The Joy Set Before Us

“Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” —Hebrews 12:2

THE EPISTLE TO the Hebrews was written to a group of disciples who needed special encouragement. In reality, this is true of all the followers of the Master. It is a narrow, difficult way in which we walk. There are trials and besetments on every hand—passionate struggles within and fightings without. Satan, as a “roaring lion” (I Pet. 5:8) goes about seeking whom he may devour. His ‘roars’ are indeed frightening unless by the ear of faith we can hear above them the reassuring promises of God to protect and keep his “little ones” (Matt. 18:10) under the shadow of his wings.

Satan is ever searching for ways to discourage us, but the Heavenly Father in his love has provided various means of encouragement, and one of these is referred to in our text. Its first application in this age of the “high calling” (Phil. 3:14) was to Jesus. “For the joy that was set before him,” Paul writes, Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame.

In laying down his life, Jesus was almost constantly confronted with circumstances which would have discouraged him but for his Father’s help. Many were the promises which lifted him above the trials incident to his work of sacrifice. Among these trials were the shame and the ignominy which were heaped upon him, especially in connection with his trial and crucifixion.

But through it all Jesus experienced a compensating joy. It was the joy of anticipation, described in the text as the ‘joy that was set before him’. Jesus did not serve his Heavenly Father in order to obtain a reward, nor should we. Yet the promises of God assuring Jesus of a reward were a great source of strength to him which, as Paul declares, enabled him to ‘endure the cross’ and ‘despise the shame’. This is also true of the followers of Jesus.

And what was the ‘joy’ that was set before Jesus? It was, we think, a twofold joy—one aspect of which is pointed out in our text, is which Paul says that Jesus is now ‘set down at the right hand of the throne of God’. This evidently alludes to the fulfillment of the promise recorded in the 16th Psalm. In this psalm the death and resurrection of Jesus are prophesied, with the personification of Jesus by David speaking in the prophecy. “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell,” Jesus is represented as saying. “Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (vss. 10,11) Yes, as Jesus here testifies, ‘fulness of joy’ was set before him, the joy of being in the actual presence of his Heavenly Father; where at his right hand he knew there would be pleasures forevermore.

And that same joy is set before us. Jesus said, To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev. 3:21) Like Jesus, we do not serve for reward, yet to realize the joy that awaits us when we have finished our course is a great encouragement when the road is rough, and the trials severe.

There was another great joy set before Jesus, spoken of in Isaiah 53:7-12. In this chapter Jesus’ suffering and death are prophesied. He is referred to as a “lamb” that is led “to the slaughter.” His suffering and death are described as the “travail” of his soul. The prophecy states that he would be “satisfied” with the results of this travail, satisfied because he would see his “seed.”

This is highly symbolic language, which stated in plain phrase means that as a result of Jesus’ sacrificial death he will have the privilege of giving life to the whole dead world of mankind, which will in this way become his seed. No wonder he will be satisfied with the travail of his soul!

This prophecy also states that the ‘pleasure of the Lord” (vs. 10) would “prosper” in the hands of Jesus. This is simply stating Jehovah’s viewpoint of that with which Jesus is ‘satisfied’. The pleasure of the Lord in sending Jesus into the world to be the Redeemer and Savior of mankind is in the fact that thereby fallen man is given an opportunity to live forever during, what Peter describes as, “times of restitution of all things.” This pleasure of the Lord, Peter declared, had been spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.—Acts 3:19-21

We see, then, that in addition to the joy of anticipating the privilege of spending eternity with his Heavenly Father, the great joy of restoring the dead world of mankind to life was another powerful incentive to faithfulness which enabled Jesus to endure the cross and despise the shame and ignominy heaped upon him as he was laying down his life for the sins of the world. This joy, too, is also set before us. We are promised that together with Jesus, as the ‘seed’ of Abraham, we will have the privilege of blessing all the families of the earth.—Gal. 3:8,16,27-29


In the chapter from which our text is taken, Paul outlines a number of details of the great joy that awaits every faithful follower of the Master who continues to look to him as the Author and Finisher of his faith. He mentions the miraculous things which occurred at the inauguration of the typical Law Covenant, explaining, “Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched.” (Heb. 12:18) The translators have added the word ‘might’ in this text. Actually, as we learn from Exodus 19:12,13, the people were not permitted to touch the mountain at all. They merely ‘approached unto’ it.

