Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)
This passage conjures up a vision of the saints in a heavenly stadium peering over the edge of billowy clouds cheering us on in the contest of life. While there may be some truth in that, the verse refers to us having more than saintly cheerleaders urging us forward. The Greek verb translated “compassed about”—(echontes perikemenon) means “to hold around,” and it is present, active, nominative meaning that the subject is performing the action. In other words, “we are holding around us” this great cloud of witnesses.
But who or what is this “great cloud of witnesses?” In the Greek, “cloud” is singular as it is translated in English, but this singular cloud contains multiple witnesses. “Witnesses” is the translation of the Greek martúron, which can be translated as martyr, witness or “record.” Considering that our verse begins with “wherefore” [therefore], we need to look back to what has been said previously and apply it to the current statement. Chapter 11 of Hebrews is the “record” of the heroes of the faith. The emphasis of the record is not on the heroes themselves, but on their faith. “But without faith, it is impossible to please [God], for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
“We hold around us” this great “record” of the faith and of the faithful. This “record” informs us of how God rewarded the faith of those who have gone on before, and likewise He promises to reward those who demonstrate faith in Him today and who “diligently seek Him.” We also have the record of how God has provided for us in our own past. So, since we hold God’s great track record, we need to “lay aside every weight;” “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things that are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). With all this in mind, “let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” God is faithful!