Studies in the Book of Hebrews—Chapter 12:1-17

Looking unto Jesus

IN THE PREVIOUS chapters of this epistle Paul has opened our understanding to many of the types and shadows contained in the Tabernacle and its services. By contrast, he has shown the grandeur and majesty of the antitypes—the “substance” (Heb. 11:1)—as they are centered in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are reminded of our “heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1) to joint-heirship with Christ, based upon our willingness to share in his suffering, and counseled to be watchful and full of faith lest we be caught in some of the pitfalls which Satan has set for us along the narrow way. In chapter eleven he has encouraged us to steadfastness by presenting that grand array of faith heroes who through the power of faith endured suffering faithfully unto death in order that they might obtain “a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35) Now he comes to the grand climax of it all, pointing us to Jesus, the supreme example of faithfulness, bidding us to “consider him” and follow him in order that we might obtain a “kingdom which cannot be moved.”—Heb. 12:3,28


VERSE 1  “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

‘Wherefore’—that is, having noted these noble examples of faith, these can serve as a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ to us. The thought in the word witnesses is not that the Ancient Worthies are now in heaven looking down upon us, but rather that their lives of faithfulness serve as a witness, or testimony, of God’s integrity and of his ability to uphold those who believe his promises, and who endeavor to demonstrate their faith by their works, and are as onlookers in an arena.

‘Let us lay aside every weight’—This is a reference to the practice of runners to strip themselves of every unnecessary weight of clothing and other hindrances which might tend to retard their speed on the racetrack. The experiences of a runner are illustrative in some respects of the Christian life. We are running for “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 3:14) and in order to be victorious we also must lay aside all hindrances of whatever nature they might be, such as “the cares of this world,” the “deceitfulness of riches,” the “lust of the flesh,” and the “pride of life.”—Mark 4:19; I John 2:16

‘And the sin which doth so easily beset us’—It has been suggested that each runner in the heavenly racecourse has some particular sin which, more than any other, tends to impede his progress. This doubtless is true, but Paul seemingly is referring to a close-girding sin which is common to all the Lord’s people. Judging from his many references to it, and his admonitions to overcome it, it is the sin of unbelief. Lack of genuine, working faith in the promises of God lies at the root of most of our shortcomings. It was the sin which led to Israel’s downfall. If we are overcomers, it will be through faith that we gain the victory.

‘Let us run with patience the race that is set before us’—To win the Christian race it is necessary not only to run with “all diligence,” but also with patience, that is, with cheerful endurance, not grumblingly, nor in the spirit of wishing we were doing something else.—II Peter 1:5,10

VERSE 2  “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

‘Looking unto Jesus’—In the Greek text the thought is ‘to consider attentively.’ Paul, through his eloquence displayed in chapter 11, has caused us to give careful consideration to the manner in which faith wrought victory in the lives of the Ancient Worthies, and now he reminds us of the crowning example of faithfulness, even ‘Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.’

Jehovah, our Heavenly Father, is the author of the plan of salvation. The Greek word translated author in this instance is one which means ‘chief leader.’ It is translated “captain” in Hebrews 2:10. We can, and should, follow the examples of faithfulness we see in the Ancient Worthies. Paul wrote that we should follow him as he followed Christ, but we should ever keep in mind that Jesus is our ‘chief leader,’ for it is in his footsteps that we are to walk. He is the finisher, or ‘perfecter,’ of our faith. The faith life of others tends to strengthen our faith, and Jesus’ faithfulness does this for us. If we look to him attentively, despite our imperfections, we can finish our course victoriously and win a crown of life.

‘For the joy that was set before him’—The Heavenly Father gave Jesus an incentive to faithfulness. The Apostle Peter informs us that the prophets testified not only concerning the sufferings of Christ but also of “the glory that should follow.” (I Pet. 1:11) It was these promises of the glory which would follow his suffering that assisted Jesus to endure the cross and despise the shame. This was not a selfish joy, for although he would delight in the prospect of again being personally present with his Father, he knew also that this position of glory would enable him, during the thousand years of his kingdom, to bestow blessings of life upon all the families of the earth.

As Paul declares, because Jesus faithfully endured he is now at the right hand of the throne of God. This is in fulfillment of the Father’s promise, “I [will] divide him a portion with the great.” (Isa. 53:12) God always fulfils his promises to those who are faithful to him.—Ps. 16:11

VERSE 3  “Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.”

The Greek word in this text translated ‘consider’ means ‘to estimate.’ It is taken from a root word meaning ‘analogous.’ In other words, we are to consider him in the sense of making a comparison between what he suffered and the much less trying experiences through which we are passing. The ‘contradiction of sinners’ led Jesus to his death. He was the Son of God, but his enemies contradicted this, charging him with blasphemy. He was a king, but this was also contradicted, so he was charged with treason, and crucified.

When we compare his sufferings with our own we will discover that there is no occasion for our becoming ‘wearied and faint,’ that is, becoming “weary in well doing.” (Gal. 6:9) In the Greek text, the word translated wearied is the same as that used by James when he wrote, “The prayer of faith shall save the sick,” or wearied. (James 5:15) This is more than a temporary discouragement. The word seems to be descriptive of a condition of mind in which one is about ready to give up the good fight of faith entirely. But if we compare our lot with the sufferings of Jesus, we will realize that there is no occasion for an attitude of this kind.

