Great Cloud of Witnesses – who are they?

Heb. 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us

Is there in the ‘heavenly stadium’ – looking down on Christians still in the race? Who are they that witness the deeds of Christians? Most often the above verse is interpreted that either the angels or the departed saints, the ‘Church of God’ watch Christians from heaven.

Well, this is a perfect example of taking a verse out of context.

The verse starts with the term ‘therefore’, that is, this points to what was said before and we must read the preceding chapter to correctly understand what is being said. Chapter 11 is about how various past heroes testified about their faith through what they did. The testimony was to those around them, that is, to the world, not to some kind of ‘heavenly stadium’. The chapter concludes like this:

Heb. 12:32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated– 38 of whom the world was not worthy– wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Deeds evidencing faith? Yes, just as James (aka Jacov) says,

Jas 2:17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. 18 Yes, a man will say, “You have faith, and I have works.? Show me your faith from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith worked with his works, and by works faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness;? and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith. 25 In like manner wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit [GK ‘pneuma’ – correct translation: ‘the body without breath’ or ‘the person who doesn’t breathe’] is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.

It is clear that Jacov is reflecting on the very same matter as the writer of Hebrews. It is the world around us that needs to see the faith of the faithful so that their faith(fulness – sorry, faith is not head knowledge but trust and deeds together) may be recognised.

The other matter I’d like to comment on, there is no such a thing as ‘Church of God’. Don’t you think that the term today ‘church’ carries a very different meaning to what the term originally meant? For this reason I like to avoid using it when talking about biblical matters. The meaning of the term is ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’, just as we see the assembling of the Jewish people on the pages of the Tanakh. The ‘congregation of God’ does not only consist of those who pray the sinners’ prayer and believe all the checkpoint churches ask you to subscribe to, but it consists of those people who enter into covenant relationship with God – whether through the Adamic, Noahide, Abrahamic, Mosaic or renewed covenants, and life faithfully. What counts is faithful life, not head knowledge and checkpoints.


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