testament dietary laws are meant as an object lesson to teach us to steer away from sins and immoral things, for these are what truly destroy our spiritual life. Instead, we should pursue after things that are pure and the practicing of good works, where by these things, we are built up unto godliness.

Therefore, the author of Hebrews said “it is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods” where there was no benefit. The grace which Hebrew Christians had depended upon to be saved, was it not the sacrifice on the altar – representing the Lord Jesus Christ – which they had no right to eat from? Hence, this had nothing to do with eating and drinking at all. For their justification was made complete through the blood of the Lord Jesus, not from deciding whether to eat or abstain from certain foods. The author used the example from one of the Old Testament sacrificial rites to explain this ceremonial food which should not be eaten. The ritual was performed as such: a priest would have a bull slaughtered at the entrance to the tent of meeting and some of the bull’s blood would be used to sanctify the altar, the fat would be burnt on the altar, as for the body, it would be burnt outside the camp (Ex 29:10-14). This sacrifice was represented by the Lord Jesus Christ, where He too had to leave the city of Jerusalem and allow His body to be hung on the cross at Golgotha. By His death and blood, the sins of God’s people were cleansed. Therefore, the author encouraged the Hebrew Christians to follow the Lord’s example. If they truly desired to pursue holiness, then they ought to follow Him and go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. For the keeping of dietary laws could never lead them to holiness.

What does it actually mean for Jesus to bear disgrace outside the camp? “Inside the camp” means acceptance, recognition and acknowledgment; while to be “outside the camp” means rejection, disregard and disapproval. The holy city of Jerusalem was the place where the temple of God resided. Within the temple were the priests, high priest and the religious leaders – where they were given the highest honour and authority among the Israelites and were the representatives of Israel. The holy city being the religious centre of the people, was a meeting place for the Jews from all nations on every God’s appointed festival. Jesus Christ the Son of God, was the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy of the coming Messiah, who would be delivering the people of Israel from bondage. By right, Jerusalem should be the first to recognise Jesus’ deity, given that the religious leaders there were considered to be the most familiar with the Old Testament. But regrettably, they not only failed to acknowledge Him, they even employed despicable methods to put Him to death. By the Lord’s crucifixion outside the city of Jerusalem, it signified His rejection by the kingdom of Israel as their Lord and King. The Lord, forsaken by His people and having suffered death on the cross alone, became the very example that the author wanted the Hebrew Christians to follow.