The Meaning of Hebrews Chapter 12

In Hebrews Chapter 12, we find a continuation of the author’s exhortation to the early Christian community, encouraging them to persevere in their faith and reminding them of the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before them. 

Hebrews 11 chronicles the lives of men and women of old who proved their faith through endurance. These faithful servants bear witness to us of what it means to press on in faith in the midst of persecution and trial. They kept their eyes on the promised Savior, even though they didn’t see Him. 

You and I have received the substance of what they were looking forward to – eternal atonement and salvation in Christ.

What is the Meaning of Hebrews Chapter 12?

This chapter can be divided into several key sections, each with its own unique message and significance. Let’s explore the different sections of Hebrews Chapter 12.

This chapter begins with a “therefore”. Therefore, we should consider what the author is about to say in light of what was said in the previous section. 

We must remember that the book of Hebrews was written to people who were being persecuted. They had walked away from Judaism and were facing bitter opposition. There was a danger that they might interpret their suffering as a sign of God’s displeasure. They might become discouraged and give up. Worst of all, they might be tempted to return to the temple and its ceremonies. The author wants them to understand that trial and persecution do not indicate displeasure from God. 

Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. – 2 Timothy 3:12

We also learned in Hebrews 10:36 that the Hebrews were in need of endurance. The author is about to explain how God can use the trials and persecutions they faced to produce a harvest of endurance in their faith.

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Hebrews 12:1-2 – Look to Jesus

Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the 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. 

We have seen the example of faithful servants of God who endured in their faith. Now, it’s our turn!

The author actually gives us a formula for how we can endure:

  • Remember the faithful witnesses
  • Rid yourself of every obstacle and sin that easily entangles you
  • Run with endurance the race set before you
  • Look to Jesus, the author and perfector of faith. 

The word for ‘race’ is the ancient Greek word agona, a word used for conflict or struggle of different kinds. Paul used this word multiple times in his epistles (Philippians 1:30, Colossians 2:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7).

While not naming any one specific sin, the author may have been referring to the sin of unbelief. Unbelief had kept Israel out of the Promised Land, and unbelief keeps us from entering into our spiritual inheritance in Christ. The phrase “by faith” (or “through faith”) is used twenty-one times in chapter 11, showing us that faith in Christ is what enables us to endure.

Sin can hold us back. However, things that may not be sin, but are merely hindrances that can keep us from running effectively the race God has for us.

The word ‘fixing’ means to look away from everything else.

The author makes it clear that we need to rid ourselves of these things. Not all the choices we make are clearly black and white – good or bad, right or wrong. Sometimes, with the help of the indwelling Spirit, we need to judge and discern what things in life are holding us back from running towards the Lord. 

Hebrews 12:3-11 – The Discipline of the Lord

hebrews bible study

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 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 punished by Him; 6 For whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He punishes every son whom He accepts.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

The writer wanted his readers to know that suffering is not a sign of God’s rejection. God’s grand design for redemption included the suffering of His Son. Jesus gives us the ultimate example of what it means to endure through suffering. 

Related: Blessings of Suffering

Sometimes, we experience suffering because of our own sin or bad choices. Other times, like in the example we see in Jesus, it’s because of obedient and righteous living. God’s Word tells us that those who want to live for Jesus will suffer persecution.

The beautiful reality of being a child of God is that He can use all suffering, self-inflicted or not, for our good. Romans 8

Suffering can become a tool when we surrender it to God. He can use the difficulty and trials in our lives to shape and mold us into the image of Christ. 

Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. God’s promise to complete the work that He began was comforting to these Christians. (Philippians 1:6). 

The same promise applies to us today. God will not abandon us in themidst of hard times. He will use the struggle to perfect our faith in Christ.

Also, we should never view God’s discipline as a sign of His rejection. Instead, we need to think of it as God treating us as His sons and daughters. It is a sign that we are loved by Him.

hebrews chapter 12

Hebrews 12:12-17

Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.

14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; 

We have been given a birthright. Our eternal inheritance includes life in God’s kingdom and intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father. 

The author has given exhaustive reasons to be strong in the Lord and to put off discouragement, The pictures here (strengthened hands and knees, “straight-ahead” feet) speak of readiness to work and move for Jesus and His kingdom. 

It’s time to put off all the things that hinder us and start moving and working as children of God.

As God’s children we have a role to play in His kingdom. God wants to partner with us through the indwelling Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of His Kingdom and His will on earth as it is in heaven. 

16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.

Many Christians today sell a birthright of intimacy with God as cheaply as Esau sold his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34 and 27:30-40).

God’s grace does not fail, but we can fail to depend on God’s grace. Esau warns us not to live for things of this world, but rather focus on things that will produce eternal value.

Hebrews 12:18-24

The author begins this section by using the word “For…”. He is connecting what he is about to say to what he just said in the previous section. 

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” 21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”) 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

He goes on to compare two different mountains. The first represented the Old Covenant Law. The second illustrates the New Covenant of grace in Christ. The city of the living God is the city that the patriarchs were looking forward to in Hebrews 11:10, 14-17.

The blood of Abel refers to the blood of the sacrifice he made – Abel made the first recorded sacrifice from man to God. The blood of Jesus speaks better things than the blood of Abel’s animal sacrifice.

However, it is also true that the blood of Jesus speaks better things than the blood Abel shed as a martyr. 

“The blood of Abel cried, “justice must be satisfied, bring vengeance”. The blood of Jesus cried, “justice has been satisfied, bring mercy.” – David Guzik Commentary of Hebrews Chapter 12

The author is telling them to “…strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed”. 

Why? Because we have been reconciled to God through faith.

We have access to the strength and hope we need to persevere through any trial that may come our way. That access is through Jesus who invites us to come and enjoy the presence of the Father. To come and drink of the waters of eternal life. To enjoy the love, comfort, peace, strength, and joy we find as children of His Kingdom.

Hebrews 12:25

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns us from heaven. 

These final verses of chapter 12 contrast God’s revelation at Sinai with His revelation in and through Christ. The grace and glory of God revealed in and through Christ are not to be treated lightly. God has and is speaking through His Son. We must not refuse to hear Him. Refusing the Son leads to perishing.

Those who disobeyed the voice of God as it was heard in the law were punished accordingly. In Christ, God has given His best and final revelation. God’s plan to redeem mankind through Christ was set from eternity (Ephesians 3:11-12). 

Hebrews 12:26-29

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.” 27 This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let’s show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

What an amazing promise for us to cling to; and a great reminder to set our focus and affection on eternal things. 

The created things of this world, that we often hold near and dear, will pass away one day. God and His kingdom will remain. We learned back in Hebrews 3:6 that, as His children, we are part of His kingdom. 

We have the hope of eternity to look forward to. Like we saw earlier we have an inheritance from our Father. One day, very soon we will behold the fullness of His glory and receive the fullness of our salvation – and yet, we must remember that eternal life with the Father begins now. We have been given access to His presence and His kingdom through the work of Christ. Your eternal life begins the moment you place faith in Christ.

Your eternal kingdom is not like an earthly Kingdom. Kingdoms of this earth rise and fall. They are shaken and overtaken.

God’s kingdom will never spoil or fade. It will remain.

Hebrews Chapter 12 is a rich and beautiful section of Scripture that calls believers to persevere in their faith, embrace God’s discipline, pursue peace and holiness, and find hope and joy in their relationship with Christ. It gives a powerful reminder that life in God’s kingdom is not without its challenges, but it is a journey worth undertaking. By keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and understanding the purpose behind God’s discipline, we can run the race of faith with endurance and confidence, ultimately receiving the unshakable kingdom promised to us.

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