Studies In Hebrews #9
The Race Set Before Us (12:1,2)
Chapter 12 begins with the word "therefore." What is it "there for"? It connects what has just been discussed with what follows. In chapter 11 the writer gave example after example of men and women who lived a life of faith "unto the saving of the soul" (cf.10:39). He continues by encouraging his readers to have the same kind of faith: "let us also." To encourage his readers to this end, the writer uses the analogy of running in a race. He draws upon several aspects of the race.
First, he mentions we are "compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses." As we run in "the race that is set before us" we find ourselves in the midst of a crowded stadium. These "witnesses" are all those men and women in chapter 11 who have already competed in this race of faith and obtained "a good report through faith" (cf.KJV-11:39). The point is not so much that these victors of the past are actually looking down on us as we take our turn in running in this race; but that by their loyalty and endurance they have borne witness to the possibility of living the life of faith. It is not so much they who look at us as we who look to them--for encouragement. As we run in this race we should find great encouragement in the host of others who have already completed the course and received the incorruptible crown. They, by their life, cheer us on to victory.
Second, the writer encourages us to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us." The runner in any race, if they want to be the victor, will lay aside everything which might prove a hindrance to them in reaching the finish line. We also must be willing to put aside anything which might hinder or distract us in running this race. This certainly would include putting away every sinful activity and thought (see Gal.5:19-21). Paul said, "they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof" (Gal.5:24). Things which are right in and of themselves can also hinder or distract us. In such matters it may well be that what is a hindrance to one entrant in this contest is not a hindrance to another. Each one must learn for himself what in his case is a weight or impediment and proceed to lay it aside so they will be able to run the race properly.
Third, we must "run with patience" the race before us. Already he has encouraged them to be patient: "For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise" (10:36). The race we are entered in is a long distance race; it is for the remainder of our lives. The idea of patience here is more the idea of perseverance; a determination, unhurrying and yet undelaying, which goes steadily on and refuses to be distracted. It masters difficulties rather than being distracted by them. Mastering each difficulty produces more and more patience (see James 1:2-4). If we want to be a victor, we must run with patience.
Fourth, there must be concentration. Every successful participant constantly has his eye on the goal. As a participant in this spiritual contest we are to be "looking unto Jesus the author and perfector of our faith." Why? Because He is the example of one who completed the race victoriously. He is our example for running this race: "For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Pet.2:21). "For the joy that was set before him" He "endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (v.2) He showed us how to run this race: with our eyes on the goal! As we proceed through the course of our Christian race, let's keep our eyes fixed on Jesus to follow His victorious steps toward the goal.
The Value Of Endurance (12:3-17)
The Jewish Christians to which this epistle was written were immature (5:11-14), weak (12:12,13) and perhaps at the very point of falling away (2:1; 3:12). They were in need of the endurance which they had manifested earlier in their Christian life (see 10:32-36). The Hebrew writer proceeds by emphasizing the value of endurance.
They are asked to "consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself." Jesus "endured the cross, despising shame" (v.2). He was able to endure because of "the joy that was set before him." To stop and consider how Jesus was able to endure should help them "wax not weary, fainting in your souls" (v.3). Furthermore, they are reminded that their suffering was not as bad as it could be (v.4). Jesus, and many of the witnesses of chapter 11, endured suffering unto death. Looking upon Jesus, and the many witnesses of chapter 11, should encourage us to persevere in the race set before us.
They had "forgotten the exhortation which reasoneth with you as with sons" (v.5). The exhortation here referred to is described through verse 11: "the chastening of the Lord." The word "chastening", and related words, "denotes the training of a child, including instruction; hence, discipline, correction, 'chastening'" (Vine, page 175). The word carries the usual idea of correcting by punishment, but it also includes correction by instruction. In 11 Timothy 3:16 Paul said, "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction (chastening) which is in righteousness." He speaks of the instruction or training which is in righteousness. In Hebrews 12 the writer uses chastening in both the corrective sense and in the instructive sense to stress the value of endurance. The child who is chastened, whether it be corrective or instructional, is a child who has a father that loves them. The Hebrews were surely the beloved children of God since they were being chastened by the trials they were suffering and being chastened with the instruction of the Lord as contained in the letter itself. "As many as I love, I reprove and chasten" (Rev.3:19). Knowing they were the beloved children of God would encourage them to endure all these things and help them to yield "peaceable fruit...of righteousness" (v.11).
He continues with several exhortations which would help them to endure. He encourages strength, straightness, and healing (v.12,13); peace and sanctification (v.14); grace and purity (v.15-17). Without each of these things they would not be able to endure the temptations and trials awaiting them.
Mount Zion (12:18-29)
To further encourage his readers to remain faithful to Christ rather than revert to the Jewish religion, the author of Hebrews continues by presenting yet another contrast between the old way under Moses and the new way under Jesus.
