Believers in Jesus Christ
are challenged to run with endurance the race of
faith. No one likes to see a runner drop out of a
race. The great heavenly celebration will come at
the final judgment. For the believer it will be a
day of triumph and celebration. The writer of
Hebrews gives strong words of encouragement to
endure as runners in the race.
The apostle Paul used the
metaphor of running the race of life. "Do you not
know that those who run in a race all run, but only
one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you
may win. Everyone who competes in the games
exercises self-control in all things. They then do
it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an
imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not
without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the
air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave,
so that, after I have preached to others, I myself
will not be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27,
NASB95). All Scripture references are from New
American Standard Bible, 1995 Update unless
otherwise noted. At the end of his life he
could say with conviction: "I have fought the good
fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the
faith; in the future there is laid up for me the
crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the
righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and
not only to me, but also to all who have loved His
appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Indeed, he ran the
The focus of Hebrews 12
is on running the race with endurance. "But remember
the former days, when, after being enlightened, you
endured a great conflict of sufferings. . . For you
have need of endurance, so that when you have done
the will of God, you may receive what was promised"
(Hebrews 10:32, 36).
There should be no
chapter division here because Hebrews 12:1-3 is the
climax to the whole argument regarding the promises
in 10:19-12:3. The author makes his passionate
appeal for loyalty to Jesus Christ. The "heroes of
faith" in Hebrews 11 are the great "cloud of
witnesses" in Hebrews 12:1. These great Old
Testament saints witnessed to their faith by their
words and faithfulness to the LORD God. They were
"witnesses," and many of them were martyrs.
Jesus Christ is the
Founder and Perfecter of our Faith (Hebrews 12:1-3)
"Therefore, since we have
so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us
also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which
so easily entangles us, and let us run with
endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our
eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right
hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has
endured such hostility by sinners against Himself,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart"
The strength of their
faith is seen in the fact that during their lifetime
they did not receive the promise, but they persisted
in their faith even until death. They saw the answer
to many promises, but the promise of the coming of
the Messiah still had not come. Old Testament
believers had the promise, but New Testament
believers have the fulfillment of the promise in the
person and work of Jesus Christ.
This is also true of
Christians today. By faith the Old Testament saints
look forward; we look back on His coming. "God had
provided something better for us, so that apart from
us they should not be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:40).
We see God answering our prayers and we are blessed
every day, but we look forward to the "blessed hope"
when we see Jesus. Jesus has come and made the
perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins, but we wait
for the future realities at the consummation of all
things. We enjoy His sweet presence now, but it is
only a foretaste of what it shall be when we see Him
in all His glory.
The Great Cloud of
The "great cloud of
witnesses" are listed in Hebrews 11. They are the
faithful believers in the Old Testament who were
looking forward to the coming of the Suffering
Servant of the LORD, the Messiah. These believers
who have gone to heaven know that Christ's sacrifice
has been made, and their spirits rest in perfect
fulfillment, awaiting the resurrection of their
Their testimony of what
pleases God is recorded for us in the Old Testament.
There is no evidence in the Scriptures of saints in
heaven watching saints on the earth. Neither does it
encourage Christians to pray to the saints in
heaven, nor are saints in heaven praying for us
here. It is an illustration of the importance of
persistent faith as seen in these Old Testament
saints. It is their testimony to us.
G. Campbell Morgan
observed, "The writer is not describing witnesses
who watch us, but those who witness to us." The
author of Hebrews is saying, "See the witnesses!"
"Abraham worshiped, and Enoch walked, and Noah
worked. Abraham obeyed, obtained, offered. Isaac and
Jacob foretold. Moses, being preserved, chose.
Israel had its Exodus, and came into possession" (The
Westminister Pulpit, vol. 3, pg. 125).
We do know that Christ is
praying for us in heaven as our great intercessor
and mediator before God the Father. The apostle Paul
wrote: "who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is
He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at
the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us"
(Romans 8:34). The writer of Hebrews has already
told us: "Therefore He is able also to save forever
those who draw near to God through Him, since He
always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews
7:25). There is only one mediator between the
Christian believer and God; he is Jesus Christ. The
apostle Paul wrote, "For there is one God, and one
mediator also between God and men, the man Christ
Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).
