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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,
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

New Defender's Study Bible Notes

12:1 cloud of witnesses. The figure here is one of a racing arena with a great crowd of witnesses in the stands surrounding the runners and their racetrack. The “witnesses” are not merely spectators but “martyrs” (martus is the Greek word translated “witness”), not necessarily having all been put to death, but all having been willing to suffer and die for the faith while also living and witnessing for the Lord. Now, having finished their own course, they are watching our present-day progress in the Christian race. No doubt, each one of us has some of these witnesses (our departed friends and loved-ones) who are especially watching us personally. They are not omnipresent, of course, and being in heaven with the Lord, cannot observe us directly. Nevertheless they, like the angels (I Peter 1:12) are keenly and anxiously interested. Perhaps our ministering angels report to them about us from time to time. Perhaps there is something analogous to a heavenly television room where they can even see us occasionally (since man can transmit television images from space, this does not sound too unreasonable). In any case, the knowledge that angels and perhaps our departed loved ones are anxiously interested in the race we are running should be a real incentive.

12:2 Looking unto Jesus. Far more important than even angels and loved ones, of course, is the fact that the Lord Jesus Himself knows and cares about our progress. In fact, He is even with us continually, by His Holy Spirit, and He also has run the race before us, setting the example “that [we] should follow His steps” (I Peter 2:21).

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