The awesome circumstances under which the law of Moses was given at Mount Sinai is first pictured (12:18-21). He speaks of the terror in the hearts of the people because the mountain was so charged with the holiness of God. "Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder" (Exod.19:18,19-RSV). Then, "when all the people perceived the thunderings and the lightnings and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled; and they stood afar off, and said to Moses, 'You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, let we die'" (Exod.20:18,19-RSV; see also Deut.4:10-12; 5:22-27). As William Barclay put it, under the old covenant all that man could expect was "a God of lonely majesty, complete separation from man, and prostrating fear" (Hebrews, page 186). The recipients of this epistle had received a new and better relationship with God.
The mount they were "come unto" was far more glorious than mount Sinai was terrifying (12:22-24). They were "come unto mount Zion." Mount Zion was an example of endurance. "They that trust in Jehovah are as mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abideth for ever" (Ps.125:1). They had come unto mount Zion, God's "kingdom that cannot be shaken" (v.28). By coming unto mount Zion, through their obedience to the gospel, they had come unto "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem"; "to innumerable hosts of angels"; "to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven"; "to God the Judge of all"; "to the spirits of just men made perfect"; "to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant" and "to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel." Note that the recipients of this epistle had already come unto each of these things. We too have come unto each of these if we have obeyed the commands of the new covenant mediated by Jesus.
Some of those at mount Sinai refused to listen to God. They said to Moses, "'You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die'" (Exod.20:18,19-RSV). Having come unto mount Zion we are encouraged to "refuse not him that speaketh" (v.25). God now speaks "unto us in his Son" (1:1,2). We need not fear our God but listen and obey His every command. Once again the writer shows that since there was no escape under the old covenant, there surely will be no escape under the new and greater covenant of Christ (see 2:1-4).
"Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire" (12:28,29).
The writer of Hebrews has been trying to convince his readers to remain faithful to Christ rather than returning to the old ways of the Law of Moses. To do this he has shown the superiority of Jesus. He is superior to angels (1:4-14) as well as to Moses (3:1-6). His priesthood is superior to that of the old law (7:1-10:18). His covenant is better than the covenant given through Moses (chapt.8). His sacrifice, Himself, is far superior than the sacrifices offered under the old law (9:1-10:18). The revelation of Jesus is better than that of old (1:1-4). The promises offered by the covenant of Jesus are better than those offered by the old covenant (8:6). And the hope offered by Jesus is superior to that offered through Moses (cf.6:13-20). He also seeks to keep them from returning to the law of Moses by encouragement. He encourages them to (1) obey the word of Christ (2:1-4); (2) remain faithful to enter the promised rest (4:1-5:10); (3) press on to spiritual maturity (5:11-6:3); (4) be faithful in their worship and service to God (10:19-39); (5) have saving faith like those of old (10:39-11:40) and to (6) persevere in their faith (chapt.12).
He has given His readers every reason to remain faithful to Christ. He closes his "word of exhortation" (13:22) with several reminders for his readers.
Relevant Reminders (13:1-9)
He first reminds his readers about love (13:1-3). The recipients of this letter have already been urged to encourage and stimulate one another (3:13; 10:24,25). Mutual encouragement and stimulation is important but it must be done out of a motive of love for our brethren or it will be to no profit (cf.1 Cor.13:1-3). Peter tells us we are to "love one another from the heart fervently" (1 Pet.1:22). This love must also be expressed to strangers. The hospitality of Abraham to strangers, which turned out to be angels, is given to illustrate how we are to show love to strangers. This love must also be seen toward those who are in prisons.
He also reminds them to maintain purity (13:4). The relationship of marriage is to be an honorable and pure relationship. Sexual relations outside the marriage is anything but honorable and pure. Those who practice such will be judged in due time.
He reminds them to be content with what they have (13:5,6). Paul put it beautifully in his epistle to Timothy: "But godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content" (1 Tim.6:6-8). Paul followed those words with a warning about the love of money (cf.1 Tim.6:9,10). We can be content with what we have since we know God will never fail us but will always take care of us.
He encourages them to imitate the faith of those who had ruled over them (13:7). Three times in this chapter the writer refers to their spiritual leaders or rulers. In verse 17 they are instructed to obey those who rule over them and in verse 24 they are asked to convey the writer's greetings to their rulers. The reference in verse 7 is apparently to those spiritual rulers who had already left this life ("had the rule over you") whereas verses 17 and 24 has reference to those still living and ruling over them ("have the rule over you"). The clear reference in each of these places is to the elders who were watching "in behalf of your souls" (v.17). They are encouraged to imitate the faith demonstrated throughout the lives of those elders who had already left this life. They, like those in chapter 11, apparently had the kind of faith needed to endure the trials and temptations of life to receive the crown of life in the end. We too should imitate the faith of godly elders now departed.
