What does Hebrews 12:2 mean?
ESV: looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
NIV: 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.
NASB: 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.
CSB: keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
NLT: We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
KJV: 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.
As with other segments of the book of Hebrews, this verse is often quoted out of context, causing it to lose much of its impact. Recognizing how this verse caps off a crucial passage in the book of Hebrews is key to applying it in the way God intended.
The end of chapter 11 rolled many different examples together. The writer mentioned many "heroes" of the faith, as well as their accomplishments. This was in the context of explaining how God honors and works through true, godly faith—which is a trust sufficient to produce obedience, despite our doubts and fears (Hebrews 11:1–3). The writer also mentioned how these faithful ones endured hardships during their earthly lives, and even now are waiting to see God completely fulfill His promises (Hebrews 11:35–39). That delay is for our sake—so that those of us hearing the gospel now will have an opportunity for that same reward (Hebrews 11:40).
The prior verse gave the logical application of this knowledge. With all we have been given as proof—"so great a cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1)—we ought to make every effort to "hold fast" (Hebrews 3:6; 10:23), setting aside sin and selfishness as we pursue whatever path God has placed in front of us. This is the essence of godly faith: to trust God with our future, despite how hard it might be in the present (Philippians 4:12–13).
Here, we see how Jesus again serves as the ultimate example of this. Christ also suffered hardship and persecution (Philippians 2:8-11), as well as temptation (Hebrews 4:15), but never wavered in His resolve to do the will of God the Father (Hebrews 5:8). Christ's entire ministry and the superiority of the new covenant (Hebrews 10:12–14) are grounded in His example, which we should strive to follow (Hebrews 2:10–11). His willingness to endure those trials came from an understanding that God could, and would, "work together for good" all of those things (Romans 8:28). The end goal of Jesus' obedience was to establish the purpose we should be striving for: the "city with foundations" (Hebrews 11:10), our ultimate victory and reward in God (Hebrews 11:13–16; Revelation 21:1–14).
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.
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.''
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.
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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