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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Hebrews 12



Other Authors
Verse 1

The "cloud of witnesses" refers to the Old Covenant saints whom the writer just mentioned (ch11). They are "witnesses" not because they presently witness our actions, but because by their lives they bore witness to their faith in God. [Note: Bruce, The Epistle ..., p346; Wiersbe, 2:322.] The description of them as a "cloud" is an interesting one since they are presently without resurrected bodies. They await the resurrection of their bodies at the Second Coming ( Daniel 12:2). The writer"s point was that we have many good examples of people who faithfully trusted God in the past. Nevertheless the word "witness" does also imply a spectator (cf. Hebrews 10:28; 1 Timothy 6:12).

In view of this encouragement we should lay aside everything that impedes our running the Christian race successfully (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24; 2 Timothy 4:7-8). Popular moral philosophers who spoke on the streets of every sizeable Hellenistic community in the first century commonly used an athletic contest as an illustration of life. [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13 , p408.] "Encumbrances" are weights that may not be sins but nevertheless make perseverance difficult.

"Some one is recorded to have asked whether a certain thing would do a person harm, and the reply was given, "No harm, if you do not wish to win."" [Note: Thomas, p156.]

We should also lay aside sin. "The sin" that the writer warned his readers against especially in Hebrews is unbelief, apostasy. In view of the immediately preceding context, it might refer to discouragement. However many different kinds of sin can trip us up, and we should avoid all sin for this reason. [Note: Guthrie, p249.]

"This might have reference to the love of wealth, attachment to the world, preoccupation with earthly interests, or self-importance." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13 , p409.]

The reason for this self-discipline is so we can keep on running the Christian race effectively. Here the writer returned to the thought of Hebrews 10:28 : "You have need of endurance." He conceived of the Christian life as an endurance race, a marathon, not a50-yard dash.

"... the real test of life is the steady, normal progress of the soul-"not paroxysms of effort but steady endurance."" [Note: Thomas, p156. See Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.]

Verses 1-3

1. The example of Jesus12:1-3

One writer observed a chiastic structure in verses one and two.

"Therefore we,

[A] having seated around about us such a cloud of witnesses,

[B] setting aside every weight and every clinging sin ...

[C] with patient endurance ...

[D] let us run the race that is set before us

[E] keeping our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of the faith,

[D"] who for the joy that was set before Him ...

[C"] patiently endured the cross ...

[B"] despising shame ...

[A"] and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." [Note: Estella B. Horning, "Chiasmus, Creedal Structure, and Christology in Hebrews 12:1-2 ," Biblical Research23 (1978):41.]

This structure focuses attention on the central element, Jesus, rather than on the first element, us. [Note: See Ronald E. Prayer of Manasseh , "The Value of Chiasm for New Testament Interpretation," Bibliotheca Sacra141:562 (April-June1984):149.]

"It seems likely that here [in Hebrews 12:1-2], as in1 , 3 [i.e, Hebrews 1:3], the author intentionally used poetic language to highlight and emphasize the significance of his theme: Jesus Christ is "better." Moreover, the balance and rhythm of the language make the text more esthetically attractive and provide a high degree of emotive impact. Thus the interpretation of the discourse by the intrusion of poetic language was bound to carry considerable impact and appeal ..." [Note: David Alan Black, "A Note on the Structure of Hebrews 12 , 1-2 ," Biblica68:4 (1987):551.]

One writer argued that Hebrews 11:1 to Hebrews 12:2 is an encomium, a literary work in praise of someone or something, on Jesus. [Note: Merland Ray Millar, "What Is the Literary Form of Hebrews 11?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society29:4 (December1986):411-17.] Another saw this section as an encomium on faith. [Note: Leland Ryken, The Literature of the Bible, p212.]

Verses 1-13

B. Demonstrating Necessary Endurance12:1-13

The writer followed up his scriptural exposition with another final exhortation (chs12-13). This is a pattern he followed consistently throughout this epistle. He first called on his readers to persevere faithfully so they would not lose any of their reward. This section is chiastic.