The Holy Spirit lives
within the believer and helps us in our prayers. "In
the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for
we do not know how to pray as we should, but the
Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too
deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows
what the mind of the Spirit is, because He
intercedes for the saints according to the will of
God" (Romans 8:26-27).
The Bible teaches the
priesthood of the believer and is therefore our
responsibility to pray for one another and encourage
each other by praying for one another. "Therefore
let us draw near with confidence to the throne of
grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace
to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). "But you
are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy
nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that
you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has
called you out of darkness into His marvelous light"
(1 Peter 2:9). Let's exercise our holy priesthood
praying for one another.
Take off the extra
The writer of Hebrews
uses the analogy of an athletic contest where each
believer is likened to a participant in a footrace.
The runner removed all "bulk or mass" of hindrances
in order to run more efficiently. It is our
responsibility to "lay aside every weight, and sin
which clings so closely, and let us run with
endurance the race that is set before us . . ."
(ESV). We get so easily entangled with the world
affairs. The words "easily entangles us" is composed
of "standing, well, around." It has the idea of
skillfully surrounding to cleverly place itself
around; it prevents the runner from giving his best
in the contest. We get entangled with everyday
affairs. These are the vulnerable, weak areas where
Satan constantly tempts us. These hindrances may not
be sinful in themselves, but they prevent us from
making progress in our Christian life.
"The sin which so easily
entangles us" is probably not a specific sin, but
the characteristic of all sin as continually
surrounding men and easily takes hold of us. The
temptation to sin is ever present in our lives and
we must be on constant guard.
Keep your eyes on
The solution to removing
the weeds of life is to focus on Jesus. When we keep
our eyes on Jesus we remove every weight, and sin
which clings to us. "Looking to Jesus, the founder
and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was
set before Him endured the cross, despising the
shame, and is seated the right hand of the throne of
God" (ESV). Jesus is the "author and perfecter of
faith" who has blazed the trail before us and
completed the course. He has entered as a forerunner
for us (Heb. 6:20). The word archegos means
originator, leader or pioneer. Jesus is our
archegos. He is also the completer or perfecter
(teleioten) of our faith. From the beginning
to the end it is all about Jesus. How tragic that
many professing believers in Jesus Christ never
understand that Christianity is Christ. It is not
programs, methods, organizations, fascination with
dynamic leaders; it is all about Christ and an
intimate personal love relationship with Him.
Jesus is "the author and
perfecter of our faith," not some fascinating
personality. Why should we be so distracted by
others? Remember Galatians 1:10? "For am I now
seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I
striving to please men? If I were still trying to
please men, I would not be a bond-servant of
Christ." Every pastor needs to remind himself of the
words every day.
Humiliation and Extreme Exaltation of Jesus
"The joy set before Him
endured the cross" seems to point to the future (v.
2; cf. Acts 2:22-24; Isa. 53:4-6; 2 Cor. 8:9; Phil.
2:6-9). Jesus obediently suffered the agony of death
on the cross with its shame. Jesus suffered extreme
humiliation and an extreme exaltation. With just a
few words the writer of Hebrews gives us an account
of the life, death, resurrection, ascension and
exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God the
Father (cf. Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).
This is the only passage
in Hebrews that uses the word "cross." It mirrors
the entire passion narrative on Jesus' death. Only
the finished atoning work of Jesus Christ on the
cross is the foundation of our faith. Jesus endured
the suffering and shame of dying on the Cross. With
triumphant joy of the resurrection He sits at the
right hand of the throne of God in heaven. "And He
is the radiance of His glory and the exact
representation of His nature, and upholds all things
by the word of His power. When He had made
purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand
of the Majesty on high having become as much better
than the angels, as He has inherited a more
excellent name than they" (Hebrews 1:3-4).
The words "Fixing our
eyes on Jesus" has the idea is to look away from
everything else in order to focus one's gaze on one
thing. Christ is the one person that really counts.
Here the idea is to neglect everything else in order
to concentrate your attention on the one thing, the
person of Jesus Christ. The believer looks with an
utter concentration, wander in amazement of a loved
one looking with adoration at his lover. It
describes the believer who is lost in wonder, love
and praise of His Lord and Savior.
