We Are Surrounded by a Great Cloud of Witnesses
DIG: Describe the three categories of readers addressed in the book of Hebrews. Who are the cloud of witnesses? Why was Yeshua’s becoming a man and dying for our sins the greatest act of faith ever? As believers, what should we concentrate on when we run the race? What are the prizes for those who successfully run the race with endurance? What should we do when we believe the race is getting to difficult?
REFLECT: In what ways is your spiritual life like a race? Who are the people you look up to as having run the race the way you hope to run it? List the kinds of things that weigh you down on your spiritual journey. What keeps you from letting go of the things that weigh you down? What do you look forward to in finishing this race that we call the Way (Acts 19:9). How does God’s grace make a difference in your race?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (see Cl – The Hall of Faith), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles (12:1a). In the book of Hebrews, as in many places in the New Covenant, the phrase let us may refer to believers, to unbelievers, or to both. As a matter of courtesy and concern, the author frequently identifies himself with those to whom he is writing, whether or not they are part of the Messianic community (see Ag – The Audience of the book of Hebrews). In Hebrews 4:1, 14 and 16, for example, I think unbelievers are being addressed. Similarly, 6:1 speaks of unbelievers going on to the maturity of salvation. In 10:23-24, the reference can be both to believers and unbelievers.
Here in 12:1, I believe let us refers to the Jews who are intellectually convinced that Yeshua is the Messiah, but have never stepped over the line from knowledge to faith. They had not begun the race of faith (see Cw – Faith to Run the Believer’s Marathon), which starts at salvation – to which the author is now calling them. The truths, however, also apply to believers, who are now running. It is as if the writer is saying, “If you have not stepped over the line from your head to your heart, if you have not trusted in the sacrifice of Yeshua rather than the Levitical sacrifices . . . get in the race, because you have to enter before you can ever hope to win. If you are a believer, run with endurance. Don’t give up.361
And let us run with endurance the race set before us (12:1b). Endurance includes both passive endurance and active persistence. It is the steady determination to keep going. The race of a believer is a marathon, not a sprint. The congregations of God have always had many believers who are sprinters, but ADONAI wants those who will finish the race (Second Timothy 4:7). Many of the Hebrew believers to whom the letter was written had started well. They had seen signs and wonders and were thrilled with their new lives (2:4). But as the new began to wear off and the persecution started, they began to lose their enthusiasm and their confidence. They stated to look back over their shoulder to Levitical Judaism, and they began to weaken and waver.
Rabbi Sha’ul knew of some believers in the same condition, and to them he wrote: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (First Corinthians 9:24-25). Of course, our competition is different from that of athletic race in two important ways. First, we do not compete against other believers, trying to outdo each other in righteousness or accomplishments. Ours is not a race of works but a race of faith. Yet, we do not compete against each other even in faith. Our competition is against the Adversary, his world system, and our own sinfulness, often referred to in the New Covenant as the flesh. Second, our strength is not in ourselves, but in the Ruach ha-Kodesh; otherwise we could never endure. We are not called on to endure in ourselves, but to endure in Messiah.362
Fixing our eyes upon Jesus (12:2a). The minute the Greek runner in the stadium took his attention away from the race and the goal to which he was running, and begins looking at the crowd, he unconsciously slowed down. It is so with us. The minute we take our eyes off of Yeshua Messiah, our sanctification is hindered. Some believers are preoccupied with themselves. They may not be selfish or egotistical, but they pay way too much attention to what they are doing, to the mechanics of running. There is a place for such concern, but if we focus on ourselves, we will never run well for the Lord. Sometimes we are preoccupied with what other believers are thinking and doing, especially in relation to us. Concern for others also has a place. We do not disregard our brothers and sisters in Christ or what they think about us. But if we focus on others, we are bound to stumble. We are not even to focus on the Holy Spirit. We are to be filled with the Spirit, and when we are, our focus will be on Jesus, because that is where the Spirit’s focus is. The Holy Spirit will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you (John 16:14). If our focus is truly on Yeshua, we will see everything else in its right perspective.
Yeshua is the Author (Greek: archegos, meaning the chief leader) of our faith (Hebrews 12:2b JKV quoting Habakkuk 2:4). In 2:10, Jesus is called the author of salvation. Here He is called the author of our faith. He is the pioneer, or originator, of all faith. He authored Abel’s faith, Enoch’s and Noah’s, as well as Moshe’s, Abraham’s, David’s, and ours. As Rabbi Sha’ul explains: For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the Sea of Reeds. They ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied the, and the rock was Christ (First Corinthians 10:1, 3-4).
