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A chapter by chapter examination of the Book of Hebrews; this book examines the ways in which God has moved towards a better covenant with man. The historical background of the Book of Hebrews as well as contextual discussions add insight and relevance to Hebrews.
Category - Bible Commentaries
The twelfth chapter of Hebrews begins with the word “therefore,” which connects it to the men of faith in chapter 11.
1 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.
Here the Christian life is pictured as a race. One does not run a race with a back pack and expect to win the prize. Once again, it is assumed that not every Christian will finish this race that they started. The primary Old Testament example, of course, is seen in the example of the Israelites under Moses. They all left Egypt when they started their “race” to the Promised Land, but only Caleb and Joshua actually finished the race.
Let me say again that this is not about salvation. It is about attaining the first resurrection as an overcomer. Every Christian (by definition) has started the race by means of the feast of Passover. Some stopped along the way, but many also went to Sinai where they experienced Pentecost, or the infilling of the Holy Spirit. But how many will actually finish the race and receive the prize of the feast of Tabernacles in the end?
The book of Hebrews, of course, is a book about immigration. By definition, a Hebrew is an immigrant, for that is the meaning of the term. Israel emigrated from Egypt to Canaan. Abraham was a Hebrew immigrant from Ur to Canaan. As Christians, we are to immigrate from Judaism to the full manifestation of the Sons of God. The book of Hebrews was written as a map to Sonship.
Like any race, this journey requires us to “lay aside every encumbrance,” which might exhaust us spiritually and keep us from finishing the race. The finish line is Jesus, as we read in verse 2,
2 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.
Jesus has already made this journey. He has already run this race. He has shown the way for all of us. He has proven that this is not an easy race, but He has also shown that it is a journey to the very throne of God. In other words, those who finish this race are the ones who are destined for the throne and who will “reign with Him.” This is the reward of the overcomer. Those who start this race are given citizenship in the Kingdom, but those who finish the race are made rulers with various positions of authority.
3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
There are many obstacles in this race, particularly in the form of “hostility by sinners.” There are many unbelievers who will do all they can to prevent you from finishing the race, even as they attempted to prevent Jesus from fulfilling His call. Even so, the very opposition that Jesus encountered became the inadvertent tool by which Jesus was able to complete His calling on the cross. His enemies thought that they could stop Him by crucifying Him, but if they had known the Scriptures, they would have seen that they were blindly doing precisely what was necessary to complete His Messianic calling.
So also it is with us. No man can prevent us from fulfilling our calling. All opposition can only help us to succeed. Those who oppose us can only tear off our back packs and every other encumbrance. They can only help crucify the flesh. Our enemies, therefore, serve God’s purpose as much as they did with Jesus in His crucifixion.
4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.”
Verse 4 is an indication that this was written prior to the beginning of the Roman persecution, which occurred in July of 64 A.D. Before that time, the only serious persecution that they had experienced was at the hands of the Jews, as described in the book of Acts. This shows also that the book of Hebrews could well have been written by the Apostle Paul, for he was not martyred until the Roman persecutions began.
Verses 5 and 6 are quotations from the Septuagint translation of Proverbs 3:11, 12. Solomon’s use of the term “my son” is prophetic of the manner in which a person comes into Sonship. While Passover makes a spiritual son (baby), Pentecost is designed to discipline that son by the law until such time as he comes into full maturity of the feast of Tabernacles. So most of the divine discipline in the Christian life is part of one’s Pentecostal experience and journey to the Promised Land.
8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
There are many Christians who are so simple minded as to think that any discipline they receive is a form of demonic persecution. Such Christians are like immature children who think that all discipline is an infringement upon their liberty as children of God. They want the rewards of Sonship without undergoing the discipline that would instill the character of Christ in their hearts. Such Christians will be disappointed in the end, for they will not finish the race this side of the Great White Throne, nor will God give them positions of authority in His Kingdom.
9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.
The disciplines of God have a purpose: “that we may share His holiness.” This is the result of laying aside every encumbrance. The encumbrances of the flesh are the things of the flesh which we think are important enough to take with us in our back pack. We do not understand until we are well into this race that those fleshly things, which we think are so important for our comfort, will hinder us from completing this race.
These encumbrances are often the “good things in life.” I am reminded of the stories of the pioneers who crossed the American west. They started out by bringing many good things with them, but along the way, they discovered that they had to choose between those good things and continuing their journey. They could not have both and still hope to finish their journey.
