What does Hebrews 12 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
Hebrews 12 begins by applying all of the details given in chapter 11. After explaining many heroic examples of faith, as well as instances of persecution, the writer refers to this collection of evidence as a "great cloud of witnesses." These facts of history should inspire Christians to endure persecution, as well as to struggle against sin. The ultimate example of this, of course, is Jesus, who endured horrific hardships. Through it all, He maintained His trust that God was working out all of those trials for a good purpose (Hebrews 12:1–3).

Another point made here is that most of the persecution a typical Christian faces is not as dire as what some have suffered. This doesn't make our experiences any less hurtful, but it helps us maintain perspective (Hebrews 12:4).

The suffering we experience, in truth, can come from two very different sources. Both, however, are reasons for us to trust in God, not to despair. When we fall short of God's will, we can expect Him to "discipline" us, the same way a loving father corrects a wayward child. That chastening is not a sign of hate—it's proof that the Father loves us enough to pull us back towards the right path. At the same time, a loving parent sometimes exposes a child to struggle for the sake of training, much as one would to develop an athlete (Hebrews 12:5–13).

Those who reject this idea, and who treat God's discipline as something restrictive, or unfair, or an excuse for bitterness, are like Esau, whose attitude cost him greatly (Hebrews 12:14–17).

The ultimate reward of enduring hardship and discipline folds back into the theme of the entire book of Hebrews: the superiority of the new covenant. Here, a comparison is made between the manner in which the old covenant was introduced, as opposed to how we perceive the new covenant. Unlike the "shock and awe" of Mount Sinai, which inspired reasonable fear, the new covenant offers us peace and security. While the fallen world, and even the earth itself, were rattled by the Word of God, and will one day be destroyed, the new covenant offers us grace; this is the only way we can be members of "a kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Hebrews 12:18–29).

The following chapter is the last of the book of Hebrews, and it applies these ideas using some practical instructions for Christian living.
Verse Context:
Hebrews 11:32—12:2 is one of Scripture's most stirring and inspirational passages. The theme of earlier verses was Old Testament heroes who exemplified faith, defined as a forward-looking trust in God. The emphasis of these examples moved from general faith, to faith in the face of hard choices, to faith resulting in victory. Here, the writer includes all of these, in a rapid-fire list of people who demonstrated the power of true, godly faith. As a letter delivered to persecuted Jewish Christians, these examples are meant to be encouraging and inspiring, as well as convicting. God waited to deliver the ultimate fulfillment of His promises so that we—those who are alive now—would have an opportunity to be saved. Given that privilege, Christians ought to strive to endure, and to hold fast, living out that same godly faith.
Hebrews 12:3–17 builds from a description of heroes of the faith, culminating in Jesus Christ. Those who came before were loved by God and honored by God, and yet they suffered hardships in this world. In this passage, the writer makes it clear that suffering is often God's way of building us up and training us, not necessarily a sign of His displeasure. Christians who respond to trials by seeking God, in faith, can avoid the fate of less-faithful men, like Esau.
Hebrews 12:18–29 summarizes the lessons given through chapters 11 and 12. Those living under the new covenant have the advantage of looking to Christ, rather than to the law. The Old Testament was given through ominous signs, dire messages, fire, and sacrifice; it involved material things in a material world. God presented Himself as unapproachable, symbolic of His holiness. The New Covenant offers something better, and something beyond rituals and earthly needs. Also symbolically, Christ gives us an ability to approach God which the old covenant could not grant. While prior things can be changed and destroyed, the destiny offered to believers in Christ cannot. That is the ''kingdom that cannot be shaken,'' and our worship for God ought to reflect reverence as a result.
Chapter Summary:
Chapter 11 explained the victories of some of the Old Testament's greatest heroes. It also explained their sufferings and persecution. This chapter uses those examples as a ''cloud of witnesses'' to prove that God does not abandon us when we suffer. In many cases, He uses those experiences to ''train'' us, as if we were athletes, to make us stronger. In other cases, it's the same kind of discipline that a child receives from a loving father. Unlike the old covenant, which rightly inspired fear and dread, the new covenant offers us peace. As with any other matter of truth or falsehood, we should cling to what's true, so that we can be part of ''a kingdom that cannot be shaken.''
Chapter Context:
Hebrews chapter 12 builds on the example of the heroes of the faith mentioned in chapter 11. The main point of this lesson is that these figures endured suffering and hardship, yet held to their faith in God, which allowed them to achieve victory. Chapter 12, in particular, points out that earthly hardship is not a sign of God's displeasure, or abandonment. Rather, it's part of living in a fallen, godless world. And, in many cases, it's a form of ''training'' the Lord uses to mold us into more powerful instruments. This, as with other passages in Hebrews, leads into another explanation of why we should take these ideas seriously, and sets up a few final practical lessons in chapter 13.
Book Summary:
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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