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What the Bible says about Great Cloud of Witnesses
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Galatians 3:20

A mediator is only necessary when there is an agreement for two or more parties to agree to or discuss. God's promise to Abraham, and the inheritance that will come from that in the future, was not something that had to be negotiated. A mediator was not necessary, because there was only one party—God—who was agreeing to do a certain action. God's promise was His intent to carry something out, and so it was not necessary for there to be a mediator.

The Mosaic covenant required a mediator. Moses stood between the Rock and the children of Israel. The Israelites did not want to deal directly with God (Exodus 20:18-21) and instead requested that Moses speak with God and then speak to the children of Israel. The Old Covenant was set up with a high priest as an intercessor, who would stand between God and the people. The system, the covenant, did not allow for a personal relationship to develop between God and an individual, except in the rare exceptions where God made it happen. But it was not available to the average Israelite.

God's promise is sure! Abraham and the others in the "cloud of witnesses" all died without receiving the promises in their entirety. But the spiritual children of Abraham still stand to inherit eternal life, the earth, etc. This was not an agreement or covenant, but a promise.

When the covenant was ratified at Sinai, Moses was the mediator for only physical Israel. The Gentiles, the rest of the people who would be the spiritual descendents of Abraham, were not represented. Because of this, the agreement made at Sinai could not affect the unrepresented people. This is why the Old Covenant, or the Mosaic Covenant, is not binding anymore: Christ, the Seed, came to earth as a man, and the temporary covenant between God and Israel became obsolete.

God's law did not become obsolete, though—God does not change, and so His definition of what is right and what is wrong does not change. If it was wrong for the Israelites to commit adultery or fornication, it is still wrong now. If it was wrong for the children of Israel to break the Sabbath, it is still wrong now. Obedience to God's law was a condition of the covenanted agreement, but doing away with the covenant does not do away with God's law!

David C. Grabbe

Hebrews 3:5

Moses is among that "great cloud of witnesses," and we can learn a great deal from his life. Here, the author says he was faithful as a servant. Can God give any higher tribute to a man than that? Nobody receives the accolades from God that Moses does. For instance, "Moses, the servant of God"—only five people in the Bible are called that.

He did the job God gave him, and he did it well. This is what set him apart: He was faithful. He fulfilled his responsibilities so well that, in verse 2, our Messiah—our Savior—is compared to Moses (not the other way around). The text says, ". . . even as Moses." That is pretty high praise.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Conviction and Moses

Hebrews 5:13-14

The Hebrews had to be reminded in the strongest of terms that the just shall live by faith, and that God was not pleased with those who turned and ran in the day of battle. We do not want to allow ourselves to get in that fix. Nor do we want to become discouraged, thinking we will never measure up to what God requires of us and think, "This task is too hard."

Jesus, indeed, warned that the way is narrow and difficult, but it is not impossible because God has promised never to give us something that is too hard for us. God plays the game, as it were, according to the abilities of each individual. Though there is a standard against which everyone is judged, everyone is judged fairly—according to their natural ability and according to the gifts that God has given to them. Also, "to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48).

So no one can look at his neighbor and compare himself with him, because no one knows exactly where the other person stands. There has to be some tolerance of and patience with one another. We must have an attitude of forgiveness, even of encouragement. We have to do whatever we can that might help the other person make it into the Kingdom of God. That is part of our responsibility.

Besides the fact that we know those things, there is also the "great cloud of witnesses" that is mentioned in Hebrews 12:1. That is, those who have gone before and are witnesses to us that God is faithful. How are they witnesses? They finished the race, and are awaiting the resurrection! God has given us witness of their lives, and how and why they made it. This witness illustrates His involvement in their lives.

He has recorded those things so that we can understand that God will deal with us in a merciful way. He has not called us to lose us but to save us. He is able to do what He sets His hand to do. We are in good hands—the best! We are in the most secure position that we could possibly be. That "great cloud of witnesses" witnesses to us that, if they did it, we can do it too.

