Article from Timing Revelation and More,
"Cloud of witnesses from Hebrews twelve and one"
By Diane M. Hoffmann, B.Th., M.Th., PhD/Th., Ord./IAOG-Canada
Another article provided by Timing Revelation & more...
I've been wanting to tackle this issue of Hebrews 12:1 about the "cloud of witnesses" that is misunderstood by so many Christians who ask: "Do our departed loved ones watch us from heaven? Some actually believe that they do because of the wrong teaching from many in the body of Christ.
Recently, I have noticed people often quote “... a great crowd of witnesses...” as the phrase to say that their loved ones who have gone on to heaven are watching them from heaven. What is so important here is that every time someone expresses this concept -- especially “ministers of the Gospel”-- it teaches this idea to multiple others.
We live in a “theologically anemic” society. Preachers and pastors don't bother to do proper exegesis and check the original Greek and Hebrew words before delivering their messages.
Bless their hearts for the wonderful hope that they will be seeing their loved ones in heaven some day. That is absolutely true to all of us believers... we will see our loved ones in heaven.
But sadly this particular teaching that those who have gone on to heaven are watching us down here, is literally reaching millions around the world.
Many even say that their loved ones watching them are also cheering them on, and even causing wonderful things to take place in their family and business, ministry or personal affairs.
So in this article today, I will endeavour to show clearly from scripture the answer to this popular question posed by many Christians -- “can or do our loved ones in heaven watch us here on earth?”
The answer to this question is highly sought-after, yet very few teachers, preachers, laypersons have answered it... or else many have a false interpretation of it, using the one scripture that is read out of context and out of proper interpretation: Hebrews 12:1 which says:
“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,”
The key words in this scripture are: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses...”
That's the scripture that is used to sway, influence, induce, cause or more accurately (since Satan is the instigator of confusions) to deceive people in believing that our departed ones in heaven are watching us.
Those who are teaching this don't think they are deceiving or falsely teaching... they actually believe it themselves – unfortunately -- because of the lack of proper research in the Word of God and the lack of teaching from teachers, preachers and ministers of the Gospel.
The problem is that these people do not carry out any due diligence in studying scriptures within the context of their meaning nor of their original language.
First of all, Hebrews 12:1 that we are now looking at begins with the word “Wherefore. This word in the original language is toigaroun (toy-gar-oon' ) Strong's #5105 – it is a particle introducing a conclusion of previous discourse or discussion.
In this case it is the conclusion of what we read in the preceding passage of scripture, which by the way is not just Hebrews 11, verses 32 to 40 which has become famously known as “the hall of faith”... but it goes back even further to verse 2 of chapter 11 that precedes chapter 12 -- all scriptures must be read within the context of their passages, and we'll see that in a moment.
We have to remember that, originally, what we read in the passages of scripture were not divided by chapters – that only came much later around the 1500's A.D. Originally what we read in the Bible were actual letters written and sent out to particular believers or churches.
So when we see a particle such as this word “wherefore” in the opening of a chapter, it is a continuation of the preceding thoughts in the letter. In this case “wherefore” means “then', or therefore, or because of this, for this reason, or consequently... it comes from the Latin, which means "a share, a part." So the “wherefore” is a part of the preceding words or discussion continuous of the matter or topic at hand.
It is part and parcel of what we read in chapter 11, verses 32 to 40, but as already mentioned, here it goes even further then that all the way back to verse 2, which lists all those in the Old Testament whom by faith obtained a good report and have become the heroes (or witnesses) of their faith.
That chapter begins by speaking of faith itself—what it is-- and then the faith of Old Testament believers such as Abel and Enoch, Noah, Abraham and a whole list of heroes of the faith right up to verse 31... and continues with the famous passage that has come to be known as “the Hall of Faith” in verses 32 to 40 naming more faith heroes.
Then it says: “Wherefore” ( toy-gar-oon) “seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight”, etc, “and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us ...”
Now there are 2 words in here that mislead people in their assumptions of their meaning in the English misinterpretation.
Let's start with the word “witnesses” which by the sound of it gives the idea that its meaning would be “witnesses” as if they were spectators witnessing something going on.
But the original word here is martys (pronounced mar'-touss) (#3144) which means “a witness as in one who testifies or one who has testified... not one who watches (which would then be grēgoreō (gre-ga-re-yo) (#1127) or tēreō (tay-reh'-o) #5083.
Matthew 18:16-- “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses (martys) (#3144), every word may be established. (martys—one who testifies or who has testified or witnessed).
Matthew 26:65-- “Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses (martys)? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.” Again, martys (#3144)—one who testifies.
Act 1:8 -- “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses” (martys), (#3144) “unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Ok, so we get the idea... the word speaks of “one who testifies or witnesses about something, in this case about the faith or the gospel. And there are some 29 more scripture examples of this word “witnesses” being “(martys)” = “to testify”.
Just as a further confirmation, let's look at the singular word for witnesses – the word “witness”. This word in the Greek is martyrion (mar-too'-ree-on) (#3142), it is a derivative of the word “(martys)” (mar-touss) (#3144), that we just looked at, and it means “a testimony”.
