The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Hebrews 12

Heb 12:1

Vv 1-11: God's discipline.

Vv 1-3: Jesus the perfect pattern. With the glorious history of the faithful in mind, our author turns now to his readers. The standard of faith has been set by the record of God's faithful people in the past, who moved out into the unknown with confidence and who endured hardship without giving up their expectation of a future fulfillment of the promise. But the author now comes to the supreme example of this kind of faith in Jesus -- the name that must be the climax of any list of paragons of faith. Jesus himself endured great suffering without losing sight of the glory that was to come. The readers, together with believers of every age, are called to walk in the steps of faith that characterized the saints of the past and the one who has now been made Lord. Only such an attitude of faith can sustain them during the adversities they may be called to face.

THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES...: The exhortation now to be given is based on the reality expounded in Heb 11. The community of faith is such that it figuratively surrounds us like a great cloud. The word "cloud" (Gr "nephos") is used commonly in Greek literature to indicate a "host" or "company". "Witnesses" here (Gr "martus") does not mean observers, but rather those who testify or give evidence of the victorious life of faith. They show that it is possible to live by faith. Motivated by the preceding catalogue of examples, the readers are themselves to live the life of faith.

A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES: At the Greek sports festivals the foremost seats were occupied by the heroes of former contests (Dawn 42:64).

LET US THROW OFF: Not "lay aside" (AV), which is too weak -- but rather "fling off", "rid yourselves of".

LET US THROW OFF EVERYTHING THAT HINDERS: "Let us lay aside every weight" (AV). "What are weights? Strangely enough a weight is not a burden. A burden is some adversity which we have to bear and cannot shed -- for our own sake or someone else's. A weight is some hindrance which impedes our spiritual progress which we could shed if we like, but which for some reason or another we do not. It would not be right to think that weights are always some form of adversity. Indeed there are some kinds of adversity which in the long run have proved to be blessings, because they have a chastening effect upon the soul.

"Sometimes weights could never be recognised as adversity because they are so nice. Chastening is sent by God but God does not send weights. God does not hinder people who want to progress in their pilgrimage to His kingdom. A weight is a hindrance -- an impediment. It slows down the progress, it puts the brakes on, it makes the road go uphill when it need not. Weights are bad if you mean business about making progress. An unnecessary encumbrance, best cast off but often retained because we want the best of both worlds.

"An honest examination of a disciple's life would unmask the things which ought to be known for what they are and the weights would come out of hiding ready to be recognised and repudiated. Sometimes our hindrances are self-made -- an indulgence which gives us particular pleasure but which has the effect of lowering the standard; some association which robs us of enthusiasm for the Truth; some enterprise which would make us ashamed if the truth were known. These forces are self-chosen and we cannot blame others or other things for our own wilfulness. On the other hand some hindrances are almost wholly circumstantial. Some disciples' work: they were pushed into it when they were young and they have never been able to escape. A disciple's marriage: it started right but deteriorated. A disciple's education: it was of the wrong kind and developed tendencies which hinder and drag down in the search for the right way.

"Sometimes hindrances are in themselves good things but because they are wrongly used become weights. Invested with too much power or conceded too much authority they hold back and distract. Money is not evil. Pleasure is not wrong. Business is not sinful. Friendship is not harmful. Education is no snare. Yet all these are reasons why sometime people fail and falter on the road to the kingdom. Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best. When the man found the pearl of great price he had to sell his other good pearls to get the best. In a way the good almost becomes evil when it keeps us from something better. Indeed it may be one thing only. It seems unfair: a good life hindered by one thing. The trouble is that very often it is the one thing that matters" (GD).

THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES: Which sin is this? The whole of the previous ch suggests the answer: "Lack of faith". It is the worst sin of all, for it makes forgiveness for all the other sins impossible!

THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES: "Close-girding" (Diag). Enwrapping, clinging.

THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US: See Lesson, Olympics -- ancient, modern, and "Christian".

