Chapter 12:1-2 (ESV) - Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before 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 at the right hand of the throne of God.
Question to consider: What is the great cloud of witnesses?
The “Therefore” in these verses refers to the earlier point that the writer made about faith. He had given the reader the charge to not give in to the persecution they were facing by returning to the obsolete covenant of Moses. He then encouraged them by pointing out their faith and gave a list of familiar names throughout scripture who endured hardship while keeping their faith in God and His promise of a new life. Those promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The land of Canaan which the Lord delivered to the Jews was a type and shadow of the new life they would have in Christ, a life where sin and death would be no more, and we could delight in God forever. This promise was extended to people from all tribes and nations so that Israel would be a blessing to the nations and outnumber the stars.
The fulfillment of all of these promises turned these faith bearers into a great cloud of witnesses - witnesses to the faithfulness of God. As readers, this is the ultimate encouragement for us to endure. Our faith is not in vain because God is good and keeps His promises. This knowledge helps us to cast off the things that weigh us down: worry, depression or fear. This knowledge helps us to reject sin which clings so closely. The greatest witness of all is Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. He endured the cross for the joy of knowing what it would accomplish for us, and now He sits at the right hand of the throne of God.
Although I like having chapters and verses to reference scripture in a meaningful way, one drawback is that it makes it easy to cherry pick verses out of context. Hebrews is a book that a lot of people fail to understand so they skip over a study of it and cling to a handful of verses like those from today’s study. Until I studied these verses in context, I thought that the great cloud of witnesses was all of the people who came before me who were watching my life from heaven and cheering me on like fans in a stadium.
Truthfully, I have no idea how much or little our friends and family in heaven actually see what goes on in the world. So the idea of them cheering me on seems rather narcissistic to me now. However, these friends and family, like the people mentioned in the last chapter, are witnesses to us of the love and faithfulness of Christ Jesus. They have lived in faith, run their race, and have gone on to be with their Lord. Even though we may miss them dearly, it should bring us great joy that they have received the reward of their faith and that we will one day get to join them.
Precious Jesus, thank you for all that you have endured for our sake. May we be encouraged by all of the saints who have come before us and received the inheritance you have set aside for us. Help us to keep our eyes on you so that we may cast aside the burdens of this life and the sins which hinder us in our faith. Please forgive us where we have failed and help us to forgive others, for you are mighty to save! Amen.