Hebrews is in some ways a rather enigmatic book. Understanding the role of the High Priest in the Old Testament (OT) is a very helpful aid to understanding this book. While Hebrews contrasts the OT role of the priest and Jesus role as the new eternal high priest, there is another area where I think the contrast needs to be recognized. That area is the reference to the great cloud of witnesses.
1 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, Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV)
In the OT the most important functions of the priest took place within the temple where only the high priest could go and the most important function happened once per year in the Holy of Holies under only the eyes of God. In the New Testament (NT) this ultimate sacrifice took place in public on a hill called Golgotha.
In Hebrews 11 the writer describes the hall of faith, the great honour roll of those who have gone before. There are a couple of ways of looking at this verse in context. While the focus on the whole book is on encouragement to walk uprightly before our Father, some view the reference to the cloud of witnesses as us being able to draw encouragement from those who have gone before and what they accomplished. While I think that is valid, I think there is something more to be discerned.
When we look at the NT Paul, John and others had the veil pulled back and they saw into the eternal heavenly realm. While I do not think we can simply do this at will I think the witnesses who have gone before can peer into our lives and what is happening. I think the image in 12:1 of being surrounded is that of running a marathon and the waiting crowd cheering as we enter the stadium for the final lap. In our culture a better image might be of a football or hockey game with a building full of fans cheering on their team, Jesus team really. Our great High Priest seeing the fruit of His sacrifice.
While I think the great heroes of the faith are in the stands, I think in addition to the heroes of the faith cheering us on to finish well, there are also the godly members of our families that have gone before. If we have a godly heritage behind us these people are cheering us on because we are part of their heritage and they have an investment in the outcome of our lives.
For me this is an encouragement, I want to honour investment of godly men and women into my life by living a godly life. So, who do you have in the stands cheering you on to finish well, encouraging you to draw on Jesus grace to live a life honouring their investment in you?