So, in like manner, as Paul indicates, we are now “come unto [Greek, ‘approached’] Mount Sion.” We have not actually entered into Mount Sion, even as the people did not enter into the mountain in Moses’ day. But by faith we have approached thereunto, and can contemplate some of the joys which will be ours when exalted with our Lord to be with him in the antitypical Sion. Because of this we are encouraged to press on and not become “weary in well doing.”—Gal. 6:9

Sion, or Zion, is one of the Bible’s symbols of the spiritual phase of the kingdom in which we are promised a share. Our association with Jesus in Mount Sion is shown in Revelation 14:1-4. Here we read of a “Lamb” standing on Mount Sion, and “with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written’ in their foreheads.” Verse 4 declares that “these are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.” To ‘stand’ by faith before Mount Sion means an expectancy of being with the Lamb, and sharing his exalted position in the kingdom.

During the thousand years of the kingdom, the entire dead world of mankind, awakened from the sleep of death, will “come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isa. 35:10) These ‘come to Zion’ not to share in the rulership of the kingdom, but to receive the blessings of life which the kingdom will provide. If faithful, we will be the “firstfruits unto God,” but “afterward,” and during the kingdom reign, all will be awakened, the ‘ransomed of the Lord shall return,’ and ‘come to Zion—of which we will be a part—‘with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads’. What a joy is set before us!—I Cor. 15:22-26


Paul adds that we have approached unto the “city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb. 12:22) This is another symbol of the kingdom. (Rev. 21:2,9,10) In the ‘Sion’ symbolism the ‘Lamb’ is particularly mentioned, with the ‘hundred forty and four thousand’ ‘with’ him, whereas the heavenly “city” symbol seems specifically to emphasize the glory of the “bride,” the Lamb’s wife.

Literal Mount Zion was actually Capitol Hill in ancient Jerusalem, so both symbolisms blend into one, and assure us that if we are faithful we will participate with Jesus in that glorious kingdom in the light of which all mankind will walk and be blessed. What an incentive this should be to continue following the Lamb! What courage and strength it should give us to “endure the cross,” as daily we are crucified with Christ!


Paul continues, “And to an innumerable company of angels.” (vs. 22) This is a reference to those marvelous spirit beings who serve the followers of Jesus as guardian angels. Paul mentions them in the opening chapter of his epistle to the Hebrews. Concerning God’s use of the angels, Paul wrote, “Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.” And again, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”—Heb. 1:7,14

The angels ministered to Jesus. In Gethsemane he said to Peter that if he wished he could ask the Father, and the Father would send more than twelve legions of angels to protect him. (Matt. 26:53) Speaking of the angels at another time, Jesus said that they “do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 18:10) In this instance Jesus used the expression, “their angels,” the angels who minister to God’s ‘little ones’.

From what the Bible reveals with respect to God’s use of the holy angels in dealing with his servants on earth, it is evident that one or more of these holy, invisible ministers are constantly at attention shaping divine providences for the best spiritual interests of all those who ‘follow the lamb’. How marvelous it will be when exalted to the divine nature to be able to see and fellowship with those who have had so much to do in guiding and helping us as we walked in the narrow way of sacrifice!

There are outstanding experiences in the life of every Christian—times of great trial and moments of unspeakable joy. At times the trials threaten to overwhelm the soul. The Heavenly Father seems to hide his face. Through tears we look up to him in prayer, and in his due time, when he sees we have learned the needed lesson, the darkness scatters, and once more we are on the mountaintop of joy. This change did not just happen. No, the angels who always behold the face of our Heavenly Father, and who know exactly what his will is for us at all times, are present to change our sorrow to joy, our darkness to light.

And what rapturous joy it will be to meet the angels who have been closest to us throughout our earthly pilgrimage, and converse with them concerning their part in helping us in our weakness, and guiding us when the way was dark! There now may be times when we wonder how circumstances could suddenly change, or what it was that removed an obstacle that stood so threateningly in the way. But ‘over there’ we can ask our guardian angel about it. Then, more than ever, we will look back and ‘praise the way’ our loving Heavenly Father, through the ministry of the angels, led and helped us ‘day by day’. Now we are looking ahead to this great joy—the joy of meeting and being with an ‘innumerable company of angels’.


By faith we also see the “general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.” (vs. 23) According to Professor Strong, the Greek words here translated “general assembly” literally mean ‘a mass meeting’. Paul is emphasizing that the ‘church of, the firstborn’ is a large group—a more comprehensive company than the church, which is His body. And, indeed it is.

The “church of the firstborn” is the entire spiritual class in the plan of God. The expression ‘firstborn’ takes our minds back to God’s dealings with typical Israel, when the tribe of Levi was substituted for the firstborn of the nation. Antitypically, the firstborn would be those foreshadowed by the tribe of Levi. The whole tribe of Levi served the other tribes in the things pertaining to God and their worship of God. When Canaan was divided among the other tribes, the tribe of Levi received no inheritance. The priests of Israel were of the tribe of Levi, being special servants in the Tabernacle, and in the offering of sacrifice.”

