Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Heb 12:1-29. Exhortation to Follow the Witnesses of Faith Just Mentioned: Not to Faint in Trials: To Remove All Bitter Roots of Sin: For We Are under, Not a Law of Terror, but the Gospel of Grace, to Despise Which Will Bring the Heavier Penalties, in Proportion to Our Greater Privileges.
1. we also—as well as those recounted in Heb 12:11.
are compassed about—Greek, "have so great a cloud (a numberless multitude above us, like a cloud, 'holy and pellucid,' [Clement of Alexandria]) of witnesses surrounding us." The image is from a "race," an image common even in Palestine from the time of the Greco-Macedonian empire, which introduced such Greek usages as national games. The "witnesses" answer to the spectators pressing round to see the competitors in their contest for the prize (Php 3:14). Those "witnessed of" (Greek, Heb 11:5, 39) become in their turn "witnesses" in a twofold way: (1) attesting by their own case the faithfulness of God to His people [Alford] (Heb 6:12), some of them martyrs in the modern sense; (2) witnessing our struggle of faith; however, this second sense of "witnesses," though agreeing with the image here if it is to be pressed, is not positively, unequivocally, and directly sustained by Scripture. It gives vividness to the image; as the crowd of spectators gave additional spirit to the combatants, so the cloud of witnesses who have themselves been in the same contest, ought to increase our earnestness, testifying, as they do, to God's faithfulness.
weight—As corporeal unwieldiness was, through a disciplinary diet, laid aside by candidates for the prize in racing; so carnal and worldly lusts, and all, whether from without or within, that would impede the heavenly runner, are the spiritual weight to be laid aside. "Encumbrance," all superfluous weight; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, and even harmless and otherwise useful things which would positively retard us (Mr 10:50, the blind man casting away his garment to come to Jesus; Mr 9:42-48; compare Eph 4:22; Col 3:9, 10).
the sin which doth so easily beset us—Greek, "sin which easily stands around us"; so Luther, "which always so clings to us": "sinful propensity always surrounding us, ever present and ready" [Wahl]. It is not primarily "the sin," &c., but sin in general, with, however, special reference to "apostasy," against which he had already warned them, as one to which they might gradually be seduced; the besetting sin of the Hebrews, UNBELIEF.
with patience—Greek, "in persevering endurance" (Heb 10:36). On "run" compare 1Co 9:24, 25.
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
2. Looking unto—literally, "Looking from afar" (see on Heb 11:26); fixing the eyes upon Jesus seated on the throne of God.
author—"Prince-leader." The same Greek is translated, "Captain (of salvation)," Heb 2:10; "Prince (of life)," Ac 3:15. Going before us as the Originator of our faith, and the Leader whose matchless example we are to follow always. In this He is distinguished from all those examples of faith in Heb 11:2-40. (Compare 1Co 11:1). On His "faith" compare Heb 2:13; 3:12. Believers have ever looked to Him (Heb 11:26; 13:8).
finisher—Greek, "Perfecter," referring to Heb 11:40.
of our faith—rather as Greek, "of the faith," including both His faith (as exhibited in what follows) and our faith. He fulfilled the ideal of faith Himself, and so, both as a vicarious offering and an example, He is the object of our faith.
for the joy … set before him—namely, of presently after sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God; including besides His own personal joy, the joy of sitting there as a Prince and Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins. The coming joy disarmed of its sting the present pain.
cross … shame—the great stumbling-block to the Hebrews. "Despised," that is, disregarded.
For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
3. For—justifying his exhortation, "Looking unto Jesus."
consider—by way of comparison with yourselves, so the Greek.
contradiction—unbelief, and every kind of opposition (Ac 28:19).
sinners—Sin assails us. Not sin, but sinners, contradicted Christ [Bengel].
be wearied and faint—Greek, "lest ye weary fainting." Compare Isa 49:4, 5, as a specimen of Jesus not being wearied out by the contradiction and strange unbelief of those among whom He labored, preaching as never man did, and exhibiting miracles wrought by His inherent power, as none else could do.