It is the same with the Christian life. This is the inherent weakness of the Prosperity Message today. The idea of Prosperity assumes that God does not discipline His children or deprive them of any good thing that they might want to take along in their back packs. But God is more concerned with our character than with our personal comfort or wealth. It is not that wealth or property is evil. Far from it. But any good thing can be an encumbrance that prevents us from finishing the race. Anything that is more important to us than finishing the race is an idol of the heart, regardless of how good it is.
Ultimately, verse 10 says that purpose of God’s discipline is “that we may share His holiness.” Holiness is not achievable without discipline. To avoid divine discipline is to avoid holiness. We see this with our natural children when they go through life with no discipline. It is especially true of those who have never experienced deprivation and suffering. It is the same with spiritual children.
11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
The disciplines of God can hardly be classified as enjoyable. But in the long run, they give us character. More specifically, God’s disciplines instill in us the character of Christ, who learned obedience by things which he suffered (Heb. 5:8).
Pentecost is the feast day that covers God’s disciplines that bring us to the maturity of full Sonship. Israel’s example in the wilderness is that their entire wilderness experience represented the feast of Pentecost. Just before Moses died, he told Israel the purpose of their wilderness experience in Deut. 8:2-5,
2 And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not, 3 And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. . . . 5 Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as man disciplines his son.
Israel’s wilderness journey established the pattern for the Church. In fact, Acts 7:38 calls Israel “the church in the wilderness.” There is no quick path from Egypt to the Promised Land. The Church has had to undergo its own trials and hunger in its own wilderness, even as Israel was disciplined under Moses.
12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. 14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.
When we understand the ways of God and know that God is our Father, then we can begin to see that God has a responsibility to train us to become like Jesus. That training can be quite rigorous, as many of us well know, but it is worth it all in the end. The simple knowledge and revelation that Fathers are responsible to discipline their children is what strengthens our hands in life. It keeps us from being discouraged when we suffer hunger or deprivation.
Verse 13 says to “make straight paths for your feet.” This again speaks of the race that is set before us. It is difficult to run where the path is full of twists and turns. If the race course is full of ruts, it is easy to twist one’s ankle and put it “out of joint.” These are metaphors for the obstacles we find in our path as we run this race. It is better to choose a smooth, straight path, instead of uneven ground.
We are also to pursue peace and sanctification, without which no man will see God. This is the smooth path in the sight of God. When we thrive on confrontation and dispute instead of seeking to walk in peace with all men, we will easily twist an ankle on such rough terrain. Some Christians think it is necessary to denounce sinners and to make themselves obnoxious in order to achieve an air of personal holiness. “Love not the world,” they say, as they swing their clubs.
As far as is possible, live in peace with all men, but yet one should not interpret this to mean that we ought to conform to the world’s standards of morality. Verse 14 puts sanctification with peace as part of the Christian’s pursuit.
Sanctification, or holiness, has to do with being set apart for divine service. In a way, peace and sanctification balance each other. Peace has to do with living in harmony with the world, but sanctification has to do with being set apart from the world. These two concepts are juxtaposed to show an implied paradox between unity and separation. The biblical idea of unity is pictured in marriage, where the two are one, not because one swallows up the other, but because they are united in love.
One can live in peace with the world without participating in its morally flawed life style. To the extent that the worldly environment disregards the law of God is the extent to which one must be sanctified, or set apart for divine service.
15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;
In Deuteronomy 29, God made a second covenant with the house of Israel at the end of their forty years in the wilderness. In verses 18 and 19, God warned against following the gods of the Egyptians, saying,
18 Lest there shall be among you a man or woman or family or tribe whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations, lest there shall be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit [rosh] and wormwood [lahanaw]. 19 And it shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, “I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart, in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.”
The word translated “wormwood” is a mistranslation. It is opium, which comes from the poppy plant (rosh). Opium is bitter, and its addiction leads to bitter experiences. Thus, opium became a symbol of heart idolatry, because it drove men to do things that normal people would not do. Opium is like a powerful god who rules and controls people mercilessly, and it makes life bitter for its slaves.
A few chapters later, in Deut. 32:32, we read that opium was grown in the region of Sodom and Gomorrah:
32 For their vine is from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison [rosh, “poppies”], their clusters, bitter.
