Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
“since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us” What can we understand that to mean? The verse begins with the word “therefore,” or some versions have “since” or “wherefore.” The Greek is τοιγαροῦν toy-gar-oon’, which means “truly for then, that is, consequently.” When these Biblical letters were written, there was no such thing as chapters and verses, so the thought is simply continuing from 11:39-40, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” Those persons listed in the chapter 11 “Hall of Faith” make up the cloud, but probably not just them; no doubt it is all who have gone on before us. That word “perfect,” by the way, in Greek is τελειόω tel-i-o’-o, “to complete, that is, (literally) accomplish, or (figuratively) consummate; consecrate, finish, fulfil.” In other words, as Vincent says, “The whole creation, in all its successive aeons, moves together toward the one far-off, divine event.” Or, the race (of chapter 12) is not complete, or finished, until the last “runner” is in.
Wuest says this about “cloud:” “The word ‘cloud’ here is not nephele which is a detached and sharply outlined cloud, but nephos, a great mass of cloud covering the entire visible space of the heavens, and therefore without definite form, or a single large mass in which outlines are not emphasized or distinguished.”
I have to confess that I do not like and complain often, particularly in the winter, about those days that are nothing but gray – no rain, no snow, nothing. No visible clouds, no sharp outlines of clouds, no cracks of blue, but just dull, boring, lifeless gray. I like sunshine and blue sky. Or even cloudy days where you can actually see the clouds. Maybe even days where the sky is darkened by rain or brightened with snow. But when I read what Wuest said, it hit me that perhaps I should change my tune about those plain jane gray days. Maybe they come to remind me/us of the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, the many who remained faithful unto the Lord in spite of whatever they faced; perhaps even the many being martyred in our current day. The gray no doubt infers that what they went through was not so joyful, but gray days do finally pass. “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b).
Can those who have gone before us see us now? That is debated by commentators and scholars; Scripture is pretty much silent, just some vague hints, verses about clouds, etc. Wuest comments, “As to the idea of these Old Testament saints looking down from heaven and watching the lives of the saints on earth, the following might be said: Vincent teaches it, Alford insists upon it, and Expositor’s says that if the idea is there at all, which is very doubtful, it is only introduced by the words ‘running’ and ‘race’.” Wuest feels that perhaps it may refer to the testimony of these saints of old, they being examples to spur on the current “runners” in faith.
So we need to “lay aside every encumbrance.” Expositor’s says: “The Christian runner must rid himself even of innocent things which might slow him. And all that does not help, hinders. It is by running he learns what these things are. So long as he stands, he does not feel that they are burdensome and hampering” (emphasis mine).
And then “lay aside…the sin which so easily entangles us.” Oswald Chambers noted that this does not refer to indwelling sin, “but to the spirit of the age, literally, the sin ‘which doth closely cling to us,’ or even the sin ‘which is admired of many,’ the thing that hinders us in running and keeps us attached. We have to see that we run alertly and run watching, run with patience, continually readjusting ourselves and determinedly holding loosely to all other things…Our Lord said to His disciples, ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem.’ There are a great many things that are quite legitimate, but if they are not on our way to Jerusalem, we do not do them.’”
The Greek word for “entangles” is εὐπερίστατος yoo-per-is’-tat-os, which refers to “a competitor thwarting (a racer) in every direction.” Wuest says, “It speaks of a sin which readily or easily encircles the Christian runner, like a long, loose robe clinging to his limbs. The sin may be any evil propensity. Here the context suggests the sin of unbelief which was the thing keeping the unsaved recipients of this letter from putting their faith in Messiah as High Priest.”
“Run with endurance” – ὑπομονή hoop-om-on-ay’, “cheerful (or hopeful) patience, or, waiting; includes both passive endurance and active persistence.”
“Set before us” – πρόκειμαι prok’-i-mahee, “to lie before the view, that is, (figuratively) to be present (to the mind), to stand forth (as an example or reward); like a road that stretches out before one’s gaze.”
“Fixing our eyes upon Jesus/Yeshua” – ἀφοράω af-or-ah’-o, “to consider attentively; to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something; to turn one’s mind to a certain thing.” When one is involved in something that requires complete attention – a sports event, driving, walking, running, cooking, you name it – and one takes their eyes off of the moment, gets distracted, puts their nose to their phone, etc, trouble can come very quickly. The same goes for our faith “run.” We’ve got to be and remain focused on our goal – Yeshua. He is the author, which also means the captain, the prince, the chief leader; “one that takes the lead in anything and thus furnishes the example.” Vincent’s Commentary says, “In our passage it describes Jesus as the One who in the pre-eminence of His faith far surpasses the examples of faith commemorated in chapter 11.”
“The perfecter of our faith” – τελειωτής tel-i-o-tace’, “a completer, that is, consummator; finisher; to carry through completely, to finish, to make perfect or complete.” Thayer’s Commentary speaks of our Lord as “one who has in his own person raised faith to its perfection and so set before us the highest example of faith.”
“Who, for the joy set before Him” – Wuest explains, “The words ‘who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross,’ are usually interpreted as meaning that the Lord Jesus endured the cross in order that He might obtain certain joy which was placed before Him as a reward for His sufferings. But this interpretation is based upon an erroneous use of the preposition ‘for.’ The Greek preposition is anti, the predominant use of which in the first century was ‘instead of.’” Vincent says, “The joy was the full, divine beatitude of His preincarnate life in the bosom of the Father; the glory which He had with God before the world was. In exchange for this He accepted the Cross and the shame…The heroic character of His faith appears in His renouncing a joy already in possession in exchange for shame and death.”
What He did for us! “…endured the cross, despised the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Wuest translated the two verses as such: “Therefore also, as for us, having so great a cloud of those who are bearing testimony surrounding us, having put off and away from ourselves once for all every encumbrance and that sin which so deftly and cleverly places itself in an entangling way around us, with patience let us be running the race lying before us, looking off and away to Jesus, the originator and perfecter of this aforementioned faith, who instead of the joy then present with Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
May your “run” be or become unentangled, and may you finish the race well.