To understand what the cloud of witnesses is that surrounds us, we need to understand God’s throne in heaven, where worship and judgment occur. Revelation 4:4-24 describes the throne room worship, and Daniel 7:9 – 10 gives us a description of God as the Supreme Judge of all in the courts of heaven. The court of heaven is a judicial realm where cases are heard, legalities are determined, and verdicts are rendered by God the judge. Hebrews 12:22 – 24 mentions those who give judicial testimony, i.e., an innumerable company of angels, the general assembly, the church or Ekklesia, the spirits of just men made perfect, referencing the cloud of witnesses, and the blood of Jesus.
But you have come to Mount Zion into the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. Hebrews 12:22 – 24
Mount Zion or the Mount of God is the place of His presence (Psalm 76:1 – 2; 132:13), government (Psalm 110:1 – 2), and dwelling or resting place (Psalm 132:13 – 14; Hebrews 4:9 – 11; 10: 12 – 13) Mount Zion is where the courts of heaven operate and are where the spiritual activity of trading goes on. We now have access to Mount Zion because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
Jesus’ blood provides testimony for us as the Mediator of the new covenant, giving God the legal right to forgive us. When Jesus died on the cross, He made a trade. Jesus took and became sin for us and gave us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took our diseases and pain and gave us His health (Isaiah 53:4). Jesus became poor for us so that we could be rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). We step into the benefits of the trades He made for us by faith.
Hebrews 11 tells us about believers who have gone on before us and are part of those gathered around the throne of God in heaven. These are the cloud of witnesses the writer of Hebrews is referring to in Hebrews 12:1. A witness speaks of those who give judicial testimony, and so they have a role in the courts of heaven.
Revelation 6:9 – 11 also talks about the souls slain for their testimony, martyrs that are still praying, interceding, and crying out for justice for their spilled blood. They have a voice in the courts of heaven concerning the kingdom purpose for which they laid down their lives and play an active role in the Lord’s unfolding purposes here on the earth because of their good testimony. They are still invested in the causes for which they gave their lives. They are not just cheering us on from heaven but are actually in the courts releasing their voice in testimony on behalf of us who must complete the work for which they gave their lives!
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. Hebrews 11:39 – 40
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 that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher 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. Hebrews 12:1 – 2
The cloud of witnesses are examples to us of those who have run the race and won. We see the glories of their triumphs, the factors that brought them victory, and the obstacles that they overcame to win (Hebrews 11). So we also have a race to run by faith. But, first, we must set aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, every burden that keeps us from Christ-likeness.
The 2020 Olympics are currently taking place in Tokyo. What would you think if you saw someone running a race wearing heavy hiking boots and bulky clothing? Olympian runners need to wear only the barest essentials and the lightest shoes possible. The Bible lists many weights that hinder our winning the race, even some of them disqualifying us from the race.
“And the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” Mark 4:19
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now, our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent; the day is at hand. Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Romans 13:11 – 14
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9 – 11
Because of these things, the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with his deeds and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. Colossians 3:6 – 10
Second, we are to run the race before us with patience and faith, enduring everything until we grow and mature in the faith. It is important to stay in step with God and not get ahead of Him.
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish but imitate those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:11 – 12
Therefore, do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. Hebrews 10:35 – 36
“Now the just shall live by faith, but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” Hebrews 10:38
But without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. James 1:2 – 3
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight – if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. Colossians 1:21 – 23
The way to victory is by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus is our model and example. Our lives begin and end with Him. In Him, we live and move and have our being, and the good work that He has already started in us He will complete (Acts 17:28; Philippians 1:6).
We run the race by faith by being Christ-conscious, not through self-efforts. God even gives us His faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Mark 11:22)! Faith to receive from God is not a struggle. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
Faith is not meant to be an obstacle between Him and us or His blessings. We fight the good fight of faith the Bible talks about in 1 Timothy 6:12 by believing the truth that we have received every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3; Galatians 3:5). Jesus sees our faith when we see how much grace He has for us. We can reach out and receive from Him because we know His heart of compassion.
Runners in a marathon may experience many challenges, i.e., leg cramps, blisters, side aches, exhaustion, etc. But for the joy of winning, they continue to push on until they get their second wind to complete the race. So, it is with Jesus who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross despising the shame to finish the work of redemption. Then He cried the shout of victory, “It is finished.” He is now seated in a place of glory and honor at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
The race is not always easy, and we may get weary and tired, even thinking about dropping out of the race. But this is the time to keep our eye on the goal and think about the reward of finishing well.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. Philippians 3:8 – 10
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13 – 14
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18
“His lord said to him, ‘well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’” Matthew 25:23
Since we are surrounded by the saints of the past who were faithful men and women who paved the way for us, we must be inspired by the godly examples they set during their lives. That the cloud of witnesses is referred to as “great” indicates that many believers have gone before us, and each bears witness to the life of faith we now live. Therefore, we ought to act as if they were in sight and cheering us on to the same victory they obtained by faith!
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. 1 John 5:4
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Henderson, Robert. (2014). Operating in the Courts of Heaven. Robert Henderson Ministries.