A A call to run with endurance ( Hebrews 12:1-3)

B Explanation of the role of suffering ( Hebrews 12:4-11)

A" A call to renew commitment to endure ( Hebrews 12:12-13)

Verse 2-3

As a runner keeps looking toward his or her goal, so we should keep looking to Jesus, not primarily to the other witnesses ( Hebrews 12:1). When we take our eyes of faith off Jesus, we begin to sink, like Peter did ( Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus should be our primary model when it comes to persevering. The writer used the simple personal name "Jesus" to accent our Lord"s humanity, especially His endurance of pain, humiliation, and the disgrace of the cross.

"The writer now returns to the duty of hupomone [endurance] as the immediate exercise of pistis [faith] (1036f.), as the great Believer, who shows us what true pistis means, from beginning to end, in its heroic course (ton prokeimenon hemin agona) [the race that is set before us]." [Note: Moffatt, p192.]

He is our "author" (lit. file leader, captain, pioneer; Hebrews 2:10). It was by looking to Him in faith that we were saved. Jesus set the example of living by faith for us, one evidence of His faith being His prayers. Jesus perfected faith in the sense that He finished His course of living by faith successfully (cf. Hebrews 2:13).

"As the "perfecter of faith" Jesus is the one in whom faith has reached its perfection." [Note: D. G. Peterson, "An Examination of the Concept of "Perfection" in the "Epistle to the Hebrews"" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Manchester, 1978), p298.]

"He alone is the source of hope and help in their time of need. Looking to Him in faith and devotion is the central theological and practical message of Hebrews." [Note: Fanning, p415.]

The joy of the prospect of His reward, namely, His victory over death, glorification, inheritance, and reign motivated Him, too ( Hebrews 1:9; Hebrews 1:13-14; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12). This is the only occurrence of "cross" outside the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles, and its presence here stresses the shame associated with Jesus" crucifixion. What we look forward to is very similar to what Jesus anticipated. Such a prospect will help us endure suffering and despise the shame involved in living faithful to God before unbelieving critics.

Verse 3

The readers should think upon Jesus so they might not grow tired of persevering and lose heart. Meditation on Jesus and the cross encourage us to continue to follow God"s will faithfully. It is natural for us to overestimate the severity of our trials, and the writer did not want us to do this.

"The clear implication for the audience is that if they were to relinquish their commitment to Christ under the pressure of persistent opposition they would express active opposition against themselves (as in Hebrews 6:6!), just as did Jesus" tormentors [cf. Hebrews 10:38-39]." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13 , pp416-17.]

Verse 4

The readers had not yet resisted sin to the extent that their enemies were torturing or killing them for their faith, as had been Jesus" experience. Evidently there had been no martyrs among the readers yet, though the writer and the readers undoubtedly knew of Christians elsewhere who had died for their faith (e.g, Stephen, James , et al.). Their striving against sin probably refers to both resisting sinful opponents and resisting temptations to sin in their own lives ( Hebrews 12:1).

Verses 4-11

2. The proper view of trials12:4-11

The writer put his readers" sufferings in perspective so they might not overestimate the difficulty they faced in remaining faithful to God.

"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." [Note: Morris, p136.]

Verses 5-8

We need to remember, too, that God allows us to experience some opposition to make us stronger in the faith ( Deuteronomy 8:5; Proverbs 3:11-12; James 1). It is easy to become discouraged when we encounter hard times. The Israelites certainly gave evidence of this when they left Egypt following the Exodus. Hebrews 12:5-11 constitute an exposition of Proverbs 3:11-12.

Another value of divine discipline is that it prepares us to reign with Christ (cf. Hebrews 2:10). God"s discipline assures us that we are His sons. All believers are "partakers" (cf. Hebrews 1:9; Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:4) of discipline. The "illegitimate children" in view seem to be genuine children of God but not approved sons. (See Romans 8:14-17 for the contrast between children and sons.)

"A father would spend much care and patience on the upbringing of a true-born son whom he hoped to make a wealthy heir; and at the time such a son might have to undergo much more irksome discipline than an illegitimate child for whom no future of honor and responsibility was envisaged, and who therefore might be left more or less to please himself." [Note: Bruce, The Epistle ..., pp357-58.]