Instead of growing nutritious grapes, they grew poppies instead and cultivated a drug trade. Opium served to mask pain, but had no ability to heal anyone. So Jer. 8:22 asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Balsam oil was extracted in the land of Gilead and was known for its healing powers, and it became a symbol of divine healing. But in contrast, Jer. 6:14 says of opium,
14 And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, “Peace, Peace,” but there is no peace.
For this reason, Hebrews 12:15 warns us against having a root of bitterness in our hearts. The physical reference was to poppies and its opium extract, which had the power to mask the problem and alleviate the symptoms of heart idolatry, but lacked the power to heal or to set anyone free from heart idolatry. Then Esau is presented in the next verses as an example of one with a bitter root in his heart:
16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.
Those harboring idols in the heart may shed tears of regret for not receiving the promise, but they refuse to change their ways. True repentance is the sign that the idols of the heart have fallen. Tears by themselves only portray the desire of the flesh to obtain some blessing being denied as the result of sin. Esau was the pattern of all carnally-minded men who want the blessings from God without having to pay the price of genuine repentance. Esau wanted the blessings while keeping his heart-idol.
18 But you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them.
The mount that Israel approached in the days of Moses was “a mountain that may be touched,” because it was an earthly mountain. When God came down upon that mountain, He was accompanied by a long blast like a trumpet (Ex. 19:16), blazing fire (Ex. 19:18), and a thick, dark, gloomy cloud (Ex. 19:16; 20:21). The sight frightened the Israelites, so that they begged Moses not to make them hear the rest of the law (Ex. 20:19).
The people were struck by fear, because they did not know God as Moses knew Him. We fear the unknown. The Israelites probably thought that the fire of God would consume them as a literal fire, when in fact it merely represented the divine nature that consumes “the flesh.” Moses had already seen such a fire in the burning bush (Ex. 3:2). He had learned by experience that the fire was not the carnal type, for he saw that it did not consume the bush itself.
But the people were afraid, and so Moses had to go up the mount by himself to hear God and to return and tell the people what God had said. This created the problem of the people refusing to hear God’s voice, along with its consequence—lack of faith, which comes by hearing.
20 For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.”
This command was given in Exodus 19:12, and boundary markers were built to keep the people from touching the mount prior to Pentecost. Those boundary markers still stand at the base of Jabal al Lawz, not far from the Gulf of Aqaba in Saudi Arabia. (Paul tells us in Gal. 4:25 that Mount Sinai was located in Arabia.) Those who have been there have taken pictures of it and have written of it in various books such as Larry Williams’ book, The Mount Sinai Myth, and Howard Blum’s book, The Gold of Exodus.
21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.”
Exodus 19:16 says, “all the people who were in the camp trembled.” Apparently, that included Moses as well. The difference was that Moses overcame his fear and was willing to go up the mount, because he knew that his life was in God’s hands.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
This is the prize at the end of the race. The prize is NOT the old Jerusalem, which is Hagar and cannot bring forth the promise. It is the heavenly Jerusalem, “the city of the living God.” It is a different mountain, one that cannot be carnally touched, because it is a spiritual mountain and a spiritual city.
The carnal city of Jerusalem is not only Hagar but is also Mount Sinai, Paul tells us in Gal. 4:25-28,
25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. . . 28 And you, brethren, like Isaac, are the children of promise.
There are many Christians today, especially Christian Zionists, who think that the goal of the Kingdom is Hagar-Jerusalem, ruled by spiritual Ishmaelites (Jews), who are in bondage under the Old Covenant. It has become increasingly popular among such Christians to think that Christians are saved by the New Covenant, and Jews by the Old Covenant. Such Christians would condemn the Jews to remain in bondage forever as children of Hagar, claiming that the New Covenant was given only to non-Jews.
But the book of Hebrews was written to Hebrew people. Paul, Peter, James, and every other New Covenant Christian in the early Church were Hebrews. They were all required to leave the Old Covenant and come under the New Covenant. Their prize was the heavenly Jerusalem, not the old city.
There are even those who teach the so-called Dual Covenant theology, saying that non-Jews are saved by belief in Jesus, while Jews are saved by belief in Moses. Such people are attempting to exempt Jews from accepting Jesus as the Messiah, thinking that Jews can be saved by Moses and the Old Covenant. Such a doctrine condemns Jews to the lake of fire, but makes them feel good on their journey.
25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him [Moses] who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him [Jesus] who warns from heaven.
This admonition goes back to Hebrews 3 and 4, where the author showed how Israel had refused to hear His voice in Exodus 20:18-21. The Israelites refused to fulfill the terms of Pentecost that day, and so the feast was delayed for 1,480 years when the Spirit was given in Acts 2. The refusal of Israel to hear the rest of the law brought the whole nation into blindness and deafness that has continued to this day, except for those who have been able to overcome its effects.