But Jesus is not only the Author or our faith, He is also the Finisher (Greek teleioo, which means to carry through completely, to finish, to make perfect or complete) of our faith (Hebrews 12:2c JKV quoting Habakkuk 2:4). He continued to trust His Father until He could say: It is finished (John 19:30)! These words, along with: Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit (Luke 23:46). His work was finished not only in that it was completed, but in that it was perfected. It accomplished exactly what it was meant to accomplish, because, from birth to death, His life was totally committed into His Father’s hands. There has never been a walk of faith like Yeshua’s.363
For (Greek: anti meaning instead of) the joy set before Him (12:2d): Anti is also used in Luke 11:11 where we have: If he asked for a fish, will he anti, instead of a fish give him a serpent? Therefore, the joy spoken of here is the divine blessing of His preincarnate life in fellowship with the Father; the glory that He had with YHVH before the world was formed. In exchange for this, He endured the cross, scorning its shame (12:2e). The contrast is drawn between the race set before the readers in verse 1 and the joy that was already present in Messiah. The heroic character of His faith appears in His renouncing a joy already possessed in exchange for indignity and death. So Yeshua, being the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8)! Jesus’ dying for our sins was the greatest act of faith ever because He had the most to lose.
Messiah sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2f quoting Psalm 110:1). The words sat down (Greek: kekathiken) are in the perfect tense, the idea being that after His work of providing salvation was finished, He sat down, and remains seated. He never needs to raise and repeat His work on the cross for sinners. He is not only seated, but He occupies the position of preeminence, at the right hand of the throne of God the Father interceding for us (Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20).
For the joy set before Messiah, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (12:2). OK, but what’s at the end of the race for us? What do we get if we win? First, a marathon, the agony race, seems to never end. It is not a jog in the park, simply for the joy of running. If you don’t have something important to look forward to at the end of this race, you will likely not start it and will certainly not finish it.
Jesus didn’t run the race of faith for the pleasure of the race itself, though He must have experienced some great satisfaction in seeing people healed, comforted, brought to faith, and started on their way to spiritual growth. But He didn’t leave the presence of His Father and the Ruach, His heavenly glory, endure temptation and fierce opposition from the Adversary himself, suffer ridicule, scorn, blasphemy, torture, and crucifixion by His enemies for the sake of whatever few pleasures He had while on earth.
Only what was at the end of the race could have motivated Messiah to leave what He did and endure what He did. Jesus ran for two things: For the joy set before Him and sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God. He ran for the joy of exaltation. After the Passover Seder with His apostles on the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus said to His Father, “I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began (Yochanan 17:4-5). Yeshua gained His reward by glorifying His Father while on the earth. He also glorified ADONAI by totally reflecting the Father’s attributes and by fully doing the Father’s will.
The prize believers are to run for is not heaven. If Yeshua is truly our Lord and Savior, heaven is already ours. We run for the same prize that Christ ran for, and achieve it in the same way He did. We run for the exaltation YHVH promises will be ours if we glorify Him on earth as His Son did. There are five crowns that can be ours at the bema seat of Messiah (see the commentary on Revelation Cc – We Must All Appear Before the Judgment Seat of Christ). We glorify God by allowing His attributes to shine through us and by obeying His Word and His will in everything we do.
When you get weary in the race, when your faith runs out and you think maybe God has turned His back on you, when it seems we you’ll never get out the mess you’re in and you’re sure your faith can’t hold out any longer, remember this verse: Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (12:3). Part of the purpose for fixing our eyes upon Jesus is the same as that for considering the great cloud of witnesses – our encouragement.
Heaven was not foreign to Jesus. He is the only person to live on earth after He had lived in heaven. As believers, you and I will live in heaven after our time on earth, but Yeshua did just the opposite. He knew heaven before He came to earth. He knew what awaited Him upon His return. And knowing what awaited, He continued to be faithful to the Father.
The righteous of the TaNaKh were heroes of faith (see Cl – The Hall of Faith), but Yeshua is the preeminent example of faith. He is the divine Son of God, but while on the earth He did not live by His own power and will, but in His Father’s power and will. Otherwise He couldn’t be our example. And unless, by the power of the Ruach, we are truly able to live a holy life, His life would not be an example but an impossible ideal to mock and to judge us.
We rejoice that one day we will live together with Him (First Thessalonians 5:10), but we should also rejoice that we can live like Him right now! We don’t live in our own power but in His, just He did not live in His own power but in the Father’s power while on the earth. We can say with Rabbi Sha’ul: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).364