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
4. not yet resisted unto blood—image from pugilism, as he previously had the image of a race, both being taken from the great national Greek games. Ye have suffered the loss of goods, and been a gazing-stock by reproaches and afflictions; ye have not shed your blood (see on Heb 13:7). "The athlete who hath seen his own blood, and who, though cast down by his opponent, does not let his spirits be cast down, who as often as he hath fallen hath risen the more determined, goes down to the encounter with great hope" [Seneca].
against sin—Sin is personified as an adversary; sin, whether within you, leading you to spare your blood, or in our adversaries, leading them to shed it, if they cannot through your faithfulness even unto blood, induce you to apostatize.
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
5. forgotten—"utterly," so the Greek. Compare Heb 12:15-17, in which he implies how utterly some of them had forgotten God's word. His exhortation ought to have more effect on you than the cheers and exhortations of the spectators have on the competitors striving in the games.
which—Greek, "the which," of which the following is a specimen [Alford].
speaketh unto you—as in a dialogue or discourse, so the Greek, implying God's loving condescension (compare Isa 1:18).
despise not—literally, "Do not hold of little account." Betraying a contumacious spirit of unbelief (Heb 3:12), as "faint" implies a broken-down, weak, and desponding spirit. "Chastening" is to be borne with "subjection" (Heb 12:9); "rebuke" (more severe than chastening) is to be borne with endurance (Heb 12:7). "Some in adversity kick against God's will, others despond; neither is to be done by the Christian, who is peculiarly the child of God. To him such adverse things occur only by the decree of God, and that designed in kindness, namely, to remove the defilements adhering to the believer, and to exercise his patience" [Grotius].
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
6. (Re 3:19.)
and—Greek, "yea and," "and moreover"; bringing out an additional circumstance.
scourgeth—which draws forth "blood" (Heb 12:4).
receiveth—accepts. Takes to Himself as a son "in whom He delighteth" (Pr 3:12).
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
7. In Heb 12:7, 8 the need of "chastening" or "discipline" is inculcated; in Heb 12:9, the duty of those to whom it is administered.
If—The oldest manuscripts read, "With a view to chastening (that is, since God's chastisement is with a view to your chastening, that is, disciplinary amelioration) endure patiently"; so Vulgate. Alford translates it as indicative, not so well, "It is for chastisement that ye are enduring."
dealeth with you—"beareth Himself toward you" in the very act of chastening.
what son is he—"What son is there" even in ordinary life? Much more God as to His sons (Isa 48:10; Ac 14:22). The most eminent of God's saints were the most afflicted. God leads them by a way they know not (Isa 42:16). We too much look at each trial by itself, instead of taking it in connection with the whole plan of our salvation, as if a traveller were to complain of the steepness and roughness of one turn in the path, without considering that it led him into green pastures, on the direct road to the city of habitation. The New Testament alone uses the Greek term for education (paideia), to express "discipline" or correction, as of a child by a wise father.
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
8. if ye be without—excluded from participation in chastisement, and wishing to be so.
all—all sons: all the worthies enumerated in the eleventh chapter: all the witnesses (Heb 12:1).
are—Greek, "have been made."
then are ye bastards—of whom their fathers take no care whether they are educated or not; whereas every right-minded father is concerned for the moral well-being of his legitimate son. "Since then not to be chastised is a mark of bastardy, we ought [not to refuse, but] rejoice in chastisement, as a mark of our genuine sonship" [Chrysostom].
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
9. fathers … which corrected us—rather as Greek, "We had the fathers of our flesh as correctors."
subjection—See the punishment of insubordination, De 21:18.
Father of spirits—contrasted with "the fathers of our flesh." "Generation by men is carnal, by God is spiritual" [Bengel]. As "Father of spirits," He is both the Originator, and the Providential and Gracious Sustainer, at once of animal and spiritual life. Compare "and LIVE," namely, spiritually; also Heb 12:10, "that we might be partakers of His holiness" (2Pe 1:4). God is a spirit Himself, and the Creator of spirits like Himself, in contrast to men who are flesh, and the progenitors of flesh (Joh 3:6). Jesus our pattern "learned obedience" experimentally by suffering (Heb 5:8).
and live—and so, thereby live spiritually and eternally.