Heb 12:2

LET US FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS, THE AUTHOR AND PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH: An even more significant example of the life of faith is to be found in Jesus, now described as the "author" (or "pioneer": RSV) and "perfecter" of our faith. The word for "pioneer" -- "archegos" -- is the sw used in Heb 2:10 ("author," or "originator," of salvation: cp Acts 3:15). Is there a sense in which Jesus can be described as the "originator" of faith? Like Paul (Gal 3:23-26; cp John 1:17), our author believes that the people of God could indeed have lived by faith in past generations, but that in a fundamental sense the possibility -- or at least the validity -- of faith in any era depended and depends upon the work of Christ. That is, because Christ is so central both to the promise and to the fulfillment, because he brings into existence the hoped–for consummation (and is therefore the "perfecter" -- Gr "teleiotes", the "finisher" -- of faith), he is also the "originator" or "founder" of faith. As "perfecter" of faith, he brings it to its intended goal. Thus, whether one talks about faith as a possibility or as the experience of fulfillment, all depends upon Jesus. For this reason, Christians must keep looking away from this world to him. He is not only the basis, means, and fulfillment of faith, but in his life he also exemplifies the same principle of faith that were seen in the "witnesses" of Heb 11.

WHO FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM ENDURED THE CROSS, SCORNING ITS SHAME: So by faith he set his mind on the future joy, which was perfectly sure, and assessing present circumstances in light of the glorious future, he was able to endure all things (Phi 2:8). Crucifixion was one of the most despicable forms of death in the Roman world. Roman citizens were automatically protected against this form of capital punishment, which was thought suitable only for barbarians. Jesus disregarded totally the shame attached to this brutal mode of execution.

AND SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD: That future joy is already his in a preliminary way, for he has been enthroned at God's right hand in heaven. This description of Christ in the language of Psa 110:1 alludes throughout the book to the completeness of his work (cp Heb 10:11-14; cp Heb 1:3; Acts 7:55,56).

Heb 12:3

CONSIDER HIM WHO ENDURED SUCH OPPOSITION FROM SINFUL MEN, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT GROW WEARY AND LOSE HEART: The readers are encouraged to consider carefully (or "analyze") Jesus as the one who suffered, who endured such "hostility" ("opposition" in Diag; or abuse, derision: Mat 27:39; cp Psa 22:7,8) from wicked men. In this sense Jesus is a model of all the suffering of the righteous at the hands of the enemies of God. Consideration of what Jesus endured will prevent the readers from growing weary and losing heart. Following Jesus as their model, they can endure the most trying of circumstances (cp exhortations, Heb 3:12; 4:1; 6:4-6; 10:26-35).

Heb 12:4

Vv 4-11: The purpose of chastening. Suffering, far from being a contradiction of the believer's status, as the world is inclined to think, is actually a mark of his or her true status. Suffering is necessarily involved in being a child of God and is not a contradiction of God's love.

IN YOUR STRUGGLE AGAINST SIN, YOU HAVE NOT YET RESISTED TO THE POINT OF SHEDDING YOUR BLOOD: Struggle against sin here is not so much the battle of the believer to keep from sinning, in general, as it is specifically the struggle to avoid apostatizing, or leaving the Truth altogether. There have indeed been difficult times in the past (cp Heb 10:32–34), and perhaps also in the present, but resistance for the readers has not yet come to the point of sacrificing their lives. In that regard they have not equaled the suffering of Jesus, the supreme example of faith who went to the cross and paid the ultimate price (vv 2,3).

RESISTED: The Gr is "antagonizo" (cp the Engl "antagonist"), and may suggest a boxing match (as in 1Co 9:24-27; this goes along with the Olympic "race" alluded to in Heb 12:1). They had not even "drawn blood" -- they were too defensive: they were "circling" and "defending" rather than "fighting"!

YOU HAVE NOT YET RESISTED TO THE POINT OF SHEDDING YOUR BLOOD: Perh an allusion to Jesus in Gethsemane, sweating as it were drops of blood (Luk 22:44)?

Heb 12:5

Vv 5,6: They need to remember again that word of "exhortation" ("paraklesis") which speaks of the advantage of those who are children of God. The quotation is from Pro 3:11,12. What is in view in the present context is a positive kind of discipline that trains a person in obedience. This is the way they are to perceive the adversity they are experiencing: it is a mark of the Lord's love (cp Rev 3:19), on the one hand, and of their sonship, on the other. They are therefore not to "lose heart" (cp v 3), or be discouraged and fall away from the Truth.