Ishmael is an Old Testament example of an illegitimate child. He was the true child of Abraham. Yet because he was illegitimate (i.e, the son of Hagar rather than Sarah, Abraham"s wife) he did not receive the inheritance that Isaac, the legitimate child, did (cf. Genesis 17:19-21; Genesis 21:12-14). Ishmael received some blessing because he was Abraham"s Song of Solomon , but he did not receive the full inheritance because he was an illegitimate child.

The approved sons in view here in Hebrews are evidently those who persevere through discipline to the end of their lives whereas the illegitimate children do not but apostatize. [Note: Ellingworth, p651; Hodges, " Hebrews ," p810.]

"In the Roman world, an "illegitimate child" had no inheritance rights." [Note: Ibid.]

God deals with apostate believers in judgment, but He deals with persevering believers in discipline (child training; cf. Hebrews 5:8). The writer seems to be saying that God disciplines all Christians, but when a believer apostatizes God may let him go his own way without disciplining him further, especially if he has not responded to previous discipline but has hardened his heart. God disciplines Christians to prepare us for future service, but when we apostatize He stops preparing us for future service. This is probably true only in extreme cases of departure from God and His truth (cf. Hebrews 6:6, where we read that it is impossible to renew these apostates to repentance).

"The author does not specify what, in literal terms, would be involved in being an illegitimate member of God"s family. The context does not refer, even indirectly, to "false brethren [i.e, non-Christians] secretly brought in" ( Galatians 2:4). The wider context does suggest that such illegitimate offspring are apostates such as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, probably alluded to in Hebrews 12:3; or more generally, those who do not keep faith firmly to the end ( Hebrews 10:39)." [Note: Ellingworth, p651.]

Another view of the terms "sons" and "illegitimate children" is that they refer to true Christians and only professing but not genuine Christians respectively. [Note: E.g, Morris, p137.] The reason I do not favor this view is that throughout this epistle I believe the writer is urging true Christians to remain faithful and not apostatize. In other words, the larger context favors this interpretation. Moreover an illegitimate child Isaiah , after all, still a child of his father. We need to understand the legitimate and illegitimate distinction in the light of Jewish and Roman culture.

"The ancient world found it incomprehensible that a father could possibly love his child and not punish him. In fact, a real son would draw more discipline than, say, an illegitimate child for the precise reason that greater honor and responsibility were to be his." [Note: R. Kent Hughes, 2:173.]

This probably explains why committed Christians seem to experience more difficulties than non-committed Christians. This is observable clearly in countries of the world where Christians are being persecuted. Christians in those countries who seek to remain faithful to the Lord draw more persecution than Christians who compromise. God is preparing committed Christians for greater honor and responsibility in the future.

"A father who neglects to discipline a son is deficient in his capacity as father, and a son who escapes all discipline is losing out on his sonship. This is a principle which would not be recognized by all schools of thought in this modern age where permissiveness has such powerful influence. The authority of parents has been so eroded that discipline rarely if ever comes into play. It has generally ceased to be a part of sonship. It is small wonder that those brought up in such an atmosphere find genuine difficulty in understanding the discipline of God." [Note: Guthrie, p253.]

Verses 9-11

As Christians we need to submit to God"s discipline in our lives because it will result in fullness of life and greater holiness and righteousness along with peace.

". . . there may be an implied contrast between temporary human punishment and the permanent reward which is given to those who submit to divine discipline." [Note: Ellingworth, p654.]

God always designs discipline for our welfare even though it may not be pleasant to endure.

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." [Note: Lewis, p81.]

The title "Father of spirits" ( Hebrews 12:9) occurs only here in the New Testament (cf. Numbers 16:22; Numbers 27:16). It probably means something like "our spiritual Father," as some English versions translate it (TEV, NEB, JB), in contrast to our physical (earthly) fathers.

This is one of the great sections in the New Testament that clarifies the reason for the Christian"s trials (cf. James 1; 1Peter). It is essential that we view our sufferings as the Lord"s discipline rather than as an indication of His displeasure, or worse, His hatred (cf. Deuteronomy 1:26-27) if we would persevere faithfully. There is a real as well as a linguistic connection between "discipline" and "disciple" and "discipleship."

Verse 12-13

3. The need for greater strength12:12-13

The writer next urged his readers to take specific action that would facilitate their continuance in the faith.

