Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle which was written unto the Hebrews. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the first five verses of the twelfth chapter of the epistle. When you come to this particular passage of scripture you will find the author of the epistle building upon that which they wrote in the previous chapter. As you begin this chapter you will find the author referencing and speaking of a particular cloud of witnesses which we as the saints of God are surrounded by. In order to truly understand that which the author is writing and speaking about it is necessary to turn and direct your attention to the previous chapter, for within the previous chapter you find the author making mention of several names and figures that were found in the Old Testament. It is important for us to recognize and understand that this great of cloud of witnesses the author is speaking of is all the saints and fathers which lives their lives within their generation during the days of the Old covenant. Beginning with Abel and continuing all the way through the entirety of the Old covenant, all those men and women who faithfully served the Lord their God in their own generation are part of a great cloud of witnesses that now compasses the saints. What’s more, is that when the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews wrote this particular epistle, there were more men and women who faithfully served the Lord their God within their own generation. This would include the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all those who faithfully walked with and served the Lord. I have to admit that I find the words which the author of this epistle wrote incredibly compelling and appealing, for the author of this epistle directly appealed to the lives in the Old Testament—many which were mentioned in the previous chapter. With that being said it is necessary and imperative what we recognize and understand that what we find and what we read in the previous chapter is a wonderful and powerful description of faith in action, thus this great cloud of witnesses is comprised of those who not only professed their faith in the living God, but actually shows their faith by their lives, their deeds and actions.
As we consider this concept of being surrounded and compasses about by such a great cloud of witnesses it’s absolutely necessary that we understand this in reference to the language of runners running a race. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto Timothy his spiritual son in the faith, for the apostle Paul declared how he had fought the good fight, and that he had run the race and finished his course. What’s more, is that the apostle would go on to write and declare how there was laid up for him a crown of righteousness when he crossed over and passed from this life into the realm of eternity. This concept of running a race must be carefully understood and recognized, for when we read of this great cloud of witnesses we are speaking of those who had run their own race with the generation they lived and moved. This great cloud of witnesses are those who fought the good fight of faith within their generation and who passed from this life into the next. What’s more, is that this concept of a great cloud of witnesses speaks of the setting of an arena where runners run a race and there are countless men and women who are sitting in the stands watching them run their race. Those who have made it as part of the great cloud of witnesses were those who had run their own race and are now seated with all those who had run their own race and are now seated in the stands. I can’t help but picture each and every one of us running our own race in the arena called earth, and the arena called life, and we who are presently running our own race are surrounded and compasses about by a great cloud of witnesses. What is so incredibly it amazing about this reality, is that with each generation that passes in the course of history this great cloud of witnesses grows larger, and the stands full up with more souls of those who have run their race with joy and endurance. With each generation that passes this great cloud of witnesses increases in number, and there are more men and women who are watching us run our own race within the generation we are living.
What I absolutely love about this particular reality and concept of this great cloud of witnesses is the use of the word “witness.” I do not believe it is any coincidence the author uses this word to describe those who make up this great host of individuals, for those who are part of this host are not only witnesses to the faith which they demonstrated and manifested, but they are also witnesses of the race which we are all running in our generation. Those who make up this great cloud of witnesses are those who have run their own race, have fought their own fight, and are witnesses to the tremendous struggle that surrounds both. We dare not miss or lose sight of this reality, for it is not by coincidence the author uses the word witnesses when speaking of those who surround us. In all reality, I can’t help but be reminded of two distinct realities which help to further illustrate this concept of witnesses. The first is found in certain descriptions of the Lord Jesus Christ the author made in this particular epistle. The second is found in the first epistle which the apostle Peter wrote unto the diaspora which was scattered abroad. The realities and concepts found in these various passages help us further understand and comprehend just what this concept of a great cloud and host of witnesses truly means. Consider if you will the following passages, which not only speak of the reality of Jesus Christ as our great high priest, but also of our fellow saints—those who are running their race with us in this present generation, and those who have gone before us having already run their race and fought their fight. THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST AND THE CLOUD OF WITNESSES.
