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).
12:3 sinners against himself. No matter how great may be our trials, they can never compare to those Christ endured for us. All His life He could say: “I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up” (Psalm 88:15). Forsaken finally even by His own disciples, He was prophesied to say in His grief: “Reproach hath broken my heart” (Psalm 69:20), as He died with His heart completely collapsed on the cross. But now, “forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind” (I Peter 4:1). “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). May we, like Him, and like Paul, one day be able to say: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7).
12:5 speaketh unto you. Hebrews 12:5-6 is quoted (interpretively) from Proverbs 3:11-12. A very similar exhortation is found also in Job 5:17. See also Psalm 94:12 and Revelation 3:19.
12:9 Father of spirits. This unique phrase tells us that God not only created the human body and the marvelous mechanism for its reproduction through the process of procreation but that He also has “fathered” a separate “spirit,” apparently at the time of conception for each human body. Thus our earthly fathers were biologically the progenitors of our physical and mental natures, but God Himself was the Father of our spirits. When we die, each body returns to the dust, but “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Note also II Corinthians 5:8.
12:12 lift up the hands. This is quoted from Isaiah 35:3, in the context of anticipating future millennial glories. We as sons of the Father should learn to profit from His chastening as proof of His love and training as He prepares us for great responsibilities in the ages to come.
12:14 holiness. “Holiness” is the same as “sanctification.” As far as our position and standing before God are concerned, we as believers have “peace with God” and are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (Romans 5:1; I Corinthians 1:2). Without these (which means without salvation) we could never hope to see the Lord. We still need to diligently follow after peace and holiness in a practical sense, by His enabling grace, if we would see Him in faith, even now.
12:15 root of bitterness. Bitterness is a characteristic of the ungodly (Romans 3:14) but should never characterize Christians (James 3:14,15; Ephesians 4:31-32).
12:16 Esau. It is remarkable that so many Christians are quick to defend Esau and rebuke Jacob, when God has done neither. Esau was a profane fornicator, with no redeeming qualities whatever, caring nothing about the spiritual significance and responsibilities of the patriarchal birthright, until he thought its loss might diminish his inherited wealth. “I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau”; this was God’s evaluation of the two men and their descendants (Malachi 1:2-3). See notes on Genesis 26–27.
12:18 ye are not come. The description in Hebrews 12:18-21 reminds us of the scene at the giving of the law from Mount Sinai, when God made His conditional covenant with Israel. See Exodus 19 and 20. Once again, those professing Christ are urged not to remain at the fearful Sinai, but to go on to Zion—not to linger under the old covenant, but to enter fully into the new covenant.
12:22 mount Sion. In contrast to the frightening scene at Sinai is the wonderful glimpse of the heavenly Zion (Hebrews 12:22-24). This assemblage is now gathered in heaven, but will all become a glorious reality on earth when the “heavenly Jerusalem” descends out of heaven to the new earth (Revelation 21:2-7).
12:22 innumerable company of angels. Even though a third of God’s created angels followed Satan in his rebellion (Revelation 12:3,4), there still remains an innumerable host of heaven in the faithful angels, presumably associated with the innumerable starry hosts of heaven (Jeremiah 33:22).
12:23 church of the firstborn. The “church of the firstborn” will have all Christians of all times as its members. It will have its first full “assembly” in the future age, but presumably does meet on occasion even now, with the “spirits of [justified] men made perfect” coming together for fellowship and testimony.
12:24 than that of Abel. Compare Genesis 4:10 and Hebrews 11:4, on the “voice” of Abel’s blood.
12:27 things which cannot be shaken. According to Haggai 2:5-7, all things in the world will be “shaken” in the coming judgment period, but the things which cannot be shaken—that is, God’s kingdom (Hebrews 12:28), His salvation (Isaiah 51:6), Christ’s words (Matthew 24:35), and those who do God’s will (I John 2:17)—will remain.
12:29 consuming fire. This phrase is found in Deuteronomy 4:24 and 9:3, as well as Exodus 24:17 and Isaiah 29:6; 30:27; 30:30 and 33:14, where the same words are translated “devouring fire,” in every case referring to God’s fierce judgment against sin. However, this is the only place where this Greek word, meaning “utterly destroying,” is used. Note also II Thessalonians 1:8.