How tragic that we live
in a day when the church is lost in the wonder of
worldly preachers offering material prosperity at
the expense of the exaltation of Jesus. How tragic
that we get lost and infatuated with the media and
charismatic leaders, but are not in love with Jesus.
Him" Jesus who has set the example of enduring
faith. Think over, carefully consider by way of
comparison, and ponder the person and work of Jesus
and what He has accomplished for you. Compare what
Jesus endured with your own less severe persecution.
William Barclay observes, "The way to avoid the
failure of your nerve and heart is to compare your
situation with the situation of Him who met the
opposition of sinners with such constancy and
Jesus endured all kinds
of hostility of word and deed. He went to the cross
and died a vicarious, penal atoning sacrifice for
our sins. What we need is a fresh encounter with
Jesus Christ and a nurturing of faith in Him so that
in testing of our faith we endure.
A Father's Discipline
These believers had
suffered persecution, but had not suffered
martyrdom. Their problem was dealing with their own
sinful nature. "You have not yet resisted to the
point of shedding blood in your striving against
sin" (Hebrews 12:4). This is probably a reference to
martyrdom. Even though these believers had suffered
much, none of them as far as we know had paid with
Leon Morris keenly
observes, "Suffering comes to all; it is part of
life, but it is not easy to bear. Yet it is not
quite so bad when it can be seen as meaningful. . .
. The writer points out the importance of discipline
and proceeds to show that for Christians suffering
is rightly understood only when seen as God's
fatherly discipline, correcting and directing us.
Suffering is evidence, not that God does not love
us, but that He does" (Expositors Bible
Commentary, vol. 12, p. 136).
How sad the emphasis in
our day that if you are a Christian and have faith
you will be healthy, wealthy and happy. I have spent
years ministering to believers who are literally
under the gun because of their living faith in Jesus
Christ. I have buried men and women who gave their
lives for their faith in Him. Much of so called
Christianity in our day is sham. Jesus said,
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the
sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and
persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil
against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for
your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way
they persecuted the prophets who were before you"
Whom God loves He
God's discipline proves
that we are His sons and daughters.
If you have not
experienced the loving hand of our heavenly Father
disciplining you, you need to stop and examine your
relationship with Him. God's discipline proves that
He considers you His son or daughter. God chastises
every son and daughter because He loves them.
"You have not yet
resisted to the point of shedding blood in your
striving against sin; and you have forgotten the
exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, 'My
son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the
Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For
those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He
scourges every son whom He receives.' It is for
discipline that you endure; God deals with you as
with sons; for what son is there whom his father
does not discipline? But if you are without
discipline, of which all have become partakers, then
you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Hebrews
12:4-8). The author quotes Proverbs 3:11-12.
The emphasis is endurance
in your Christian faith. The pain and perseverance
of faith proves your sonship.
The Nature of God's
primarily means "to train children" suggesting a
broad idea of education. It is the upbringing,
training, instruction, discipline, and punishment of
a minor child. In Hebrews 2:10 Jesus suffered, but
it was not for His sins because He was without sin.
He never experienced personal sin. "For it was
fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and
through whom are all things, in bringing many sons
to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation
through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10). It is all too
common to conclude that suffering is always sent by
God as punishment for sin, but we must remember that
Christ, God's unique one of a kind Son, knew no sin,
but learned obedience through His suffering. God is
concerned about the spiritual development of His
children. What would our spiritual life be like if
there never was any spiritual discipline? We would
remain childish spiritually.
Discipline is part of
God's education program for His children. God does
not vent His wrath on the believer, but fosters
spiritual maturity and prevents further sinfulness.
This is where spiritual growth takes place. Verse
eight informs us that one is either a son of the
Father and share in His life and nature, or is
spiritually illegitimate. All who are true sons of
God are partakers of His disciplining. Only those
who are born of God are obedient to God and
spiritually alive (Eph. 2:1-3). As a loving Father
He has right to our obedience.
The Goal of Discipline
"Furthermore, we had
earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected
them; shall we not much rather be subject to the
Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us
for a short time as seemed best to them, but He
disciplines us for our good, so that we may share
His holiness" (Hebrews 12:9-10).
