Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, Hebrews 12:1
Chapter 11 of Hebrews is often referred to as “The Hall of Faith” or the “Faith Hall of Fame.” The accounts of many heroes of the faith listed in the previous chapter of Hebrews demonstrate that faith enables the people of God to accomplish many great things to fulfill the LORD’s purposes for their lives and to give Him glory – for nothing is impossible for God.
In light of this great cloud of witnesses (martyrs) from the Old Testament, the Hebrew Christians living in Jerusalem are exhorted to cast aside those things which would hinder their ability to persevere in their faith journey including observing temple sacrifices and avoiding the snare of sin.
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.
For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16
The “cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 12:1 is composed of the disembodied spirits and souls of the saints. At the rapture, the bodies of those who have fallen asleep in Christ (the saints who have died throughout history) will be transformed into glorified bodies, will rise into the air to meet the Lord, and their souls and spirits will enter into their translated immortal bodies to be forever with the Lord.
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:2-3
The way that we can be like the Apostle Paul who said in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” is to fix our eyes on Jesus. He was highly exalted and is now seated at the right hand of the Father because of His sacrificial love, endurance, and submission to the Father’s will in spite of great opposition. By following His example and having the assurance of heavenly reward, we will not grow weary in well doing or lose heart.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Hebrews 12:4
Addressed to the second generation of Hebrew Christians, this epistle would gain deeper significance in calling to remembrance the first generation martyrs by the reminder that his readers had not yet suffered unto the point of death as did Stephen and James.
And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Hebrews 12:5-6
Although the Hebrew Christians were being subjected to trials and persecution, the Lord was using their enemies as instruments of divine chastisement. Their heavenly Father sought to correct them because He loved them.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Hebrews 12:7-8
Only true sons and daughters of the Most High God are disciplined. Therefore, the believers are encouraged to persevere in their faith with the realization that their heavenly Father is fulfilling His divine purpose in their trials.
Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:9-11
We respected our fathers on this earth, so certainly we should respect God. By their best efforts, they could only teach us what seemed right to them. But God knows what is right. He knows when to teach us, and he knows when to punish us. All his lessons will benefit us. Even when we suffer, we do not suffer without a proper purpose. God even uses our troubles to teach us lessons that will benefit us. God’s purpose is to make us holy and to conform us into the image of Christ.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Hebrews 12:12-13
The believer is to walk in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Psalm 23:3). A child of God is to walk in the Spirit and not gratify the flesh (Galatians 5:16) A believer is strengthened and matures through prayer, the study and application of God’s Holy Word, worship and praise. The “lame” is an allusion to the believer who is weak in faith and needs to practice the disciplines of the Christian faith.
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:14-15
“The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense” by John Bevere. He talks about the importance of fellowship with other believers. The author exposes one of the most deceptive snares Satan uses to get believers out of the will of God – offense.
And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. Mark 3:25
The author also points out that Satan is using what Jesus said concerning a house that is divided to cause the church to fall apart.
These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil,a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. Proverbs 6:16-19
Note that the one who causes conflict among fellow believers has done an abominable act that the Lord hates.
The Devil doesn’t always use obvious and overt things to cause division. The following is taken from the introduction to John Bevere’s book:
“Anyone who has trapped animals knows a trap needs one of two things to be successful. It must be hidden, in the hope that an animal will stumble upon it, and it must be baited to lure the animal into the trap’s deadly jaws. Satan, the enemy of our souls, incorporates both of these strategies as he lays out his most deceptive and deadly traps. They are both hidden and baited.
Satan, along with his cohorts is not as blatant as many believe. He is subtle and delights in deception. He is shrewd in his operations, cunning, and crafty. Don’t forget he can disguise himself as a messenger of light. If we are not trained by the Word of God to divide rightly between good and evil, we won’t recognize his traps for what they are.
One of his most deceptive and insidious kinds of bait is something every Christian has encountered – offense. Actually, offense itself is not deadly – if it stays in the trap. But if we pick it up and consume it and feed on it in our hearts, then we have become offended. Offended people produce much fruit, such as hurt, anger, outrage, jealousy, resentment, strife, bitterness, hatred and envy. Some of the consequences of picking up an offense are insults, attacks, wounding, division, separation, broken relationships, betrayal, and backsliding.
Often those who are offended do not even realize they are trapped. They are oblivious to their condition because they are so focused on the wrong that was done to them. They are in denial. The most effective way for the enemy to blind us is to cause us to focus on ourselves.”