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
10. Showing wherein the chastisement of our heavenly Father is preferable to that of earthly fathers.
for a few days—that is, with a view to our well-being in the few days of our earthly life: so the Greek.
after their own pleasure—Greek, "according to what seemed fit to themselves." Their rule of chastening is what may seem fit to their own often erring judgment, temper, or caprice. The two defects of human education are: (1) the prevalence in it of a view to the interests of our short earthly term of days; (2) the absence in parents of the unerring wisdom of our heavenly Father. "They err much at one time in severity, at another in indulgence [1Sa 3:13; Eph 6:4], and do not so much chasten as THINK they chasten" [Bengel].
that we might be partakers of his holiness—becoming holy as He is holy (Joh 15:2). To become holy like God is tantamount to being educated for passing eternity with God (Heb 12:14; 2Pe 1:4). So this "partaking of God's holiness" stands in contrast to the "few days" of this life, with a view to which earthly fathers generally educate their sons.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
11. joyous … grievous—Greek, "matter of joy … matter of grief." The objection that chastening is grievous is here anticipated and answered. It only seems so to those being chastened, whose judgments are confused by the present pain. Its ultimate fruit amply compensates for any temporary pam. The real object of the fathers in chastening is not that they find pleasure in the children's pain. Gratified wishes, our Father knows, would often be our real curses.
fruit of righteousness—righteousness (in practice, springing from faith) is the fruit which chastening, the tree yields (Php 1:11). "Peaceable" (compare Isa 32:17): in contrast to the ordeal of conflict by which it has been won. "Fruit of righteousness to be enjoyed in peace after the conflict" [Tholuck]. As the olive garland, the emblem of peace as well as victory, was put on the victor's brow in the games.
exercised thereby—as athletes exercised in training for a contest. Chastisement is the exercise to give experience, and make the spiritual combatant irresistibly victorious (Ro 5:3). "Oh, happy the servant for whose improvement his Lord is earnest, with whom he deigns to be angry, whom He does not deceive by dissembling admonition" (withholding admonition, and so leading the man to think he needs it not)! [Tertullian, Patience, 11]. Observe the "afterwards"; that is the time often when God works.
Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
12. He addresses them as runners in a race, and pugilists, and warriors [Chrysostom]. The "wherefore" is resumed from Heb 12:1.
lift up—In Isa 35:3, from which Paul here quotes, it is, "Strengthen ye the weak hands." The hand is the symbol of one's strength. Alford translates, "Put straight again the relaxed hands." English Version expresses the sense well.
feeble—literally, "paralyzed"; a word used only by Luke, Paul's companion, in the New Testament. The exhortation has three parts: the first relates to ourselves, Heb 12:12, 13; the second, to others, Heb 12:14, "peace with all men"; the third, to God, "holiness, without which," &c. The first is referred to in Heb 12:15, "test any man fail of the grace of God"; the second in the words, "lest any root of bitterness," &c.; the third in Heb 12:16, "Lest there be any fornicator or profane person," &c. This threefold relation often occurs in Paul's Epistles. Compare Note, see on Tit 2:12, "soberly, righteously, and godly." The Greek active verb, not the middle or reflexive, requires the sense to be, Lift up not only your own hands and knees, but also those of your brethren (compare Heb 12:15; Isa 35:4).
And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
13. Quoted from Pr 4:26, Septuagint, "Make straight paths for thy feet."
straight—that is, leading by a straight road to joy and grace (Heb 12:1, 2, 15). Cease to "halt" between Judaism and Christianity [Bengel].
paths—literally, "wheel tracks." Let your walk be so firm and so unanimous in the right direction that a plain track and "highway" may be thereby established for those who accompany and follow you, to perceive and walk in (Isa 35:8) [Alford].
that which is lame—those "weak in the faith" (Ro 14:1), having still Judaizing prejudices.
be turned out of the way—(Pr 4:27); and, so missing the way, lose the prize of "the race" (Heb 12:1).
rather he healed—Proper exercise of itself contributes to health; the habit of walking straight onward in the right way tends to healing.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
14. follow peace with all men—with the brethren especially (Ro 14:19), that so the "lame" among them be not "turned out of the way" (Heb 12:13), and that no one of them "fail of the grace of God" (Heb 12:15).