So there is no need to get discouraged, even though the way for each of us is just as hard, just as difficult, as it has to be. He tells us in His Word that He will do far more—over and above what we can even begin to think that He is capable of doing—to ensure that we will be saved.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Conviction and Moses

Hebrews 10:1-10

This passage makes a distinct statement about the comparison between Christ and everything or everyone who came before He arrived on earth to complete the work of God. Jesus' teaching, leadership, and personal example is reality compared to the misty shadows cast by everything else.

The key term throughout Hebrews, then, is “better.” The author uses the comparative “better” a number of critical times: Hebrews 1:4 (“so much better than the angels”); Hebrews 7:19 (“a better hope”); Hebrews 7:22; 8:6 “(a better covenant”); Hebrews 8:6 (“better promises”); Hebrews 9:23 (“better sacrifices”); Hebrews 10:34 (“a better and enduring possession”); Hebrews 11:16 (“a better . . . country”); Hebrews 11:35 (“a better resurrection”); and Hebrews 11:40 (“something better”).

Not only is “better” emphasized, but “greatness” is also mentioned several times: Hebrews 2:3 (“so great a salvation”); Hebrews 4:14 (“a great High Priest”); Hebrews 7:4 (“how great this man was”); Hebrews 9:11 (“the greater and more perfect Tabernacle”); Hebrews 10:32 (“a great struggle with sufferings”); Hebrews 10:35 (“great reward”); Hebrews 12:1 (“so great a cloud of witnesses”); and Hebrews 13:20 (“that great Shepherd of the sheep”).

The author draws the Hebrews' attention to the contrast between what they gave up in converting and what they gained: Christians have “a great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14); “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19); and an exclusive altar (Hebrews 13:10). Christians are also exhorted to look forward to “the world to come” (Hebrews 2:5); to “the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5); to the New Covenant being made with the united houses of Israel and Judah (Hebrews 8:10); to “the good things to come” (Hebrews 9:11); to Christ's second appearing for salvation (Hebrews 9:28); to the receipt of the promise at His coming (Hebrews 10:36-37); and to a future heavenly city (Hebrews 11:14-16; 13:14).

Everywhere a reader turns within Hebrews, by means of sheer repetition of comparisons revealing the superiority of Christ, Christianity, and the New Covenant, he or she is quietly but forcefully drawn to one overriding reality. The center of Judaism was the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices, all of which were fine teachers and good experiences as God intended them. Even so, they are not what God desires for His children at this time within His purpose. They are not good enough for His children now. The author writes in Hebrews 8:4-6, 13:

For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. . . . In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Though the Jewish converts were indeed deprived of the distinctive symbols of the past, they were but shadows, symbols, mere copies of heavenly things. Through God's calling and the gifts He provides, they were then, as we are today, dealing with realities and preparing for the realities of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Three)

Hebrews 11:3

We have generally understood this verse to mean that the material creation, which we can clearly see, was produced from invisible spirit. It is certainly a possible meaning, but it is probably not its primary one. In his book, Great Cloud of Witnesses (pp. 12-14), E. W. Bullinger provides an alternative that appears more accurate and fitting within the context of Hebrews 11.

The word "worlds" is translated from the Greek aion, meaning "age," in the sense of a period of time or a dispensation. It derives from a root that means "continued," and it is used as "world" only when "world" gives a better sense of a period of time, not the physical creation. It could be used if one said "the world that then was" or "the world to come."

"Framed" also appears in Hebrews 10:5, where it is more clearly and accurately translated "prepared." It means "to complete thoroughly," "to rule" (even "overrule"), or "to order" (by God in this case). "Word" is not logos but rhema, meaning "revealed words." Finally, "made" is ginomai, which means "to generate," "to cause to be," "to happen," or "to come to pass." It is not the word normally used to indicate God is creating.

Using these definitions, we could translate the verse as, "By faith we perceive by the revealed words of God that the ages were prepared, so that the things we see come to pass not from things that appear." Those of us who walk by faith know that a great Unseen Hand guides, indeed overrules, events on this earth. This verse means that the historical events we read of in God's Word were not chance occurrences, but God was working behind the scenes to bring His purpose to the conclusion He has foreordained. In short, it says, "God controls the march of history." The great men and women listed in Hebrews 11 lived their lives firmly knowing this truth. That is why they could live in faith.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Promises Are Sure!


 




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