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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 12

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

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Verses 1-29


1. Looking away unto Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2 )

2. The Contradiction of sinners (Hebrews 12:3-4 )

3. Chastened as sons (Hebrews 12:5-11 )

4. Exhortations (Hebrews 12:12-17 )

5. The end of faith (Hebrews 12:18-24 )

6. The final warning (Hebrews 12:25-29 )

Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore 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 steadfastness the race lying before us.”

Some teach that the Old Testament saints are spectators of us and that they look upon us now from heaven. Dean Alford also states that they are lookers on and adds “Whosoever denies such reference, misses, it seems to me, the very point of the sense.” Others have gone so far as to say that they not only look on but help the believer in his conflict on earth. But this view is unscriptural. We know that angels are spectators (1 Corinthians 4:9 ; 1 Corinthians 11:10 ); angels are ministering spirits to minister unto the heirs of salvation, but the disembodied spirits of the righteous are neither spectators nor do they minister to the saints on earth. The preceding chapter contains “the cloud of witness”; they witness to us by their lives and the victory of their faith and this is the encouragement for us. The Christian’s life is a race; the glory at His coming is the goal. The runner of the race does not burden himself with weights, unnecessary things. Everything that impedes spiritual progress must be laid aside, as well as the sin that so easily besets us, which is the sin of unbelief. Against this sin they had been emphatically warned. “It is a sin that easily besets us, because it is but the mind of nature acting, according to its instincts, against the will of God.” And the runner’s eyes are to be on the goal (Philippians 1:3 ). The believer runs the race with steadfastness and divests himself of every weight and the sin that easily besets, if he looks away from everything and looks away “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith (Leader and Perfecter), who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, having despised the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” He is the great exemplar of faith. He is to be constantly before us, and His people are to follow Him in the path of faith and trust. What light these words shed on His blessed life and especially His death on the cross! He endured the cross and despised the shame, connected with it, for the joy that was set before Him. See Isaiah 53:10-12 . The joy set before us is to be with Him forever. Oh, for the daily vision of that goal.

“The flesh, the human heart, is occupied with cares and difficulties; and the more we think of them, the more we are burdened by them. It is enticed by the object of its desires, it does not free itself from them. The conflict is with a heart that loves the thing against which we strive; we do not separate ourselves from it in thought. When looking at Jesus, the new man is active; there is a new object, which unburdens and detaches us from every other by means of a new affection which has its place in a new nature: and in Jesus Himself, to whom we look, there is a positive power which sets us free” J.N. Darby.

Hebrews 12:3-4

The believer’s life is also a conflict, trials which come from sin in the world, a world which is always, and always will be, antagonistic to Christ. Those Hebrews had their share of it; they were persecuted and hated for His Name’s sake (Hebrews 10:32-34 ). Peter also wrote about these persecutions they endured. And now they are called to consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest they would be wearied, disheartened and fainting in their minds. These persecutions were the fellowship of His sufferings; and they had not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. Looking away unto Him gives strength to resist and to conquer.

Hebrews 12:5-11

In these verses the trials of the believer are viewed as chastenings from the Lord. As a loving father, who loves his children, He chastised them. They were not to forget this, that He speaks to them, not as to sinners, but as unto sons, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when reproved by Him, for whom the Lord loveth He chastiseth and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” The chastening they were to endure. God, as Father, permits trials and tribulations to come to believers for their own good. Such experiences are not an evidence of divine displeasure, but evidences of sonship. “God dealeth with you as with sons; for who is the son whom the father chastiseth not. But if you are without chastening, of which all are made partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons.” And therefore chastisements must not be despised, nor viewed as a discouraging experience; for the chastisement is for our eternal good and He does it in love. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was such an experience which was needful for Him. Grace sustains in all chastisements. Then we have a contrast between the chastising of earthly fathers and that of the heavenly Father. The one is father of our flesh; God is the Father of spirits, the Creator and source of life, spiritual and ever-lasting, as well as physical and temporal. The one for a brief period; God during our whole lifetime. The one with imperfect knowledge, in much infirmity “after their own pleasure;” God with unerring wisdom, and in pure love. The aim of the one, our earthly future; the aim of God, to make us partakers of His holiness. Yet imperfect as is the earthly father’s discipline, we gave it reverence, “as was right” and according to God’s will, and for our safety. How much more ought we to be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, of whom is our true life.