This word of exhortation, as well as the others, reveals that the original readers were spiritually weak. Consequently, the writer urged them to build up their strength so they could work effectively and walk without stumbling (cf. Proverbs 4:25-27). The Greek word ektrepo, translated "be put out of joint" ( Hebrews 12:13), has the technical medical sense of a foot turning and becoming dislocated. [Note: Ellingworth, p659.] This power comes as we draw upon our resources for strength, namely, the Word of God and the grace of God ( Hebrews 4:12-16). The readers also needed to level the path of discipleship they trod by removing impediments to their progress. This might involve, for example, avoiding contact with people and materials that encourage departure from God"s will. Then the lame among them (i.e, the very weak) might recover as they proceeded to walk. The writer probably intended this exhortation to include laying aside sin ( Hebrews 12:1) and compromising associations with apostates who might throw unneeded barriers such as false teaching in the Christians" path.

This encouragement completes the thought of Hebrews 12:1-13. The writer began with an exhortation, expounded the value of discipline, and ended with another exhortation.

"A depth of pastoral concern is evident throughout this section. The writer understood that faith can be eroded by constant exposure to harsh circumstances." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13 , p428.]

Verse 14

We need to live peaceably with all people as much as we can (cf. Matthew 5:9; Mark 9:50; Romans 12:18; Romans 14:19) because peaceful interpersonal relationships foster godliness ( James 3:18). However this writer"s emphasis was more on the objective reality that results from Christ"s death than on our subjective enjoyment of peace. Since we will one day see the Lord, and since no sin can abide in His presence ( 1 John 3:2), we must pursue holiness in our lives now. A better translation than "sanctification" here is "holiness" (Gr. hagiasmos; cf. hagiatetos in Hebrews 12:10, and hagiasomenoi in Hebrews 10:10). In Koine Greek, nouns ending in mos in the nominative case describe action. As with peace, holiness is our present state, and we need to continue to manifest it by remaining faithful when tempted to depart from the Lord.

This statement may seem at first to contradict the fact that Satan saw God and appeared in His presence in Job 1 , 2. While Satan did and probably still does have access to God"s presence, that will not be his permanent privilege. The writer of Hebrews spoke here of the permanent privilege of human beings.

Verses 14-17

1. The goal of peace12:14-17

These verses summarize what the writer said previously about irrevocable loss through disobedience, unbelief, apostasy, and contempt for New Covenant privileges (cf. Hebrews 6:4-8). The fearful warning about Esau brings these earlier warnings to an awesome head.

Verses 14-25


This final major section of the book perhaps grew out of the writer"s reflection on the Greek text of Proverbs 4:26-27. He specified how his readers could "make straight paths for your feet" ( Hebrews 12:13).

"In the final division of the homily the writer provides the members of the house church with a fresh orientation for life as Christians in a hostile society. The new people of God are engaged in pilgrimage to the city of God. This world is not their home; their goal is "a kingdom that cannot be shaken" ( Hebrews 12:28) or "the city that is to come" ( Hebrews 13:14). The metaphor of the journey to the city of God characterizes men and women of committed faith as pilgrims and implies an understanding of Christian life as commitment to pilgrimage. It also implies fidelity to the covenant." [Note: Ibid, pp433-34.]

The sections of this final division all contain these themes of pilgrimage and covenant privilege and obligation. As in the first division ( Hebrews 1:1 to Hebrews 2:18), there is much emphasis on God speaking and the importance of listening to His voice.

"The writer offers his readers advice on how to live as a community of faith, between well-founded hope and the dangers which surround them." [Note: Ellingworth, p661.]

Verses 14-29

A. The Danger of Unresponsiveness (the Fifth Warning) 12:14-29

The writer now turned from the hearers" responsibility as they experienced suffering ( Hebrews 12:1-13) to the peril of rejecting God who continues to speak to us through His Son using the Scriptures. As the preceding pericope ( Hebrews 12:1-13), this one is also a chiasm.

A Exhortation ( Hebrews 12:14-17)

B Exposition ( Hebrews 12:18-24)

A" Exhortation ( Hebrews 12:25-29)

"The synthesis of so many significant themes and motifs within a single section identifies Hebrews 12:14-29 as the pastoral and theological climax of the sermon ..." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13 , p448.]

