Hebrews 12:1-13


Hebrews 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 marked out for us.

The first three words of this verse range us along side of the Old Testament believers mentioned in chapter 11. Even the believers in the Old Testament are a countless host. They are witnesses in the sense that they are examples to us of faith and endurance. They surround us. God has placed them all about us in our thinking to encourage us.

"Let us lay aside everything which hinders." Paul is using the metaphor of a runner. Runners put off every encumbrance.

"Which so easily besets us, which clings so closely, which holds on to us to tightly, which we easily fall into, that which so readily entangles our feet." Don't limit this to besetting sin. It denotes the flesh, the Old Adam. Read Romans 7.

"Let us run." This is the God-given ability to stand up under trying circumstances. Running a race is strenuous work. We are told that it is laid before us. God has laid it before us. God has placed a mighty host around us and has laid the strenuous race before us.

God encourages Christians through their mutual and reciprocal encouragement. Bengel identifies sin here with unbelief.

Guthrie: These witnesses bear witness to the faithfulness of God in sustaining them.
Lenski: Their past life and their death still speak to us about what faith really is.
Bruce: It is not so much they who look at us as we who look to them -- for encouragement.

Correct. The Old Testament saints here are not spectators.

Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

In this verse Jesus is pictured solely as Savior. How do we run? By looking exclusively to Jesus. The word means to rivet one's attention on one person or thing. Note that Jesus is place last for emphasis. The name "Jesus" emphasized His humanity here. He is called "the Author and the Completer of the faith."

Westcott: He Himself placed the faith in us. He Himself gave the power.
Luther: "The Beginner and Completer of faith.

The synergistic non-Lutheran commentators and translators want to picture Jesus here as "first believer" or "pioneer" or "leader." No. Not only is Jesus the object of faith, He is also the giver of faith.

The promises of God in the Old Testament caused the faith in the Old Testament believers. Paul tells us: "For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us." 2 Corinthians 1:20. Look at John 8:56. There is only one, true faith. That is the point of Hebrews 11:39-40.

God laid the joy before Jesus. Look at John 15:11; 16:20-22,24; 17:13. Jesus endured the cross. He stood up under very trying circumstance. How did He endure? By despising the shame. On this look at Galatians 3:13 and Philippians 2:8. This indicates Jesus' attitude, not the lack of intensity of shame. The point here is that His suffering came to an end, He was victorious and now reigns forever. That should hearten us in our daily battle with sin as we run the race.

Guthrie: An attitude which does not ignore the shame, but hold it to be of no consequence in view of the joy.
Bengel: The shame which was very great along with the cross. Look at 13:13; 1 Peter 2:24; Matthew 27:35.
Westcott: In one form or other the hope of the vision of God has been the support of the saints in all ages. John 19:26ff; Psalm 17:15.
Lenski: The completing takes place when Christ gives to faith and to the believer 'the things hoped for' 'the things no seen.'
Bruce: This disgrace Jesus disregarded, as something not worthy to be taken into account when it was a question of His obedience to the will of God.

Hebrews 12:3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

This verse portrays Jesus as the example of endurance. The verse says that we must do this lest we fall away.

The first word in Greek is not translated, but it could mean "Yea!" It is confirmatory. This verse speaks of apostasy and unbelief, not mere tiredness. It is a picture of an athlete relaxing before his goal is reached. That is a pitiful sight. We dare not give up.

Guthrie: Both here and in verse 2 the readers are turned away from themselves to focus their gaze on Christ.
Westcott: The opposition in words is the beginning of every form and act of opposition. Look at Luke 4.

The Gospels bear out the truth of verse 3. Think of Jesus' many verbal conflicts with Jews, Pharisees, etc. They are summed up here with the word "his sinful enemies." Their hatred was aimed at Him.

Westcott: If the leader bears the brunt of the battle the soldier can follow.
Lenski: Now at last the example of Jesus is touched upon in one point, and that is perseverance. In verses 1-2 we are to keep our eye on the beginning and finisher of the faith, on what he did to make him this. Now we are to take him into consideration as the One who has perseveringly endured in order that we may not grow tired and relax.

Well said. The writer makes certain that the reader will not understand mere physical tiredness. He adds a word that means spiritual weariness, apostasy.

Kretzmann: Just as Jesus did not grow weary in His work of saving souls, so we also must not let spiritual fatigue take hold of our souls nor permit our hearts to grow faith in the great work of sanctification.

We dare not give up.