The Greek word used by Paul and translated faint is one which means ‘to relax.’ One does not need deliberately to step out of the Christian racecourse in order to lose the prize. It is merely necessary to relax, to be a little less zealous and energetic. As a rule, to relax results in fewer trials. In other ways also it is appealing to the flesh, but it could easily lead to what Paul describes as being a “castaway.” (I Cor. 9:27) The opposite attitude is described by the poetic lines, “Awake my soul, stretch every nerve, and press with vigor on.”

VERSE 4  “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”

This text can be understood properly only in the light of the Divine plan, particularly as it relates to the church’s share in the “better sacrifices” of the Gospel Age. (Heb. 9:23) Paul is not here especially emphasizing a Christian’s warfare against his own personal sins, although such a warfare is most essential. However, such does not lead to death—‘unto blood.’ To the extent that one is able to overcome sinful tendencies in his own body there generally results an improvement of physical health.

The word ‘against’ is from a Greek preposition which in some instances in the New Testament is used to denote the thought ‘because of,’ and is so translated. Jesus did not die as a result of striving against sin in his own body, for he was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” (Heb. 7:26) It was sin that caused his death, however; that is, the sin of others—the sin of the whole world. His striving against sin was in the fact that he laid down his life as a sin offering.

It is this that is brought to our attention by the Apostle Paul in Romans 6:10,11. In this passage he explains that Jesus died “unto” sin, and then says that “likewise” we should reckon ourselves to be dead “unto” sin. The only sense in which Jesus died ‘unto,’ or because of sin, was as an offering for sin, and by Paul’s authority we can reckon ourselves to be dying in the same way. Thus we are said to be “planted together in the likeness of his death”—Rom. 6:5

The “body of sin” (Rom. 6:6) that is destroyed as a result of Jesus’ crucifixion, and our crucifixion with him, is the whole cancerous growth of sin which has fastened itself upon the entire race, and which must be removed ere the people can have life. Strong’s Concordance, in a broad definition of the Greek word, soma, in this text which is translated ‘body,’ says that it means the ‘sound whole body’ to be used in a broad application, literally or figuratively.

That the reference is not to our own individual bodies is proven by the fact that Jesus’ crucifixion is included. Besides, the text declares that “he that is dead” is justified. (Rom. 6:7) Our bodies, although sinful by nature, are justified by the blood of Christ and thus made acceptable as a sacrifice, so Paul wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, … that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Rom. 12:1) Accepting this invitation to sacrifice, we are “crucified” with Christ.—Gal. 2:20

The purpose of this in the plan of God is that the body—not bodies in the plural—of sin might be destroyed. Thus the joint work of Christ and his church is likened to a great struggle against the enemy ‘sin,’ and it is to this that Paul refers when he writes, ‘Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.’ This great battle against sin is a fierce one, and while the forces of righteousness will ultimately triumph, during this Gospel Age all who participate in the struggle lose their lives as human beings. But they have the Master’s promise, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”—Rev. 2:10

It is this faithfulness unto death that Paul describes by the expression, ‘unto blood.’ ‘Ye have not yet resisted unto blood,’ he told the Hebrew brethren. This observation by Paul is linked to his admonition to ‘consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself.’ As we have seen, the word consider in the Greek text has the thought of ‘making a comparison.’ When the Hebrew brethren did this, they would realize that although they may have suffered a great deal, they had not yet been fully planted together in the likeness of Jesus’ death.

The Hebrew brethren indeed had suffered! They had endured a great “fight of afflictions,” and had taken “joyfully the spoiling” of their goods. (Heb. 10:32-34) Throughout the epistle Paul endeavors to explain why these, and all true followers of the Master, should expect to suffer. The “captain of their salvation” was perfected for his position in glory by suffering, so the “many sons” who attain to glory with him must also expect to suffer.—Heb. 2:10

Now Paul presents another viewpoint of Christian suffering, another reason we “suffer with him.” (Rom. 8:17) It is because, together with Jesus, we participate in the great battle against sin. He reminded the Hebrew brethren—and us—that having entered this struggle we should not consider relaxing in the fight, that we should follow the example of Jesus, who, in his striving against sin, did so ‘unto blood,’ that is, unto death.

VERSES 5,6  “Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”

The word ‘chastening’ as used in this text does not necessarily imply punishment. Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word paideia from which it is translated as meaning ‘tutorage,’ or by implication, disciplinary correction. It is translated ‘nurture’ in Paul’s admonition to fathers to bring up children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4) The same word is translated ‘instruction’ in the text which informs us that the inspired Word of God is profitable for “instruction in righteousness.”—II Tim. 3:16

VERSES 7,8  “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.”

‘If ye endure’—It was this that Paul, throughout the entire epistle, was encouraging the Hebrew brethren to do. They had endured faithfully for a time, but he admonished them to endure unto the end. While the chastenings of the Lord are not manifestations of his anger, but corrective in nature, they do, nevertheless, usually involve more or less of suffering. Paul was strengthening the Hebrews to endure this also. While closely related to our suffering with Christ as a result of our being planted together in the likeness of his death, corrective discipline is not the same. However, it calls for endurance if we are to reap the benefit therefrom.