Verse 15

Negatively the writer warned against neglecting God"s grace (help). God"s grace enables us to persevere (cf. Hebrews 3:12), but here it is almost synonymous with the Christian faith. This neglect would result in unfaithfulness spreading as a poison among God"s people (cf. Deuteronomy 29:17-18). The writer pictured departure from the truth here as a root that produces bitter fruit in the Christian community. It normally results in the spiritual defilement of many other believers eventually. The writer was not implying that most of his readers were in danger of apostatizing (cf. Hebrews 6:9) but that the failure of only one individual can affect many other believers.

"Stubbornness, when it grows, produces the noxious fruit of apostasy, which is equivalent to excluding oneself from the grace of God....

"The sin of one individual can corrupt the entire community when that sin is apostasy, because defilement is contagious. One who is defiled by unbelief and apostasy becomes a defiler of others." [Note: Ibid, pp453 , 454.]

"The writer has just referred to the need for helping those who are weak and failing in their faith. It would be logical that this still is in reference to them, providing a more specific instance in which some are failing. It is a failing with reference to the grace of God, especially as it relates to seeking forgiveness for failure. It is uncalled for to take this reference and make it a general designation of the plan of salvation." [Note: Duane A. Dunham, "An Exegetical Examination of the Warnings in the Epistle to the Hebrews" (Th.D. dissertation, Grace Theological Seminary, 1974), p227.]

Verse 16-17

Esau is a clear example of someone who apostatized; he despised his inheritance and forfeited it to satisfy his immediate desires. That is precisely what the writer warned his readers not to do in this letter. Esau could not regain his inheritance later when he repented. His decision had permanent consequences; he could not repent (cf. Hebrews 4:1; Hebrews 6:4-6). [Note: See Ellingworth, pp668-69; and Moffatt, p212.] His inability to repent was not a matter of forgiveness but of consequences. David is another example of a person who had to bear the consequences of his sins even though God forgave him for those sins.

"To take a very simple example-if a young man loses his purity or a girl her virginity, nothing can ever bring it back. The choice was made and the choice stands. God can and will forgive, but God Himself cannot turn back the clock and unmake the choice or undo the consequences." [Note: Barclay, p210.]

The writer warned against two things in Hebrews 12:16 : immorality (Gr. pornos) and being godless (bebelos) like Esau. The Old Testament makes no mention of Esau"s immorality, so probably the writer understood this term metaphorically in the sense of "apostate." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13 , p445.] Esau was "godless" in that he relinquished his covenant rights for the sake of immediate gratification. Some translators rendered the Greek word bebelos "profane," which means "before (outside) the temple." This paints Esau correctly as a man who lived his life by avoiding God. Today we might know him as a man who did not attend church. He is "the prototype of all who throw away the heavenly reality for the sake of the earthly one." [Note: Thompson, p43.]

"Whether or not Esau was saved is not relevant to this discussion. The writer uses him as an illustration of the fact that the saved can lose their firstborn inheritance rights. His example is applied to those who have come to the church of the firstborn ones ( Hebrews 12:23).

"True Christians fully parallel the description of Esau. We are children of God and we are firstborn sons. Because of that we possess the rights of the firstborn. We do not have to earn these rights. They are given to us through the grace of God. However, we must value and keep these rights and are warned by Esau"s example regarding the possibility of not doing so. But even though we cannot forfeit eternal life, we can forfeit our firstborn rights." [Note: Dillow, p85.]

"Esau"s willingness to give up all that was his as the firstborn son reflected a contempt for the covenant by which his rights were warranted. By descriptive analogy, he is representative of apostate persons who are ready to turn their backs on God and the divine promises, in reckless disregard of the covenant blessings secured by the sacrificial death of Jesus. The immediate reference is to the objective blessings of "peace" and "holiness," specified in Hebrews 12:14. With the example of Esau, apostasy is further defined as a decisive rejection of God"s gifts." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13 , pp445-46.]