holiness—a distinct Greek word from God's "holiness" (Heb 12:10). Translate here "sanctification." His is absolute holiness: our part is to put on His holiness, becoming "holy as He is holy," by sanctification. While "following peace with all men," we are not so to seek to please them, as to make God's will and our sanctification a secondary object; this latter must be our first aim. (Ga 1:10).
without which—Greek, "apart from which."
no man shall see the Lord—no man as a son; in heavenly glory (Re 22:3, 4). In the East, none but the greatest favorites are admitted to the honor of seeing the king (compare 2Sa 14:24). The Lord being pure and holy, none but the pure and holy shall see Him (Mt 5:8). Without holiness in them, they could not enjoy Him who is holiness itself (Zec 14:20). The connection of purity with seeing the Lord, appears in 1Jo 3:2, 3; Eph 5:5. Contrast Heb 12:16 (compare 1Th 4:3). In Mt 24:30; Re 1:7, it is said that all shall see the Lord; but, that shall be as a Judge, not as their lasting portion and God, which is meant here. The Greek verb does not denote the mere action of seeing, but the seer's state of mind to which the object is presented: so in Mt 5:8 they shall truly comprehend God [Tittmann]. None but the holy could appreciate the holy God, none else therefore shall abide in His presence. "The bad shall only see Him in His form as Son of man [compare Re 1:13, with Re 1:7; and Mt 24:30; Ac 1:11; 17:31]; still it will be in the glory in which He shall judge, not in the lowliness in which He was judged. His form as God, wherein He is equal to the Father, without doubt the ungodly shall not see; for it is only 'the pure in heart who shall see God'" [Augustine]. "He shall come to judge, who stood before a judge. He shall come in the form in which He was judged, that they may see Him whom they pierced: He who was before hidden shall come manifested in power: He, as Judge, shall condemn the real culprits, who was Himself falsely made a culprit."
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
15. lest any … fall—Greek, "lest any (namely, through sloth in running) failing," or "falling short of the grace of God … trouble you." The image is taken from a company of travellers, one of whom lags behind, and so never reaches the end of the long and laborious journey [Chrysostom].
root of bitterness—not merely a "bitter root," which might possibly bring forth sweet fruits; this, a root whose essence is "bitterness," never could. Paul here refers to De 29:18, "Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood" (compare Ac 8:23). Root of bitterness comprehends every person (compare Heb 12:16) and every principle of doctrine or practice so radically corrupt as to spread corruption all around. The only safety is in rooting out such a root of bitterness.
many—rather, "the many," that is, the whole congregation. So long as it is hidden under the earth it cannot be remedied, but when it "springs up," it must be dealt with boldly. Still remember the caution (Mt 13:26-30) as to rooting out persons. No such danger can arise in rooting out bad principles.
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
16. fornicator—(Heb 13:4; 1Co 10:8).
or profane—Fornication is nearly akin to gluttony, Esau's sin. He profanely cast away his spiritual privilege for the gratification of his palate. Ge 25:34 graphically portrays him. An example well fitted to strike needful horror into the Hebrews, whosoever of them, like Esau, were only sons of Isaac according to the flesh [Bengel].
for one morsel—The smallness of the inducement only aggravates the guilt of casting away eternity for such a trifle, so far is it from being a claim for mercy (compare Ge 3:6). One single act has often the greatest power either for good or for evil. So in the cases of Reuben and Saul, for evil (Ge 49:4; 1Ch 5:1; 1Sa 13:12-14); and, on the other hand, for good, Abraham and Phinehas (Ge 12:1, &c.; Ge 15:5, 6; Nu 25:6-15).
his birthright—Greek, "his own (so the oldest manuscripts read, intensifying the suicidal folly and sin of the act) rights of primogeniture," involving the high spiritual privilege of being ancestor of the promised seed, and heir of the promises in Him. The Hebrews whom Paul addressed, had, as Christians, the spiritual rights of primogeniture (compare Heb 12:23): he intimates that they must exercise holy self-control, if they wish not, like Esau, to forfeit them.
