If the book of Hebrews is basically a sermon in written form (as many scholars describe it), then chapter twelve is the “invitation” at the conclusion of the sermon. The Holy Spirit summarizes all that has been said to this point with a “call to action” that begins with the instruction for Christians to lay aside or take off everything that could prevent us from finishing the “race” we have begun (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The image is an athlete shedding warmup clothes, ankle weights, anything “extra” that might hinder him from turning in his best possible time in a race! For the Christian, as we “compete” each day (with the devil, not with each other!) we must learn to leave behind the temptations, feelings of disappointment or regret, and past sins Satan uses to try to distract us from our goal (vs. 1). As long as we stay focused on our “finish line,” we can complete the race; but if we become distracted we are in danger of being disqualified. The apostle Paul used a military illustration to make this same point in 2 Timothy 2:4.
The basic lesson of Hebrews 12 is that being successful in living the Christian life is all about focus – if we concentrate on heaven and don’t allow ourselves to be distracted from that goal, then we can reach it (in due time, i.e., “with patience”). Jesus is the perfect example of this kind of focus. Verses 2-3 remind us that He was not distracted from His purpose by the attacks, contradictions, and opposition of those who fought against Him, even when it meant enduring something they considered “proof” that He was wrong (being crucified). Even with persecution from their families and neighbors, the Jewish Christians who first read these words had NOT “…resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (vs. 4) – they were (and we are) nowhere near enduring the kind of trials Jesus had experienced for their (our) sake!
The rest of chapter 12 illustrates that God’s discipline is meant to help us learn the kind of focus we need to reach heaven. In this setting, “discipline” does not mean “punishment” but the instructions, limitations, and corrections He provides through the scriptures. The appeal of Satan’s temptations is they appear “easy” where selfcontrol seems “hard” and not much “fun” for us. This is where the matter of focus comes in, with Jesus as our example: The Father did not “force” Him to go to the cross, it was His choice, and He kept to us because of His desire to provide salvation for all who are faithful to Him. In the same way, God never “forces” righteous living on anyone (vv. 5-12); He provides the guidance we need to live righteously, but it’s ultimately up to us to follow His instructions!
For the Jewish Christians who first read these words, the imagery of verses 18-24 must have resonated in a way that we modern readers can only dimly visualize; they were steeped in the history of Israel, and even standing “near” God’s presence at Mt. Sinai had terrified their ancestors (Exodus 19). These Jewish Christians, however, had received the blessing of perfect fellowship in the Father’s own presence because they now had JESUS (not Moses) as their Mediator, and the blessing of a covenant relationship with Him that is far superior to what they previously had in Moses’ law.
Therefore, these Christians are urged in verses 25-29 to avoid making the mistake of their ancient ancestors, who threw away God’s blessing, because the salvation they have received in Christ is the “last” blessing God will ever offer!