"In Jewish history, the birthright belonged to the firstborn son in a family simply by right of birth and consisted of three things: 1) ruler of the household under and for the father, 2) priest of the family, and3) the reception of a double portion of all the father"s goods. Although a firstborn son did nothing whatsoever to come into possession of the birthright, he could conduct his life in such a manner so as to forfeit the birthright. He could not forfeit his position as firstborn in the family, but he could forfeit the rights of the firstborn." [Note: Chitwood, p139.]

Verses 18-21

These verses describe the giving of the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai (cf. Hebrews 2:2-4; Exodus 19:9-23; Deuteronomy 4:11; Deuteronomy 9:8-19). [Note: See J. M. Casey, "Eschatology in Hebrews 12:14-29: An Exegetical Study" (Ph.D. dissertation, Catholic University of Leuven, 1977), p318.] The writer made Sinai and Zion metaphors to show the difference in quality between relationship to God under the Old and New Covenants (cf. Galatians 4:24-26). [Note: See D. G. Peterson, "The Prophecy of the New Covenant in the Argument of Hebrews ," Reformed Theological Review38 (1979):79-80.] The emphasis in this comparison is on the holiness of God and the fearful consequences of incurring His displeasure (cf. Judges 13:20; 1 Kings 8:12; 1 Kings 18:38; Nahum 1:3; Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). God was far from the Israelites, and even Moses felt terror.

Verses 18-24

2. The superiority of the New Covenant12:18-24

The writer proceeded to reiterate the superiority of the New Covenant by comparing it with the Old Covenant, using the figure of two mountains: Sinai and Zion.

"As vv.14-17 recall the first warning of64-8, so he [the writer] now proceeds to reiterate the second warning of1026-31, reminding his readers that they stand in a critical position, in which any indifferences or disobedience to God will prove fatal." [Note: Moffatt, pp213-14.]

Verses 22-24

The giving of the New Covenant and the things associated with that covenant are more impressive because they are the heavenly realities. These realities include the heavenly city and heavenly beings (i.e, angels and believers). Everything about this vision encourages us to come boldly into God"s presence (cf. Hebrews 4:16).

The phrase "the general assembly and church of the first-born"-the Greek construction suggests one group-probably refers to all those believers who had died but will receive their full inheritance because they followed the Lord faithfully and did not apostatize. [Note: E.g, Hodges, " Hebrews ," p811.] Another view is that it refers to all the saints on earth and in heaven. [Note: E.g, Morris, p142.] Still other interpreters believe all Christians on earth are in view. [Note: E.g, Moffatt, p217; I Howard Marshall, "New Wine in Old Wine-Skins: V. The Biblical Use of the Word "Ekklesia,"" Expository Times84:12 (1973):364; and Barnabas Lindars, The Theology of the Letter to the Hebrews , pp115-16).] Others believe all Christians already in heaven are. [Note: E.g, e.g, Bruce, The Epistle . . ., pp376-77.]

"To come to the "church of the firstborn" means to be called to the privilege of being a firstborn son. All Christians are called to be part of that assembly and by birth have a right to be there. However, they may forfeit that right and never achieve their calling. That is the thrust of all the warnings of the book of Hebrews." [Note: Dillow, p85 , n73.]

The firstborn was the son who received the greatest amount of inheritance. This is evidently another reference to Christ"s companions ( Hebrews 1:9; Hebrews 3:12) who are partakers of His glory ( Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:4; Hebrews 12:8), namely, those who faithfully persevere in their faith. [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13 , p469.] Their names are on a heavenly roll as those who died cleaving to the Lord (cf. Exodus 32:33; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 20:12).

"The spirits of righteous men made perfect" evidently refers to all the glorified redeemed, faithful and unfaithful, whom Christ"s sacrifice perfects eventually (glorifies; cf. Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 11:40).

Jesus" blood is better than Abel"s because Jesus" blood did not cry out for justice and retribution as Abel"s did (cf. Hebrews 11:4; Genesis 4:10). [Note: Their "blood" is a metonymy for their "death." Both deaths were violent and involved the shedding of blood.] It satisfied God"s demands and secured God"s acceptance of New Covenant believers (cf. Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 10:19). It cried out to God for mercy and pardon for those for whom Jesus shed it.