Heb 12:6

"As this chastening is by means of evil, it follows that circumstances of an utterly vexatious and apparently fortuitous character may be of God, though His voice and hand may be unmanifest, and worse -- hid in storm. We shall not in all things be able to read present experience aright till we can look upon it from the serene atmosphere of the Kingdom of God" (WP 272).

"It is no sign that a man is deserted of God that he falls into trouble; all depends upon the nature and effect of trouble and the attitude of the man. It is no sign that a man is favoured of God that he prospers like a green bay tree [Psa 37:35]; it all depends upon how the prosperity is employed, and what the man's mental state may be. In these things we must intelligently discriminate in the light of the fact that God taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, and hath chosen him that is godly for Himself; and that His regard for such may sometimes allow of prosperity while it sometimes calls for the chastening rod. We must judge all cases from the point of view of the kingdom of God. If we are guided there, no adversity is too bitter that may have prepared us" (WP 64).

Heb 12:7

ENDURE HARDSHIP: "Hupomeno" is the same verb used in vv 2,3 in describing Jesus' endurance of the cross. The readers are thus called to endure as he endured (cp Heb 10:36). Sw Mat 24:13: "But he who stands firm to the end will be saved."

DISCIPLINE... DISCIPLINED: " 'Paideuo' primarily denotes 'to train children', suggesting the broad idea of education ('pais', 'a child'), Act 7:22; 22:3; see also Tit 2:12, 'instructing' (RV), here of a training gracious and firm... hence, 'to chastise', this being part of the training, whether (a) by correcting with words, reproving, and admonishing, 1Ti 1:20 (RV, 'be taught'); 2Ti 2:25, or (b) by 'chastening' by the infliction of evils and calamities, 1Co 11:32; 2Co 6:9; Heb 12:6,7,10; Rev 3:19" (Vine). The root word occurs several times, as both a verb and a noun in vv 7,8 here.

Heb 12:8

IF YOU ARE NOT DISCIPLINED (AND EVERYONE UNDERGOES DISCIPLINE), THEN YOU ARE ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN AND NOT TRUE SONS: True sons were disciplined by their fathers in order to become worthy heirs; illegitimate children (Gr "nothos", which occurs only here in the NT) were not able to inherit and thus were not worth the trouble of such training. Thus those who suffer discipline have established not only their true sonship but also their status as heirs.

Heb 12:9

MOREOVER, WE HAVE ALL HAD HUMAN FATHERS WHO DISCIPLINED US AND WE RESPECTED THEM FOR IT: That is, we accepted the discipline without questioning either the authority of our literal parent or our status as legitimate children.

HOW MUCH MORE SHOULD WE SUBMIT TO THE FATHER OF OUR SPIRITS AND LIVE!: Then, the writer reasons from the lesser to the greater, we should submit to our Heavenly Father -- "The Father of spirits" -- our creator, to whom we owe our existence in an ultimate sense.

"Father of spirits" is similar to "the God of the spirits of all mankind" in Num 16:22; 27:16. He is the one who "begets" us spiritually, thru His Word (cp John 1:18; 1Pe 1:23).

The analogy between human fathers and the "heavenly Father" is found several times in the teaching of Jesus (eg, Mat 7:9-11; 21:28-31; Luke 15:11-32).

"Our Father in heaven" (Mat 6:9); "Father of glory" or "glorious Father" (Eph 1:17); "Father of compassion" (2Co 1:3); "Father of spirits" (Heb 12:9); "Father of the heavenly lights" (Jam 1:17); "a Father to you" (2Co 6:18); "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 15:6).

Heb 12:10

OUR FATHERS DISCIPLINED US FOR A LITTLE WHILE AS THEY THOUGHT BEST; BUT GOD DISCIPLINES US FOR OUR GOOD: As we are submissive to his discipline we will begin to live the life of the age to come (cp 1Co 11:32). The contrast contained in v 10 makes a similar point. We should be even more receptive to God's disciplining than we were to our that of our human fathers. They disciplined us "a few days"), that is, during our childhood, as they -- with their limited knowledge and experience -- thought best. The implication is that God disciplines us throughout our life and in accordance with his own absolute knowledge of what is good for us eternally. Cp Acts 14:22: "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God."

THAT WE MAY SHARE IN HIS HOLINESS: In actuality our character is being formed by the experience of suffering. We are being purified and made to share the holiness of God, especially as revealed in his Son (cp Rom 8:29). By connecting suffering with holiness our author sanctifies suffering as something that has a very special purpose in the life of the believer.

