- Locate the passage.
Hebrews 12:1–17 is closely connected with the preceding chapter by the use of the strong inferential conjunction toigaroun, “therefore,” which occurs only one other time in the New Testament. The heroes of Hebrews 11 endured and overcame by faith. In like manner, Christians must do the same (12:1–3).
The author makes use of tail-head linkage in the final paragraph of Heb 11:39–40 and 12:1 with the repetition of “witness” and the references to “us” and “we.” The chapter is framed by an inclusio formed by the Greek hortatory subjunctive in 12:1, “let us run,” and by two Greek hortatory subjunctives in 12:28, “let us be thankful,” and “[let us] worship God.”
Hortatory. Note the Greek hortatory subjunctive in v. 2 translated as “Let us run….” Also note the imperative in v. 3 translated “Consider Him….”
Hebrews 12 is marked immediately by a shift in genre from expository to hortatory, and a corresponding shift in mood from the indicative to the imperative with its concomitant shift from the third person to the use of the first and second person.
- Determine the structure of the text
Hebrews 12:1–29 can be subdivided into two sub-sections: 12:1–17 and 12:18–29. The first sub-section contains four paragraphs: 1–3, 4–11, 12–13 and 14–17. The second sub-section contains three paragraphs: 18–24, 25–27 and 28–29.
The structure of Heb 12:1-3 can be diagrammed as follows:
trecwmen (note the prepositional phrase dia is fronted for emphasis and
denotes manner – how we should run)
econte~… grounds for the command – generic to chap 11 specific
apoqemenoi…circumstance for the command
action precedes main verb (hence aorist tense)
aforwnte~…attendant circumstance for the command
circumstance accompanies action of main verb
(hence – present tense)
oJv~…uJpemeinen… (relative pronoun gives a description of Jesus)
te (indicates a very close relationship between two verbs)
kekaqiken. (perfect tense – He is there for all eternity!!)
BLOCK DIAGRAM OF HEBREWS 12:1-2
Therefore let us run with endurance the race set before us
having so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us
laying aside every weight and the sin that entangles us
looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith
who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
scorning the shame, and at the right hand of the throne of
God has taken his seat.
Hebrews 12:1-2 has one imperative (hortatory subjunctive in Greek – “Let us run”)
This is followed by three participial clauses modifying the imperative:
(“having…”, “laying aside”, and “looking”)
The relative pronoun “who” modifies “Jesus” and further describes him.
Heb. 12:1-2 has one main point (the imperative clause) followed by 3 sub-points explaining how to fulfill the exhortation to run. The third participial clause is further modified by a description of Jesus.
Heb. 12:3 is a second sentence in the paragraph containing an imperative: “Consider Him….” Followed by the purpose why we should consider Jesus: so as not to grow weary and lose heart (the opposite of endurance).
- Exegete the passage
The repetition of “endurance” in each of the first three verses marks the theme of the section through v. 17. The author sets the stage for this section with his statement in 10:36 that the readers need endurance.
The main point of 12:1–3 is the command to “run the race with endurance,” considering the suffering of Jesus himself who endured the cross and completed the work of atonement.
The main verb in Heb 12:1–3 is the hortatory subjunctive “let us run” in v. 2. Three participles modify this verb and provide the reason and the means/manner in which Christians are to run. This syntactical structure is obscured by the NIV’s translation of the latter two participles in a hortatory fashion: “Let us throw of” and “Let us fix our eyes.” Although it is not uncommon to find commentators and translators rendering the participle apothemenoi, “let us throw off,” in a hortatory manner, it is preferable to view it semantically as indicating the means by which the race is to be run: “let us run by means of throwing off. . . .” In the same way, aphorōntes “let us fix our eyes” can be taken to encode means/manner as well: “run the race by means of fixing our eyes. . . .” The first participle, echontes “having,” is usually taken in a causal way: “because we have a great cloud of witnesses. . .let us run the race.” However one construes the participles, it is important to note their modification of the main verb “let us run,” since linguistically the finite verb carries more semantic weight than the subordinate participles.
The author is developing the metaphor of the footrace in 12:1–2. He does so by the use of the main verb “let us run” which has the phrase “with perseverance (endurance)” fronted before the verb for emphasis. Hebrews 12:1–2 is one sentence in the Greek text comprised of a main clause and three subordinate clauses, each introduced by participles.
Note that v. 3 is introduced by the Greek subordinating conjunction gar, which gives the grounds for the exhortation in vv. 1-2.
See Neva Miller, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Analytical and Exegetical Handbook, 383-89; J. Harold Greenlee, Hebrews: An Exegetical Summary, 501-12; and David L. Allen, Hebrews, 568-77, for more detailed exegetical and semantic analysis of the text.
- Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon.
A. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses (the heroes of faith in chapter 11).
B. We should lay aside anything that impedes progress in the Christian life.
I. Run the race of the Christian life with endurance
C. Keep focused on Jesus always because He endured.
D. Keep focused on Jesus always so you will not grow weary and lose heart. (v. 3).