"He disciplines us for
our good, so that we may share His holiness."
Holiness is the goal for which God is preparing His
people. One day that entire sanctification will be
consummated in our manifestation with Christ in
A loving father always
disciplines His children or their good. Our heavenly
Father always knows what is best for us. He sees the
goal at the end of the race. His purpose in our
discipline is to conform us to the image and
likeness of His Son. One day we are going to be just
like Him. What a day of rejoicing. Any suffering and
discipline in our day fades in view of that great
His methods are always
wise. Persecution is overruled by God and used for
the training of His children. God is in ultimate
control of all conditions. "And we know that God
causes all things to work together for good to those
who love God, to those who are called according to
His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
How do you respond to
"All discipline for the
moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to
those who have been trained by it, afterwards it
yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and
the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths
for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may
not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification
without which no one will see the Lord. See to it
that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no
root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and
by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or
godless person like Esau, who sold his own
birthright for a single meal. For you know that even
afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing,
he was rejected, for he found no place for
repentance, though he sought for it with tears"
Holiness is expected of
all Christians. The writer of Hebrews is not
discussing salvation by works. He is speaking of our
sanctification. We have been sanctified once-for-all
by the death of Jesus. "For by one offering He has
perfected for all time those who are sanctified."
(Hebrews 10:14). Holy living is the evidence that we
have experienced regeneration, or spiritual birth.
It is part of the perseverance of the believer.
Every believer has obtained God's holiness
judicially. We have been sanctified, i.e. set apart
to God. There is also a present sanctification which
is demonstrated in our daily life, and one day we
will be sanctified in the future. We are to be
progressively more Christ-like. Our sanctification
is made possible only by obedience to the Word of
God as we submit to the control of the Holy Spirit.
The only way to live the Christians life is by
putting into practice the promises of the Word of
God by means of the presence of the Holy Spirit
living and working within us. The process will be
completed only when we see Christ and finally
changed into His perfect likeness.
A bitter and resentful
person is like a contagious disease. They spread
infection throughout the body.
Esau is described for us
in Genesis 25-28. He had no interest in spiritual
values. Those who repent are always forgiven.
Remember Peter? We need to prepare ourselves so we
can profit from God's discipline when it comes.
Would you rather be an Esau or Peter?
In John 15:2-5, Jesus is
not talking about salvation, but our sanctification.
"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He
takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He
prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are
already clean because of the word which I have
spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the
branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides
in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in
Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who
abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for
apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:2-5).
Have you recently experienced the cutting away of
all that is not profitable for fruit bearing? This
skillful surgeon has never lost a patient. He knows
just what to remove in our lives in order to produce
Christ-likeness. Yield to His knife and you will
experience spiritual growth.
Contrast Sinai and
Zion (Hebrews (12:18-24)
We come to the fifth and
final warning passage in Hebrews. The issue is
absolute obedience to God's spoken word.
The new covenant is far
superior to the old covenant at Sinai. This is a
constant theme in Hebrews.
The scene at Sinai
"For you have not come to
a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing
fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and
to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words
which sound was such that those who heard begged
that no further word be spoken to them. For they
could not bear the command, 'If even a beast touches
the mountain, it will be stoned.' And so terrible
was the sight, that Moses said, 'I am full of fear
and trembling.' But you have come to Mount Zion and
to the city of the living God, the heavenly
Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general
assembly and church of the firstborn who are
enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all,
and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to
the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the
blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:18-24).
Mount Sinai symbolized
God's dealings with Israel under the Mosaic
covenant. Isaiah saw the glowing fire of God's
holiness and received forgiveness and cleansing
The Position of
Christians (Hebrews 12:22-24)
Mount Zion symbolizes the
final grace and blessing in salvation, accomplished
realities foretold in the types and shadows in the
Old Covenant. Jerusalem was built on Mount Zion, a
hill which David captured and made his capital. In
the book of Hebrews Zion is a symbol of the city of
the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (cf.
Galatians 4:24-26). The living God dwells in the
"new Jerusalem" (Rev. 21:2, 22, 23). It is the final
home of all true believers of all ages.