Heb 12:11

NO DISCIPLINE SEEMS PLEASANT AT THE TIME, BUT PAINFUL: The author readily admits that, while it is being experienced, the discipline of suffering seems to produce sorrow rather than joy. He makes no attempt to deny the reality of discipline.

LATER ON, HOWEVER, IT PRODUCES A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PEACE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN TRAINED BY IT: Yet with the perspective of time the true purpose of such suffering will make itself plain, for those who have suffered will receive "the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (RSV). Righteousness, then, is the portion of those who accept the discipline of suffering from their Father's hand. The point of this verse is the same as that of 2Co 4:17, where Paul writes: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (cp the closely related emphasis of 1Pe 1:6,7; 4:12-14).

The analogy of planting and a harvest is used also in Psa 126:5,6: "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him." The circumstance is a time of famine and danger, where food needs to be hoarded and carefully preserved; but the man or woman of faith knows that some of the seed must be planted, or there will be no harvest and no food for the next year. And thus the lesson is taught, that we must, at times, "spend" ourselves in the service of God, trusting in the future blessing that He has promised for us!

LATER ON: "Afterwards" (KJV). "How happy are tried Christians, afterwards. No calm more deep than that which succeeds a storm. Who has not rejoiced in clear shinings after rain? Victorious banquets are for well-exercised soldiers. After killing the lion we eat the honey... Our sorrows, like the passing keels of the vessels upon the sea, leave a silver line of holy light behind them 'afterwards'... See, then, the happy estate of a Christian! He has his best things last, and he therefore in this world receives his worst things first. But even his worst things are 'afterward' good things, harsh ploughings yielding joyful harvests. Even now he grows rich by his losses, he rises by his falls, he lives by dying, and becomes full by being emptied; if, then, his grievous afflictions yield him so much peaceable fruit in this life, what shall be the full vintage of joy 'afterwards'? If his dark nights are as bright as the world's days, what shall his days be? If even his starlight is more splendid than the sun, what must his sunlight be? If he can sing in a dungeon, how sweetly will he sing in God's Kingdom! If he can praise the Lord in the fires, how will he extol Him before the eternal throne! If evil be good to him now, what will the overflowing goodness of God be to him then? Oh, blessed 'afterward'! Who would not be a Christian? Who would not bear the present cross for the crown which cometh afterwards? But herein is work for patience, for the rest is not for today, nor the triumph for the present, but 'afterward' " (CHS).

A HARVEST OF... PEACE: Cit Isa 53:5: "the punishment that brought us peace".

TRAINED: With the word "gymnazo", the author returns to the athletic games for his imagery, thus ending the passage with language from the same source as that used in vv 1,4.

Heb 12:12

Vv 12-29: Warning against refusing God's offer.

Vv 12-17: A challenge to holiness and faithfulness. In the light of the positive view of suffering set forth in the preceding section, the author now again gives a pastoral exhortation to his readers. They are to get on with the business of living the Christian life and to resist the temptation to return to their former ways, though such a retreat may appear to be less troublesome. A negative example, Esau, is provided as a further warning to the readers. This exhortation has much in common with preceding ones (eg, 2:1–3; 4:1–2; 6:1–6; 10:32–36), but if anything, it carries even more persuasive power because of the material surveyed in Heb 11 and the argument of Heb 12:1–11.

Vv 12,13: The unusual imagery is drawn from the LXX of Isa 35:3, where the context speaks of a Last Days fulfillment, and the following sentence reads: "Tell everyone who is discouraged, 'Be strong and don't be afraid.' " The exhortation of this verse, as the context in Isaiah indicates, is thus very pertinent to the condition of the readers. The thrust of the exhortation to strengthen your feeble (or "drooping": RSV, NEB) "hands" and weak knees is that the readers should take heart and thereby receive strength to face their difficult circumstances.

The opening words of v 13 are drawn from the LXX of Pro 4:26: "Make level paths for your feet", where the parallel line is "order your ways aright." "Disabled" is literally "turned aside," probably in the sense of "dislocated" (cp RSV: "put out of joint"). Thus, if the readers make their paths straight, living in a way that is pleasing to God, what is lame and painful will be healed, rather than aggravated.

