Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 12

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-13

Looking to Christ

Hebrews 12:1-13

In this part of the book, Paul presses us to a constant exercise of faith and patience under trial, chastisement, affliction, or whatever God, in his purpose, calls upon us to endure.

Hebrews 12:1 . This ‘great cloud of witnesses’ are the men and women of faith who have borne witness or testimony to the truth. Let us lay aside everything that is a hindrance to running the Christian race worldly cares, riches, worldly companions, and involvements that take our interest and concern from Christ. When a runner is in a race, he does not wear heavy clothes and shoes which only serve to slow him down. Let us lay aside the sin which clings to us! This may be a particular sin that a person may be inclined to more than other sins, or it may be the sin of unbelief. But if our goal is to win Christ and be found in him, then let us pursue this goal with patient endurance and active persistence.

Hebrews 12:2 . We must look away from all that would distract us and look TO our Lord Jesus. We don't look to him with the natural eye but with the eye of faith (John 6:40; Isaiah 45:22).

1. He is Jesus, our Saviour, who was appointed and sent by the Father to be our redeemer, our representative, our ransom, and our mediator (Matthew 1:21-23).

2. He is the author of our faith. It is not in us to believe (Romans 8:29-30). By his grace and Spirit, he led us to believe! We do believe him (Ephesians 2:8-9).

3. He is the object of our faith (2 Timothy 1:8-12).

4. He is the finisher of our faith or the One who brings it to maturity and gives us that which is the goal of faith eternal life and the salvation of our souls (Ephesians 2:4-7).

Christ, for the joy of redeeming his people, endured the cruel death of the cross, treating the shame and humiliation of it with contempt. He ignored the shame and was victorious. The proof of his success is that he is ascended and is on the right hand of God. This is our example; for the joy that is set before us, throughout eternity, let us endure trial, ignore the mocking and humiliation, and continue in the faith of Christ! (1 Peter 5:10-11.)

Hebrews 12:3 . When you are discouraged and grow weary, just think of Christ and the grievous opposition and bitter hostility he endured and consider that in the light of your own trials and afflictions (Romans 8:18).

Hebrews 12:4 . Our conflicts against sin, the enemies of grace, and the trials of life have cost us very little. One thing we can say; we have not resisted to the shedding of our blood. Our Lord did, and so did many of these who have gone before.

Hebrews 12:5 . I would remind you also, lest you forget, the word of God in Proverbs 3:11-12 which says, ‘My sons, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.’ Do not think lightly of or refuse to submit to the correction and discipline of the Lord. Don't lose your courage and give up when you are corrected or disciplined by him (James 1:2-4).

Hebrews 12:6 . The Lord corrects, disciplines, and teaches by trial, by affliction, and by tribulation everyone whom he loves. The Lord had only one Son without sin: he has none without suffering (1 Peter 1:6-7; John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 1:7; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29).

Hebrews 12:7-8 . All true believers must take part in and endure God's discipline, work of correction, and providential dealings; for God is dealing with us as sons. He is working in us the graces of humility, love, patience, and faith and is weaning us from the world. He is making us like Christ. If you be without this corrective discipline, you are not a child of God.

Hebrews 12:9-10 . Our earthly parents corrected and disciplined us, and we respected them and yielded to their wisdom. Shall we not much more yield to our heavenly Father? Our earthly fathers disciplined us for a short period of time according to their limited wisdom; but the Lord, for our eternal good, disciplines and corrects us in his perfect wisdom, that we may be like Christ (Romans 8:28).

Hebrews 12:11-13 . No trial or suffering is pleasant, nor does it bring joy at the time. It is difficult and painful; nevertheless, after it is over, it yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness and godliness to those who have patiently endured it. Joseph is a good example of this (Genesis 50:20).

So then be courageous, be faithful, and be of good cheer under the providence of God (Psalms 27:13-14). Depart not from the path of faith. Love and help one another. Let the fallen be restored and the weak encouraged (Galatians 6:1-2).

