Arlen L. Chitwood
Therefore 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, and let us run with endurance the race [a contest involving a struggle] that is set before us,
looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher [perfecter] of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who endured such hostility [gainsaying, hostel rebuttal] from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.
You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. [lit., “the sin,” ref. v. 1]:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening [child-training] of the LORD, nor be discouraged [faint] when you are rebuked [reproved] by Him;
For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges [brought about by improper actions in the contest, but with a view to correction] every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?
But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. (Hebrews 12:1-8).
To properly understand the book of Hebrews, one must keep the fact ever before him that the message of this book is directed to the saved, not the unsaved. The exhortations and warnings are for the child of God, not for those remaining outside this standing. The great burden of Hebrews is not that of rescuing the unsaved from the lake of fire, but that of bringing many sons to glory.
Hebrews is a book dealing with faith, a faith exercised by those who have already passed “from death to life.” Hebrews places the emphasis on a present faith, which not only governs present spiritual blessings but future spiritual blessings as well, blessings that will be realized in the coming kingdom.
Hebrews chapter eleven is recognized as the great chapter on faith; but it is, in reality, the capstone for the first ten chapters, and the conclusion of the entire matter is then given in chapter twelve.
The Race through Faith
Strive [strain every muscle] in the good contest [race] of the faith; lay hold upon life for the age, for which purpose you were called . . . . (1 Timothy 6:12a)
The preceding is a literal translation from the Greek text, with aionios translated “age” from a contextual standpoint, referring to the Messianic Era. The word “strive” is a translation of the Greek word agonizomai, from which the English word “agonize” is derived. One who agonizes in a contest or race strains every muscle of his being as he moves toward the goal.
Agonizomai is the word used in both Luke 13:24 and 1 Corinthians 9:25, translated “strive” and “competes (KJV: ‘striveth’).” And these verses refer to the same race as does 1 Timothy 6:12, which is also the same race referred to in Hebrews 12:1.
The race must ever be run completely apart from any fleshly means. Man’s goals, aims, ambitions, aspirations, plans, methods, schemes, etc., can, in no way, enter into this race; it is a “race of the faith.” The writer of Hebrews stresses over and over again in chapter eleven, “By faith,” “By faith,” “By faith . . . .,” with the summation of the matter being, “Therefore let us also . . . .” (Hebrews 12:1a, ASV).
In the race set before us we are to ever keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus. The literal translation in verse two is, “Looking from, to Jesus . . . .” We are to look away from the things of this world to “the author and perfecter of our faith.” He, in exchange for the joy set before Him, patiently endured the Cross, the opposition of sinners, and disregarded the shame. He resisted to the point of “bloodshed” (cf. v. 4).
During His prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, immediately before His crucifixion, He sweat “like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44); and at Golgotha He “poured out His soul [the soul is in the blood; He poured out His blood] unto death” (Isaiah 53:12). The clear teaching of Hebrews 12:4 is that Christians, if called upon, are to resist to this same degree as they strive in the race of the faith.
Christians are to “lay aside every weight [impediment] and the sin [the sin waiting to ensnare every Christian]” as they, through patient endurance, strive in the race. There is no room for a relaxed stance or a look back (cf. Matthew 26:40, 41; Luke 9:62; 17:32, 33). Disqualification for the prize not only can but will occur if one runs contrary to the rules (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 2:5).
The word “sin” in the first and fourth verses of Hebrews 12 is both singular and articular in the Greek text. The reference, by and through the use of the definite article, in the light of the context, is to a specific sin, not sin in general. The subject at hand is “faith”; and “the sin,” within the context, can only be the antithesis of “faith,” i.e., lack of faith, unfaithfulness. The besetting or ensnaring sin which Christians are to strive against in the race — the same, common sin for every Christian — is unfaithfulness, for this, and this alone, will result in failure.
Participants in the Race
The race in which Christians are engaged is that of a life characterized by faith resulting in obedience to the Lord’s commandments. Christians alone are engaged in the race. Unsaved individuals are aliens, outside the arena of faith, and, thus, cannot participate.
In the basic type established during the days of Moses, an unsaved person is positioned in Egypt, apart from the protection provided by the blood of the Passover Lamb (apart from that which the presence of the blood shows — a vicarious death); and the participants in the race have not only appropriated the blood of the Passover Lamb (“through faith” [Ephesians 2:8, 9]), but, within the framework of the complete type — which includes the Red Sea passage — are also positioned outside of Egypt.
