Resources » Asbury Bible Commentary » Part III: The New Testament » HEBREWS » Commentary » VII. Sixth Point: “Do Not Lose Heart” (12:3–13:19)

VII. Sixth Point: “Do Not Lose Heart” (12:3–13:19)

In times of trial we are reminded to consider the opposition Christ faced (12:3). Faith requires the same endurance Jesus showed in going to the cross. In adversity faith looks to him for strength. Opposition comes from the foes of God against those who heed his Word. The letter's addressees had endured such opposition from sinful men in their espousal of Christ. This struggle against sin had not yet resulted in loss of life (v. 4); still they had not resisted apostasy so fully as they could and might yet be required to do. Jesus demands no more of anyone than he has endured himself. As with the cross, good comes of it when we remain steadfast in following his will.

Any child worthy of God's name must be willing to endure opposition for the sake of God's reign. Sonship (12:5) is the reward of perseverance, and it offers encouragement against losing heart in the hour of trial. The entire epistle is a “word of exhortation” (see 13:22) offering encouragement to those facing dire opposition (cf. 2:1, 18; 3:12-13; 4:1, 11, 14; 6:11-12, 18; 10:23-25, 35; 12:1, 3, 12, 15, 25; 13:7-8, 13). It is no surprise, then, that the sixth and final principal passage from Scripture is a word of encouragement (12:5) from God himself to his children. Pr 3:11-12 summarizes the entire thrust of the author's previous as well as subsequent admonitions, “Do not lose heart” (12:5). The entire epistle culminates with this call to see the hardships of the life of faith as God's loving discipline fitting us to be his children (v. 7).

This passage reveals the hardships of Christian living from which none of us is free to turn aside. Struggling against sin is the same as enduring the opposition of sinful men, and enduring opposition and hardship is the same as submitting to God's disciplining love (12:7, 9). Only by submitting to God's disciplining love are we made partakers of that holiness which is God's by nature (v. 10). Any Christianity that promises peace and prosperity now as rewards for faith is an aberration of our true calling. Without painful adversity disciplining us, we cannot bring forth for God the harvest fruit of true righteousness tested and verified (v. 11). Only by coming through adversity and seeing it as God's discipline do we become trained to distinguish good from evil (see 5:14). Such experience provides us with genuine peace because we are all the more sure of God's will and of our own standing before him. Any turning aside for any religious posture that does not recognize adversity as a factor in God's providence cannot benefit us in the end. Fortitude and courage are required of any who would become God's children; he will provide those qualities as we remain fixed on the course of faith (12:12-13).

God's grace proves sufficient for all our needs in every situation. It enables us to pursue peace with all, even the most contrary (12:14). It furthers us in the process of holy growth (hagiasmos), leading ultimately to the endowment of divine holiness (hagiotēs; 12:10). The former is the necessary precondition to seeing the Lord, the latter the reward. Both are the benefits of ongoing grace. Those who construe this verse merely as a call to the crisis experience of entire sanctification miss the richness of the offer. To seek a dousing is to overlook the onrushing flood. God's grace comes with the power of flood water to carry us. To shrink back from our confession in the face of adverse circumstances, not momentarily but as a settled posture, is to forfeit the grace of God given to carry us through our trials and bring us victorious into his presence. Esau is the biblical example of a profane person who forfeited the grace and blessing of God, an attitude common to hedonic humanity even today (see Ge 25:29-34). Isaac without regret later rejected Esau's tearful plea to reverse circumstances and regain the blessing. Grace offered now cannot be called upon later to undo what its forfeiture has done in the meantime.

The grace offered now is not like the giving of the Law with its attendant terrifying spectacle (12:18; see Ex 19:16-22; 20:18-21; Dt 5:22-27). The oracle that spoke to the Israelites was the voice of God, and all who heard it were struck with fear. When God's wrath was kindled, even Moses became afraid (12:21; see Dt 9:19). And yet that was only an earthly visitation in which the overwhelming holiness of God was veiled in smoke and thunder. How much greater the import of the present moment for those who have given their allegiance to Christ! For we have come and now stand before God's unveiled presence in the heavenly Jerusalem itself. Everything the biblical heroes of faith longed to receive is already ours. Dare we forget even for a moment where we stand? Dare we forget where grace has brought us?

