A Cloud Of Witnesses

Q. In a recent post, you stated “there’s no biblical support for the belief that departed loved ones can observe us from Heaven”. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who read this and had Hebrews 12:1 come to mind. I do know that the word “witnesses” indicates the lives of the champions of faith in chapter 11. But what throws me is the description of them being a “great cloud”, painting an image that these patriarchs might actually be hovering above us, watching. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this passage.

A. Hebrews 12:1 reads, “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.”

You’re correct in saying that others have also quoted this verse to justify their belief that departed loved ones can observe us from Heaven, but I don’t think that’s what the verse means.

The Strong’s concordance offers a metaphorical meaning of the phrase “great cloud of witnesses” as “a large dense multitude or throng.” A similar reference appears in Ezekiel 38:16 where the advancing armies of Magog are said to cover the land “like a cloud.” I think Ezekiel was also describing a “large dense multitude”.

Also, the word “therefore” at the beginning of Hebrews 12:1 means the writer was connecting Hebrews 12:1-3 to the context of Hebrews 11, telling us that the great cloud of witnesses consists of the men and women of faith he mentioned there.

Because of all this, I don’t think it’s appropriate to use Hebrews 12:1 to justify the opinion that our departed loved ones are watching from heaven.

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