Verses 14-17

Lest any depart from the grace of God

Hebrews 12:14-17

Hebrews 12:14 . ‘Follow peace with all men.’ To follow peace and harmony with others is not only to desire it, but to exert the utmost in a man's power to attain it with everyone.

1. In the church. ‘How blessed it is when brethren dwell together in unity.’ Read Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians 3:12-16.

2. In the home, between husband and wife, parents and children (Colossians 3:18-21).

3. In our natural relationships with friends, neighbors, and co-workers, yea, even with our enemies as much as is possible (Romans 12:17-20).

Our God is the God of peace, our Saviour is the Prince of Peace, the fruit of the Spirit is peace, and we are called to peace and to believe the gospel of peace. Shall we be characterized as quarrelsome, trouble-makers, and contentious? God forbid!

‘Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.’ There has to be a two-fold meaning here:

1. The holiness or righteousness of Christ, which is to be followed after by believing on him and receiving in him perfect sanctification and acceptance before God. ‘Ye are complete in him.’ (1 Corinthians 1:30; Romans 10:4; 2 Corinthians 5:21.)

2. The holiness or Godliness of an obedient walk. ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.’ If he is not a new person with a new attitude, a new character, and a new conduct, he is not in Christ and shall not enter heaven. We are justified by faith, and our faith is justified by our works (James 2:17-21; Galatians 5:22-26).

Hebrews 12:15 . We are to look carefully and diligently to ourselves and to one another, lest any of us fall from or depart from the true gospel of the grace of God (Hebrews 3:13-14). Men do not fall from the free favor and love of God in Christ, which is everlasting, unchangeable, and implanted in regeneration (Romans 8:34-39); but some profess to believe, profess to know that grace and that love, and profess to embrace that gospel who later depart, deny, and compromise it (1 John 2:19). The heart is deceitful and wicked (Proverbs 4:23).

This root of bitterness is a root that lies hidden in a man's heart and is apt to spring up in an unexpected manner and time to bear bitter fruit of contention, malice, pride, and covetousness which will divide friends, churches, families, and even believers, I must set a watch upon my heart, my mind, and my tongue, lest Satan get an advantage and many be affected.

Hebrews 12:16 . The birthright which Esau treated with contempt and sold for a mere morsel of meat was more than the greater part of his father's estate. The birthright was a spiritual position God's man in the family. It carried with it spiritual blessings and divine favor. Esau's desires were sensual, abandoned, and fleshly; so he threw aside the favor of God to satisfy his current designs. Shall we be so foolish as to even consider that anything the world has to offer is worth departing from the fellowship of our Lord? (Mark 8:34-38.)

Hebrews 12:17 . Those who are so foolish to allow anything in this life to cause them to renounce their faith and duty as children of the living God will, like Esau, someday weep with bitter tears when it is beyond their power to recover what is lost! Guard against fleshly appetites and apostasy; guard against neglecting spiritual blessings and privileges lest you come, at last, to bitterly mourn your foolishness and wickedness.

We have entered a race. The prize goes to those who finish (Hebrews 10:35-39). There will be difficult times, perhaps heavy trials; and along the way there will be tempting pastures of pleasures which appeal to our flesh. We must go on! We may proceed rapidly or slowly; we may even stumble and fall; but looking to Christ, we continue! I have a responsibility to the doctrines of Christ, my Lord. Neither the frowns nor smiles of men will cause me to surrender them. I have a responsibility to the church of the Lord Jesus. I have a responsibility to my family to keep it together, to set a godly example in worship, integrity, and faithfulness. I must not lay down this trust nor fail to see it through. I have a responsibility to the captain of my soul! He loves me and I love him.

‘Must Jesus bear the cross alone

and all the world go free?

No, there's a cross for everyone,

and there's a cross for me.

The consecrated cross I'll bear

'til death shall set me free

And then go home, my crown to wear;

for there's a crown for me.’

