A Great Cloud of Witnesses
Before we look into this verse, I want to examine how water is a type or symbol of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is represented by many things in scripture.
Fire, Wind, Dove, Oil, a Voice, etc.
However the one that is relevant to this blog is water.
There are many scriptures that speak of the Holy Spirit as Water or having the effects of water.
Rain, Dew, Showers, Wells, Rivers, Springs, Fountains, Streams, Washing and more.
John 4:13-14 gives us a clue. Jesus says to the woman at the well: "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
This water that Jesus speaks of can in no way be literal water.
Another translation of V14: 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
John 7:37-39 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
It is obvious that from these verses, that Jesus uses water as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Also we see how the Holy Spirit is given:
The Holy Spirit is poured out, or comes as rain and showers.
Acts 2:17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh:
Isaiah 44:3'For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring And My blessing on your descendants;
Ezekiel 34:26 And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing.
Psalm 72:6 He shall come down like rain on the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.
Mark 1:8 "I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
So, from these few verses, it is quite clear that water is a type or symbol, or be used as an allegory of the Holy Spirit.
With this in mind, we can look at our passage of scripture to try to understand why the writer to the Hebrews used this term “so great a cloud of witnesses”.
Clouds in scripture = Witnesses.
Heb 12:1 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 normal word used in scripture for cloud is (Greek – Nephele). However the word used here is “Nephos”, this is the only time in the whole of the New Testament that this word is used.
Nephele refers to a single detached cloud, the word Nephos is referring to a mass of cloud that covers the heavens.
This cloud of witnesses surrounds, encompasses us. This cloud of witnesses is made grander by the use of the word “tosoutos - great” which means far more than the word “tosos” meaning so great, so many, so long.
This word “tosoutos means more, the magnitude the scope of.
It was not uncommon to use “cloud” for a large group of people, such as an army, a vast throng. This word “Tosoutos” was often used for a multitude.
This vast throng of witnesses, those that have preceded us in the Christian walk, all those that walked by faith throughout the Old Testament and all those that ran the race of faith before us are included in this multitude of believers. “This great cloud of witnesses”.
This cloud of witnesses are not watching us run our race of faith, no one who has died is up in heaven looking down on us observing our lives as some would teach. The dead are not celestial spectators of the living.
Ecc 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
Ecc 9:6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
This cloud of witnesses, are those who witness or testify to us rather than spectators of us.
Of course, one day, this great cloud of witnesses will be raised from the dust, in the day of resurrection (the Anastasia) and will accompany Jesus Christ on His return, at His second coming. The scripture says, “Behold, He cometh with the clouds”.
Revelation 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
The dead shall be raised and they shall be changed. Then we who are alive and remain unto His coming shall be caught up, (Harpazoed), Raptured, together with them and we also shall be changed and we shall meet the Lord in the air, (the Episunagarge), gathered together.
In the meanwhile, we are encompassed, surrounded by the testimony of their lives, whether it is passed on in scripture or tradition, or any other form of testimony, we are to remember those that have run the race with faith and entered into their rest.
The word witness is the word “Martus” from which we get our word martyr. Martyr literally means one who gives witness, who testifies. It eventually became synonymous with one who laid down his life for his faith.
When John recorded the letters to the seven churches, in Revelation. He writes the words of Jesus to the church at Pergamon:
Rev 2:13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
So in this context, the cloud of witnesses are those that gave and continue to give testimony to the saving and keeping power of Jesus Christ and we would do well to look to these testimonies and be encouraged to persevere in the faith in the same way that they did.
What kind of cloud are we?
Jude writing to the Christians of his day, wrote concerning false Christians, false teachers.
Jud 1:3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
Jud 1:4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
These men are referred to in many ways.
Certain men, Ungodly men, Spots in your feast, Without fear, Carried about of winds, Whose fruit is withered, Twice dead, Plucked roots.
More than this, they are referred to as “Clouds without water”.
Jud 1:12 These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;
This poses a great question to us.
Are we clouds with water or clouds without water, carried about of wind, are we bearing fruit of salvation and testifying of the truth?
Are we possessing Christians filled and driven by the Holy Spirit, or are we professing Christians, void of the Spirit and working in our own strength.
We are told in Ecclesiastes 11:3 If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.
There must be evaporation first, before there can be precipitation. No evaporation, no rain.
What goes up, must come down.
If we are to see any true revival, it must be preceded by prayer.
The prayers go up, the blessings come down.
John 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
We cannot manufacture a revival, it is God that gives the increase.
1 Corinthians 3:6-8 6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
It is the Spirit that gives life. Man cannot save anyone.
True revivals are brought about firstly by prayer and secondly by Spirit filled witness by disciples of Christ.
The Scottish revival of the 40s began by a meeting of old ladies praying together for a revival.
The pattern for revival is Prayer – Witness/Testimony – Discipleship.
The more water vapour there is below the cloud, and the stronger the updrafts that cause this water vapour to condense into cloud water or ice particles, the more likely it is that precipitation will form within the cloud.
No updraft – no precipitation.
No prayer, no witness, no blessing.
Jesus commission was not to make converts but to make disciples.
Converts without discipleship equals nothing.
False revival is – Clouds without water. (Wind and Cloud) (No Water). Manufactured by man, in mans own strength, not the work of the Holy Spirit.
Jude is warning of men, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness.
Jesus warned in Matthew 24, of false Christ’s, false prophets and false teachers that would come in the last days.
We are seeing more and more of this in our day. The telly evangelists, the prosperity gospel preachers, the Word faith movement. These are the ones that are turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness.
Seed faith, selling the Gospel, preaching another Gospel, another Jesus.
Galatians 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
2 Cor 11:4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.
These are the clouds without water.
Men who have big attractive voices. Men with charismatic personalities, men with a tantalising gospel but void of the Holy Spirit.
These are clouds without water.
What kind of clouds are we?
Hopefully, we are clouds with water. Witnesses, who testify of the truth. The truth based on the teachings of the Apostles and prophets.
The truth, that Jesus came into the world to seek and to save those who are lost.
The truth that you cannot buy, work for, or acquire in any other way, other than the way laid down in scripture.
The truth that there is no other way, that men cannot be saved, other than through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
By grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, lest any man should boast. Eph 2:8.
May we be clouds that evaporate the word of God, become filled with the Holy Spirit, praying and testifying to the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, joining the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before and hopefully seeing a true revival before we are called home or Christ comes again.