What does Hebrews 12:4 mean?
ESV: In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
NIV: In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
NASB: You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;
CSB: In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
NLT: After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
KJV: Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
Earlier verses referred to the extreme persecution suffered by heroes of the Christian faith. Near the end of chapter 11, the writer gave a long list of hardships, including torture, imprisonment, and horrific death. This list culminated in the example of Jesus (Hebrews 12:2–3). Even though He was sinless (Hebrews 4:15), and God incarnate (Hebrews 1:3), Jesus experienced pain and suffering, including an agonizing death (Hebrews 2:10). The point being made in this passage, particularly in future verses, is that worldly suffering is not a sign of God's displeasure. Rather, God uses those hardships to "train" us to be more dependent on Him, and more like Him.
Speaking to this particular audience, the writer indicates that they—personally—have not yet been forced to shed blood for the sake of their faith. The writer of Hebrews might mean that these believers have not been martyred for professing Christ. He might also mean that their persecution, to that point, was not as extreme as the examples given for those who came before, including Jesus. This point is meant to connect two ideas: one from the prior verse and one stated in the next verse.
First of all, Jesus endured suffering and hardship—and He was able to do this without sin (1 Peter 2:22) and with an attitude that trusted in God (Hebrews 12:2). Secondly, Scripture indicates that God "trains" those He loves in order to strengthen them; these kinds of hardships don't mean that God hates us. On the contrary, the fact that God gives us opportunity to strengthen faith through trials is a sign of His love and concern for us.
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.
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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