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18).
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
“So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou Ray my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 5:5-10).
“but so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless undefined, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore” (Hebrews 7:22-28).
These passages refer to Jesus Christ as the great high priest, which was the main focus of the entire epistle which was written unto the Hebrews. If you read the epistle which was written unto the Hebrews you will find that perhaps the single greatest description and title the author gave to Jesus Christ was that of high priest, for the author wanted to convey unto us the concept and idea that although the work of sacrifice and offering was completed on the cross, and although the work was indeed finished, the work of Christ continued to manifest itself in our lives. Despite the fact that the work of atonement and the work of redemption was completed two thousand years ago, there is a work that still continues on—even to this very day. There is a work and a ministry which began two thousand years ago when Jesus Christ ascended unto the right hand of the Father, was removed from the sight of all those who looked upon Him on the mount of Olivet, and as He sat down at the right hand of all power and all authority. I have previously written concerning Jesus Christ being the sacrifice and offering, but how the sacrifice and offering became the great high priest which ever lives to make intercession for us. What’s more, is that concerning this great high priest, it was written how it behoved Him that he should be made like unto his brethren, in order that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God. It was necessary for Jesus Christ to suffer on the earth being tempted, for in that He experienced that He is able to faithfully succour those who are tempted on a daily basis. What’s more, is that Jesus Christ this great high priest is not one which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in fact in all points tempted like as we are, and yet was without sin. What’s more, is the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews goes on to write that this great high priest ever lives to make intercession for us, which is in and of itself a tremendous and wonderful truth concerning Jesus Christ our Lord. When we think of and when we consider the beauty of Christ, we must not only look at the work which He completed and accomplished while on the earth, but a work that continues on in the realm of eternity. Jesus Christ our great high priest not only ever lives to make intercession for us, but He is also able to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and was in all ways tempted as we are.
Oh, please don’t miss these incredible points and truths, for in order for us to understand this great cloud of witnesses, we must first understand the great high priest who presides over the cloud of witnesses. What began with the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews writing concerning Jesus Christ our great high priest who is able to succour us who are tempted, who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and who ever lives to make intercession for us now transitions to our being surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. In other words, not only are we running the race which is set before us—a reality which is found in this twelfth chapter—but we are also called to fight the good fight of faith. There were those in the Old Testament Who rain the race which was set before them, and there were those in the Old Testament who fought the good fight of faith, but it is important to recognize and understand that Jesus Christ Himself ran the course that was set before Him, and that he finished that course having fought the good fight here on the earth among men. We rarely think about or consider the concept of Jesus Christ running the race which was set before Him, and we rarely consider the concept of Jesus fighting the good fight of faith. Which was before Him, and yet this is the picture the epistle written unto the Hebrews presents unto us. At the helm of this great cloud of witnesses is One who was in all ways tempted as we are, yet was without sin. At the very center of this great cloud of witnesses is one who ever lives to make intercession for us, and one who can be touched with and by the feeling of our infirmities. Please don’t miss this absolutely wonderful and remarkable reality, for one of the greatest truths surrounding Jesus Christ as our great high priest is that He is keenly aware—not only of the infirmities which we face and experience, but also the feeling of those infirmities. We dare not miss or lose sight of the tremendous reality that Jesus Christ was in ALL ways tempted as we are, and experienced tremendous suffering beyond measure while He walked upon this earth. Before we understand this great cloud of witnesses we must recognize and understand that at the very heart of this great cloud of witnesses One who ran His own race, and one who fought His own fight in His generation, and One who faithfully completed the work which was before Him. With that being said, it is imperative that we also consider the words which the apostle Peter wrote in the fourth and fifth chapters of the first epistle he wrote unto the diaspora. Consider if you will the words which the apostle wrote—first in the fourth chapter, and next in the fifth chapter:
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:12-19).
“Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever” (1 Peter 5:5-11).
Please don’t miss that which the apostle Peter wrote in these two chapters, for not only did the apostle Peter instruct and command us to not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try us, as though some strange thing happened unto us. These words have absolutely and completely gripped and captivated me within the depths of my heart and spirit, for if you truly take the time to meditate and ponder the words which are found in this passage of Scripture you will get the sense that the apostle Peter was not only instructing us to not think or find it a strange thing to experience and walk through a fiery trial which is to try, but he was also declaring unto us that we should even expect such fiery trials, such suffering, such troubles, such afflictions, such conflict within our daily lives. The problem many within the house of the Lord face is that they are surprised by fiery trials, and they are surprised by afflictions, and conflict, and suffering, and troubles within their lives. The apostle Peter writes unto those to whom this epistle was sent declaring unto them a reality which many of us often feel and think about—namely that when we experience some fiery trial, or some affliction, or some conflict, or some trouble, something strange has happened to us. I would dare say there are countless men and women among us who somehow have the misguided belief and notion that they are or should be immune from all suffering, from all affliction, from all trials, from all trouble, and from every fiery trial that is before them. The apostle Peter in the fourth chapter instructed and encouraged his audience to not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which was to try them, as though some strange thing happened unto them. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—are you somehow surprised by suffering when it touches your life? Are you somehow surprised by fiery trials and afflictions when they directly impact and affect your life? Are you somehow surprised by troubles and conflict when it seems to enter into and invade your life? I am convinced that one of the greatest dangers within our hearts and lives is that we are somehow surprised by affliction, and are somehow surprised by fiery trials which are to tempt us. What I mean by this is that we simply don’t expect, and we simply don’t look for such trials, such afflictions, such conflict, and such trouble within our lives. Please note and please understand that what I am suggesting is not that we go and look for trouble, or trials, or affliction, or suffering, or conflict, but that we expect them to enter into and invade our lives unannounced and oftentimes without warning.
In the fifth chapter of this epistle written by the apostle Peter he instructs us to resist the devil steadfast in the faith, but he also goes on to declare unto us that not only are to resist the devil steadfast in the faith, but also knowing that the3 same afflictions which we are presently and currently experiencing are accomplished in our brethren all over the world. It is incredibly dangerous for us to be selfish with our suffering, and selfish with our trials, and what I mean by that is that we become selfish with our suffering and our trials when we think that we are somehow the only one who is experiencing such a conflict within our hearts and lives. We get ourselves into a lot of trouble and do ourselves a great disservice when we somehow think and believe that our suffering and our trials are somehow independent and exclusive within our own lives and aren’t found within the lives of those around us. The apostle Peter declared unto those to whom he was writing this epistle that the same afflictions which are being accomplished in us are also being accomplished in our brethren all around the world. In other words, we are not the only ones who are experiencing the afflictions, the trials, the conflict, the troubles, and the suffering that is found within our lives. What’s more, is that we aren’t the only ones who have experienced the afflictions, the trials, the conflict, the suffering, the troubles, and the pressure within our generation. When I think about this great cloud of witnesses that is found in the twelfth chapter of the epistle written unto the Hebrews I can’t help but think about how this great cloud of witnesses were witnesses to the same temptations which we ourselves are presently walking through and experiencing. This great cloud of witnesses which compasses us about are witnesses to the fiery trial which stands to try one’s faith, for they themselves experienced such a great trial within their own lives. Perhaps the single greatest example of this “fiery trial of faith” and its connection to the great cloud of witnesses is a literal fiery trial which came upon Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael in the prophetic book of Daniel during the time of the Babylonian captivity. You will read in the third chapter of the Old Testament prophetic book of Daniel that these three Hebrew men refused to bow down and worship the image of gold Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plain of Dura in Babylon, and as a result of their seeming defiance, they were cast bound and alive into the fiery furnace—i.e. the fiery trial. When the apostle Peter writes and speaks about these “fiery trials,” I can’t help but think about these three Hebrew men who stood witness and testament—not only to the fact that fiery trials do in fact exist, but also that they themselves experienced their own literal fiery trial. What the apostle Peter wrote and spoke about in a figurative sense these three Hebrews experienced in a literal, natural and physical sense.