The writer of Hebrews urges his readers to make every effort to live in peace with everyone and not let bitterness and unforgiveness take root in their hearts. Many churches and even entire denominations have split because people have taken the bait of Satan and have become offended which has caused wounding, division and has defiled many.
See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done. Hebrews 12:16-17
The first born son of Isaac and Rebekah was either ruddy in complexion and covered with hair, or covered with red hair. They named him Esau which means, “hairy.” His wild appearance may have been an indication of the coarseness of his character and roughness of his nature. His fraternal twin was named Jacob.
The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Genesis 25:27-28
Esau became an archer. He became skilled in the use of the bow and arrow for hunting and for protection against wild beasts. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau because Esau was a hunter who loved the outdoors. Jacob, on the other hand, was content to stay at home among the tents and was loved by his mother Rebekah.
Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) Genesis 25:29-30
Esau was also called Edom which means red. Esau’s descendents were called the Edomites. Esau, who was an outdoorsman and walked in the flesh, was not merely hungry. He was famished – desperately hungry. Satisfying his fleshy desire was not to be postponed but immediately satisfied.
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. Genesis 25:31-34
The right of the firstborn to a double portion of the inheritance and a leadership position in the family when the father passes was Esau’s by birth but Jacob’s by promise. It entailed more than material blessings. The birthright had an important spiritual significance as well. The Messiah would descend from Isaac’s son who held the birthright. Jacob who now had the birthright would also insure that the future possession of the land of Canaan would be by his children’s children.
Esau refused to take on the responsibilities of the first born and treated his birthright with disdain. That is why Paul writing to the church at Rome reminds that God proclaimed, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:13b
Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud. Genesis 27:34-38
Esau wept loud and bitterly and blamed Jacob for taking advantage of him for the second time. Yet, it was Esau’s own carnal character that led him to despise his birthright and sell it for a hot meal. Esau’s tears were not of repentance but of self-pity. He understood that his father’s blessing upon Jacob was irrevocable and asked for a blessing of his own. God in His foreknowledge and sovereignty chose Jacob to receive the blessing reserved for the first born.
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” Hebrews 12:18-21
The Torah (the Law) was given to Moses at Mount Sinai. This mountain was located in Arabia. All the Israelites trembled in fear as the mountain, which was enveloped in smoke, shook as fire billowed into the sky, and lightning flashed followed by peals of thunder and very loud trumpet blast. The LORD spoke His commandments in a loud voice to the whole assembly out of the fire, the cloud, and the deep darkness on the mountain. The Hebrew Christians, unlike the Israelites in the wilderness, were not present when the Old Covenant was ratified.
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24
The writer’s point is that instead of returning to Mount Sinai, the Hebrew audience is urged to continue their approach to Mount Zion, the spiritual mountain and city where the living God dwells and reigns. On Mt Sinai, God was a consuming fire. On Mt Zion, He is consuming love.
Under the Old Covenant, the Law exposed man’s sinfulness and his need for a savior. Under the New Covenant, by the grace of God and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the spirits of those who have been imputed the righteousness of God by faith have been made perfect (complete).
THE BLOOD OF ABEL
And he said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground.” Genesis 4:10
We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 1 John 3:12-13
Righteous Abel was the first martyr of the faith. Although innocent of wrong doing, he was unjustly killed and his blood was poured out on the ground. The blood of Abel cried out for just punishment.
The blood of Christ speaks with greater power and speaks for purification and atonement. God was the Avenger of “righteous Abel,” but Jesus Christ the righteous is our Advocate with the Father, and He is the propitiation for our sins.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? Hebrews 12:25
The terrors which accompanied the giving of the Law were designed to impress all hearts with the fearful peril of disobedience. Those who refused to obey the LORD’s voice could not escape the declaration of the Law or the terrible penalties which awaited all those who dared to transgress His Law.
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Hebrews 12:26-27
The promise (the prophecy that will be fulfilled) comes from Haggai 2:6:
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.
The things of the original creation that have been corrupted by sin will be removed.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. 2 Peter 3:10
For behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. Isaiah 65:17
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29
The things that are unshakeable are God’s heavenly city and eternal kingdom (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 21:1). We need to be thankful for eternal life to be lived in an eternal kingdom with God our Creator; worshipping Him reverently in awe of His glory and majesty.