For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
17. afterwards—Greek, "even afterward." He despised his birthright, accordingly also he was despised and rejected when he wished to have the blessing. As in the believer's case, so in the unbeliever's, there is an "afterwards" coming, when the believer shall look on his past griefs, and the unbeliever on his past joys, in a very different light from that in which they were respectively viewed at the time. Compare "Nevertheless afterward," &c. Heb 12:11, with the "afterward" here.
when he would—when he wished to have. "He that will not when he may, when he will, shall have nay" (Pr 1:24-30; Lu 13:34, 35; 19:42).
he was rejected—not as to every blessing, but only that which would have followed the primogeniture.
he found no place of repentance—The cause is here put for the effect, "repentance" for the object which Esau aimed at in his so-called repentance, namely, the change of his father's determination to give the chief blessing to Jacob. Had he sought real repentance with tears he would have found it (Mt 7:7). But he did not find it because this was not what he sought. What proves his tears were not those of one seeking true repentance is, immediately after he was foiled in his desire, he resolved to murder Jacob! He shed tears, not for his sin, but for his suffering the penalty of his sin. His were tears of vain regret and remorse, not of repentance. "Before, he might have had the blessing without tears; afterwards, no matter how many tears he shed, he was rejected. Let us use the time" (Lu 18:27)! [Bengel]. Alford explains "repentance" here, a chance, by repenting, to repair (that is, to regain the lost blessing). I agree with him that the translation, instead of "repentance," "no place for changing HIS FATHER'S mind," is forced; though doubtless this is what was the true aim of the "repentance" which he sought. The language is framed to apply to profane despisers who wilfully cast away grace and seek repentance (that is, not real; but escape from the penalty of their sin), but in vain. Compare "afterward," Mt 25:11, 12. Tears are no proof of real repentance (1Sa 24:16, 17; contrast Ps 56:8).
it—the blessing, which was the real object of Esau, though ostensibly seeking "repentance."
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
18. For—The fact that we are not under the law, but under a higher, and that the last dispensation, the Gospel, with its glorious privileges, is the reason why especially the Hebrew Christians should "look diligently," &c. (Heb 12:15, 16).
are not come—Greek, "have not come near to." Alluding to De 4:11, "Ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire … with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness." "In your coming near unto God, it has not been to," &c.
the mount—The oldest manuscripts and Vulgate omit "the mount." But still, "the mount" must be supplied from Heb 12:22.
that might be touched—palpable and material. Not that any save Moses was allowed to touch it (Ex 19:12, 13). The Hebrews drew near to the material Mount Sinai with material bodies; we, to the spiritual mount in the spirit. The "darkness" was that formed by the clouds hanging round the mount; the "tempest" accompanied the thunder.
And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
19. trumpet—to rouse attention, and herald God's approach (Ex 19:16).
entreated that the word should not be spoken—literally, "that speech should not be added to them"; not that they refused to hear the word of God, but they wished that God should not Himself speak, but employ Moses as His mediating spokesman. "The voice of words" was the Decalogue, spoken by God Himself, a voice issuing forth, without any form being seen: after which "He added no more" (De 5:22).
(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
20. that which was commanded—"the interdict" [Tittmann]. A stern interdictory mandate is meant.
And—rather, "Even if a beast (much more a man) touch," &c.
or thrust through with a dart—omitted in the oldest manuscripts. The full interdict in Ex 19:12, 13 is abbreviated here; the beast alone, being put for "whether man or beast"; the stoning, which applies to the human offender, alone being specified, the beast's punishment, namely, the being thrust through with a dart, being left to be understood.
And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
21. the sight—the vision of God's majesty.
quake—Greek, "I am in trembling"; "fear" affected his mind: "trembling," his body. Moses is not recorded in Exodus to have used these words. But Paul, by inspiration, supplies (compare Ac 20:35; 2Ti 3:8) this detail. We read in De 9:19, Septuagint, of similar words used by Moses after breaking the two tables, through fear of God's anger at the people's sin in making the golden calves. He doubtless similarly "feared" in hearing the ten commandments spoken by the voice of Jehovah.
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
22. are come—Greek, "have come near unto" (compare De 4:11). Not merely, ye shall come, but, ye have already come.