And there's another word for “witness” (#3141) – which is martyria (mar-too-ree'-ah) which is also in the same family and which refers to a judiciary record—same context of “testifying”.
And again there are many other scriptures to confirm this.
There is also “martyreō” (mar-too-reh-o) (#3140), as in John 15:27, “And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.” Again same word family.
So as we can see these words “witnesses” and “witness”, are not about watching or being spectators over other peoples. But rather they are about being or having been witnesses or testifying for their faith in the Gospel.
Now let's move on to the next misleading word that we want to examine here. And that is the word “compassed about” expressed in “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses”.
In many bibles, this word is translated as “surrounded” -- i.e. “surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses.”
“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).
It is quite understandable that at first glance, reading this casually and without any research, alongside the word “witnesses” our human brain would pick this up as it sounds in the English translation -- that witneses are surrounding us.
But in actual fact that's not at all any where near the meaning in the original text. The word “compass” in the original text is perikeimai (#4029) (pronounced per-ik'-i-mahee) which means: “to be bound with”. The word has nothing to do with being surrounded.
Let's look at some examples of other scriptures that use this word “perikeimai”.
Mark 9:42 -- “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged (perikeimai) (#4029) about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” In other words the millstone is “bound around his neck”.
Act 28:20 -- “For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain (perikeimai) (#4029) – I am “perikeimai” with this chain. Again 'bound' with something -- or someone.
Hebrews 5:2 -- “Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed (perikeimai) (G4029) with infirmity”... is “perikeimai” or bound with infirmity.
So it means “to be bound to something or someone”... not to be surrounded by something or someone. And where it says “a cloud of witnesses-- cloud means a multitude.
So our scripture then means this :
“Consequently, seeing we also are bound with so great a multitude of those who have gone on before us testifying of their faith, let us likewise lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1)
So we are spiritually bound with those saints who have gone on before us testifying of the faith that we also are testifying for now ourselves.
In other words we are bound to this multitude of saints who went on before us and who are now examples or influencers for us to follow in our living as we too are now testifying or witnessing for our faith – as they were; they are not watchers or onlookers or spectators of our living down here on earth today, neither are they referred to as such.
Again, they are saints who have gone on before us witnessing or testifying of the faith of the Gospel of Christ—many of them giving their lives for their testimonies.
Testifiers of the faith
As we can see, this has nothing to do with “our loved ones who went to heaven now watching us living our lives down here.”
Now, we might ask “are they praying for us up there?” Possibly, because they are hearing about us and what's going on down here every time someone leaves this earth and joins them in heaven.
I believe the geography there is similar to ours here. In other words when we go up to heaven we go to a place that has those familiar people and places we knew down here, each one within the communities we lived in here on earth; that's what the Lord showed me when I was inquiring “how does it work when we get up there, are all the people bunched up in some big lobby or what?”
The Lord showed me that the geography is like down here -- we are here a reflection of heaven -- what goes on down here goes on up there; we saw that in one of my previous radio programs on the visions of heaven by Ezekiel. (I kings 22; II Chronicles 18).
Bound on earth, bound in heaven
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”; “What we bind on earth is bound in heaven”, Matthew 18:18. Ephesians 2:6 says: “And has raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”, and verse 10 says: “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Once we are saved we walk in God's work down here that He has already ordained from heaven. And we will continue to work up there... but it will be a different kind of working; it will be a restful working and pleasant, just as it was with Adam in the beginning before he sinned.
Revelation 14:13 says: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
So as we saw, these words we have just examined have nothing to do with our loved ones who went to heaven now watching us living our lives down here. Of course not, it wouldn't make sense even... watching us going about our daily activities, think of it.
Some like to think that they are up there cheering them on, but what would they do when we go to the bathroom, would they turn away and come back in 5 minutes... or when people argue over some disagreements down here, when the spouse who was left behind is facing a new partner, when one of the family members is going through a terrible sickness, when we struggle still with some type of sinful behaviour, when a spouse has left the other in terrible financial situations that they must now struggle with... it wouldn't be a pleasant thing to watch.
No, in all of these situations we pray to the Father in the name of Jesus, we don't pray to our loved ones to intervene. We don't speak to them as if they are hearing everything we say and do. They do not replace our relationship with our Saviour.
Being careful and responsible
If we are ministers, teachers or preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to be careful and responsible about what we say, because what we say is what teaches the Word of God to others who may not know nor who may not research for themselves the interpretation of Scripture.
It doesn't matter what translation/version of the Bible we have, they all have flaws in interpretations in many areas of the written scriptures. Even the King James, as reliable as it is, was edited by humans from a variety of previous works from a number of writers and translators – such as Tyndale, Coverdale, Rogers, Luther, etc. from as far back as the 13th and 14th centuries representing many Bibles such as the the Matthew Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, the King James -- and even manuscripts previous to that -- all doing the genuine and sincere efforts to hear the Holy Spirit breathe the Word of God into their work.
