STUDIES IN HEBREWS
© Rosemary Bardsley, 2002
STUDY ELEVEN: THEREFORE ...
A. 'Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses ...' (12:1)
Here the writer presses home his point. Here is the reason why he included his list of heroes of faith. He has reminded his readers:
- faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
- visible things were made out of invisible things.
- it was faith that gave Abel and Enoch access to God.
- it was faith that operated in and motivated and enabled Noah.
- Abraham believed where all the evidence was contrary.
- by faith Moses chose obedience to God along with its disgrace and suffering.
- by faith men and women of God did amazing things.
- by faith men and women of God suffered and endured great opposition.
The constant theme of the writer in all of this is: these people endured without obtaining the ultimate reality promised to them. The non-event of the promised reality did not make them give up their faith. As it is recorded in Hebrews 11:16: '... they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one.' And Moses: 'regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead for his reward' (11:26).
The whole of the letter so far has been a massive encouragement and exhortation not to give up, based on:
- the superiority of God's self-revelation in Christ (1:1-3).
- the superiority of Christ over the angels (1:4-14).
- the superiority of the message announced by Christ (2:1-4).
- the superiority of Christ over Moses (3:1-6).
- the superior rest of the people of God in Christ (4:1-10).
· the superior priesthood of Christ (4:14-5:10; 7:1-9:28).
- the superior tabernacle in which Christ ministers (9:1-28).
- the superior covenant which Christ inaugurates (9:15).
- the superior sacrifice of Christ (9:11-10:18).
Through all of this the writer repeatedly issues encouragements, exhortations and warnings to his readers, as we have seen in previous studies. They have the ultimate focus of faith - that focus which the old believers knew barely a whisper of, barely the shadow of, yet they believed and did not give up.
B. 'Therefore ... run with perseverance the race marked out for us'
Now, having told us all of this, having listed the heroes of faith, he says: 'therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses - don't you give up!
An interesting change in the sense of the verb has occurred in the translation process: Whereas in most English translations we have two exhortations or commands:
- 'let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles' and
- 'let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us',
- the Greek text puts it this way:
- 'having thrown off ... let us run the with perseverance the race marked out for us.'
The picture is that of a race. All around we are surrounded by 'witnesses' who have already, in their day, run the race. Surrounded by these witnesses, these who have run the race to the end without giving up, and, having put aside every weight and every sin that surrounds us, we are commanded run with endurance the race set before us.
The New Testament makes it clear that the life of a follower of Jesus Christ involves dedication and commitment. Whereas all that we are and have in the Lord Jesus Christ is sheer gift, yet to persist in following him involves us in a great struggle, contest or battle. Consider:
- Luke 13:24: 'Make every effort (agonizesthe) to enter through the narrow door ...'
- Acts 13:25 'As John was completing his work (ton dromon = course) ...'
- Acts 20:24 'However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.'
- 1 Cor 9:24ff: 'Do you not know that in a race (stadio) all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes (agonizomenos) in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.'
- Gal 2:2 ' ... for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.'
- Eph 6:10ff 'Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle (pale) is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God ....' (Studies on the Lord's Prayer planned for this website later this year contain in depth study on the armour of God.')
- Phil 1:29-30 'for it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle (agona) you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.'
- Phil 2:16 '... in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour for nothing'.
- Col 1:29 'To this end I labour, struggling (agonizomenos) with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.'
- Col 2:1 'I want you to know how much I am struggling (agona) for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.'
- Col 4:12 'Epaphras ... Is always wrestling (agonizomenos) in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God ... '
- 1Thes 2:2 'We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition (agoni).'
- 1Tim 6:12 'Fight (agonizou) the good fight (agona) of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.'
- 2Tim 2:3ff 'Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs - he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.'
- 2Tim 4:7,8 'I have fought (egonismai) the good fight (agona) , I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.'
- Heb 12:1 'therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race (agona) marked out for us.
- Heb 12:4 'In your struggle against (antagonizomenoi) sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.'
All of these texts refer to our lives as Christians in terms of struggle, conflict or race. They indicate the necessity for effort and presence of opposition. They indicate the necessity for long-term commitment, and the presence of obstacles which have the potential to undermine commitment.
Our writer here says:  we are surrounded by all of these witnesses who have gone before us, so, putting aside every weight and the sin which surrounds us, let's run with perseverance the race laid out for us; and  looking away from everything else, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who because of the joy laid out before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame ... Consider him who endured such opposition of sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Our next study focuses on Jesus Christ in his struggle against sin.