Verses 18-24

Not to the law but to Christ

Hebrews 12:18-24

We are not under the ceremonial law with all of its washings, meats and drinks, sacrifices, and sin-offerings. Christ, our Lord, has fulfilled all this. We are in a gospel church-state of which Christ Jesus is the head; he is prophet, priest, and king! Nor do we come to the holy, moral law of God for acceptance and righteousness but to Christ, our Mediator. Do we realize the privilege and happiness of being delivered from the legal dispensation under which Israel lived? Do we realize the terror and awesomeness of the Law? It is described in these verses.

Hebrews 12:18-21 . The place where the Law was given was Mt. Sinai, which might not be touched (Exodus 19:12), which burned with fire, and which set forth the majesty, holiness, and righteousness of God.

The circumstances attending the giving of the Law blackness, darkness, and tempest accompanied the giving of the Law because it offered no hope to sinful people, only curses and wrath. When the angels announced the birth of Christ, the light and glory of God shone round about them; for they brought glad tidings of redemption.

The matter of the Law given by the ‘voice of words’ (Hebrews 12:19) was the Ten Commandments, requiring perfect obedience but giving no strength to perform them. It revealed their sins but offered no mercy and no saviour (Galatians 3:10; Galatians 4:21).

The effect of the law on Moses and the people ’They could not endure that which was commanded.’ They backed away, and even Moses trembled! (Exodus 20:18-21.)

Hebrews 12:22-24 . The happiness of the church state or the believer's position today is given in these verses and expressed by the names used.

‘Mount Sion’ is the church the Lord Jesus to which the believer comes, in distinction from the legal dispensation signified by Mt. Sinai. It is called Mount Sion because it is chosen by God and is the place of his habitation. Here his gospel is preached, he communes with his people, and his ordinances are administered; it is an immovable mountain (Matthew 16:18). We come to Christ, not to a place, a Law, or a ceremony which only typifies him.

‘City of the living God.’ This church is a city built on Christ and is full of inhabitants (true believers) under proper leaders, guarded by his power and free from fear (Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:16).

‘The heavenly Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem signifies the vision of peace or ‘they shall see peace.’ It is the place of worship and the palace of the King. It is called the heavenly Jerusalem to distinguish it from the earthly Jerusalem. The church is the city of God because he built it, dwells in it, protects it, and defends it. We meet on earth, but our communion and association are in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6).

‘To an innumerable company of angels.’ Believers are brought into a state of friendship and fellowship with angels who minister to us (Hebrews 1:14).

‘To the general assembly and church of the first born.’ The word ‘assembly,’ according to Dr. Gill, was a public and common gathering of the Greeks and signifies a large collection and convention. The church of God is assembled in the mind of God from all eternity. They are assembled in Christ, their Redeemer, then and now; they will assemble in his presence all together personally in that great day. The church of the firstborn is made up of all God's elect in all times and places and reaches even to the saints in heaven! Their names are written in heaven in the Lamb's Book of Life.

‘To God the judge of all.’ Believers have free access to God, the Judge of righteousness, through the blood and sacrifice of Christ. Our sins have been judged and paid for in Christ; therefore, there is no judgment nor condemnation which prevents our acceptance (Hebrews 2:14-16; Hebrews 10:19-22).

‘To the spirits of just men made perfect.’ This may refer to the fellowship of believers who are justified and made perfect in Christ Jesus and whose communion and fellowship is not of a fleshly, social nature mainly, but of a spiritual communion. Their souls and hearts are knit together in love for Christ and one another (1 John 1:3).

‘To Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.’ Coming to Christ is by faith, out of a sense of need, and by a revelation of his fullness and sufficiency; it is the blessing of blessings, for we are complete in him. This is the key and focal point of this entire portion of scripture: we come not to the Law, ceremonies, or works but to Christ; and in Christ we have a right to all privileges and blessings of God (Colossians 2:9-10; Colossians 1:19-23).

‘To the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.’ There may be two thoughts suggested here.