Second Timothy 3:16 says-- “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” So, it is God breathed.
But the receiving vessels who put down the scripture with pen and ink are human beings.
Since after the King James Bible was produced, there have been literally hundreds of versions and translations, all with differences between them.
Often, in those modern versions, it is really one individual's view of the Bible and everybody falls for it without questions, sometimes it is a group of people who all see an interpretation differently from what's already out there.
So which one of all that's out there should people be using when they all read differently from one another? The best we can do is look for the one translation that reads as closely to the original text as possible... and for this, one has to do some research for the most reliable source. And even then, we need to check the original text for all questionable text we read.
For example, let's look at 3 different Bible versions among the many available today, on the scripture we are looking at today, Hebrews 12:1:
in the New King James version (NKJV), it read this way : “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,”
Here they have kept the words in question the same as the original King James, in spite of its wrong interpretation. (Actually the New King James is really the 5th Edition of the King James Bible.)
In the New International Version (NIV): “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,”
Here too, they have used the same words in question from the King James Version, but added a few paraphrases.
In The Living Bible translation, which I think is one of the worse translations from my experience at researching many scriptures; it is more like a full paraphrasing than a translation: “Since we have such a huge crowd of men of faith watching us from the grandstands, let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up; and let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us”.
Wow, lots of added words here, all paraphrased and no proper research was made for the meaning of the words in question from the original text.
And other translations follow suite in this. Most Bible versions are really “commentaries” rather than “Bibles”. That's how I use them—as commentaries.
It is our responsibility to see to it that we follow reliable sources of Biblical writings and translations. Otherwise we can be led astray if we get into teachings delivered by false teachers... or unqualified teachers.
Hebrews 12:1 is a good example of being misled by negligent interpretations. Many people have been led astray thinking that their loved ones can see them or are watching them, and even are made partners with them in their work – some even carrying on conversations with them towards the heavens.
I remember a friend many years ago who lost his wife and who believed that she came down and visited him... he would hear noises in the night and say that it was her letting him know that she was there. The Bible is very clear about not making contact with departed ones.
As one pastor says on “desiringgod.org” web site: “We should be cautioned to beware of spending too much time thinking about the saints above so that we are tempted to interact with them in the way that the Roman Catholics do when they pray to the saints and to Mary. I think this is very dangerous for the health of our faith. It has led many people (millions, I fear) to look to the saints and to Mary in their longing for help rather than focusing on Christ and the throne of grace that he has opened to us.”
He refers to the very book of Hebrews that we are just looking at and continues... “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence [because of Christ] draw near to the throne of grace” — not to Mary, not to the saints — “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16). Christ is the one mediator between God and man. The New Testament does not encourage us to make the saints or Mary into mediators as we seek God’s help.”
And another writes, “It is a popular notion, commonly in books, movies, and popular culture, that our deceased loved ones look down on us from heaven and reappear to the ones they love on earth. Some even believe that we receive mystical signs and messages from beyond directly from our loved ones.”
And speaking of angels who do God's bidding, he continues: “It is more likely than not that if you receive a sign or experience synchronicity, it is your guardian angel watching over you. Remember, every good and perfect gift comes from God. Many people think that our loved ones become angels, but our angels are not our deceased loved ones. God is ultimately watching over us with His heavenly host, His angels. While our loved ones' spirits do live on after they pass away, they don’t become angels.” And this is from the web site beliefnet.com.
It says in 1st John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” So we are told to test the spirits.
tears in heaven
Some use Luke 15:10, “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.” “In the presence of” is sometimes translated “in the face of”, or “in the sight of”... but again, this has nothing to do with our departed loved ones watching us from heaven... this refers to the angels.
Proverbs 15:3, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” The Lord watches us, not our departed loved ones...
Revelation 22:6 -- “And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” The angels are sent to us to show us what goes on.
The Bible tells us that there are no tears nor pain in heaven. If our loved ones were looking down on us in this pain-filled world, it would be pretty hard to watch us going through the trials we are facing without tears and pain. How about watching those who are continuously living in sin and destroying their lives?
Revelation 20:15 says: “And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Can you imagine watching this from our new heavenly abode up there, about our loved ones?
No, our work in heaven is not to watch people down here, it is to worship God and prepare for the governing of the nations when we return with Jesus to rule the earth. Remember a day up there is like a thousand years down here. There's no time for them to watch us down here.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). We are comforted by God and not by those who have gone on to heaven.
There is no place in the Bible that teaches that people in heaven are watching us down here. All communication from heaven comes from God's command centre. The Son sits at the throne, the angels are sent to minister to us...“Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14)
In other words what is sent to us is by the Father, through the Son, through the angels, and they return to heaven with the knowledge of what is going on amongs the living.
Hebrews 11:4 -- “...and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” In the same way even though the saints in heaven have departed from this life, their legacy speaks to us to carry on and run the race of faith until we too arrive at our heavenly destination to be with the Lord forever.
“Consequently, seeing we also are bound with so great a multitude of those who have gone on before us testifying of their faith, let us likewise lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1). Amen.
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