The nation of Israel was delivered from Egypt for a purpose, and this purpose involved entrance into a land set before them. The Israelites outside of Egypt in the wilderness constitute the type forming the teachings in Hebrews chapters three and four, as well as the type which must be referenced to correctly interpret Hebrews 6:4-6.
“Faith,” as set forth in these chapters, pertains to the experiences of the people of God beyond the Red Sea passage. God could deal with the Israelites in the wilderness only because they had previously kept the Passover and passed through the Red Sea. Apart from the first there could be no deliverance from the death of the firstborn; and apart from the second there could be no deliverance from Egypt. Both had to occur before the Israelites were in a position to be dealt with by God concerning entrance into the land of Canaan.
Christians, likewise, have been delivered from Egypt for a purpose, and this purpose involves entrance into a land set before them. The antitype of that which is taught in Hebrews 3:1-4:16; 6:4-6; 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 must be understood in order to place the race in which Christians are engaged in its proper perspective. The reason that Paul referred to this race in the verses immediately preceding 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 (9:24-27) is, thus, self-evident. The race in 1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1 can only occur, as in the type, outside of Egypt. God can deal with Christians in this manner (in the race) only because they have previously appropriated the blood of the Passover Lamb and passed through the antitype of the Red Sea — that which is symbolized by the waters of baptism.
(Note: Baptism, as in the observance of the Lord’s Table, has no power in and of itself per se. Rather, the power lies in that which is shown through baptism, or in that which is shown through observing the Lord’s Table.
And it must forever be kept in mind that both have to do solely with the saved, never with the unsaved.)
Apart from the blood of the Passover Lamb there can be no deliverance from the death of the firstborn, and apart from that which is shown through the waters of baptism there can be no deliverance from Egypt. Both must occur before a Christian is in a position to be dealt with by God concerning entrance into the antitype of the land of Canaan.
Drawing from the type, an unbaptized Christian is on the right side of the blood but on the wrong side of the water. He is still in Egypt, safe from the death of the firstborn, but in no position to run the race (cf. 1 John 5:5-8).
This can perhaps best be seen and understood by and through Christ’s dealings with Nicodemus in John chapter three, along with related passages from the Pauline epistles. The subject in Christ’s dealings with Nicodemus had to do with signs in relation to the message being proclaimed, which was the proffered kingdom, not eternal life (though eternal life is dealt with later in the discourse [vv. 14-16]).
Christ’s two opening statements to Nicodemus drew from a large section of Israeli history, extending from the Red Sea passage in Exodus chapter fourteen to the entrance of the Israelites into the land in the book of Joshua. This is something that Nicodemus would have been quite familiar with, though he wasn’t able to properly relate Christ’s statements to this part of Israeli history. And this would account for Christ’s sharp rebuke later in the conversation, when this became quite apparent:
Are you the teacher of Israel [lit., not just any teacher, but a particular teacher], and do not know these things? (John 3:10b)
In this respect, note Jesus’ statement back in John 3:5, explaining that which He had opened with in verse three. And an understanding of this will explain why the message of the kingdom to Israel was accompanied by baptism, or why Christians are baptized today.
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit [Greek: Except a man be born (brought forth) out of water and Spirit], he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
(The construction of the Greek text of John 3:5 requires that both “water” and “Spirit” be understood the same way — either both in a literal sense or both in a figurative sense. “Water” cannot be understood one way and “Spirit” another.)
Then, the type, beginning in Exodus chapter fourteen, opens John 3:3, 5 to one’s understanding.
1) Out of Water
There is really no way that Nicodemus could have associated Christ’s statements in John 3:3, 5 with the events back in Exodus chapter twelve — the Passover. The Passover, the first of seven Jewish festivals given to the Israelites under Moses (cf. Leviticus 23:1ff), had to do with events that Nicodemus would have known that the nation had kept, which Israel had been observing year after year over centuries of time. And, being among Israel’s religious leaders, he could only have been among those participating in these events.
The conversation between Christ and Nicodemus in John 3:1ff could only have been a conversation between Christ and a person who had already experienced the death of the firstborn, as seen in Exodus 12:1ff. And, beyond this, according to that which is clearly seen and stated in both the text and context, the subject matter had to do with the Jewish people and the kingdom (a people who could only be viewed as saved, having availed themselves of the blood of slain paschal lambs, with the firstborn having died vicariously).
This conversation could have had nothing to do with eternal salvation, which, of necessity, would have related to the events of Exodus chapter twelve.
