The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews has long been known as the faith chapter. In it we find a long list of men and women who pleased Elohim because they believed on Him and acted out that belief in their walk on this earth. Many of the listed, some not even by name, became martyrs for the LORD. They were willing to pay the ultimate price for their faith. They are referred to as “heroes of the faith.”
We are told that without faith it is impossible to please God, and they were listed here in this chapter to show us what great faith they had. Faith is the sole basis for righteousness and moves the hand of God.
In chapter 12:1 we read:
We too, then, having so great a cloud of witnesses all around us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us,
The author of Hebrews, perhaps the Apostle Paul, lets us know that we are running a race and not all who cross the starting line complete the course. Those heroes of faith successfully completed their race on earth but they died without having received the promise for which they ran. They saw the promise of a coming Messiah in the future but they never knew what it was like to live at a time when the Messiah had come.
There are many who believe that this scripture indicates that the great cloud of witnesses are currently watching over us here on earth, along with all of our dead loved ones, cheering us on in our walk here on earth. This single passage is inconclusive for proving such a belief.
Let me suggest a better thought. This great cloud of witnesses are the ones listed in chapter 11 and they are witnessing to us of the faith and endurance that it takes to finish the race on this earth and be permitted to obtain the promises which are to come in the future. Even though dead their faith still speaks to us by all that is recorded of them in scripture (the Greek word used to translate “witnesses” comes from a root word which means “martyrs”).
It could be that the author of the book used the word clouds because the Greeks and the Latins frequently used the term to express a great number of persons or things (Clarke), or it could also be that the author used the word clouds because the Israelites were encompassed with the pillar of cloud, or with the clouds of glory, in the wilderness (Gill).
Just like the cloud in the wilderness denoted the presence, or shekinah, of the LORD, likewise these heroes of the faith were surrounded by the keeping presence of their heavenly Father (because of their faith).
When we consider clouds we must think of what clouds do. They produce a life giving rain which sustains the earth. Likewise, even though all of these witnesses are dead they still drop mighty examples of comfort, guidance, doctrine, hope, assurance, trust, steadfastness, courage, strength, perseverance, and much more!
Perhaps in your life you have loved ones or close friends who have also passed away but have left a legacy of faith for you to recall and strive to walk in their footsteps? I know that I have several loved ones that walked the walk in front of me and though they are now gone their example still speaks to me and showers down upon me through that great cloud of witnesses.
As a side note: false teachers in the book of Jude and Peter are often referred to as clouds without water and clouds carried with a tempest ( 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 1:12). Clouds without water contain no refreshing rain and clouds carried around by strong storms denote gloominess and darkness. These two categorize false teachers who run around spreading their dark teachings, yet it offers no refreshing rain because their father is a liar and the father of lies. False teachers come like these types of clouds to deceive, kill, and destroy. Unlike the heroes of chapter 11, their clouds offer no witness of good things to us.
We must have discernment from the Holy Spirit and be very careful who we listen to and whose example we follow.
Just a little thought, I hope it blessed you in some way.