The recipients of the letter Hebrews were discouraged. They had obeyed the gospel years before, but Jewish religious traditions were still appealing. Making Judaism seem even more attractive was persistent opposition to the church. Why not stop following Christ and return to the observance of the law?
The anonymous author of the letter reminded his readers of the “cloud of witnesses” surrounding them (Heb. 12:1). These men and women had endured painful trials and yet remained strong. Some of them fulfilled God’s purposes for their lives only after being crushed by adversity. “Through faith” they “stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword,” and “were made strong out of weakness” (11:33-34).
Jesus himself “endured the cross,” suffering bitter enmity and abuse (Heb. (12:2-3). If the anguish of crucifixion preceded Christ’s honor and glory at God’s right hand, how could his church expect to escape suffering and persecution? “In your struggle against sin,” the inspired writer said, “you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (v. 4). But Jesus had done precisely that – shed his blood to redeem God’s children from sin.
Apparently, the first readers of Hebrews had failed to see the connection between their sonship and the painful discipline that accompanied it. God was treating them “as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb. 12:7). An earthly father’s discipline “seems painful” (v. 11). A chastened son may have stinging legs and tear-stained cheeks, but discipline teaches obedience and shapes good character. The Lord’s chastening produces the same benefits. We are “subject to the Father” and “share his holiness” (vs. 9-10).
Distressed children of God must never “grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:3). The Holy Spirit calls us to lift our “drooping hands” and strengthen our “weak knees” (v. 12). Ridicule, rejection, or even outright persecution is no defeat for the church but rather an opportunity for spiritual growth.