That to which Jesus referred could only be seen in the type as having to do with events beyond the Passover in Exodus 12:1ff. It could only have been understood as having to do with a continued divine work beyond that which is foreshadowed by the events of day one in Genesis chapter one. It could only have been understood as having to do with that which is seen throughout days two through six — a continued bringing forth from above, with a goal in view.
In the original type in Genesis 1:1-2:3, this goal is seen as a seventh day of rest. In the type beginning in Exodus chapter twelve, this goal is seen as realizing an inheritance in another land, within a theocracy. And both types point to different facets of exactly the same thing and occurring during exactly the same time — events during the 1,000-year Messianic Era, which will be the seventh millennium following six millennia of divine restorative work.
Born out of water from John 3:5, in the type beginning in Exodus chapter twelve, can only have to do with the symbolism as seen in the Red Sea passage following the Passover.
The Israelites (who had experienced the death of the firstborn) were then taken down into the Sea, symbolizing burial following death (taken down into the place of death) and raised up out of the Sea, symbolizing resurrection (raised up out of the place of death) and placed on the eastern banks of the Sea (Exodus 12-15).
They stood on the eastern banks of the Sea by and through supernatural means, wherein resurrection power was exhibited. And they stood in this position with a view to an inheritance in another land, within a theocracy.
The Israelites, passing through the Sea, had gone down into the place of death. Only the dead are to be buried, and the death of the firstborn had just occurred. Thus, a burial must also occur. But beyond burial, with a vicarious death of the firstborn, there must also be a resurrection.
The Israelites, following the death of the firstborn, possessed spiritual life. Thus, they had to be raised from the place of death to walk “in newness of life” — something having to do with the spiritual man alone, for this resurrection has nothing to do with the man of flesh. He is to be left in the place of death.
This is pictured during the present dispensation by and through the act of baptism. A person (a Christian), having experienced the death of the firstborn vicariously (by and through the blood of the Paschal Lamb who died in his stead), is placed down in the waters. He then, within the symbolism involved, finds himself in the place of death, beneath the waters.
But, because the One providing the vicarious death conquered death, the Christian can be removed from the waters and find himself in the position of having been raised with Christ (Colossians 2:12; 3:1ff).
And in this position — wrought through supernatural, resurrection power — the Christian is to walk “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), with a view to an inheritance in another land, within a theocracy.
It is going down into the place of death because of the death of the firstborn, and it is rising from this place, as Christ was raised, because the person possesses spiritual life. And this rising has to do with the spiritual man alone, for again, this resurrection has nothing to do with the man of flesh. He is to be left in the place of death.
2) Out of Spirit
In John 3:5, Christ not only referred to a birth (a bringing forth) out of water in the preceding respect, but He also referred to a birth (a bringing forth) out of Spirit as well.
In the type, this is seen in and through the Israelites, on the eastern bank of the Sea, being led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, as they moved toward an inheritance in another land, within a theocracy.
And the antitype is evident. A Christian, raised from the waters to walk “in newness of life,” has the indwelling Spirit to lead him into all truth, as he moves toward an inheritance in another land, within a theocracy.
There must be a resurrection in view. Then, the one raised from the place of death must follow the man of spirit, allowing the Spirit to fill and lead him throughout his pilgrim journey (cf. Ephesians 5:18, 19; Colossians 3:16).
And the entire matter rests upon that which is initially seen and set forth in an unchangeable fashion in Genesis 1:2b-25 — the ruined creation removed from its watery grave and completely restored over six days’ time by means of a work of the Spirit throughout.
There must be an initial bringing forth from above (a passing “from death to life” [Genesis 1:2b-5; cf. John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1, 5]); then, there must be a continued bringing forth from above (Genesis 1:6-25). And John 3:3-5 deals with two aspects of the latter, not with the former.
(For additional information on this subject, refer to the author’s book, Brought Forth from Above.)
Purpose of the Race
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. [lit., “I myself should be rejected”]. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
The great “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1 is comprised of saints who have not only completed the race, but have also completed the race in a satisfactory manner. The specific reference is to the Old Testament saints in chapter eleven who moved through their earthly pilgrimage “by faith.” The words, “Therefore let us also” (ASV), indicate that we are to run the race in the same manner that they ran the race. Successful completion of the race on their part was “by faith,” and successful completion of the race on our part must be through the same means.
The response, “by faith,” on the part of individuals throughout chapter eleven was occasioned by the promises of God. God had, by and through His revelation “to the fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1), revealed certain things concerning His plans and purposes. And within the scope of God’s revelation concerning His plans and purposes lay the promises of future blessings that would one day be realized by His people. Numerous Old Testament saints became interested in these things, took their eyes off the present, and looked out unto that which the future held, believing that God would ultimately bring to pass that which He had promised.