"It must be acknowledged that the reference to Abel in Hebrews 12:24 b is unexpected, because it does not belong to the developed comparison between Sinai and Zion. It may have been suggested by the reference in Hebrews 12:23 b to the presence of pneumasi dikaion, "the spirits of righteous persons," in the heavenly city, since the writer had specified in Hebrews 11:4 that Abel was attested by God as dikaios, "righteous." It may also have been the writer"s intention to evoke the whole history of redemption, from the righteous Abel to the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus, mediator of the new covenant ..." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13 , p474. Cf. Casey, pp380-82.]

This sevenfold comparison ( Hebrews 12:18-24) should motivate us to remain faithful and thereby realize the superior blessings of the New Covenant.

Mt. Sinai, a mountain that may be touched

Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem

Blazing fire

Myriads of angels


The general assembly and church of the firstborn


God, the Judge of all


The spirits of righteous men made perfect

The blast of a trumpet

Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant

The sound of words

The sprinkled blood that is better than Abel"s

Verse 25

The One speaking probably refers to God. "Him who warned them on earth" probably refers to God when He spoke from Mt. Sinai. The contrast is not primarily between the persons who spoke but between the places from which God spoke (cf. Hebrews 12:26). Another view is that the contrast is between a human oracle of God (Moses) and the divine Voice (Christ). [Note: Moffatt, p220.] This contrast would have been especially impressive to Jewish Christians. The present warning came from God in heaven and dealt with failure to continue to cleave to His Son (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2; Hebrews 2:2-3).

Verses 25-29

3. The consequences of apostasy12:25-29

The writer shifted again from exposition to exhortation. The hook word "speak" (Gr. lalounti and lalounta) in Hebrews 12:24-25 ties the two sections together.

Verse 26-27

God"s voice shook the earth at Mt. Sinai ( Exodus 19:18; Judges 5:4-5; Psalm 68:8; Psalm 77:18; Psalm 114:4; Psalm 114:7). It will shake the earth and the heavens at the end of the Millennium. That shaking will lead to the creation of new heavens and a new earth that will remain ( Psalm 95:9-11; Haggai 2:6; Revelation 21:1).

"The "shaking" is a metaphor for the judgment of God executed in history, as in the case of the fall of Babylon announced in Isaiah 13:1-22." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13 , p479.]

Verse 28-29

Our kingdom is eternal. Our motive should be gratitude. Our activity should be the service of God. Our attitude toward Him should be reverence and awe in view of His ability to judge the unfaithful (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:14-15).

"As a consuming fire, God purifies all that is unworthy and unacceptable in those who serve Him and all that is unfit to abide in His presence." [Note: Pentecost, A Faith . . ., p225.]

Many readers of Hebrews associate the figure of God consuming with His judging unbelievers in hell, but this figure also occurs in the Old Testament with reference to judgment of His people (cf. Exodus 24:17; Leviticus 10:2; Numbers 16:35; Deuteronomy 4:24; 1 Corinthians 3:15). The point is the character of God, not the destiny of those judged.

The reference to fire in Hebrews 12:29 completes an inclusio begun with another mention of fire in Hebrews 12:18. The whole section that these references to fire enclose deals with how important it is to respond properly to God.

"The warning proper is found in Hebrews 12:25-29. The readers are called to heed Yahweh, for an eschatological shaking is coming in which the earthly material order will pass away, leaving only an eternal kingdom. The faithful readers who endure will have a part in the eschatological kingdom-the millennium and the New Jerusalem as "companions" of Jesus, the Messiah-King ( Hebrews 1:9; Hebrews 1:13-14). This kingdom will become an eternal kingdom....

"All five warnings in the epistle have a positive thrust and a negative impetus.... Disobedience to God and His Word will result in a forfeiting of eschatological rewards; obedience to God and His Word will result in a gaining of eschatological rewards." [Note: Oberholtzer, 146:75.]

This chapter contains three resources that encourage and enable us to run the Christian race with endurance. They are the example of Jesus ( Hebrews 12:1-4), the assurance of the Father"s love ( Hebrews 12:5-13), and the enablement of God"s grace (help; Hebrews 12:14-29). [Note: Wiersbe, 2:322-26.]


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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