Heb 12:13

MAKE LEVEL PATHS FOR YOUR FEET: "Straight paths" call to mind the figure of the Cherubim-Chariot of Yahweh, whose "legs were straight" (Eze 1:7), and who "went straight ahead" (Eze 1:9) -- which itself suggests the sureness of God's purposes.

Heb 12:14

MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO LIVE IN PEACE WITH ALL MEN AND TO BE HOLY: The language "pursue peace" stems from Psa 34:14 and is found also in Rom 14:19 and 1Pe 3:11 (cp Heb 12:18; 2Co 13:11; 2Ti 2:22; 1Th 5:13). The exhortation to holiness, of course, is common in the NT. Holiness (cp v 10 here) is set forth as an essential requirement of the Christian particularly in 1Pe 1:15: "Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do," words that are followed by a quotation from Lev 11:44,45; 19:2. See also Mat 5:48. If we remember that suffering and holiness are connected, the one producing the other, we may see the present exhortation as relevant to the readers.

WITHOUT HOLINESS NO ONE WILL SEE THE LORD: To "see the Lord" suggests the end of the age. "But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1Jo 3:2). It is worth noting that in two successive beatitudes Jesus refers to "the pure in heart" who will "see God" and the peacemakers who will be called "sons of God" (Mat 5:8,9).

Heb 12:15

SEE TO IT THAT NO ONE MISSES THE GRACE OF GOD AND THAT NO BITTER ROOT GROWS UP TO CAUSE TROUBLE AND DEFILE MANY: The continuing exhortation -- not to fall away or apostasize from the Faith -- is restated in the language of Deu 29:18 about a bitter root that can grow and defile others around it. The appropriateness of the allusion is plain from Deu 29:19: "When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, 'I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.' This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry" -- ie, upon the good as well as the evil! The lapse of one member (or more) of the community will have its inevitable effect on others and is therefore to be prevented insofar as it is possible.

SEE TO IT: Gr "episkopeo" -- the work of an overseer. Everyone in the ecclesia has the duty of "oversight" of the others, to help and strengthen and encourage -- so that none may be lost.

Heb 12:16

SEE THAT NO ONE IS SEXUALLY IMMORAL, OR IS GODLESS LIKE ESAU, WHO FOR A SINGLE MEAL SOLD HIS INHERITANCE RIGHTS AS THE OLDEST SON: The reference in the preceding exhortation to the danger of "missing the grace of God" is now reinforced by the example of Esau. The ecclesia is to attempt to prevent anyone from becoming like him. Esau is described as "irreligious" because he traded his "birthright: for a meal of bread and pottage (Gen 25:33,34). In this regard Esau is the antithesis of the exemplars of faith in Heb 11. He trades off what is unseen and what lies in the future for immediate gratification in the present (ct Heb 11:21,25,26: Jacob and Moses). He thus forfeited the inheritance that was his right as the firstborn.

Heb 12:17

AFTERWARD, AS YOU KNOW, WHEN HE WANTED TO INHERIT THIS BLESSING, HE WAS REJECTED. HE COULD BRING ABOUT NO CHANGE OF MIND, THOUGH HE SOUGHT THE BLESSING WITH TEARS: Lit, "he found no way of repentance". Repentance was not a possibility although he sought it with tears (Gen 27:30-40). This warning concerning Esau's sad plight is reminiscent of the author's warning to the readers in Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-29) about the impossibility of repentance for those who abandon the faith.

Esau found no way back from his decision; the readers must learn from this how serious apostasy is, and not count upon an easy return to the ecclesia if and when times become more convenient. Indeed, the warnings of this verse, for us, are clear: (1) We must not choose present advantage and satisfaction to the detriment of our standing with God; (2) We must never think lightly of the promises of God; (3) For there is no guarantee, for any believer, of ultimate salvation -- apostasy is always a possibility!

Heb 12:18

Vv 18-24: The glory of the believer's present status. The author presents a vivid contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, between the essential character of the old and new covenants. What they are presently tempted to return to, their former Judaism, pales significantly in the comparison (cp 2Co 3:4-18). Those who have been to Mount Zion can never contemplate a return to Mount Sinai.

