According to Hebrews 12:1, we are "compassed about by a great cloud of witnesses" cheering us on in the "race that is set before us". Truly our Christian life is a race--an endurance marathon, and we are exhorted to run strong all the way to the finish line.
But who exactly composes this "cloud of witnesses" in the grandstands of the arena? There are three different views suggested by various Bible commentators regarding their identity:
First, they might be the Old Testament saints who were listed in the preceding chapter as heroes of the faith. Their race is over, and now they occupy the spectator seats as examples to us of how to run the race of the Christian life. This view certainly best fits the context.
Second, they might be a great cloud of angelic beings who are vitally interested in our "victory" in spiritual warfare. We know that we are certainly surrounded by angels (from many passages of Scripture), and they observe our lives.
Third, they might be loved ones who have gone on to heaven ahead of us. Who more than they would be interested in cheering us on? Godly parents who cheered us on when we were growing up may now be in heaven exhorting us to be strong until the end. In Randy Alcorn's book, Heaven, he submits the view that our loved ones who've gone on before us are in the "stadium" cheering us on to victory (pages 69-70).
Whatever is meant by this "great cloud of witnesses", the simple fact is this: those who have inspired us in the past continue to inspire us in our present Christian life. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to run with patience (endurance) the race that is set before us. For their sake, let us run well and finish strong.