The apostle Peter wrote concerning the afflictions we face, and how those afflictions are being accomplished in our brethren which are in the world, but I would also submit and present unto you the reality that those afflictions have already been worked and accomplished in those which make up this great cloud of witnesses which compasses us round about. This word “witness” is absolutely and incredibly powerful when it is used to speak of this great host, and this great cloud of witnesses, for they are witnesses to the countless struggles, the countless afflictions, the countless trials, the countless troubles, and the constant conflict we face. There is one individual who immediately resonates with me concerning those in whose lives such afflictions are being worked and accomplished. I speak of none other than the apostle Paul, for the apostle Paul was absolutely no stranger to fiery trials, conflict, suffering, affliction, and the like. In fact, if you read the eleventh and twelfth chapters of the second epistle written unto the Corinthians you will find the apostle Paul writing concerning his own interactions with such realities within his life. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote—first in the eleventh chapter of the second epistle unto the church in Corinth, and second in the twelfth chapter of the epistle:
“I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing hype yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man e salt himself, if a man smite you on the face. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit Wherein soever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labour more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was an beaten with rods, once was I stones, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep in journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watching often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities” (2 Corinthians 11:15-30).
“It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I. knew such a man, (wether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forebear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
Through these words we encounter the apostle Paul who was absolutely no stranger to fiery trials, or afflictions, or suffering, or conflict, or troubles, or pressure, or pain, or temptations. When I think of this great cloud of witnesses being made up of those who are witnesses to the struggles, the conflicts, the afflictions and the fiery trials we face within and throughout our lives, I can’t help but think of the three Hebrew boys in Babylon who endured a literal fiery trial, and the apostle Paul who regularly and routinely boasted of his affliction, of his suffering, and of those trials and infirmities which he regularly faced. The words which we find in the twelfth chapter of the epistle written unto the Hebrews are absolutely incredible and powerful, for they bring us face to face with the fact that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—not only witnesses to the fiery trials which try us, and the afflictions which are being worked in us, but who are also witnesses of the same realities which were present within their lives. This great cloud of witnesses we are surrounded and compassed by are witnesses of the demonstration and manifestation of faith which was found in their lives within their generation, and is now desperately needed among us within our lives. All those whom the author wrote and spoke about in the eleventh chapter make up this great cloud of witnesses—those who “through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had a trial of cruel mocking and scourging, yea, more over of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worth)_ they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:33-38). The author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews reminds us of this great cloud of witnesses which surrounds and compasses us round about, and then uses that reality to encourage us to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us, in order that we might run with patience (endurance) the race that is set before us. What’s more, is that the author goes on to instruct us to look unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, as well as to consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest we be wearied and fain in our minds. We are called to run with patience and endurance the race which is set before us, and we are called to run that race looking unto Jesus who not only begins and authors our faith, but who also perfects, completes and finishes our faith. What’s more, is that we are to consider Jesus who is the Christ, lest we be wearied and faint in our minds. Let us pay close attention to this final admonition, for before we ever faint with our physical bodies, we first faint and grow weary with our minds. I have never seen anyone faint physically who has not also first fainted and grown weary within their minds. I am absolutely and utterly convinced that we must guard and be cognizant of the condition of our minds, for one never faints or grows weary physically who has not first grown weary and fainted first within their minds. Oh that we would run with patience the race that is set before us, and that we would be strengthened within our minds in order that we might not faint or grow weary in and with our minds, and our physical bodies follow immediately behind that.