Our perfection consists in a rightful place among the heavenly host. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus our High Priest, we now have standing before God Almighty and his myriads of angels in full assembly. We are in the vast congregation of those whose names have been enrolled in heaven, firstborn children of God by virtue of Christ's self-identification with them and theirs with him (12:23). We have come before the one Judge whom none can avoid, who separates the just from the unjust in accordance with his own pronouncements. We have come to stand with those who have been pronounced just and have been given standing before God (i.e., perfected) because they lived and departed in the forward-looking faith that anticipated Christ's arrival (see 11:39-40). By grace we now stand before Christ who mediated on our behalf a new covenant in his own blood (12:24), blood that ever speaks more insistently for mercy than Abel's blood did for vindication (see Ge 4:10). Dare we forget where that blood has brought us?

Dare we disregard the Spirit's voice, which now speaks so insistently and so plainly (12:25)? Dare we turn away from Christ merely because allegiance to him might cost us dearly? Is not his blood more dear than life itself? Is not eternal standing before God more desirous than temporary avoidance of the persecutor's fire? Disregard of the Law brought unavoidable judgment upon the Israelites in their wilderness sojourn. What more severe judgment, then, will disregard of the Gospel bring to those who have the benefit of the Spirit's inward counsel? The voice that imparted the Law shook all the earth, but the voice that imparts grace and mercy now will soon shake both heaven and earth like a sieve (12:26; see Hag 2:6). The entire universe will shudder at the call to judgment on that final day. Only by heeding the voice of him now speaking can we stand the sifting judgment of God that will remove the entire created order (v. 27). In its place, we are being given an eternal and therefore unshakable kingdom in which to abide in his presence forever (v. 28). To receive it, we dare not disregard Christ. Rather, the proper attitude is gratefulness for the opportunity now given us through our High Priest to worship God acceptably. Nor should this opportunity be taken for granted or exercised half-heartedly, for God is ever the God who shook the mountain in thunder and smoke, lightning and quake. Reverence and awe are due him. In the white-hot purity of his holiness every lesser thing shall be consumed as dross is devoured by fire, whether it be spiritless worship or listless service or staunchless faith. Dare we flee his refining grace?

This life is for us a time of training and growth through testing. The Lord is disciplining those he loves. And discipline calls for certain behavior: unceasing love, hospitality, supportive outreach, fidelity in marriage, simplicity of life-style, and deference to those in leadership (13:1-7). Elders in faith have demonstrated their increasing maturity throughout their lives and are to be emulated. The important criterion here is not chronological maturity but spiritual maturity gained by way of long experience in ascertaining the will of God in the welter of human existence. One who has attained that deserves to be heard, for that one knows and trusts the manifold workings of God's grace.

Jesus is ever true to his Word (13:8). What he spoke on earth, he affirms in heaven. Teaching that has a novel twist or strange application must be verified against the message brought by Christ (v. 9). Some would dilute or modify his spoken Word to fit their own schemes. This adulteration of the Gospel can carry the feeble away. The Word is a message of grace; without that the Gospel is weakened. Our hearts are to be sustained by divine ministrations of grace, not restrictions on foods and their preparation. Returning to the covenantal confines of the Jewish law removes one from the operative sphere of God's grace in Christ Jesus (cf. 9:10).

Only those who belong to him may partake of the priestly fare on the altar that Christ has made ready for them. He is our sacrifice; the benefits of his passion grant us eternal access to the throne of grace (13:10). In the ongoing temple ritual, when the yearly sacrifice of a bullock and goat for the sins of the priest and the people was carried out, the victims' bodies were to be burned outside the camp (v. 11; see Ex 29:14; Lev 16:27). From the author's perspective, this was still current practice; the temple was yet in operation. What we are to note is that Christ, likewise offered in sacrifice, suffered death and was buried outside the city gate (v. 12). In so doing, his blood has sanctified the people in perpetuity (cf. 10:10). Those who claim the benefits of his passion must go outside the [Jewish covenantal] camp to join his company, fully prepared themselves to bear the same disgrace now as was borne by Christ at the hands of sinners then (v. 13; cf. 11:25-26; 12:3). To enjoy the good things provided at Christ's altar, to find the city that is to come, we must embrace the stigma attached to his name (v. 14).

In closing his final exhortation, the author outlines again what faithful people do. They continue to confess Christ's name; they do not lose heart. The sacrifice acceptable to God now is praise for the grace offered through Jesus our High Priest and the public confession of allegiance to him, which is sure to bring reproach (v. 15). Having stood by his name, one must not bring reproach upon him through neglecting the opportunity to assist others sacrificially (v. 16). Nor may one disregard the leaders he has placed in positions of responsibility and pastoral care; the best course is one of prayerful support of them in their endeavors to do well for God (vv. 17-18).