Mount Sion—antitypical Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem, of which the spiritual invisible Church (of which the first foundation was laid in literal Zion, Joh 12:15; 1Pe 2:6) is now the earnest; and of which the restored literal Jerusalem hereafter shall be the earthly representative, to be succeeded by the everlasting and "new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven" (Re 21:2-27; compare Heb 11:10).
22, 23. to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church—The city of God having been mentioned, the mention of its citizens follows. Believers being like the angels (Job 1:6; 38:7), "sons of God," are so their "equals" (Lu 20:36); and being reconciled through Christ, are adopted into God's great and blessed family. For the full completion of this we pray (Mt 6:10). English Version arrangement is opposed: (1) by "and" always beginning each new member of the whole sentence; (2) "general assembly and Church," form a kind of tautology; (3) "general assembly," or rather, "festal full assembly," "the jubilant full company" (such as were the Olympic games, celebrated with joyous singing, dancing, &c.), applies better to the angels above, ever hymning God's praises, than to the Church, of which a considerable part is now militant on earth. Translate therefore, "to myriads (ten thousands, compare De 33:2; Ps 68:17; Da 7:10; Jude 14; namely), the full festal assembly of angels, and the Church of the first-born." Angels and saints together constitute the ten thousands. Compare "all angels, all nations" Mt 25:31, 32. Messiah is pre-eminently "the First-born," or "First-begotten" (Heb 1:6), and all believers become so by adoption. Compare the type, Nu 3:12, 45, 50; 1Pe 1:18. As the kingly and priestly succession was in the first-born, and as Israel was God's "first-born" (Ex 4:22; compare Ex 13:2), and a "kingdom of priests" to God (Ex 19:6), so believers (Re 1:6).
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
23. written in heaven—enrolled as citizens there. All those who at the coming of "God the Judge of all" (which clause therefore naturally follows), shall be found "written in heaven," that is, in the Lamb's book of life (Re 21:27). Though still fighting the good fight on earth, still, in respect to your destiny, and present life of faith which substantiates things hoped for, ye are already members of the heavenly citizenship. "We are one citizenship with angels; to which it is said in the psalm, Glorious things are spoken of thee, thou city of God" [Augustine]. I think Alford wrong in restricting "the Church of the first-born written in heaven," to those militant on earth; it is rather, all those who at the Judge's coming shall be found written in heaven (the true patent of heavenly nobility; contrast "written in the earth," Jer 17:13, and Esau's profane sale of his birthright, Heb 12:16); these all, from the beginning to the end of the world, forming one Church to which every believer is already come. The first-born of Israel were "written" in a roll (Nu 3:40).
the spirits of just men made perfect—at the resurrection, when the "Judge" shall appear, and believers' bliss shall be consummated by the union of the glorified body with the spirit; the great hope of the New Testament (Ro 8:20-23; 1Th 4:16). The place of this clause after "the Judge of all," is my objection to Bengel and Alford's explanation, the souls of the just in their separate state perfected. Compare Notes, see on Heb 11:39, 40, to which he refers here, and which I think confirms my view; those heretofore spirits, but now to be perfected by being clothed upon with the body. Still the phrase, "spirits of just men made perfect," not merely "just men made perfect," may favor the reference to the happy spirits in their separate state. The Greek is not "the perfected spirits," but "the spirits of the perfected just." In no other passage are the just said to be perfected before the resurrection, and the completion of the full number of the elect (Re 6:11); I think, therefore, "spirits of the just," may here be used to express the just whose predominant element in their perfected state shall be spirit. So spirit and spirits are used of a man or men in the body, under the influence of the spirit, the opposite of flesh (Joh 3:6). The resurrection bodies of the saints shall be bodies in which the spirit shall altogether preponderate over the animal soul (see on 1Co 15:44).