There is also a need for stability (13:8,9). Jesus is unchanging and unchangeable. Therefore, Christians must also have this stability by standing firm in the word of Christ. We must not allow ourselves to be carried away by the teachings of men. Spiritual maturity is the only thing which will guard against such instability (cf.Eph.4:11-16) and we become mature only by the constant use of God's word (Heb.5:12-14).
"We Have An Altar" (13:10-16)
As God's children we have an "altar" different from that of the Jewish system. The sacrifice made on this new altar is that of Jesus Himself (v.12). Jesus "suffered without the gate" and shed His blood "that he might sanctify the people." The writer has already shown the superiority of the sacrifice of Jesus to the sacrifices of the old system (cf.9:11-10:14). The sacrifice of Jesus on the new "altar" indeed meets the need of man by providing remission of sins by the blood shed in the sacrifice.
The writer adds, however: "whereof they have no right to eat that serve the tabernacle" (v.10). Those that "serve the tabernacle" are all those who continued to adhere to the Mosaic system. Under the old system the sacrifices on the annual day of atonement were burned outside the camp instead of being eaten as were other sacrifices. "And no sin-offering, whereof any of the blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the holy place, shall be eaten: it shall be burnt with fire" (Lev.6:30). It was to be "carried forth without the camp" to "burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung" (Lev.16:27). Since Jesus is
the reality of what the old atonement sacrifices where mere shadows, those adhering to the old law could not partake of the sacrifice of Jesus.
"Let us therefore go forth unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach" (v.13). In telling them to go "without the camp" he was telling them to leave Judaism completely and altogether. They needed to quit serving the altar within the camp and start serving at a new "altar" where Jesus sacrificed Himself for everyone's sin. At the new altar, they were to "offer up a sacrifice...to God continually" (v.15). Under the old system sacrifices were offered at specified times and intervals. Thefollowers of Jesus are now expected to make continual offerings unto God "through him": that is, through Jesus. We are to "offer up a sacrifice of praise...the fruit of lips which make confession to his name" (v.15). Our Lord expects us to continually confess our faith in Him by the things we say and by the life we live. We also offer a sacrifice of praise to God with our lips when we sing or pray unto Him. "But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God" (Acts 16:25). Paul said, "Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name" (Rom.15:9). Our writer continues: "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (v.16). The Philippians communicated unto the needs of Paul and he considered them "an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God" (Phil.4:18). Such sacrifices should be offered by all followers of Jesus (see Gal.6:10).
Earlier in the chapter, verse 7, they were told to remember the righteous examples lived by those spiritual rulers over them, elders, who had already left this life through death. In verse 17 he tells them to "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this were unprofitable for you." Elders are responsible before God for the spiritual condition of those within their particular "flock." Their work is a difficult one but it will be made much easier and joyful for them if we submit to and obey them. Many men are hesitant to take on the responsibilities associated with being an elder because they know it is a difficult work. In many places it is the failure of the congregation to submit to and obey the elders that makes the work so difficult in the first place.
The readers of this letter are asked to pray for the writer and those who are with him (v.18,19). By their prayers he hopes to see them again with Timothy who had been set at liberty (v.23).
The writer himself prays for his readers that they would be made "perfect in every good thing to do his will" (v.20,21). Having given every possible reason why they should not return to Judaism but remain faithful to Christ, he prays for their spiritual maturity in Christ.
They are exhorted to "bear with the word of exhortation: for I have written unto you in few words" (v.22). In other words, "listen to it and give it fair consideration." If they would give serious consideration to the things he has written, they would surely remain faithful to Jesus.
The writer has used some pretty strong language with his readers throughout the book. In essence he said they were immature (5:11-14), weak (12:12,13) and perhaps at the point of completely falling away (2:1; 3:12). In closing the letter he salutes the elders of the congregation as well as all the saints. He also passes on the salute of the brethren in Italy. To close with such salutations would reinforce the love the writer had for his readers.
"Grace be with you all. Amen" (v.25). The subject of grace has appeared several times throughout the book (2:9; 4:16; 10:29; 12:15; 13:9). We might say he has been making a subtle comparison all through the book between the grace of God and the works of the law. By closing the book with this phrase he makes one final, though subtle, argument for remaining with Christ. To remain faithful to Christ means they would be able to continue receiving the benefits of the grace of God. To return to the old law is to give up God's grace. This is a most appropriate way for the writer to bring his letter to a close.
THANKS, Alex! The editors and readers of Expository Files
express to you our appreciation for a monumental project,
very well done. We know of several who have printed out
your exposition of Hebrews, and have used it in class work
or personal study. We'll look for more of your expository
work in the future. -Berkley & Quinn.
By Alex Ogden
From Expository Files 1.12; December, 1994