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Reasons to Endure Suffering
Since there have been so many men of faith before, the writer asked his readers to follow their example. The men and women of the previous chapter are witnesses of the faith and are now watching us to see who will be faithful. They are described as a "cloud of witnesses" because, like a modern stadium, the Hebrew people were familiar with the amphitheater from which spectators watched the athletic games of those days. The people would be like a cloud looking down upon those competing. Much like those competing, the writer called upon his readers to lay aside anything that would slow their progress. He again warned against the sin of unbelief, which would not only slow, but probably stop the Christian runner. Finally, he encouraged all those Christian runners to endure all of the trials and persevere to the end ( Heb_12:1 ).
Christians can be encouraged by the faithful of the past, especially Jesus. We should look to Christ as the One who leads the way in faith and brought the faith to its completion. By keeping Jesus ever in our mind’s eye, our best example will constantly be before us. Christ is especially a good example since He came to this earth to seek and save the lost and was willing to give up His life to that end. In fact, that is the reason Jesus died a shameful death upon the tree. A death which was set aside for the worst members of society was chosen for Jesus, who was without sin. Jesus bore the contradiction, or opposition, of the very sinners that He came to seek and save. If Jesus could do that, it should be an encouragement to those of us running the Christian race. We can look to Jesus, who has already run a very hard race, and be encouraged to keep on running ( Heb_12:2-3 ).
Another sport in the games of the first century was very similar to boxing. However, they used heavy pieces of metal in their gloves to draw blood and kill. The Hebrew Christians had not yet resisted sin, both in others and in self, to the point of a bloody death. Others, such as Stephen, had done so. Likewise, Christ, our supreme example had suffered to the point of a bloody death and was likely still in the author's mind ( Heb_12:4 ).
Suffering Can Be a Form of Discipline
There is a hint the Hebrews were slowing in their fight or race and had forgotten the exhortations of their childhood. The author quoted Pro_3:11-12 as an exhortation, reminding the Hebrews God was not angry with them. Instead, He was showing His love by "chastening" them. That is, He corrects and disciplines, as one would a child, in order to help educate them. Without such chastening, the Christian would not know God loved him. Discipline helps the Christian to grow up in the right way ( Heb_12:5-6 ; Rev_3:19 ).
The child that goes without discipline knows he is really not God's child. Rather, he would be an illegitimate child, whose education is often neglected. The writer emphasized that discipline is a part of true sonship. Without it one would be a spiritually illegitimate child, which would be a disgrace. So, instead of murmuring because of chastisement, Hebrew brethren should have been happy ( Heb_12:7-8 ).
The penalty for disobedience to parents under the law was death ( Deu_21:18-21 ). Parents were to be held in a position of respect and honor ( Exo_20:12 ). Yet, it was their job to chasten the child so that it might be properly educated. The Hebrews had obeyed these fleshly parents, who could make mistakes. So, the writer reasonably expected them to obey God, who is perfect and able to rule in a perfect way. Earthly parents only correct for a short time then leave the grown child to go his own way, making his own mistakes. Yet, God stays with His children, constantly guiding them so they might one day reach an eternal reward. Of course, no one enjoys discipline when it is being given, but it is intended to bring forth good fruit. However, this good fruit only comes if the person who is disciplined lives by the law that is established through the discipline ( Heb_12:9-11 ).
An Exhortation to Continue to the End of the Race
The writer urged the Hebrews to take strength from knowing God loved them and continue the race. To aid in this, he encouraged them to choose as straight and even a path as possible. Following such a course prevents jostling weaker ones and making it more difficult for them to run the race to its end. They were also encouraged to maintain peaceful relations with all those around them. This would make the running easier both with fellow runners and through a country that could be hostile if provoked ( Heb_12:12-14 ).
The writer exhorted them to carefully watch so no one would fall behind to the point of not being able to complete the race. He warned against sin in the camp that might cause the whole group to fall out of the race. Particularly, he warned against one who might become so wrapped up in the lusts of this world that he would throw off the religion of God and sell his birthright as a Christian. One who did this would be like Esau, who sold his birthright for some meat to eat. By doing this, Esau showed how lightly he thought of the promises from God that were included in his birthright. Later, when he wanted the blessing that was a part of that birthright, he was rejected. There was no way to change the effects of the selling of his birthright, even though he sought the blessing sincerely in tears ( Heb_12:15-17 ).
Better Access to God than Was at Sinai
So, a careful watch should be kept to avoid the kind of attitude that would cause one to give up his birthright. This is especially true since we labor under a new covenant. Esau lived during the Patriarchal Age, when God spoke to the fathers and directed the family. In theMosaic Age, God spoke on the mountain, but the people were not allowed to approach Him. The awe inspiring events on Mount Sinai actually caused the people to beg that they should not hear any more ( Exo_19:16 ; Exo_19:19 ; Exo_20:1-7 ; Exo_20:19 ). The people were very much afraid at that time and the writer revealed the reason for their fear by quoting Exo_19:12-13 . Even Moses was afraid, as the writer reveals through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit ( Heb_12:18-21 ).
Christians do not come to a mountain in fear, but to the throne of God, which is heaven. Believers also were described as coming to a general assembly, which Milligan says is one of angels around the throne of God. It is representative of the joyous multitude that will assemble around God’s throne and celebrate His praises ( Rev_5:11 ; Rev_7:11-12 ). The assembly, or church, of the firstborn is a reference to the faithful saints who will, as the firstborn does, receive their birthright at the coming of Christ. That they will receive these rights is indicated by Luk_10:20 and Rev_21:27 . All of the redeemed will also be before the throne of God and they shall receive a just reward ( Heb_12:22-23 ).
Just as Moses was with the people at Mount Sinai, so will Christ be at the throne of God as mediator for His brethren. In being close to Christ, we are also close to his blood. Abel's blood, being shed by Cain, called for vengeance. Christ's blood, which was shed voluntarily, calls for mercy. So, the writer exhorted the Hebrews to heed the voice of God who now speaks through Jesus, His Son ( Heb_1:1 ). The people who did not listen to God under the old covenant, when he spoke through Moses, did not escape. So, we should especially not expect to get away with rejecting the voice of God under this new covenant ( Heb_12:24-25 ).
An Invitation to Come to the Unshakable Kingdom
The earth shook when God spoke to his people at Sinai. The reference to a second shaking comes from Hag_2:6-9 . This shaking would be directly related with the coming of the Messiah, who is represented as the desire of all nations. It is to continue until all the things that can be shaken, or are perishable, have been removed and only the unshakable, or eternal things, remain. Christ's kingdomis the main unshakable thing that will be left. This is in contrast with the kingdom of fleshly Israel constituted at Sinai, which was removed with the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 ( Heb_12:26-27 ).
Since Christians abide in a kingdom that is unshakable, we should strive to obey God in love so that we might continue to receive His grace and remain in the kingdom. Note: The kingdom is spoken of as already present, which is contrary to premillennialism. The writer quoted Deu_4:24 to give a further incentive for remaining in the kingdom that is immovable. Those who become disobedient and are found outside that kingdom will be punished by God as the apostates they are ( Heb_12:28-29 )!
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". "Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29