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
24. new—not the usual term (kaine) applied to the Christian covenant (Heb 9:15), which would mean new as different from, and superseding the old; but Greek, "nea," "recent," "lately established," having the "freshness of youth," as opposed to age. The mention of Jesus, the Perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2), and Himself perfected through sufferings and death, in His resurrection and ascension (Heb 2:10; 5:9), is naturally suggested by the mention of "the just made perfect" at their resurrection (compare Heb 7:22). Paul uses "Jesus," dwelling here on Him as the Person realized as our loving friend, not merely in His official character as the Christ.
and to the blood of sprinkling—here enumerated as distinct from "Jesus." Bengel reasonably argues as follows: His blood was entirely "poured out" of His body by the various ways in which it was shed, His bloody sweat, the crown of thorns, the scourging, the nails, and after death the spear, just as the blood was entirely poured out and extravasated from the animal sacrifices of the law. It was incorruptible (1Pe 1:18, 19). No Scripture states it was again put into the Lord's body. At His ascension, as our great High Priest, He entered the heavenly holiest place "BY His own blood" (not after shedding His blood, nor with the blood in His body, but), carrying it separately from his body (compare the type, Heb 9:7, 12, 25; 13:11). Paul does not say, by the efficacy of His blood, but, "by His own proper blood" (Heb 9:12); not MATERIAL blood, but "the blood of Him who, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot unto God" (Heb 9:14). So in Heb 10:29, the Son of God and the blood of the covenant wherewith he (the professor) was sanctified, are mentioned separately. Also in Heb 13:12, 20; also compare Heb 10:19, with Heb 10:21. So in the Lord's Supper (1Co 10:16; 11:24-26), the body and blood are separately represented. The blood itself, therefore, continues still in heaven before God, the perpetual ransom price of "the eternal covenant" (Heb 13:20). Once for all Christ sprinkled the blood peculiarly for us at His ascension (Heb 9:12). But it is called "the blood of sprinkling," on account also of its continued use in heaven, and in the consciences of the saints on earth (Heb 9:14; 10:22; Isa 52:15). This sprinkling is analogous to the sprinkled blood of the Passover. Compare Re 5:6, "In the midst of the throne, a Lamb as it had been slain." His glorified body does not require meat, nor the circulation of the blood. His blood introduced into heaven took away the dragon's right to accuse. Thus Rome's theory of concomitancy of the blood with the body, the excuse for giving only the bread to the laity, falls to the ground. The mention of "the blood of sprinkling" naturally follows the mention of the "covenant," which could not be consecrated without blood (Heb 9:18, 22).
speaketh better things than that of Abel—namely, than the sprinkling (the best manuscripts read the article masculine, which refers to "sprinkling," not to "blood," which last is neuter) of blood by Abel in his sacrifice spake. This comparison between two things of the same kind (namely, Christ's sacrifice, and Abel's sacrifice) is more natural, than between two things different in kind and in results (namely, Christ's sacrifice, and Abel's own blood [Alford], which was not a sacrifice at all); compare Heb 11:4; Ge 4:4. This accords with the whole tenor of the Epistle, and of this passage in particular (Heb 12:18-22), which is to show the superiority of Christ's sacrifice and the new covenant, to the Old Testament sacrifices (of which Abel's is the first recorded; it, moreover, was testified to by God as acceptable to Him above Cain's), compare Heb 9:1-10:39. The word "better" implies superiority to something that is good: but Abel's own blood was not at all good for the purpose for which Christ's blood was efficacious; nay, it cried for vengeance. So Archbishop Magee, Hammond, and Knatchbull. Bengel takes "the blood of Abel" as put for all the blood shed on earth crying for vengeance, and greatly increasing the other cries raised by sin in the world; counteracted by the blood of Christ calmly speaking in heaven for us, and from heaven to us. I prefer Magee's view. Be this as it may, to deny that Christ's atonement is truly a propitiation, overthrows Christ's priesthood, makes the sacrifices of Moses' law an unmeaning mummery, and represents Cain's sacrifice as good as that of Abel.