Hebrews 12:4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Here begins a new paragraph and a new thought, the thought of chastisement. This is a reference to suffering and persecution, look at 10:32-36. It would seem that the writer still has Jesus in mind. He resisted to the very point of a bloody death. Not yet had his hearers experienced that.

Again we have a word that denotes the strenuous efforts of an athlete. Americans are very conscious of the strenuous efforts put forth by their athletes. That's how strenuously they should fight sin. The conflict is not merely with sinners, but with sin, whether it be in the Christian himself, verse 1, or in his adversaries, verse 4. A Christian should not be naive when it comes to sin. 1 John 2:1 reads: "My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

Again and again Scripture warns us not to sin. But if anyone has sinned he should look immediately to Jesus who forgives sin. This is not an invitation to sin.

Hebrews 12:5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,

It has been suggested that "and" here means "furthermore." And some are of the opinion that this verse amounts to a question: "Furthermore, haven't you forgotten, etc?"

Here the writer passes from persecution to chastisement and discipline. They have forgotten, they have put it out of mind. The sinful flesh hates correction and discipline.

Guthrie: It is because men do not naturally recognize the need for discipline that they lose courage when punished.
Bengel: This is an illustrious testimony to the authority of the books of Solomon, Proverbs 3:11f.
Westcott: The idea of encouragement goes beyond any single rendering. The divine word, to which appeal is made, is at once an encouragement and a consolation . . . The utterance of Scripture is treated as the voice of God conversing with men.

Verses 5-11 are addressed to sons. They are redeemed and therefore are dear to God. Look at John 8:35-36; Galatians 4:7. But invariably they face chastisement. Our Father is neither permissive, which amounts to denying total depravity, nor cruel, which amounts to denying love.

Reference here is to disciple in the sense of painful correction.

And now we have an example of Hebrew parallelism. The second line explains and expands the first line. How does a person deem the Lord's correction small? By growing tired when correction takes place. "When you are corrected by Him."

Kretzmann: These words are addressed to sons, to children, and that in itself is a distinction.

Hebrews 12:6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

An explanation. Verse 6 explains verse 5. Note the parallelism again.

Guthrie: The linking of discipline with love is difficult to grasp, but is basic to a right understanding of the Lord's dealings with his people. Chastisement that springs from love cannot be vindictive, but must always be beneficial. . . . Indeed chastisement becomes synonymous with sonship, as the next verse shows.

"To treat with good in mind." "Discipline" and "punishment" should not be watered down. They mean "to whip, to spank." Every child who has been brought up correctly will recognize immediately what these words mean.

"Son" denotes a beloved child, not just an offspring.

Lenski: Sonship and fatherly chastisement invariably go together.
Bruce: These words remind the man who would be truly wise that when hardship is his lot he should accept it as God's method of training and disciplining him, and as a token that he is really a beloved son of God.

Blessed is that person who, by the grace of God, correctly understands Matthew 5:1-12! A believer is only under God's love. Look at Romans 8:39.

Hebrews 12:7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?

The writer combines endurance which was stressed in verses 1-3 and sonship which was mentioned in verses 5-7. And as Jesus the Son of God endured, so the Christian, as a son of God, must endure for the purpose of discipline. This verse says that when discipline, affliction, trouble comes into our lives, we must realize that God is dealing with us as sons. It is a sign of His love, not of His displeasure.

"For" introduces an axiom. It amounts to a rhetorical question which requires an affirmative answer. This part of the verse is the rule, not the exception. It says: "Every father chastises his son."

Westcott: Patient endurance alone converts suffering into a beneficent lesson.
Lenski: Sonship and fatherly chastisement invariably go together.

We are deeply impressed with a Christian who accepts discipline as a blessing.

Hebrews 12:8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

This verse is limited to divine sonship. It is cast as a fact or particular condition. In such cases the "if" is intended to cause the reader to meditate on whether or not this is true in his own case.

All Christians have partaken of discipline, chastisement. Therefore, if you are without chastisement (and that's what the flesh wants) then you are illegitimate. This verse makes us realize that chastisement is part and parcel of being a Christian. No cross, no crown.

Guthrie: The same point is even more strongly driven home in this verse . . . . The father does not give the illegitimate son the same rights and privileges, neither does he bother to discipline him. The absence of discipline, therefore, reflects on the status of the person.
Primasius: It must be noted that not everyone who is whipped is a son, but every who is a son is whipped.

