Our previous Bible study ended with an admonition to the Jewish believers who were struggling with persecution: to consider all that Yeshua went through in order that they would “not grow weary and lose heart.” In Hebrew 12:4, the writer continues this thought by reminding them that regardless of how difficult things have become, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” In spite of the challenges they were facing, those who were persecuting them were not yet torturing or killing them for their faith. Jesus died on that Roman cross, but these Hebrew believers had not yet faced death.
Now, in 12:5–6, the writer of Hebrews reminds them of the exhortation in Proverbs 3 regarding how to respond to persecution: as a discipline of the Lord. By quoting Proverbs 3:11–12, the writer asks these believers who are experiencing persecution to view their afflictions as evidence of their Heavenly Father’s love for them. Rather than “regarding lightly” His discipline or being discouraged when persecution comes, they should instead see it in a positive way and welcome it as assurance that they are the sons of God, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.”
It is very important to understand the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is a consequence for doing evil. God never punishes His children for their iniquities because all punishment for sin was carried by Jesus the Messiah on the cross. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
So, if one is a true believer in Jesus, a child of God, they should never fear punishment from Him. Discipline, on the other hand, has the goal of training. It is intended to be an instructive device by which a child will be moved to conform to the standards of his father. It is the responsibility of earthly fathers who love their children to discipline them, so God, as our Heavenly Father who loves us, disciplines us, His children.
The absence of any discipline would indicate that we are not sons of God, but in fact, “illegitimate children.” In the Roman world in which the Book of Hebrews was written, an illegitimate son had no rights of inheritance. Ishmael is the primary Old Testament example of an illegitimate child. He was the true child of Abraham. Yet because he was illegitimate—the son of Hagar not Sarah—he did not receive the ultimate inheritance that Isaac, the legitimate child, did. Ishmael certainly received some blessings because he was Abraham’s son, but he did not receive what would be the full inheritance that Isaac received. Considering that a main component of the Book of Hebrews is warning Jewish believers not to depart from the faith and go back to the Judaism of their day, those who are “illegitimate children” are those who eventually do fall into apostasy.
Beginning in Hebrews 12:9, the writer compares the discipline of earthly fathers and our Heavenly Father. He writes, “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them.” A normal response to the discipline of our earthly father is to respect him because he is faithful to his responsibilities. The comparison of the two fathers makes the application obvious: “Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” With all their human frailties, our earthly fathers are respected when they discipline us. Our Heavenly Father, the Father of spirits “disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” This should result in our desiring to be subject to Him. His discipline “for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful,” and results in those trained by it yielding “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Our Heavenly Father disciplines us so that we may mature and bear much fruit for the Lord and His kingdom.