The response, “by faith,” on the part of individuals today is also occasioned by the promises of God. God has, through His revelation “in these last days . . . to us” (Hebrews 1:2), revealed certain things concerning His plans and purposes. And within the scope of this revelation lies the promises of future spiritual blessings that will one day be realized by Christians. As Christians become interested in these things, they take their eyes off of the present and look out to that which the future holds, believing that God will ultimately bring to pass that which He has promised.
First Corinthians 9:25 reveals that an “imperishable crown” will be given to those who successfully complete the race. Other crowns held out before the participants are a “crown of rejoicing” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20; Philippians 4:1), a “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:7, 8), a “crown of life” (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), and a “crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:2-4).
Crowns are to be worn by those who occupy positions of rulership with Christ in His coming kingdom. These positions are presently being offered to Christians. God is presently extending to Christians the opportunity to qualify for a crown and, thus, be among those who rule from the heavens as joint-heirs with His Son. Only those Christians who qualify for one or more of the five crowns will be placed in positions of power and authority, for no uncrowned individual will rule in the kingdom of Christ.
First Timothy 6:12 reveals that the Christians’ calling has to do with “life for the age,” which is derived by and through striving in the “race of the faith” (refer to the previously corrected translation of this verse). The words “life for the age” in the corrected translation (translated “eternal life” in most versions) refer to the salvation of the soul (life) in relation to the coming age, the Messianic Era.
That eternal life cannot be in view is evident. Eternal life is not obtained by and through striving in a race. Eternal life is a free gift, obtained completely apart from the race, and is the present possession of every believer. One is not even qualified to enter the race unless he is in possession of eternal life.
Life for the age though is something quite different. It is a future hope held out before those who presently possess eternal life and are engaged in the race for the victor’s crown.
(The Greek language actually contains no word for “eternal.” The word used in 1 Timothy 6:12 [aionios, “a space of time,” “an age”] can, and many times must, be understood as “eternal”; but this meaning is derived from the textual usage of the word, not from the word itself.
John 3:15, 16 is an example of a text where aionios, contextually, must be understood as meaning “eternal,” for the type of life derived by and through faith in Christ, as it pertains to His finished work at Calvary [v. 14], can only be “eternal life.”
Certain other times in the New Testament the word aionios must be understood as referring to “an age,” and an age always has a definite beginning and an end.
Understanding aionios in this sense is also derived from the textual or contextual usage of the word rather than the word itself. Mark 10:17, 30; Romans 16:25; Galatians 6:8; Titus 1:2; 3:7 are examples of verses where aionios cannot be understood in the sense of “eternal.”)
Scriptures bearing upon the race in which Christians are presently engaged always connect the object of the race with participating in the activities of the coming age.
Shame and suffering constitute the normal lot for the faithful today. Christians are to be associated with Christ in His sufferings, reproach, and rejection. The day of His exaltation and glory is yet future. And the faithful who are identified with Him during the present day are the ones who will also be identified with Him during that coming day. Old Testament saints, by and through God’s revelation to them, understood these things; and New Testament saints are to understand these things by and through the same means.
(For additional information on the race of the faith in Hebrews 12:1, 2, refer to the author’s book, Run to Win.)
Bringing Many Sons to Glory
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 of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:10)
“Child-training,” with a view to sonship, is set forth as the primary object of faith in the book of Hebrews. Christians are presently being trained as “sons”; and, through proper training, they are being prepared for that future time when God will bring “many sons to glory.” Since this is the case, it is only natural that this subject would appear in all its fullness in chapter twelve — the chapter containing summation verses for the first eleven chapters of Hebrews.
The writer of Hebrews, in 12:5b, 6, quotes the words of Solomon to his son recorded in Proverbs 3:11, 12. Solomon rightly contemplated that his son would one day inherit the throne in his kingdom. Thus, Solomon counseled his son accordingly, for it was necessary that his son be properly trained for this high position.
And this is exactly what God is doing for the ones who are about to become joint-heirs with His Son, be seated with Him on the throne, and rule with Him in the kingdom. These individuals are today being called out and trained for the exalted positions into which they are about to enter.
In Hebrews 12:5ff there is a great deal of misunderstanding, not only concerning chastening itself, but also concerning the reason for chastening and the identity of the ones being chastened. Chastening is a teaching or training process designed to bring a particular group of individuals into a particular position for a particular purpose.
