In Hebrews 10:32-39 the writer invites his readers to “recall the former days,” likely a reference to the time just after the accepted Christ. The writer wants the readers to recall what they have already suffered so that they might continue to endure in the present.
They endured struggle with suffering. Whenever people in the Roman world accepted Christ, they necessarily rejected the culture of the Roman World – their gods associated practices. For this they suffered some level of persecution. The book of Acts demonstrates that the Greco-Roman world did in fact “fight back” against the Pauline mission in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Ephesus.
They were publicly exposed to reproach and affliction. While some commentators have connected this with the persecution of Nero, this does not seem to be the case. It may refer to the Claudius’ decree expelling Jews from Rome; or it is a general comment that describes the experience of many Christians in the first century.
- The noun used for reproach (ὀνειδισμός) is used only a few time sin the New Testament, most importantly for the suffering of Jesus in Rom 15:3 (citing Ps 68:10), and similarly in Heb 11:26 (Moses’ reproach in Egypt).
- The word-group has the connotation of “loss of standing connected to disparaging speech” (BDAG), perhaps a reference to rumors and lies spread about Christians which led to their loss of property in the community.
- The verb translated “be shamed” (θεατρίζω) is only used here in the New Testament and includes a public shaming, the related noun has to do with a theater or public spectacle. The suffering described is not “behind closed doors,” but rather in front of the whole community. Christians were easy targets since they refused to worship the gods of Rome; they could be accused of atheism at the very least.
They had compassion on those in prison. Those who have been arrested and placed in prison must be cared for by friends and family. The Roman world did not usually imprison people for punishment, so they were in prison until they face trial. Compassion on the prisoner is part of the duty of a disciple of Jesus (Mt 25, for example, Philippians).
They joyfully accepted plundering of their possessions. The readers “welcomed” the loss of their property, with the connotation of friendliness. Imagine if someone was losing their home to a creditor and their property was being repossessed, and they helped carry their stuff to the trucks and served the workers coffee! We cannot know how the readers were joyful or if they acted in this way to the ones who were attacking them, but the idea here is that they did not fight the loss of property because they know where their treasure truly is.
These people who lost property could do so because they knew they had a “better possession” which is real, abiding. This word will also re-appear in 11:26 describing Moses loss of position in Egypt. In fact, this verse anticipates Moses as an example of one who suffered great loss for the cause of Christ. All of this suffering is not simply in the past (when they were first enlightened). They are suffering now, and perhaps the writer is concerned that their ongoing suffering will cause some of the readers to become discouraged to the point of “shrinking back.”
For most Christians in the western world, suffering is an abstract idea or something Christians in other countries do. American Christians occasionally experience minor inconveniences or imagined insults (like those Starbucks holiday cups). How would the American church be different if it suffered like the readers of Hebrews, or the Christians in Nigeria?