In the tribe of Levi, which took the place of Israel’s firstborn, we have a general type of the two spiritual classes in the kingdom. There will be the antitypical priests, who, when exalted to reign with Christ, will also be kings. (Rev. 5:10) These are the overcomers who will sit with Jesus in his throne. But there will also be a large company, a “great multitude,” who will be before the throne. (Rev. 7:15)These will be servants in the kingdom, but not rulers. All, however, are included in the ‘church of the firstborn’, for all, symbolically speaking, gave up their inheritance in the land—their hope of restitution blessings.

If we continue faithfully to lay down our lives in sacrifice, following the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, we can look forward to participating in that ‘general assembly’, that glorious ‘mass meeting’ beyond the veil. There we will meet all who have suffered and died upholding the banner of truth and witnessing for Jesus and for the Word of God.

Jesus will then, even as now, be the Head of the church. What a joy it will be to participate in the congregation of the saints beyond the veil over which Jesus will preside! In that gathering there will also be included the apostles. How grand it will be to meet those whose experiences have so often thrilled us when reading about them in the sacred Word! We think of Peter at Pentecost, and in the home of Cornelius; how he was delivered from prison by an angel, and the “iron gate” opened “of his own accord.”—Acts 12:10

We think of Paul in the various trying and joyous experiences through which he passed—his imprisonment with Silas in Philippi; his testimony before kings and rulers; the times he was mobbed and almost killed; his shipwreck on the way to Rome; the two years he spent as a prisoner in his own ‘hired house’ in Rome. How wonderful it will be to learn more of the details of these experiences and have Paul tell us his own personal reactions to them—his assurance that they were all working together for his highest spiritual good.

And there are many at this end of the age whom we have known personally. Each one of us has known one or more who have been specially near and dear to us. They will all be there in that general assembly. Surely the anticipated joy of such a meeting should do much to help us endure the cross, for “How light our trials then will seem—how short the pilgrim way!”


We can now appreciate only in part the joy it will mean to see our Heavenly Father face to face. (vs. 23) We know that in his presence there will be ‘fullness of joy’, because the joy he is giving us now through his precious Word of truth is so deep and genuine.

Our finite minds are incapable of realizing fully what it will mean to be ushered into the actual presence of our loving Heavenly Father. We know that he loves us. His eyes are ever watching over us, and his ear is ever attuned to our cries for help in time of need. He holds us in his hands, and will not suffer our feet to be moved from the paths of righteousness if we continue to give ear to his words, the words behind us, which, when we turn to the tight or the left, say, “This is the way, walk ye in it.”—Isa. 30:21

We know that God loves us because we have been called according to his purpose. We know that he is causing all things to work together for our good. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” “It is God that justifieth.” “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”—Rom. 8:32-34

But when we have completed our earthly pilgrimage and have been ushered into the actual presence of God, we will no longer need to have intercession made for us. With rapture we shall then behold him whose love has lifted us out of the miry pit of sin and death, cared for us, through Christ forgiven us, and by his power exalted us to his own glorious nature so that we can know him even as we have been known by him.


We also envision “the spirits of just men made perfect.” (vs. 23) This seems to be a reference to the ancient prophets—those who in ancient times faithfully looked to Jehovah for guidance, and worshiped him wholeheartedly, who will constitute the leaders in the earthly phase of the kingdom of Christ—the earthly Jerusalem of Micah 4:1-4. In the preceding chapter, Paul tells of the faith and obedience of these, of how they endured trial and persecution that they might obtain a “better resurrection.” He explains that they “without us” could not be “made perfect.”—Heb. 11:35,40

Following the completion of the ‘first resurrection’, and probably also after the resurrection of the ‘great multitude’ to complete the ‘mass meeting’ in glory—the ‘general assembly of the church of the firstborn’—the Ancient Worthies will be resurrected to perfection of human nature on the earth. And what a marvelous group it will be! Their true virtues of character and of human perfection will be fully appreciated at first only by those in the spiritual phase of the kingdom.

Think of that wonderful company of sacrificing servants of God which Paul presents in chapter 11 of this epistle. Abel offered a “more excellent sacrifice”; Enoch “pleased God”; Noah “prepared an ark to the saving of his house”; Abraham “obeyed, and he went out, not knowing where he went”; through faith “Sarah herself received strength to conceive.”

Elijah challenged the priests of Baal; the three young Hebrews defied King Nebuchadnezzar and were cast into the fiery furnace; Daniel ignored the edict of Darius, and was thrown into a den of lions. The spirit of all these faithful servants was expressed in principle by the three Hebrews who told the king that their God whom they served was able to deliver them, but that even if he did not deliver them, they would not bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image.