This passage is filled
with Old Testament imagery of a new heaven and Zion
the city of God.
Believers in Jesus Christ
have access in the invisible heavenly Jerusalem.
Those who have died in faith in Jesus Christ are in
God's presence worshiping Him awaiting their
resurrection bodies when Christ returns.
In verse 23 "firstborn"
is plural in the Greek and modifies "who are
enrolled in heaven." Jesus was called the
"firstborn" in Heb. 1:6, but here His followers are
granted inheritance as if they too were firstborn
sons. He writes of "the general assembly and church
of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to
God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the
righteous made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23). The church
appears to be a reference to believers today who are
still on the earth, but whose names are written down
in heaven. They will inherit the heavenly Jerusalem
(cf. Heb. 13:14).
"Spirits of the righteous
men made perfect" are the Old and New Testament
saints. Christ's sacrifice for sin has removed their
Jesus is the mediator of
a new covenant purchased by His own blood (v. 24).
The blood of Jesus is said to be still speaking to
men. The blood of Abel cries out for vengeance, but
the blood of Jesus brings forgiveness and atonement
for all our sins (Gen. 4:10; Heb. 11:4). Christ
appeared as a high priest and obtained eternal
redemption by His blood (Heb. 9:11-14). Christ "has
been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of
Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to
die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ
also, having been offered once to bear the sins of
many, will appear a second time for salvation
without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await
Him" (Hebrews 9:24-28). "Therefore, brethren, since
we have confidence to enter the holy place by the
blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He
inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His
flesh" (Hebrews 10:19-20).
A Kingdom that cannot
be Shaken (Hebrews 12:25-29)
There were some people
professing faith but they did not possess Christ.
"See to it that you do
not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not
escape when they refused him who warned them on
earth, much less will we escape who turn away from
Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the
earth then, but now He has promised, saying, 'Yet
once more I will shake not only the earth, but also
the heaven.' This expression, 'Yet once more,'
denotes the removing of those things which can be
shaken, as of created things, so that those things
which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since
we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us
show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an
acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our
God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:25-29).
The first shaking was
physical and geographical at Sinai. Our author is
referring to the second coming of Christ. Great
judgments will take place at that time. "For thus
says the Lord of hosts, 'Once more in a little
while, I am going to shake the heavens and the
earth, the sea also and the dry land'" (Haggai 2:6).
This will be the final shaking of the universe.
Judgment will have come.
The only thing that will
survive will be the unshakable kingdom of God which
believers are now receiving, but the full
consummation will only come when Jesus returns in
Let us never forget, "our
God is a consuming fire." He is absolutely holy. The
only way radically depraved sinners can abide in His
presence is by trusting the shed blood of Jesus
Christ. He is the atoning sacrifice that cleanses of
Principles and Practical Applications
When you are running the
race of life you don't have time to look around. You
have to keep your eyes focused on Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the
"author and perfecter of our faith." No one or
anything else will do. He is the Beginning and the
End. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He
who began a good work in you will perfect it until
the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).
When you keep your eyes
on yourself you will become spiritually weary and
We renew our strength and
gain strength by wrapping ourselves around Jesus and
drawing our strength from Him.
When you respond in
obedience to God's loving discipline you grow in the
likeness of Christ.
How you handled
discipline tells a lot about your spiritual
maturity. When we accept God's discipline as
evidence of His love for us we demonstrate that we
are indeed His children. Are you yielding to the
pruning of His knife? He has never allowed His knife
to slip. He cuts away the decay and rot in our
spiritual lives. If there is no discipline, there is
no sonship. If you are not disciplined you are
illegitimate. Don't be careless in accepting divine
When God disciplines us
it is so we can share in His holiness.
His goal is that we
become like Him, perfect and holy. His goal is
Christ-likeness. "For momentary, light affliction is
producing for us an eternal weight of glory far
beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Our God is a consuming
He is awesome and holy.
The only way we can abide in His presence is by
means of His cleansing blood.
Helen Lemmel's hymn says
it so beautifully:
"Turn your eyes upon
Look full into His
And the things of earth
will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory
12:1-29 Run the Christian Race with Endurance