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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
I often hear people refer to this crowd of witnesses as Christians who have died, who are now waiting in heaven cheering us on, like runners at the end of a race. But I don’t believe that is the imagery the author of Hebrews is using, for several reasons. I will spare you, for the time being, my theories on time, space, and eternity, and I won’t delve into the questions that could arise if we assume the saints in heaven are watching us in our fallen condition here below. Those are topics for another time. But the primary reason I think this “cloud of witnesses” refers to something else is the context in which we find it.
Hebrews 12 begins with the word “therefore,” and I’ve heard it said numerous times that when we come to the word therefore in Scripture, we need to ask what it’s there for. Therefore is a conjunctive adverb, a word used to connect two independent clauses. Synonyms include “consequently,” “thus,” “as a result,” and “for that reason.” Whenever we see one of those phrases or words in the Bible, we need to make sure we understand what two clauses or thoughts are being joined together and why. In this case, that means turning back to Hebrews 11.
Known as the “Hall of Faith,” Hebrews 11 traces Old Testament examples of faith from Abel to Abraham to Moses to many of the prophets. The chapter concludes with a summary: These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. That last word, perfect, is the same Greek word we find in Hebrews 5:8-9, where we read the following: Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. Clearly this isn’t talking about Christ being made perfect in the sense of overcoming sin or evolving from a lesser state. Rather, the Greek teleioó means “to bring to an end, to complete.” Compare that with the final uttering of Christ on the cross, “It is finished,”—from the Greek teleó, which means “to bring to an end, complete, fulfill.” Once Christ obediently finished—that is, brought to completion—His work on the cross, He became the source of our salvation. Now, jump back to Hebrews 11, where we see that these great heroes of the faith would be “made perfect”—that is, brought to completion—“only together with us.”
So what does that mean? What is that fulfillment? We see earlier in Hebrews 11 that Abraham was “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God,” and to “a better country—a heavenly one.” Moses, we’re told, chose obedience to God instead of the pleasure of sin “because he was looking ahead to his reward.” Others, we read, were looking toward their resurrection. In short, they were anticipating the fulfillment/completion/perfection of their faith—eternal life with God. Take a moment and read through the chapter and see some of what these people went through and endured and accomplished in faith.
THEREFORE, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses . . .
“Cloud” can be translated as “multitude” or “great company” and the word witness has several meanings. On one hand, a witness is someone who observes something, such as a witness to a particular event. But it also has a connotation of testifying to what was observed, as in a witness in a courtroom. In Hebrews 12:1, the multitude of witnesses aren’t observing us. Instead, they are people who have observed and seen God’s faithfulness and testify—that is, witness—to it by their life of faith, recorded for us. They are to be our inspiration, our guides. We are to follow in their footsteps, emulating their faith.
Based upon that, the author of the book exhorts us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Please note those are two different things. Throwing off sin should be a given for Christians. But what about everything that hinders? Hindrances aren’t necessarily sins in and of themselves. An obsession with TV or Facebook or video games that keeps you from reading your Bible or praying regularly can hinder you. Sporting events or school activities that come before church attendance or participation in a Bible study or small group can hinder you. A devotion to family or friends that take up so much time that you “don’t have time” to be involved in church ministries can hinder you. Watching TV, playing on the school softball team, and loving and caring for family aren’t sinful. But they can impede your walk with Christ, and we’re told to throw off such hindrances.
A common theme seen throughout Scripture is a warning or admonition followed by encouragement. Paul repeatedly uses this method. He doesn’t just tell us what not to do, but reorients our focus toward what to do. The author of Hebrews does the same thing here, encouraging us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Perseverance means to keep on keeping on, to keep going. The image of a race is one used elsewhere in Scripture, and we can take encouragement that we’re not blazing a new trail. The race is marked out for us, chiefly by those who have gone before us (see chapter 11 again).
In addition to following the path of those who’ve gone before us in faith, we’re directed to fix our eyes on Jesus, “the pioneer (other versions use founder and author) and perfecter of faith.” The Greek for perfecter is teleiōtēn, from the same word teleioó we looked at before. The idea is that our faith is all about Jesus. It begins with Him and His work on the cross and it ends with Him bringing us to glory. But look what else we see about Jesus. It tells us He endured the cross. One might say He persevered, as we have just been instructed to do. We see here that we’re not being asked to do anything extraordinary, that Christ hasn’t already done, that other believers haven’t already done. Now, “fixing our eyes on Jesus” is one of those Christian phrases that sounds very spiritual but can be somewhat ambiguous in terms of application. So let me suggest that one of the primary ways we can fix our eyes on Jesus is by looking to His Word. In this particular context, that means studying the faithful who have gone before us. Paul wrote “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” The men and women listed in Hebrews 11 show us how to live a life of faith. When we follow their example, we are following Christ.
Verse 2 also informs us that Christ scorned the cross’s shame. The Roman cross is one of the most barbaric methods of capital punishment ever devised, and also one of the most disgraceful, as the condemned was left to hang naked in public, suffering slowly for all to see. But Jesus turned that on its head. Paul wrote that He “disarmed the powers and authorities” and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” He beat the devil at his own game, and instead of being shamed, Christ was glorified by sitting down “at the right hand of the throne of God”—the ultimate place of honor.
We’re told in verse 3 to consider Him (the Greek would be to consider attentively, to meditate upon) so that we do not lose heart. That idea is drawn out a little more in verse 4, where the author writes, “you have not yet resisted [in your struggle against sin] to the point of shedding your blood.” While there are many Christians around the world who have indeed paid for their faith in blood, the majority of us—especially in America—will never shed a drop of blood for the sake of Christ. Compare that with the sufferings of Jesus on the cross and the plight of some in chapter 11’s Hall of Faith: There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
This was almost something of a reality check to the book’s original recipients, and I think to us as well. Our struggles are real, and I don’t mean to minimize your problems or pain. But the heroes of the faith, including the “pioneer and perfecter” endured far worse. Spurred on by their example, by their witness (and by the knowledge that Christ has conquered the shameful cross and now sits glorified with God the Father), let us follow in their footsteps until that day when we, together with them, will be made perfect. If that isn’t encouraging, I don’t know what is . . .
 Hebrews 11:39-40
 Strong’s Concordance
 John 19:30
 Strong’s Concordance
 Hebrews 11:10
 Hebrews 11:16
 Hebrews 11:26
 Hebrews 11:35
 Strong’s Concordance
 I Corinthians 9:24; II Timothy 4:7
 I Corinthians 11:1
 Colossians 2:15
 Strong’s Concordance
 Hebrews 11:35-38