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Going Out and Coming Out and Outside the Camp

Alfred E. Bouter


To grasp the concept of going outside the camp, we first need to look at some historical details. An important clue is always to study what Christ's position is and the consequences that flow from this for us. Let us first quote two verses from Matthew: 'He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, I will; be cleansed. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed' (Mt. 8:3) and, 'Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in the heavens, he is my brother, and sister, and mother' (Mt. 12:50). We will briefly comment on these verses in the next paragraph.

Christ presented and rejected as Messiah

Matthew describes how the Lord Jesus Christ presented Himself to His earthly people as the King according to God's promises. He records His coming and early ministry followed by what is often called 'the Sermon on the Mount'. Coming down from the mountain, our Lord met a leper, whom He touched and healed. In Jewish thinking, this was one of the proofs by which the Messiah would reveal Himself. However, instead of acknowledging His authority, the leaders started to investigate Him (Lk. 5:17) and gradually showed that they were not willing to respond positively to His ministry (cf. Mt. 11:19). The Lord, therefore, gave another testimony of His Messiahship by healing a man possessed by demons who was unable to speak. According to rabbinic thought, only the Messiah could do something like this, so the crowds started to wonder whether He could indeed be the Messiah? Instead of confirming this, the leaders ascribed Christ's works to Satan (Mt. 9:34). In His grace, He gave yet another proof when He healed a man who was not only dumb and demon-possessed, but also blind, at which point the multitudes were convinced He was the 'Son of David.' The Jewish leaders ascribed this healing to Beelzebub. Thus, they became guilty of rendering false witness, which in this case, as the Lord pointed out to them, was equal to the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:22-32). As a result they put themselves under God's judgment, and the Lord turned from them, having confirmed that He recognised as His mother and brothers those who do the will of God (12:49f).

Christ starts a new work - the Sower

'Jesus went out from the house and sat down by the sea . Behold, the sower went out to sow' (Mt. 13:1, 3). In Matthew 12 we have seen how Christ was rejected by His own people, after He had experienced their lack of response, described in chapter 11 (although the Lord turned from them, He still remained available to individuals who would come to Him with repentance and faith). There is a definite turning point here, described in Matthew 13:1-3; the Lord leaves the house of Judaism, although He remains faithful to the law, and places Himself besides the sea to start a work that is altogether new. This new phase of Christ's labour is presented in the parable of the sower and in the parables of the kingdom that follow. He was never in conflict with the law God had given through Moses, but He denounced the rabbinical interpretations which put man's words above God's. Rejected by those leaders, Christ is going to open the door of blessing for the Gentiles. We get the historic details of this process in Acts, but it is intimated by His sitting down at the seashore. This change of dispensation is well illustrated in Matthew 20.

Furthermore, our attention is drawn to this important new beginning by the word 'behold.'  This word also focuses our thoughts on the Sower Himself and upon the work He does, even today, in and through disciples who hear and do His word. Perhaps we may compare this with Paul's remarks in Ephesians 2:17, 'coming, he has preached the glad tidings of peace to you who were afar off, and the glad tidings of peace to those who were nigh.' Plainly, Christ was preaching throughout the Acts through vessels of His choosing, like Paul.  But He also preaches today through others. Notice that, historically, this began to take place after Christ had been rejected by Judaism, and following His death, resurrection and exaltation.

Jesus calls His own sheep by name and leads them out

The Lord Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, came to His own, but they received Him not (John 1:11). The three Synoptic gospels describe the way this rejection gradually came to light whereas John starts his gospel with it in full evidence. How solemn this is! We see, therefore, in the course of the events in his gospel how Nicodemus and others, are being weaned from Judaism as it rejected their own Messiah. In John 9, the man born blind and healed by the Lord (which showed again His Messiahship) is cast out by the Jewish leaders from their religious system, but the Lord meets him and afterwards he becomes a true worshipper. This sets the stage for what we find in John 10. The Lord Jesus had been received into the Jewish fold according to God's thoughts and with His approval (in every aspect of Christ's birth, childhood, baptism, ministry). Having been rejected by the false shepherds, the true Shepherd of Israel now leads His own sheep out from this fold. Notice that, personally, Christ always remained faithful to the Mosaic law[1] and fulfilled it in place of every believer (Rom. 10:4), but He was leading the true believers away from the religious system that had rejected Him. What wonderful relationship there is between the true Shepherd who calls out and His sheep who follow Him, attracted by and knowing His voice!

Besides, He is also the Door to lead His sheep out from the fold (like the blind man now healed) and to bring them into a new order of things marked by abundance of life and pasture, where a fold is no longer needed. They are continually attracted to the good Shepherd who has given His life for them and follow Him. They know no other voice than His. The mystery of His love, of His call, and of His provisions, links them with Him forever, but also binds them together with sheep from elsewhere (Gentile believers), forming one flock (not a fold!) drawn to His Person (cf. Eph. 2:11-22). This unity of the flock and their union with Christ is under constant attack from the enemy. Therefore, continuous vigilance is needed, as well as dependence upon the Lord. Nevertheless, the Shepherd Himself, in taking the place of condemnation the sheep deserved, had to face the horrors of the enemy's strategy (in Judas, the judges, priests and scribes and in the many details of His unfathomable sufferings). On the other hand, it was the Good Shepherd Himself who laid down His life and who would take it again in resurrection (John 10:17ff)!