Yet the same blindness and deafness has come upon the Church as well during the Age of Pentecost. If Christians refuse to hear—that is, if Christians refuse to hear His voice through the feast of Pentecost—how much more liable will they be? Israel refused to obey Moses’ admonition to hear the rest of the law, and the consequences were very long lasting. See also how the Church has again refused to hear the rest of the law, and look at the consequences of their lack of hearing and obeying.
The consequence is that most Christians will not inherit the first resurrection, for they will not attain the prize of the Promised Land (that is, the feast of Tabernacles). They will have to await the general resurrection and stand before God at the Great White Throne, where they will be “saved yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15).
26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.”
In other words, there is a prophetic parallel between the shaking that occurred at Mount Sinai and the final shaking of the heavens and the earth prophesied in Hag. 2:6, 7, which reads,
6 For thus says the Lord of hosts, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land, 7 And I will shake all nations, and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord of hosts.
In the context, God lays claim to all the gold and silver (vs. 8) and then says that the glory of this final Temple will be greater than that of the previous—that is, greater than Solomon’s Temple. In his day the people thought that God was speaking of the temple that they were rebuilding at the time, but when it was dedicated, the glory of God did not fill that temple. It is plain, then, that God was speaking about a future temple, a temple greater than one that man might build in Jerusalem. He spoke of the temple of our body.
Likewise, since silver and gold are not needed (as physical metals) to build this spiritual temple, it is plain that these metals are symbolic. Silver is the metal of redemption, and gold signifies the divine nature. This is the material with which this spiritual temple is being built.
While this is taking place, God says that He will shake not only the earth but the heavens also. The purpose of this shaking is to cause men to bring this “silver” and “gold” to finish the work of the temple. Perhaps the earth is being shaken even now, in order to shape the final living stones that will make this Temple complete.
27 And this expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
The purpose of this shaking is to demolish all man-made counterfeits of this new Temple. This would include a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, if such a temple were to be constructed—as so many believe will happen. But we read here that the purpose of this shaking is to remove “those things which can be shaken, as of created things.” The true Temple is spiritual, made of living stones, and is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). Any other carnal temple, made of created things on earth, will be shaken and thrown to the ground.
The heavens will also be shaken this time, because in these latter days, men have built counterfeit spiritual temples as well as physical temples. These spiritual temples are various religions, denominations, orders, and churches, who are building carnal temples in the spirit. Anything that is not built upon the chief Cornerstone, which is Jesus Christ, is a carnal temple, even if it is spiritual (or “mystical”). Any mystical “temple” built upon Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, Joseph Smith, Ellen White, or any other denominational leader will fall before the shaking is concluded.
28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
Those who have received “a kingdom which cannot be shaken” are those who believe the word being presented here in the book of Hebrews. It was written to refute the common Hebrew idea that true religion centered around the carnal temple in Jerusalem. It applies equally today to those who think that another carnal temple will be built in Jerusalem that is acceptable to God.
Those who are living stones in the true Temple will not be shaken as God shakes the heavens and the earth today. But we can only imagine the great wailing among those whose carnal temples and carnal kingdoms begin to crack and fall as God shakes them.
Only the true Temple of God will survive this shaking. This does not mean that all non-believers will be destroyed. It means that the carnal structures which have kept them captive to a false faith and confidence will collapse, setting them free to become part of that true Temple.
In this true Temple, we are able to “offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.” This is what Paul describes in Romans 12,
1 I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
In this true Temple, our bodies are the only acceptable sacrifices that we may present to God, other than the great Sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself. In presenting our bodies as sacrifices, we signify that we are part of the Body of Christ. And “our God is a consuming fire,” for He has accepted our sacrifice by fire and has consumed the flesh fully as a burnt offering.
No other sacrifice will ever be acceptable in the sight of God, this side of the cross. God will not require Jewish Levites to kill animal sacrifices again in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, for God caused the sacrifice and oblation to cease (Dan. 9:27) the moment that Jesus was presented to God at His baptism. The fact that the Jews continued to sacrifice in the temple for another 40-plus years does not mean that those sacrifices were acceptable to God. Nor will they be acceptable in the Age to come.
This kingdom which cannot be shaken is the finish line of the race that we are running even today. Let us finish what was begun in our hearts through Passover. Let us allow Pentecost to do its work of writing His law in our hearts, as we are led by the Spirit. Let us press on to the high calling of God, that we may inherit a better resurrection and the Promised Land. Let us finish the “race” set before us and not be distracted or go off course toward counterfeit finish lines.
That is the message of the book of Hebrews.