In the Millennial Kingdom all of these will be restored and will be the representatives upon the earth of the Christ in glory. What a joy it will be to see these faithful ones. In the spirit of their minds they were always loyal to the Lord, but then made perfect they will be able to render the sort of service they always longed to accomplish, but were hindered by their imperfections. Another of the joys set before us is to contemplate the spirits of ‘just men made perfect’.


Paul continues: “And to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant.” Just as we have not yet actually come to the ‘general assembly’, nor the ‘innumerable company of angels’, nor ‘entered into the presence of God the Judge of all’, and the faithful men and women of old have not yet been resurrected, so we have not yet come to ‘Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant’. But we have this great joy of anticipation, and we are looking forward to the time when, together with him as glorified ministers of the New Covenant, we will share in the work of writing its laws in the hearts of all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles.

And it is well to think of the superlative joy of being personally and intimately associated with Jesus as he mediates the New Covenant. He has been our Advocate, and in his name we have prayed to our Heavenly Father. He has been the Captain of our salvation, our Leader, our Forerunner. He has been our Head, and his will has been our will. He has been a Friend. What a Friend, indeed, we have in Jesus! He is the chiefest among, ten thousand, the One altogether lovely, and we have the glorious hope of seeing him face to face. Surely we can say, “Fade, fade, each earthly joy,” as we realize that soon we will be in the actual presence of him who is even now so precious to us!


Paul adds, we have also’ approached unto “the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” (vs. 24) This statement is meaningful only from the standpoint of the divine plan of redemption and salvation. In itemizing these various joys set before the followers of Jesus, it is evident that Paul is envisioning the realities into which the church will enter beyond the veil, when receiving an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This being true we might well inquire, what need will there then be for the ‘blood of sprinkling’?

There will be no further need for the blood so far as the church is concerned. The blood of sprinkling is the blood of Christ which will then be used to ‘seal’ the New Covenant through which the world of mankind will be blessed. The church will share with Jesus in that future work of blessing. This is one of the great joys to which we look forward.

Paul says that the “blood of sprinkling speaketh better things than that of Abel.” The Lord said to Cain who murdered his brother, Abel: “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; when thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.”—Gen. 4:10-12

We might say that Abel’s blood cried out. for vengeance upon his murderer, Cain. As a result Cain was severely punished. The earth no longer yielded its increase for him. This, symbolically, was taking away his sustenance, his life, for “Cain was a tiller of the ground.” (Gen. 4:2) Now he could no longer live by this means. Severe, indeed, was the penalty which resulted from the ‘voice’ of Abel’s blood.

But Paul says that the ‘blood of sprinkling speaketh better things’ than the blood of Abel; and O, how much better! The blood of Christ which will be that future ‘blood of sprinkling’, will not cry for vengeance, but for the lifting of the condemnation which rests against all mankind because of sin. The ‘voice’ of Jesus’ blood will ask that life be given to the people, that the ‘curse’ upon mankind and upon the earth be lifted.

Imagine what this will mean for the sin-cursed and dying race! Imperfect mankind will be restored to perfection. Those incarcerated in the great prison house of death will be released. Health, joy, and life will spring forth everywhere because the ‘blood of sprinkling’ will have spoken with a ‘voice’ which will proclaim the glorious provisions of divine love for the dying race, and announce that the time has come for the fulfillment of God’s promises to bless “all the families of the earth.”—Gal. 3:8,16,27-29

What joy could we contemplate that would be more marvelous than this? And it is for this that we have been called and chosen. It is this that we will attain if we make our calling and our choosing—our election—sure, by continuing to yield to the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and in every test prove our absolute obedience to our God. Peter wrote, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”—I Pet. 1:2

Here Peter mentions two important objectives of the Christian life: (1) to learn obedience, and (2) upon the basis of this, being trustworthy to be exalted to the divine nature to share with Jesus in applying the ‘blood of sprinkling’. Think of the joys that this implies! How important it is, then, that we learn obedience. This is one of the lessons which Paul emphasizes in connection with his mention of the various joys to which we are approaching. He says, “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh.”—vs. 25

Paul identifies the one that ‘speaketh’ when, in the opening of his epistle he writes, “God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” (Heb. 1:1,2) Truly there is great weight of authority behind the promises of the glory that should follow our service and trials here below!

Let us then “give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” (Heb. 2:1) Important among the ‘things’ are the promises which are designed to encourage and help us, as they did Jesus, to endure the cross and despise the shame. It is these promises which reveal the joys which await us. It is these promises which assure us that if we do our part we will have an abundant entrance into the kingdom; that kingdom which we are even now ‘receiving’ by faith, that kingdom which cannot and will not be moved.—Heb. 12:28

Dawn Bible Students Association
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