YOU HAVE NOT COME TO A MOUNTAIN THAT CAN BE TOUCHED AND THAT IS BURNING WITH FIRE; TO DARKNESS, GLOOM AND STORM: The vocabulary of this and the following verse is drawn to a large extent from the LXX accounts of Moses on Sinai (esp Deu 4:11; 5:22-25; Exo 19:12-19). The allusion cannot have been missed by the original readers. The manifestations of God's presence on Sinai were tangible, that is, they could be experienced by the senses (altho, it must be added, to "touch" the mountain brought death: v 20). The fire, darkness, gloom, and storm made a vivid impression on the Israelites.

Heb 12:19

TO A TRUMPET BLAST OR TO SUCH A VOICE SPEAKING WORDS THAT THOSE WHO HEARD IT BEGGED THAT NO FURTHER WORD BE SPOKEN TO THEM: According to Exo 20:19, the people indicated to Moses their fear of God's voice. "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." This same fear is also recorded in Deu 5:25: "We will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer."

Heb 12:20

BECAUSE THEY COULD NOT BEAR WHAT WAS COMMANDED: "IF EVEN AN ANIMAL TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT MUST BE STONED": Cp Exo 19:16. It was not only the actual hearing of God's voice that frightened the Israelites, but also the stern commands he uttered. Our author provides an example in the prohibition against touching the holy mountain. The awesome and absolute holiness of God's presence was unapproachable. Even an animal was to be stoned if it touched the mountain (the quotation is from Exo 19:13).

Heb 12:21

THE SIGHT WAS SO TERRIFYING THAT MOSES SAID, "I AM TREMBLING WITH FEAR": Even Moses was filled with fear at the spectacle of the theophany at Sinai (as he had been at the burning bush: Exo 3; cp Acts 7:32). The words attributed to him are from Deu 9:19, where, after the rebellion of the Israelites in the wilderness, Moses says, "I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord." The author's picture of the giving of the law at Sinai, then, is one in which fear and the sternness of God's commands predominate. This picture stands in very great contrast to the picture of the new covenant situation the author now presents.

Heb 12:22

Vv 22-25: Brief refs to the many visions of Rev: (a) Mount Zion = Rev 14:1. (b) Thousands of angels = living creatures in Rev 4:6. (c) Jerusalem = Rev 21:2. (d) Firstborn = 24 elders (Rev 4:4), Levites and their orders. (e) Mediator... blood of Abel (v 24) = Lamb slain (Rev 5:5,6,9). (f) Who warns... from heaven = the Apocalypse itself, the only revelation of Christ directly from hvn!

BUT YOU HAVE COME TO MOUNT ZION: A mountain of even greater significance than the mountain alluded to in the preceding verses. Mount Zion is synonymous with Jerusalem in the OT (eg, 2Sa 5:6; 2KI 19:21; Psa 2:6; 9:11). The man of faith is said to be "born", spiritually, in Mount Zion (Psa 87:2,5).

THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM: The expectation and hope for the Last Days, referred to in Rev 21:2 (cp Gal 4:26).

HEAVENLY JERUSALEM: Our heavenly calling (Heb 3:1), by a heavenly Father (Mat 18:35), thru a heavenly word (Joh 3:12), presents to us a heavenly status (Eph 2:6), as we await a heavenly image (1Co 15:48,49), to be a heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22), in a heavenly country (Heb 11:16), within a heavenly kingdom (2Ti 4:18). All this constitutes Christ's bre as a heavenly people of God!

THE CITY OF THE LIVING GOD: A city already mentioned as Abraham's true goal (Heb 11:10; cp Heb 11:16). In Heb 13:14 it is written: "we are looking for the city that is to come."

THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF ANGELS IN JOYFUL ASSEMBLY: In Deu 33:2, "myriads of holy ones" are associated with the appearance of the LORD at Sinai; in Dan 7:10, "ten thousand times ten thousand" serve before the throne of God. These hosts are also present in the city, the heavenly Jerusalem (cp the marriage supper of the Lamb, Rev 19:6).

Heb 12:23

THE CHURCH OF THE FIRSTBORN, WHOSE NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN HEAVEN: Cp Luke 10:20 (also cp Phi 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 20:15). The "firstborn" may allude to Esau, the literal firstborn who forfeited his inheritance, and to Jacob, to putative firstborn thru faith (cp vv 16,17). As well, at Sinai there was a nation of "firstborns", Israel, who lost their birthright thru disobedience (or lack of faith), to be replaced by the ecclesia, or church, of the "firstborn" (cp Jam 1:17,18; Rev 14:4; Rom 2:29).

