The author of "To the Hebrews" seems to assert that the messiah had a motivating "carrot" set before him. What does the "joy set before" Jesus refer to? What reward does the author of Hebrews understand (presumably from the scriptures) to have motivated Jesus to endure the suffering of humiliation and crucifixion?:

KJV 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,  Heb 12:2  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. Heb 12:3  For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.  Heb 12:4  Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

What is the background for the author's assertion that the messiah looked forward to a reward for completing his assignment?


The nuance of the use of the preposition ἀντὶ might or might not be significant in considering this question. Please see this related question:

Hebrews 12:2 "for the joy" or "instead of the joy"?

  • 1
    I suggest the Father's presence that Jesus was going to eventually: Psalm 16:8-11. I can't prove this, of course.
    – Steve
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 21:09
  • I've voted to close at the moment for two reasons: searching for a text ('Do the scriptures promise...'), and primarily opinion-based ('What reward motivated Jesus...'). Both types of questions are off-topic, but they seem to make up the bulk of the overall question you're asking, and so overshadow the simple, but on-topic question ('What does this refer to?').
    – user2910
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 23:21
  • 2
    It is indeed a good spiritual question, and it should not be closed. One of the many joys was that he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, other, joy forgiveness of our sins, Romans 6:23 and many others, John 14:6, Acts 5:31, Hebrews 2:10 e.t.c. Commented May 31, 2018 at 21:23

7 Answers 7


While meditating on Psalm 16 I made some observations that I realized were (or at least appear to me to be) the answer to my question. I noticed that the details of the messianic prayer indicate that he is praying while approaching death, which I presume to be the expression of his triumphant faith after his prayers and "strong crying" in Gethsemane:

Brenton LXX Psa 16:1  A writing of David. Keep me [preserve me through my ordeal], O Lord; for I have hoped in thee.  Psa 16:2  I said to the Lord, Thou art my Lord; for thou has no need of my goodness.  Psa 16:3  On behalf of the saints that are in his land, he has magnified all his pleasure in them.  Psa 16:4  Their weaknesses have been multiplied; afterward they hasted. I will by no means assemble their bloody meetings, neither will I make mention of their names with my lips.  Psa 16:5  The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou art he that restores my inheritance to me.  Psa 16:6  The lines have fallen to me in the best places, yea, I have a most excellent heritage.  Psa 16:7  I will bless the Lord who has instructed me; my reins too have chastened me even till night.  Psa 16:8  I foresaw the Lord always before my face; for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved.  Psa 16:9  Therefore my heart rejoiced an my tongue exulted; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope:  Psa 16:10  because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.  Psa 16:11  Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou wilt fill me with joy with thy countenance: at thy right hand there are delights for ever.

YLT Psa Psa 16:1  A Secret Treasure of David. Preserve me, O God, for I did trust in Thee.  Psa 16:2  Thou hast said to Jehovah, 'My Lord Thou art ;' My good is not for thine own sake;  Psa 16:3  For the holy ones who are in the land, And the honourable, all my delight is in them.  Psa 16:4  Multiplied are their griefs, Who have hastened backward; I pour not out their libations of blood, Nor do I take up their names on my lips.  Psa 16:5  Jehovah is the portion of my share, and of my cup, Thou—Thou dost uphold my lot.  Psa 16:6  Lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, Yea, a beauteous inheritance is for me.  Psa 16:7  I bless Jehovah who hath counselled me; Also in the nights my reins instruct me.  Psa 16:8  I did place Jehovah before me continually, Because—at my right hand I am not moved.  Psa 16:9  Therefore hath my heart been glad, And my honour doth rejoice, Also my flesh dwelleth confidently:  Psa 16:10  For Thou dost not leave my soul to Sheol, Nor givest thy saintly one to see corruption.  Psa 16:11  Thou causest me to know the path of life; Fulness of joys is with Thy presence, Pleasant things by Thy right hand for ever!

In the final, bolded section ("...thou wilt fill me with joy with thy countenance: at thy right hand there are delights for ever...") the messiah is not only resigned to death but is in fact ecstatic at his prospects of being seated at God's right hand!

That this is what the author of To the Hebrews has in mind finds support in at least two things:

  • he speaks earlier of Jesus' Gethsemane prayers:

KJV Heb 5:7  Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;

  • he caps his passage about the "race" with mention that he "is set down at the right of the throne of God":

KJV Heb 12:2 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.

  • if in the view of the author the prayer is made while on the cross and reports that a criminal was crucified naked to shame them then his mention of "despising the shame" becomes very poignant. It may even link to their race if races of that time were conducted in the nude.

I wonder if in Gethsemane God "set before his eyes" not just the crucifixion but his resurrection and glory:

KJV Gal 3:1  O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

We do know that before Gethsemane it was not his will to die:

KJV Luk_22:42  Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.


I think maybe my answer is wrong as are the others. I say this because @Possibility provides a good study of the idea of "instead of the joy" here:

Hebrews 12:2 "for the joy" or "instead of the joy"?