The Shepherd cast out - He went out

The dramatic developments with regard to the Good Shepherd and His earthly people that rejected Him, led to His crucifixion. Being cast out by (the leaders of) His people, we read that 'he went out, bearing His cross, to the place called place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha; where they crucified him, and with him two others, one on this side, and one on that, and Jesus in the middle' (John 19:16ff).

Golgotha, place of a skull, is all that remains of man. Even the Hebrew religious world could not change that fact. Christ was willing to humble Himself to that lowest point, being obedient to God, even unto death. What death? The death of the cross: the most shameful, painful, horrible method of execution that ever existed. However, the Lord Jesus always must be the Centre, whether in heaven or on the earth; and so even on the cross He is in the centre. How great He is! Although being in utter ignominy, He is great; that is how John always describes Him, in His greatness. Notice it says, 'He went out.' He was in control from beginning to end; He was leading, even though He had to carry that awful cross on the road to the place of execution. The leaders had called out, 'His blood upon us and upon our children.' They had called their own judgment upon themselves, which was fulfilled in God's governmental dealings in the year 70 A.D. (and will ultimately be fulfilled in the lake of fire for those who never repent). They had no room for Him. Therefore, 'He went out.'

'Therefore let us go forth to Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.'

The Lord Jesus had become the Sin-bearer. As the perfect sin-offering He had placed Himself under God's judgment, outside the camp. It is true that He had been cast out by the religious system once given by God, but from another perspective, He went out Himself (see above). The Epistle to the Hebrews, addressed in the first instance to Jewish believers who were to some extent involved in the temple services and in danger of going back into Judaism because of persecution or other pressures, shows that Christ's perfect once-for-all sacrifice fulfilled all the Old Testament shadows. These Hebrew Christians were now asked to draw their conclusions from these points. Thus, they were called to go outside the organized religious system of Judaism, 'bearing His reproach.'[2]

Similarly, by way of application, Christians today are called to go outside the religious imitations of Judaism or counterfeit systems. Why? It is to be with the Lord, who is 'without the camp,' instead of trying to improve or reform it. Just as we have not been called to reform the world, so we are not called to reform the Christian or evangelical world. However, we have been called to follow the Lord, to take His yoke upon us, and to learn from Him as sheep He has called out (the Greek word for 'assembly' conveys the idea of a group that has been called out). Thus, He becomes the Leader, the great Centre of attraction. As Christians, we are no longer part of this present world system, or of the so-called evangelical world. Yes, we should be the salt and light of the earth: not by joining this world, but by keeping close to our Lord, in true separation from all that surrounds us (like the water spider enveloped with an air-ball under water). We may and should reach out to those around us, but without becoming part of them (or their system) or uniting with the religions of the world. Instead, we ought to enjoy our union with our glorified Head. Only thus can we be a blessing to others.

Special blessings promised to those who obey

The epistle to the Hebrews presents the magnificent glories of our Lord Jesus Christ, of His person and work, eclipsing every other person and every other work. This letter shows that Christ has replaced even the great men of faith whom God had given, as well as the sacrifices He had instituted in the Old Testament. Furthermore, Jesus our Lord is now the great Leader of all believers, not only of the Hebrew Christians to whom this epistle was addressed. His leadership is explained as follows:

  • He leads into the sanctuary, providing free access into the immediate presence of God, to come before Him not only with our requests but also as worshippers (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:25; 13:15).
  • He is our great Leader for the wilderness journey, making sure that we will arrive safely at our destination; our responsibility is to follow and obey Him by faith (Heb. 12:1-3).
  • He is also the One who leads outside the camp. It takes love courage and commitment, to follow His leadership. The position He leads to, outside the camp, is not popular with either the Jewish or the Christian religious world, for which reason it says, 'bearing His reproach' (Heb. 13:13).

To encourage his readers, the author (I believe it is Paul) constantly draws their attention to our Lord Jesus Christ (past, present, future, Heb. 12:8). He presupposes that we are actively involved in this exercise by seeking (implying spiritual effort) the city to come; 'For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come' (Heb. 13:14). God has prepared a city for His people, though still pilgrims down here, to which Abraham the father of all believers was looking forward. The ground on which we stand is the resurrection of the great Shepherd of the sheep, while God is performing a work in us (v. 20f). To Him be the glory now and forever!

A E Bouter

[1] See also my article Law or Grace - the Mosaic Law or the Law of Christ.

[2] We should not confound this teaching with 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, which passage deals with going out from paganism and/or idolatry. Paul's teaching in 2 Timothy 2:19-22 addresses the situation in the great house of the Christian profession, inside which we are called to take a place of separation. Hebrews 13 addresses the religious world of Judaism (and by application organized Christendom, which is an imitation of Judaism), from which believers are called to go out: 'unto Him.'