GOD, THE JUDGE OF ALL MEN: Cp H eb 2:3; 4:1; 6:8; 9:27; 10:27,30,31; 12:29. Despite the awesome reality of God as judge (cp v 29), they have no need to be afraid, like the Israelites who were afraid at Sinai even of God's voice, because through Christ they now are free to approach God even in his role as judge. With this freedom we may compare the boldness of the Christian's free access into God's presence through the sacrificial work of Christ (eg, Heb 4:16; 6:19; 7:25; 10:19-22).

THE SPIRITS OF RIGHTEOUS MEN MADE PERFECT: Cp "the Father of spirits" in v 9. The "spirit" is used here to distinguish from the "flesh"; the spiritual life of the believers, as contrasted with the "fleshly" lives of all men. Nothing here need suggest any disembodied "spirits" or "immortal souls"! "Made perfect" recalls Heb 11:40: the promise that all men and women of faith will be granted immortality together, and at the same time -- ie, when Christ returns.

MADE PERFECT: Spiritually (thru justification), and morally (thru sanctification), but of course not yet physically (by glorification).

Heb 12:24

JESUS THE MEDIATOR OF A NEW COVENANT: Cp Heb 8:6; 9:15. This climactic fact is the very basis of all that has been described beginning in v 22. And the reference to the new covenant here redirects the reader to one of the author's central arguments (Heb 7:22; 8:6–13; 9:15). See Lesson, Mediatorship of Christ.

THE SPRINKLED BLOOD: This refers to his sacrificial work of atonement. This imagery has also been utilized earlier in the description of the Levitical practice (Heb 9:13-15,19,21), and also once in the description of the work of Christ (Heb 10:22; cp 1Pe 1:2).

THAT SPEAKS A BETTER WORD THAN THE BLOOD OF ABEL: In Heb 11:4 the author took note of Abel, writing that "by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead." Here, again, the reference is to Gen 4:10, where the blood of Abel "cries out to me from the ground" -- as though for vengeance. This is the message of the blood of Abel. But the blood of Christ speaks of better things -- most conspicuously of the forgiveness of sins associated with the inauguration of the new covenant (Heb 8:12; 10:17,18). Christ's atoning blood speaks of the end of the old covenant and the establishment of the new. It is this blood that has brought the readers to the benefits of the new covenant and to their present glorious status.

Heb 12:25

Vv 25-29: A final warning concerning rejection. Our author turns once again to warning his readers not to lapse from their faith and commitment. This warning, however, is balanced by stress on the security of those who remain faithful. The options are thus finally put before the readers with the utmost clarity. If they reject the truth of the gospel they will not escape judgment. But if they persevere in their faith, they are to know that they are the recipients of a kingdom that has no end. This passage is essentially the conclusion of the author's main argument and appeal.

SEE TO IT THAT YOU DO NOT REFUSE HIM WHO SPEAKS. IF THEY DID NOT ESCAPE WHEN THEY REFUSED HIM WHO WARNED THEM ON EARTH, HOW MUCH LESS WILL WE, IF WE TURN AWAY FROM HIM WHO WARNS US FROM HEAVEN?: This verse and the next build upon the contrast drawn between Sinai and Zion in the preceding passage. The author has presented virtually the same argument several times already (Heb 2:1f; 4:11f; 10:28f). Arguing from the lesser to the greater... he points to the obvious and painful reality of the judgment experienced by the Israelites in their disobedience to the covenant at Sinai and then to the proportionately greater judgment deserved by those who turn away from the greater revelation of the new covenant. In the present instance, the Israelites refused to hear God's voice (cp v 19f), not only literally, but in the sense that they did not obey his commands (cp Heb 3:17f). It was God's voice they refused to hear when he spoke to them on earth through his servant Moses (see Deu 5:4f). And to refuse God's word is to reject God himself. Thus the opening warning is that the readers not refuse him who speaks. The reference to "him who warned them on earth" in the events of Sinai just described (vv 18–21) should probably not be understood as Moses, but as God speaking through Moses. If, therefore, the readers abandon their faith, they... 'reject' the one (NIV adds, probably correctly, 'who warns us') from heaven. That is, they refuse God's word from heaven, the gospel and all that is entailed in the fulfillment it brings. Our author wrote at the beginning of his letter that 'in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son' (Heb 1:2). This is the word from heaven that the readers are tempted to reject. But the greater the light, the more serious is its rejection. The readers are therefore to see to it that they do not reject the truth they have received" (NIBC).