That being said, the sense appears to be the same behavior we see in Moses:

[Heb 11:24-26 NKJV] (24) By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, (25) choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, (26) esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.

  • -1 Ecstatic at the prospect of sitting at the right hand of God? Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 21:06
  • @RevelationLad, is that not what the text says?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 22:11

In Hebrews 12:2 what is the joy “set before” Jesus?

Hebrews 12:2 (NASB)

"Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Jesus remained faithful to the end, he was tested by Satan and tortured and shamed by humans and for this he was rewarded and given privileges, the scriptures say:

"The joy “set before” Jesus.

1/ Sat down at the right hand of God. (Heb. 12:2)

2/ Because he obeyed and humbled himself , God exalted him to a higher position.

Philippians 2:9 (NET Bible)

As a result God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,

3/ God appointed him as his permanent High Priest , and so is able to save those who come to God through him.

Hebrews 7:23-25 New (NET Bible)

23 "And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them."

Acts 4:12 (NET Bible)

12 "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.”

4/ Given authority by God to sit in judgement of humanity.

John 5:27-29 (NASB)

27 "And He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment."

5/ Appointed King over God's Kingdom.

John 18:37 (NASB)

37 "Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

6/ Jesus took great joy in sanctifying/hollowed (to make holy) His Father name and also taught his disciples and followers to do the same. Christians have heard or read the model prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples, when they asked him.“Lord, teach us to pray.”

Luke 11:2 NASB

"And He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come.

Jesus loved his Father and did everything he could to sanctify it, a short time before his death he said:

John 17:25-26 (NET Bible)

25 "Righteous Father, even if the world does not know you, I know you, and these men[a] know that you sent me. 26 I made known your name[b] to them, and I will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them.”

Exodus 3:14 (ASV)

14 "And God said unto Moses, [a]I am that I am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, [b]I am hath sent me unto you."


(a) Exodus 3:14 Or, I am, because I am. Or, I am who am. Or, I will be that I will be (b) Exodus 3:14 Hebrew Ehyeh. From the same root as Jehovah.


The joy of Father Son and Holy Spirit is to enter into relationship with us. Jesus is all about relationship not about honour. We share that same joy when what we suffer enables us to relate to someone and show them how God can see them through there is no greater joy than in sharing the jot of the trinity in this.


I believe the Joy set before Jesus is the joy of seeing His bride the church. The joy a husband has when he sees his bride walking towards him on his marriage day is but a shadow or type of the Joy set before the Lord. We are His reward.


I think we believers are the joy set before Him

When I look at what changed as a result of Christ's death and resurrection I see the redemption of people. I see a way to populate the kingdom of heaven with those who have responded to Jesus in faith

  • In Philippians 4:1, Paul refers to the group of believers as his joy and crown. It's the believers who give Paul joy.
  • In John 3:17 Jesus says that God sent the Son so that the world should be saved through Him.
  • In Matthew 18:11 and Luke 19:10 Jesus says that he came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Jesus came to re-establish the intimate relationship between man and God that was lost in the fall. The joy Jesus was looking forward to was not more power or a better place in heaven. As John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16 say, Jesus is the creator of all things. He had the power. He is God Himself (John 1:1 and Colossians 1:15). So the joy He was looking forward to was not more of God but rather more people of faith.

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    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 22:39
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    – Ruminator
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 22:40

His joy should not be denigrated by understanding it as looking forward to some reward, such as being seated at God's right hand. This explanation borders on what is sinful:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5 ESV)

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit; being ecstatic at the prospects of sitting at God's right hand sounds nothing like any fruit of the Spirit. In fact it sounds a lot like a type of behavior to be avoided. The essence of this point of view looks at the work of Christ narrowly in terms of obedience. That is, Jesus was obedient so Jesus gets rewarded. What is lacking from this perspective is consideration of why Jesus was obedient.

Jesus could be obedient as a servant: I will do what I am told. Jesus could be obedient as One who loves: I love you and will do whatever you say. Jesus could be obedient because He loves others:

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15)

His death on the cross meant children of God who will have eternal life with God:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)

but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

How could one not be overcome with joy at the knowledge sinful, rebellious people could be reborn as children of God having eternal life in the Kingdom of God?

The correct Old Testament prophecy is in Isaiah:

10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53)


Somehow it appears that we have missed the implied meaning as born out in Psalms 16:3. In my cogitations I hear that the joy that was set before Jesus has to do with those who the Lord his God had given him, The people dwelling in the land. His father sent him for a purpose, the purpose having to do with redeeming a body of believers A body which makes up the household of God. David speaks third person of his Lord’s portion, his inheritance, which lines had fallen to him in pleasant places. It’s an inheritance... lines presumably boundary lines which the Lord has given him. Get it? In Ephesians one doesn’t Paul pray for enlightenment of our inheritance in the Saints and what is the greatness thereof? Ephesians 1:18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. So, it would seem that that same hope of calling and joy in an inheritance laid up for us, exists for the believer. What motivated Jesus? Riches, but these riches are also practicly speaking yours.

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