Faith is a topic which is important for most Christians to understand. No comprehensive teaching on ‘Christian Faith’ would be complete without studying Hebrews Chapters 11 and 12. The ‘Book of Hebrews’ was a letter written to Israelites (Hebrews) throughout the world, who had become enlightened (Christians.) Chapter 11 opens by giving a simple definition of faith and then reminds the Hebrews about the faith of their elders (ancestors.) It recounts stories of their faith, which testify of their enduring faith. Chapter 12 ties together the author’s theme of this section. In it, he exhorts those Hebrews who had become Christians to run their race with enduring faith. They were to look at Jesus’ example. Christ had finished His own race of endurance and received His crown. He was to be their prime example of how to run with faith.
Background/context: Prior to this in Chapter 10, the author reminded them that after they became enlightened (became Christians) they had been the recipients of public ridicule, endured hardships, were persecuted, and had their goods confiscated. He enjoined them to continue in their faith, and not turn back. Telling them that those who shrank back (walked away from their faith) would go to destruction, and those who pressed on would obtain life. (Hebrews 10:32-39).
Hebrews 10:38-39 “but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
Note: The notion that God would send those who shrank back to destruction was not a new concept for the Children of Israel. They had read the Old Testament prophets who spoke concerning the fate of those who shrank back. The verse 38 of Hebrews 10 was in fact a direct quote taken from the Greek translation of the book of Habakkuk saying:
Habakkuk 2:4 (Septuagint) “if any man should shrink back, My soul shall not be well pleased in him; but the righteous shall live by faith”.
Definition of faith: After calling for them to continue in their faith in the face of hardships and suffering, Chapter 11, continues by describing faith itself.
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is assurance of hope, the conviction of matters not seen.
In this one sentence the author gives a profound but simple definition of true faith. Faith is that rock solid evidence within, which provides proof that a matter or event that God has foretold, but has not yet happened, will surely happen. For the rest of the chapter the author uses stories taken from the lives of the Hebrew’s ancestors as examples of living this simple faith. These stories of what those elders accomplished bore witness to how completely they trusted in God’s promises. Theirs was a faith which assured hope, a faith that gave them confidence in what was not yet seen.
In ancient times, the faith of the elders produced certainty and strength. They knew that whatever God had told them would happen would. They had a confidence knowing God would do what He said He would do, because God always kept His promises.
Noah is a perfect example of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11:1. God told him that the great flood was coming and commanded him to build an ark. Noah obeyed and built the ark even though he had not yet seen the flood, but was convinced that it would happen.
Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Abraham also acted in faith, when he obeyed God and left on a journey to an unknown land, believing and trusting what was not yet seen, a new homeland.
Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
Sarah believed the evidence of her heart created by faith. She accepted as true that the impossible was possible; she would have a baby! She knew this was true because God ALWAYS keeps His promises!
Hebrews 11:11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.
Hebrews 11, continues by telling of many other great exploits of faith. Their ancestors trusted and had faith in the promise the Lord had made to each of them because they knew the God was trustworthy and faithful. Chapter 11 also lists some of the difficulties those elders went through. Even though some were tortured, imprisoned, and put to death, they all had a faith that endured until the end of their lives. They each lived their life in faith and each died in faith.
Running the Race with Endurance
In chapter 12 the author ties together his injunction to live the enduring faith of Chapter 10 with his listing of examples of great faith in Chapter 11. Since the Hebrews had so many stories which were witnesses to the great faith of their ancestors, they too must meet that standard. Their ancestors had already successfully run and finished their own races. They must live up to those examples, put away sin or any other thing that would weigh them down and run their own race with endurance.
Hebrews 12:1Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, andlet us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Note: The author probably used the comparison of a runner running a race because the Hebrew people to whom he was writing had spread out and integrated into the Greek world and its culture. They understood the determination, commitment, and stamina, racers needed for training and running in these races. Those to whom the author was writing needed to press on in faith with the same unwavering determination, and commitment an athlete needs to finish well.
Hebrews 12:2-4 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the chief person (archegos) and accomplisher (teleiotes)of 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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
The Greek word ‘ἀρχηγός / Archegos’ is a person who has a position of authority, power, or respect, above others. English sometimes uses it to make compound words such as the word ‘archangel’ from the Greek ἀρχ-άγγελος (arch + angel, literally chief angel) or ‘archbishop’ from the Greek ἀρχ-ἐπισκοπή (arch + bishop, literally chief bishop.) We also use it as an adjective to denote a person who most personifies their position, like an arch rival, arch nemesis, or arch enemy.
‘Archegos’ is used four times in the New Testament. Here in Hebrews 12:2 and;
Acts 5:31 Him God has exalted to His right hand [to be] Prince (archegos) and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Acts 3:15 and killed the Prince (archegos) of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.
Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom [are] all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain (archegos) of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
Teleiotes is a person who completes or finishes something. The Bible uses teleiotes only this one time, but uses the verb form ‘teleo / τελέω’ several times. Teleo means to finish, bring to an end or complete something. Examples are:
Matthew 13:53 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished (teleo) these parables, that He departed from there.
Luke 18:31 Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished (teleo).
In their race of faith the most important example for the Hebrew Christians to look at was Jesus. He was the chief person (archegos) of faith who showed them how it was to be done, when He completed His own race. As part of His own race, Jesus endured the sufferings and agony of the cross. Even though He had not seen it, Jesus knew He would have victory, and knew the joy that His triumph would bring. The Hebrew Christians were to keep pressing on, even to the point of shedding their own blood, just as Jesus had.
Running to win
In his writings, Paul also compared Christian life to running a race. When he wrote to the church in Corinth, he compared Christian life to a runner who trains and disciplines himself so that he can run well. They were to discipline themselves and exercise self-control in everything, so they could run and win. Even Paul needed self-control and self-discipline in order to not be disqualified from his own race. Verse 27; “I discipline my body and bring it under control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
In Acts 20, Paul gave his farewell address to the Elders of Ephesus, they would never see him again. He compared his ministry and his Christian life, to an athlete running a race. Paul was nearing his finish and his race would soon be over.
Acts 20:24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Finishing a long, difficult, race takes determination, and strength of purpose. The phrases Paul used in Philippians 3:10-14, are reminiscent of the self-talk that passes through the mind of any athlete as he sets his mind, determined to finish a difficult race.
Paul said such things as “by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained.” “But I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul finished his race: When Paul wrote his second letter to his disciple and friend, Timothy, the emperor, Nero, had ordered his death and he would soon be executed. He tells his beloved Timothy that he had finished his race.
2 Timothy 4:6-8 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
We must run our own race:
Paul ran his race and received his reward. Each Christian must faithfully run his own race of faith until its end. He cannot let himself stop running or turn back. If he stops, stands still or retreats he goes to destruction. If he continues to strive to run his full race until its conclusion, he will receive life. Each of us must always be pushing forward toward the prize, our own upward calling of Jesus Christ, eternal life. We cannot lose sight of the goal or stop.