1. Abel's blood, shed by his brother, cries for vengeance and wrath; Christ's blood cries for pardon and peace.

2. The blood of Abel's sacrifice may be the reference. His sacrifice was the first blood sacrifice mentioned. It was offered by faith and pointed to Christ's sacrifice. However, the blood of Christ is not typical but effectual and perfects all for whom it was shed, leaving no remembrance of sin (1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 John 1:9).

Verses 25-29

See that ye refuse not him that speaketh

Hebrews 12:25-29

There are only five verses in this lesson; but they are words of grace, words of hope, words of warning, and words of promise.

Hebrews 12:25 . ‘Him that speaketh’ is Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant.

1. He spoke for the elect in the council and covenant of eternal grace (Hebrews 8:6).

2. He spoke in the creation of all things out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3; John 1:1-4).

3. He spoke from Sinai in giving the Law.

4. He spoke as Prophet of the church in days of his flesh.

5. He spoke through his servants in giving the Scriptures.

6. He speaks now in heaven, interceding for believers.

How foolish to refuse to hear him, but men do (John 1:11; John 3:19; John 5:43).

1. His gospel is refused through unbelief,

2. His gospel is neglected through indifference, and

3. His gospel is perverted through covetousness and self-righteousness.

‘Him that spoke on Earth’ may mean God, who spoke on Mt. Sinai in giving his Law, or Moses, who was on the earth and of the earth, who spoke for God to the people as a mediator whom they promised to hear and heed, but did not! (Acts 7:37-39.)

If they, who refused to hear the words of Moses, did not escape the wrath and Judgment of God, how shall we escape if we turn away from him who speaks from heaven? (Hebrews 1:1-2; Hebrews 2:1-3.) Christ came from heaven; he is the Lord of heaven; his doctrine is from heaven; and, having finished his work, he is seated in heaven from which he shall come to judge or reward all men (John 12:47-50).

Hebrews 12:26 . At Sinai the earth was shaken by his voice, which voice was the voice of thunder, the voice of trumpets, and the voice of words (Exodus 19:18-19; Psalms 68:7-8). ‘Once more I shake not the earth only but also heaven’ (Haggai 2:6-7). This was the coming of the Messiah the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Redeemer. His coming not only shook the earth but all of heaven also!

Hebrews 12:27 . ‘And this word, yet once more’ indicates the final removal of all that can be shaken, such as Sinai and its Law, the Jewish state (both political and ecclesiastical), the whole Mosaic economy, the tabernacle with its ceremonies and sacrifices, and all things pertaining to divine worship which are made with hands and which are made to be shaken and removed (Hebrews 10:8-10).

‘That those things which cannot be shaken or moved may remain.’ This is the kingdom and priesthood of Christ which is forever and all the good things that come through him, such as justification, adoption, redemption, sanctification, and the heavenly inheritance, also the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the church!

Hebrews 12:28 . We have been received into his kingdom; and we, by faith, have received the scepter of King Jesus. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. His kingdom and reign shall know no end (Philippians 2:9-11). Therefore, let us offer to our Lord pleasing service, acceptable worship, and praise with reverence and godly fear. He is Almighty God and worthy of all praise and worship. The statement, ‘Let us have grace,’ is better rendered, ‘Let us hold the gospel of the grace of God and continue therein!’ (Hebrews 13:15.)

Hebrews 12:29 . ‘For our God is a consuming fire.’ There are two points to be dealt with here.

1. It may be understood of his jealousy (Deuteronomy 4:24) in matters of worship and approach to him. God only is to be worshipped, and he is to be approached in the manner and way suitable to him and fixed by him. He is to have all the glory, and to come any other way is to be utterly rejected and consumed in the fire of his wrath (John 14:6).

2. Our God is a consuming fire. He is a wall of fire in his providence to protect and provide. He is a fire to warm and guide them. He is a fire to consume their enemies and to purify them and their eternal dwelling.

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 2013.