Hebrews 12:9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!

"Moreover" introduces another argument. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater. A contrast is being drawn between the physical and spiritual, the temporal and eternal.

"We respected them," woe be to the man who does not pay this respect.

"Should we submit" is translated "we shall be subjected." The grace of God alone causes us to be subjected to the heavenly Father. God is the Father of spirits, One Who is far higher than our earthly father, One Who is eternal.

As a result of willing obedience we shall live. This means to possess the true life. Look at John 3:15-16.

Guthrie: When elevated to the spiritual plane, discipline becomes an essential feature of true life.
Theophylact: He adds 'and we shall live' to show that the man who refuses to submit does not live.

In other words, he remains in spiritual death. Something to think about.

Oecumenius: This life means to be subject to God.

We think here of Jesus Who, though He deserved no punishment, willingly took punishment upon Himself so that I might live forever. Look at John 10:18. How much more must not I willingly submit when God disciplines me!

Hebrews 12:10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.

This is a further explanation. We still have a lesser to greater argument. But now the writer mentions two points which bring out this contrast more clearly.

"For a few days" is in contrast to "with the result that we partake of His holiness." This points to the preparation in this life for the life to come.

"According to that which seems best to them" is in contrast to "for that which is profitable." This indicates the certain and higher wisdom of the God of spirits.

Guthrie: The heavenly Father is concerned with our eternal welfare.
Bengel: The holiness of God, that is, who is holy, to whom men do not attain unless they be sanctified; and they who attain to him, shall enjoy the spiritual life for ever. See 2 Peter 1:4.

This very plainly implies that God's discipline of the Christian prepares the Christian for everlasting life. See John 15:1-8.

Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

The contrast of now and later results in a contrast of attitude toward discipline. Note that the writer is saying that this is true both of discipline as administered by the earthly father and that administered by the heavenly Father. This is true of all ages. Ever when people get old, discipline still seems grievous to them.

Lenski: This seeming is due only to our shortsightedness.

The athletic metaphor is still in the writer's mind. Though the first part of the verse is applicable to all cases of chastisement, it would seem that the second part applies only to the child of God who has the correct attitude toward the chastisement.

"Peaceful or peaceable fruit of righteousness." But what does that mean? Contextually it means that the response of the chastised person is in keeping with the righteous and holy will of God

Guthrie: The combination of peace and righteousness is natural, for no true peace can exist without righteousness . . . . When a man gets right with God his heart has peace. . . The genitive can be understood either in the sense of 'consisting of righteousness' or in the sense of 'belonging to' righteousness.
Bengel: The peaceable fruit, namely, of righteousness, endued with which man joyfully approaches the holiness of God.
Lenski: Its peacefulness is the taste of sweetness when we experience when all is well between us and God.
Bruce: The man who accepts discipline at the hand of God as something designed by his heavenly Father for his good, will cease to feel resentful and rebellious; he has stilled and quieted his soul, Psalm 131:2, which thus provides fertile soil for the cultivation of a righteous life, responsive to the will of God.

Where there once was momentary pain there is now lasting righteous submissiveness.

Hebrews 12:12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

"Therefore" looks back to verses 4-11 and possibly to verse 1. The writer is saying in this verse and the next: "Discipline is necessary and salutary. See to it that it be effectual." In verse 12 he is saying: "Brace up" and in verse 13: "Go straight." The implication is clearly that the recipients of the letter were giving in to doubt, despair, and laxness

Guthrie: The writer addresses a direct exhortation to his readers. The 'therefore' shows the dependence of this exhortation on the previous discussion. It is couched in Old Testament language, the first part coming from Isaiah 35:3 and the second part, verse 13, from Proverbs 4:26 in the LXX. It is probable that this section continues the athletic figure of speech. Drooping hands and weak knees are typical of low spirits. They portray persons who have become incapable of action through sheer exhaustion.
Westcott: The Apostle urges those who were themselves in danger to help others in like peril.
Lenski: The readers are allowing themselves to grow disheartened amid the persecutions that have been coming upon them.
Hebrews 12:13 "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Westcott: The words may be rendered 'make straight paths for your feet,' i.e., for the feet of the whole society to tread in; or 'with your feet,' as giving a good example to others . . . . The context favors the first rendering.
Guthrie: The picture of a lame man putting his disabled leg completely out of joint because of the unnecessary roughness of the path vividly brings home the seriousness of ignoring spiritual and moral weakness.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 65-69. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index