Heb 12:26

AT THAT TIME HIS VOICE SHOOK THE EARTH, BUT NOW HE HAS PROMISED, "ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH BUT ALSO THE HEAVENS": The Law was first given at Sinai, where the voice of God that then shook the earth (cp v 19; Exo 19:18; Psa 68:8). "But now" moves forward to the tnen-present expectation of the fulfillment of God's promises, in the destruction of all natural, worldly kingdoms and powers, and the inauguration of His eternal Kingdom with Christ (cp 2Pe 3:10). The quotation is from Hag 2:6 (cp Hag 2:21): the judgments that will take place in connection with that coming Kingdom. The future shaking of the heavens has already been mentioned by our author in his quotation of Psa 102:25-27 in Heb 1:10–12 (cp Mat 24:29), and more generally in Heb 8:13 (cp Joel 2:30,31; 3:15).

Heb 12:27

WHAT CANNOT BE SHAKEN MAY REMAIN: We have many things in our possession at the present moment which can be shaken, and it ill becomes a believer to set much store by them, for there is nothing stable under the sun; change is written upon all things. Yet, we may derive real comfort from the things that cannot be shaken, which will remain. Whatever your losses have been, or may be, you enjoy present salvation. You are standing at the foot of his cross, trusting alone in the shed blood of Jesus, and no rise or fall of the stock markets can interfere with your salvation in him; no breaking of banks, no failures and bankruptcies can touch that. God is your Father. No change of circumstances can ever rob you of that. Although by losses brought to poverty, and stripped bare, you have another permanent blessing, namely, the love of Jesus Christ. He loves you with all the strength of his affectionate nature -- nothing can affect that. The fig tree may not blossom, and the flocks may cease from the field, it matters not to the one who can sing, 'My Beloved is mine, and I am his.' Our best portion and richest heritage we cannot lose. Whatever troubles come, let us show that we are not such little children as to be cast down by what may happen in this poor fleeting state of time. Our country is Immanuel's land, our hope is the coming Kingdom, and therefore, calm as the untroubled sea of the Apocalypse; we may see the wreck of everything around us, and yet still rejoice in the God of our salvation.

Heb 12:28

THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE RECEIVING A KINGDOM THAT CANNOT BE SHAKEN, LET US BE THANKFUL, AND SO WORSHIP GOD ACCEPTABLY WITH REVERENCE AND AWE: Since this kingdom is the result of God's work, it remains secure through any future shaking of the world. By this thankful frame of mind and the faithful response that will accompany it, we will "serve" God in a way that produces reverence and awe.

AND SO WORSHIP GOD ACCEPTABLY: "Every time you spend a cent, remember this: You are spending God's money, in solemn stewardship. You have nothing of your own. You are a steward of your Lord's goods. Someday you will have to give account. Are you a faithful, or a wicked steward? There is no in-between. Serve God faithfully, and the reward is incalculable. Serve Him unfaithfully, and the penalty is tragic. You should not be serving with an eye to either reward or punishment, but in pure rejoicing love that delights to serve for its own sake. But it is wisdom to keep the consequences in mind. The unfaithful, self-serving, self-indulging steward will be cast in shame into outer darkness. And it could not be any other way. That is only right and just and fair. God's mercy is to those alone who love Him. Do we realize what a total, all-encompassing, transforming thing this Love is -- and must be?" (GVG).

Heb 12:29

FOR OUR "GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE": Reverence and awe remain appropriate words even for the worship and service of the Christian, for God is "the judge of all" (cp v 23); and in the Last Days judgment, he is a consuming fire (cp Heb 10:30,31). This description of God is a quotation from Deu 4:24 (cp Deu 9:9), where Moses is exhorting the people to faithfulness to the covenant. (The figure of the cherubim in Eze 1:4,13 also suggests this aspect of consuming fire.) God remains the same despite the new circumstances of the new covenant. In light of all this, the readers are to be thankful for what is theirs in Christ and to put out of mind all thoughts of lapsing from their faith back to their former way of life.

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