The words “chastening,” “chastens,” “chasten,” and “chastened” in Hebrews 12:5-11 are translations of either the Greek verb paideuo or the noun paideia. Paideuo and paideia, as used in this passage, have to do with “the rearing of a child”; the words have to do with “instruction,” “the education,” of a child.
And this instruction, this education, of the child is performed with a view to proper growth into manhood. The root idea of paideuo and paideia, as used in these verses in Hebrews, is brought out in passages such as,
Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians . . . . (Acts. 7:22a)
. . . for instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16b)
teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,
looking for that blessed hope. . . . (Titus 2:12, 13a)
The training that a child of God receives is rooted in instruction from the Word of God, but in a broader sense, this training also encompasses all the trials and testing of life and is intimately associated with “scourging” (Hebrews 12:6). In reality though, the latter must be based on the former; for without proper instruction from the Word of God, the trials, testing, and scourging that the Lord brings to pass would be meaningless.
“Faith” rooted in a mature knowledge of the Word of God is the prerequisite, and it is “in this faith” that Christians are to move victoriously through the trials and testing of life (cf. James 1:2-6; 1 Peter 1:7-11; 2 Peter 1:2-8).
1) Purpose of Chastening
What is God’s great purpose for the Church during the dispensation in which we live?
“The answer is simple. The establishing of a great empire upon what has been hostile territory lately conquered, and its consequent permanent administration, demands a large body of trained and qualified officials, having full knowledge of the purposes of their Sovereign, and of the means by which they are to be served, and with enthusiastic devotion to His ends. Every great leader will train such men in advance of the actual conquest, so that they shall be at hand immediately when the hour strikes. This is what God is doing: this is His purpose for this selected company, the Church.
With this high end in view they are put through a severe school of discipline of character, to train them to feel and to act like their King, and thus be qualified to cooperate with Him in His coming day.”
— G. H. Lang
Moses was trained “in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). He was trained in this manner with a view to that day when he would occupy a responsible position, as an adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, among the members of the royal family of Egypt. All of his child-training as a son in Pharaoh’s court was directed toward this end.
Christians, in like manner, are being trained, not in the wisdom of the Egyptians (the world), but in the wisdom that comes from on high. They are being trained for that day when they will be adopted and take responsible positions, as sons, among the members of the royal family of heaven. All child-training as sons in God’s court is directed toward this end.
2) Identity of the Chastened
The chastened and the non-chastened in Hebrews 12:5ff should never be thought of in the sense of saved and unsaved individuals, else one will completely miss that which is in view. This passage is dealing with Christians alone, not with Christians and non-Christians. These verses involve “child-training” with a view to sonship and rulership. Only children (Christians) are presently being dealt with as sons (cf. Romans 8:14-17).
Note verse seven: Literally translated, the first part of this verse reads,
If you [Christians] are patiently enduring child-training, God is dealing with you as sons.
The antithesis, a definite possibility brought out in verse eight, is that Christians who are not patiently enduring child-training are not being dealt with as sons.
The clear teaching in this passage is that the children of God patiently enduring child-training are being dealt with by God as sons, with a view to that day when they will be adopted. The children of God not patiently enduring child-training are not being dealt with as sons, and they will not be among the adopted.
Bear in mind that “adoption” has to do with sonship, which itself implies rulership. Only those patiently enduring child-training as sons will be among the many sons whom the Lord will bring to glory.
Then, with the preceding in view, note verse eight:
But if you [Christians — same as v. 7] are without chastening, of which all have become partakers [all who are “patiently enduring child-training” and, thus, being dealt with “as sons,” (v. 7)], then you are illegitimate and not sons.
The Greek word translated “illegitimate (KJV: ‘bastards’ [the plural of nothos, nothoi])” only appears this one time in the entire New Testament. The word within its context is used relative to the ones not being trained as opposed to the ones being trained. The ones not being trained, the nothoi, are simply those Christians (children) who have rejected God’s training and, thus, cannot be dealt with as sons.
The entire creation presently “groans and labors with birth pangs” waiting for “the revealing of the sons of God.” This condition will persist throughout the entire child-training era — the entire present dispensation. Then, after the training is over, “He who is coming will come and will not tarry,” the adoption will occur, and the adopted sons of God will be elevated to high positions of power and authority with God’s Son, Jesus — positions that are presently being “reserved in heaven” for the faithful (Romans 8:18-23; Hebrews 10:37; 1 Peter 1:4).
(Refer to Chapter 14 in this book for more information on child-training as sons in Hebrews 12:5-8. Also, see the appendix for information on adoption and firstborn sons.)