“Wherefore 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 patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
In the famous “faith chapter” (Hebrews 11) which immediately precedes this verse, there are sixteen great “heroes of faith” mentioned by name, in addition to many, many others not named-all of whom had successfully “finished [their] course” (II Timothy 4:7), running the race of faith, as it were, in ages past. God had enabled them all to “obtain a good report through faith” (Hebrews 11:39). Here the Greek for “report” is closely related to that for “witness.” Evidently all who had gone before these had witnessed their race and had been able to give a good witness, or report, concerning them. Today, there are so many who have gone before us into heaven, they have become like a great “cloud of witnesses” watching our race and hoping to give a good witness concerning us, as well.
This cloud above us is obviously being compared to the audience at the Greek games-watching the runners below them striving for the prize. Although some question this metaphor, it does seem, from the whole context, that those who have successfully run the race before us are somehow cheering us on, hoping to witness the triumphant conclusion of our race, too.
Our loved ones in heaven are neither omniscient nor omnipresent, of course, for they are far up in heaven with the Lord. Nevertheless, we can believe that they have access to information concerning us, perhaps through angelic messengers, and that their love for us continues in heaven even more deeply and knowledgeably than on earth, encouraging us also to finish our own course with a good report through faith. HMM