And when we are disciplined it is not a joyous experience; it brings heart-searching, humiliation, confession, repentance and self-loathing, but afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which have been exercised in this way.

Hebrews 12:12-17

Words of exhortation and encouragement follow. The first three exhortations refer to ourselves (Hebrews 12:12-13 ); to others and to God (Hebrews 12:14 ). To follow peace (pursue peace) with all men is to characterize those who have peace with God and who know the way of peace. Holiness must also be pursued, for without that none shall see the Lord. In Christ, believers are sanctified once for all, as this Epistle has so clearly demonstrated. The holiness which qualifies a man to see the Lord, is Christ, and His blessed finished work. Abiding in Him the believer pursues the way of holiness, practical holiness, separation from evil in all things. It does not mean a certain “holiness experience” by which a believer is fitted, by eradication of the old nature, or by something else, to see the Lord. In Christ the believer is sanctified; as Martin Luther used to say “My holiness is in Heaven.” The exhortation here means to pursue that holiness into which grace has called us, which grace has given and for which grace gives daily power. Closely connected with this is the warning which follows in Hebrews 12:15-17 . The man who falls short of the grace of God, who lacketh that grace which is in Christ Jesus, his heart not resting in Him, is a mere professing believer and Possesseth not the holiness, which grace alone can give. He is a root of bitterness and a profane, and earthly-minded person, as Esau was who sold his birthright.

(The time came when he regretted that for a paltry gratification he forfeited his right. Afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected. For though he sought carefully with tears to change his father’s mind he found (in Isaac) no place for change of mind. This seems to be the meaning of this difficult passage, Esau is never represented as an apostle, as one who professed and appeared to be a believer, and then fell away. So (apart from other reasons) the meaning of the apostle cannot be that Esau, as an apostate, was not able to find repentance. But we know that, notwithstanding his vehement and urgent entreaties, Isaac could not change his mind, or repent him of what he had done in conferring the blessing on Jacob, which God approved of” Saphir.)

Hebrews 12:18-24

These verses contain a great contrast. The grace of God has brought and is bringing believers to better things than those which characterize Judaism. What the end of faith will be, the goal of glory is here unfolded. Believers have nothing now to do with Sinai, the law and its terror. Then follows a marvellous enumeration of the earthly and heavenly glories to which we have come through faith and which faith beholds. First Mount Zion is mentioned. It is the place the Lord has chosen for His rest (Psalms 132:13-14 ). When that promised new covenant is fully established with the house of Israel and Judah, when sovereign grace has manifested its powers in the salvation and restoration of His people Israel, then Zion will be the earthly center, and God’s appointed King will establish His rule there (Psalms 2:1-12 ). From the glory of the coming millennium we are taken to the glory above “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem .” It is the city for which Abraham looked in faith, the eternal home of the saints of God.

“And to an innumerable company of angels, the universal gathering”; we shall know and behold all the tenants of the unseen world. “The Church of the firstborn ones which are written in heaven”--this is the Church in particular; there will be an unbroken and eternal fellowship with all the saints who constitute the body of Christ. “And to God the judge of all,” whose grace in Christ has put His own beyond all condemnation and who will, in His Son, judge the world in righteousness. “The spirits of just men made perfect” are the Old Testament saints, distinguished in this way from “the Church of the firstborn ones”; they receive their perfection when the Church is gathered home (Hebrews 11:40 ). “And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than Abel.” Through Him and His precious blood these earthly and heavenly glories will be accomplished. And faith looks to these. It is the blessed goal for the heirs of God, the many sons He brings to glory.

Hebrews 12:25-29

A final warning follows, not to refuse Him that speaketh. (Compare with Hebrews 2:3 .) He that spoke on earth (giving the law) is the same that speaketh from heaven--the Son of God. To refuse Him means no escape from perdition. His voice then shook the earth. The prophetic word predicts another shaking of earth and heaven (Haggai 2:6 ). That will be when He comes again. Then follows the judgment of all who obeyed not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The things that can be shaken will be removed and things that cannot be shaken remain. “Therefore let us, receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and fear; for our God is a consuming fire.”

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/hebrews-12.html. 1913-1922.
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