See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
25. refuse not—through unbelief.
him that speaketh—God in Christ. As the blood of sprinkling is represented as speaking to God for us, Heb 12:24; so here God is represented as speaking to us (Heb 1:1, 2). His word now is the prelude of the last "shaking" of all things (Heb 12:27). The same word which is heard in the Gospel from heaven, will shake heaven and earth (Heb 12:26).
who refused him—Greek, "refusing as they did." Their seemingly submissive entreaty that the word should not be spoken to them by God any more (Heb 12:19), covered over refractory hearts, as their subsequent deeds showed (Heb 3:16).
that spake—revealing with oracular warnings His divine will: so the Greek.
if we turn away—Greek, "we who turn away." The word implies greater refractoriness than "refused," or "declined."
him that speaketh from heaven—God, by His Son in the Gospel, speaking from His heavenly throne. Hence, in Christ's preaching frequent mention is made of "the kingdom of the heavens" (Greek, Mt 3:2). In the giving of the law God spake on earth (namely, Mount Sinai) by angels (Heb 2:2; compare Heb 1:2). In Ex 20:22, when God says, "I talked with you from heaven," this passage in Hebrews shows that not the highest heavens, but the visible heavens, the clouds and darkness, are meant, out of which God by angels proclaimed the law on Sinai.
Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
26. then shook—when He gave the law on Sinai.
now—under the Gospel.
promised—The announcement of His coming to break up the present order of things, is to the ungodly a terror, to the godly a promise, the fulfilment of which they look for with joyful hope.
Yet once more—Compare Notes, see on Hag 2:6; Hag 2:21, 22, both of which passages are condensed into one here. The shaking began at the first coming of Messiah; it will be completed at His second coming, prodigies in the world of nature accompanying the overthrow of all kingdoms that oppose Messiah. The Hebrew is literally, "it is yet one little," that is, a single brief space till the series of movements begins ending in the advent of Messiah. Not merely the earth, as at the establishment of the Sinaitic covenant, but heaven also is to be shaken. The two advents of Messiah are regarded as one, the complete shaking belonging to the second advent, of which the presage was given in the shakings at the first advent: the convulsions connected with the overthrow of Jerusalem shadowing forth those about to be at the overthrow of all the God-opposed kingdoms by the coming Messiah.
And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
27. this word, Yet once more—So Paul, by the Spirit, sanctions the Septuagint rendering of Hag 2:6, giving an additional feature to the prophecy in the Hebrew, as rendered in English Version, not merely that it shall be in a little while, but that it is to be "once more" as the final act. The stress of his argument is on the "ONCE." Once for all; once and for ever. "In saying 'once more,' the Spirit implies that something has already passed, and something else shall be which is to remain, and is no more to be changed to something else; for the once is exclusive, that is, not many times" [Estius].
those things that are shaken—the heaven and the earth. As the shaking is to be total, so shall the removal be, making way for the better things that are unremovable. Compare the Jewish economy (the type of the whole present order of things) giving way to the new and abiding covenant: the forerunner of the everlasting state of bliss.
as of things … made—namely, of this present visible creation: compare 2Co 5:1; Heb 9:11, "made with hands … of this creation," that is, things so made at creation that they would not remain of themselves, but be removed. The new abiding heaven and earth are also made by God, but they are of a higher nature than the material creation, being made to partake of the divine nature of Him who is not made: so in this relation, as one with the uncreated God, they are regarded as not of the same class as the things made. The things made in the former sense do not remain; the things of the new heaven and earth, like the uncreated God, "shall REMAIN before God" (Isa 66:22). The Spirit, the seed of the new and heavenly being, not only of the believer's soul, but also of the future body, is an uncreated and immortal principle.
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
28. receiving—as we do, in prospect and sure hope, also in the possession of the Spirit the first-fruits. This is our privilege as Christians.
let us have grace—"let us have thankfulness" [Alford after Chrysostom]. But (1) this translation is according to classical Greek, not Paul's phraseology for "to be thankful." (2) "To God" would have been in that case added. (3) "Whereby we may serve God," suits the English Version "grace" (that is Gospel grace, the work of the Spirit, producing faith exhibited in serving God), but does not suit "thankfulness."
reverence and godly fear—The oldest manuscripts read, "reverent caution and fear." Reverent caution (same Greek as in Heb 5:7; see on Heb 5:7) lest we should offend God, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Fear lest we should bring destruction on ourselves.
For our God is a consuming fire.
29. Greek, "For even": "for also"; introducing an additional solemn incentive to diligence. Quoted from De 4:24.
our God—in whom we hope, is also to be feared. He is love (1Jo 4:8, 16); yet there is another side of His character; God has wrath against sin (Heb 10:27, 31).