VERSES 9,10  “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.”

The lesson here is obvious! If we consider that the corrective measures taken by our earthly parents served a good purpose in our lives, we must conclude that the chastenings administered by our Heavenly Father are of much more value, for they have to do with our eternal destiny. The text states that our earthly parents chastened us for ‘their own pleasure.’ The marginal translation gives a more correct thought. It reads, “As seemed good to them,” that is, they used the best judgment they could. When our Heavenly Father chastens us, it can always result to our profit. In his wisdom he knows exactly the sort of experiences that are best for us in order that we might be ‘partakers of his holiness’—that is, fully set apart to the doing of his will.

VERSE 11  “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”

No amount of philosophy can convert pain into joy. However, no matter how trying our experiences may be, if we allow them to exercise us in the proper way, the after result will be good—‘the peaceable fruit of righteousness.’ To be ‘exercised’ is to be trained. The thought in the Greek text is akin to our English word ‘gymnastics.’ The Lord permits various experiences to come into our lives in order that we might be properly trained for the high position in the kingdom to which he has called us.

VERSES 12,13  “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.”

Paul here quotes from Job 4:3,4, the words of Eliphaz to Job. Eliphaz, one of Job’s ‘comforters,’ states that in the past Job had been able by his words of encouragement to lift up the hands of others which hung down, and to strengthen feeble knees. But now Job was in this very position himself, and needed help. So there were some among the Hebrew brethren who likewise needed encouragement, for they were showing signs of becoming ‘weary in well doing.’ All who are running for the prize of the High Calling have the blessed privilege of assisting others in the same racecourse. It is not a competitive race in the sense that we are running against our brethren, but a cooperative one.

We are ‘to make straight paths for our feet, lest,’ as Paul explains, ‘that which is lame be turned out of the way.’ There are probably always some in the racecourse who are less vigorous than the others—lame ones. If the strong runners swerve from side to side in an uncertain manner, the way is made the more difficult for the lame; for in addition to their halting progress, they become confused. This is simply an admonition to set a good example for our brethren.

VERSE 14  “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

We can have peaceful intentions in our dealings with ‘all men,’ but it might not always be possible to attain peace. Elsewhere Paul wrote, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Rom. 12:18) James wrote that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable.” (James 3:17) The Lord does not want us to compromise principle in order to have peace, either in our association with the brethren, or with the outside world. ‘Holiness,’ that is purity of character based upon principles of righteousness, is essential to our winning the prize and being with our Lord in glory.

VERSE 15  “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”

The thought here is to beware, and diligently so, lest we fail of the grace of God. The admonition is much the same as in chapter 4, verse 1. “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” There is nothing which can so quickly cause us to ‘come short’ as permitting bitterness to develop in our hearts, either against one or more of our brethren, or against our own experiences in the racecourse.

We sometimes hear the expression, ‘soured on life.’ If we do not maintain the proper viewpoint and the right attitude of heart, we could easily become embittered by our trials—not directly against the Lord, perhaps, although it could lead to that. In such an attitude of heart one becomes a grumbler, a complainer, causing dissatisfaction to spread, with the possibility that ‘many’ will be ‘defiled.’

VERSES 16,17  “Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”

Esau stands out in the Scriptures as one who hastily decided to sell his inheritance in the Abrahamic promise for a mess of “pottage,” (Gen. 25:30) that is, temporary material gain. Unlike the Ancient Worthies, he did not have sufficient faith to endure hardships. Such hardships were necessary to really inherit the promised blessings.

However, when Esau discovered that Jacob had taken necessary steps to make sure that he received that which he had purchased, he was greatly perturbed. He inquired diligently of his father if something could not be done about it. Paul says that Esau ‘found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.’ Figuratively, the word place in the Greek text, denotes ‘opportunity’ or ‘condition.’

Strong’s Concordance in defining the Greek word metanoia in this text, translated ‘repentance,’ says that by implication it denotes ‘reversal of [another’s] decision.’ This is revealing, for it suggests the probability that the repentance which Esau so diligently sought was not a reformation of his own heart, but a reversal of Isaac’s decision whereby he bestowed the much desired blessing upon Jacob.

The account in Genesis 27:30-34 bears this out. When Isaac discovered that he had pronounced his chief blessing upon Jacob, he said, “Where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed.” ‘He shall be blessed.’ This was Isaac’s decision, but Esau was not satisfied with it.

The next verse (34) records, even as Paul tells us, that Esau “cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.” But, just as the Lord, when telling us of his determination to plague death and to destroy sheol, the grave, said, “Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes,” (Hos. 13:14) so Isaac refused to repent, or to reverse his decision. His blessing had gone to Jacob, and no condition could be found which would justify making a change. Actually, Paul does not say that Esau sought repentance in his own heart. He says that this profane person sought a ‘place’ or condition of repentance, and the original record shows that it was his father’s repentance Esau was seeking.

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