What does Hebrews 12:2 mean when it refers to Christ as “the Author and Finisher of our faith”?
This verse is often enjoyed as referring to the Lord Jesus, Who designed and provided salvation for our souls. As the Author, He wrote the plan and as the Finisher, He carried it out. While that is both sublime and thrilling truth, the context of the book and the passage indicate rather that the Lord Jesus is the Author of living by faith and the One Who did so to the full even in His death.
The writer to the Hebrews presents the uneclipsed excellence of the Lord Jesus by contrasting Him with what was highly valued by the Hebrew people. The Lord Jesus is superior to prophets (1:1), angels (1:4), Moses (3:3-6), Joshua (4:8), and Aaron and his priesthood (5:10; 7:4-10, 15-17) and He is the mediator of a better covenant (7:22; 9:15) and the final sacrifice that excels all others in its quality and effectiveness (9:13; 10:11-12). Since the book is a dot-to-dot of contrasts showing the excelling majesty of the Son of God and thus His reliability as the Messiah, the writer then turns to the surpassing greatness of the Savior’s life of faith.
Under persecution, many false professors were turning back to Judaism with its rituals and symbols. So, to encourage the true believers, the writer directs their attention to the “great cloud of witnesses” in chapter 11. These are not men and women witnessing the lives of believers today, but rather they are great examples in the Hebrew history of those who, responding to Divine revelation, acted “by faith.” Then he goes on to show that the faith of the Lord Jesus in His life and death exceeds that of these Jewish heroes. While consideration of their feats and faithfulness is comforting and motivating, the writer wants these believers to be “Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith” (12:2-3).
How did He author and finish 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.” He then adds, “For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (12:3). In simple terms, he points to the darkest trial a man has ever faced, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. If He could trust God in the extreme trial of the cross, could the Hebrew believers not trust God in their persecutions and potential martyrdom?
It is vital to notice that the word “our” in 12:2 is in italics in the AV. Reading the text without this word leads to the interpretation that is consistent with both the context of what goes before and what follows. In addition, the word “author” is used only four times in the NT where it is translated as prince, captain and author. In Acts 3:15, the Jewish people “killed the Prince of life, Whom God raised from the dead.” J. N. Darby translates this as “the originator of life” and other translations have it as “the source” (HCSB) and “the author” of life (ESV, NRSV).
Peter and the apostles say in Acts 5:31, “Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior.” Here it is not authorship, but rather leadership in view. The writer to the Hebrews uses the same word when he refers to the Lord Jesus as “the Captain of their salvation” (Heb 2:10). Bringing the two thoughts together in Hebrews 12:2, the Lord Jesus is the originator and the leader in living by faith. God had always wanted a man to live in complete dependence on Him in response to His word. Finally, He received that great pleasure in the One who “finished the life of faith” in the most difficult and painful of circumstances, the old rugged cross.
The word “finisher” is uniquely used here, but is clearly related to the word the Lord Jesus employed on the cross when He declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). There He completely and perfectly finished the work of redemption. In the same way, He lived and died by faith fulfilling the very design of God for mankind. May God help us to not let sin so easily beset us, but instead be “looking unto Jesus” and “consider Him” as we run the marathon of the Christian life.