The Great Cloud of Witnesses

cloud of witnessesI’ve been reading through the book of Hebrews lately. The eleventh and twelfth chapters have long been favorites of mine. I am especially fond of Hebrews 12:1-2. “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 endurance the race that is set before us…”

When I’ve read that verse in the past, I’ve always thought it meant that those people were witnesses of what we are doing. Their job is to see our lives and cheer us on. Today, though, I’m not so sure that’s a correct understanding.

Think about it. If that’s really what the writer of Hebrews meant, wouldn’t the word spectators be a better choice? They would be like the fans at a sporting event; they are spectators, watching the action and cheering the team on. But witnesses seems to have a different connotation.

It’s the same Greek word that Jesus used in Acts 1:8, when he said that we would be His witnesses. As His witnesses, we tell people what He’s done, much like a witness in a courtroom would do.

It seems to me, then, that those people who surround us—that great cloud of witnesses—are not witnesses of us but to us. They are, after all, the ones who have gone on before us. They testify, by their very presence, of the goodness and mercy of God. They are witnesses of His grace. And as such, they stir us on to keep moving forward in our own faith walk.

When I remember God’s faithfulness to Abraham and the other patriarchs, it propels me forward. As I recall how the Lord worked through people like Moses, David, Samuel, and others, it causes me to want to keep running the race.

Let the lives of those who have gone before you be a testimony—a witness—to you to keep moving onward.

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