Hebrews 12:18-22… For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. 20 For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” 21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion…
Beginning in 12:18 the author sets forth another example of the superiority of Christ and the New Covenant (NC) by reminding his Jewish audience of what transpired during the giving of the Law in Exodus 19-20 (circa 1445 BC). In that account Moses ascended to the top of Mt. Sinai (a.k.a., Horeb) to face the Lord God and receive the written Law which would govern Israel – God’s covenant people. The Law given, the Decalogue, was the “old covenant.”
The occasion in Exodus 19-20 was absolutely awesome, for the description pictures an actual mountain where the tablets of God’s written law were given to Moses by God Himself. These tablets contained terrifying warnings and severe ramifications for disobedience. While giving the Law to Moses, God’s presence surrounded the mountain that day like a blazing fire, like darkness and gloom (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6), and like a “whirlwind” – a term that is used to describe a brief but violent and sudden destructive blast that, like a tornado, carries objects high into the sky. God manifested Himself that day in this way so that Israel would behold His glory and so that He might secure authority and reverence to His Law (Ex. 19:9). Even if an innocent animal were to have wandered up to the mountain and touched it that day God would have commanded that it be killed. Worse, if a rebellious Israelite would have consciously approached the mountain before being summoned they would have been condemned to death by the Law.
As God’s presence descended upon the mountain three days later the people saw it and were terrified. And as the blast of a heavenly trumpet began to sound, it gradually became louder and louder summoning the people to the base of the mountain. This terrified them even more, to the point where they begged Moses to speak to them in God’s stead, for His presence was more than they could bear. Moses attempted to comfort them by saying, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of Him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Ex. 20:20).
Hebrews 12:21 quotes Moses as saying, “I am full of fear and trembling,” yet Exodus does not record this. Moses did say this on the people’s behalf however. He was their mediator, and he brought their fearful complaint before God. In this way he can be quoted as such, for he spoke on Israel’s behalf who were not able to bear the One commanding them or the command given to them that even if an animal were to touch the mountain it was to be stoned.
Now for the contrast. The Hebrews audience, predominately Jewish, knew all of this, but had forgotten (cf. 12:5). Their NC Savior had brought them, not to Mt. Sinai but to Mt. Zion, the spiritual dwelling of God where all of them could come boldly before God’s throne of grace and stay there to find mercy and grace to help them in their times of need (Heb. 4:16).
Food for Thought
A works salvation attempts to please a holy and awesome God who demands perfection under the Law, but that’s impossible! Salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, however, submits to that same God under grace who has already made perfect those who draw near through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, apart from works, who accomplished the requirements of the Law on our behalf. Now we can approach our Father with boldness.
Hebrews 12:22-24… But you have come to Mt. Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than Abel’s.
When David drove the Jebusites out of Jerusalem he placed the ark of God on Mt. Zion which became synonymous with God’s dwelling place. Solomon later moved the ark from Zion to the Temple on the nearby Mt. Moriah. Zion was then extended to include that area. Later, Zion became synonymous with Jerusalem as the city of God where sacrificial blood was offered.
Sinai and Zion are at odds. Sinai was dark and terrifying; Zion is light and gracious. Sinai, symbolizing the Law, is untouchable; Zion symbolizes mercy and is approachable. The Law given at Sinai condemns, but grace grants forgiveness and salvation – purchased on Mt. Zion. It is on Mt. Zion that “the Lord commanded the blessing, life forever” (Ps. 133:3).
The Hebrews audience, by and large, because of their outward confession of Christ, had supposedly come to Mt. Zion as redeemed children of God. They were like all Christians being citizens of the heavenly city where they spiritually dwell (Phil. 3:20). Their residence on earth is temporary. Now in coming to Zion, spiritually speaking, they also approached other blessings.
First, they came to the “city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” This is the “city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10) – the one Abraham looked for in obeying God as he did. It is the place of eternal treasure and hope for all believers, and it is exclusively for those who come to Zion for salvation, not those who come to Sinai.
Second, they came to “the general assembly” (a gathering for a public festival) of angels – myriads of them! Thus, Christians join in with the angels in praising God when they come to Zion. Angels were present at Mt. Sinai when God gave Moses the Law (Gal. 3:19), but they were unapproachable, blowing the trumpets of judgment (cf. Rev. 8-9) which the Law commanded.
Third, Christians come to the “church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,” namely, dead Christians who preceded them. Believers in Christ are called “heirs of God and fellows heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17)... “the firstborn of many brethren” (8:29). Firstborn children received the family inheritance and the blessings. Their names were “enrolled in heaven” (Rev. 21:27) in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).
Fourth, Christians come to God – an impossible concept for Jews – made possible when Christ died and the veil of the temple was torn in two (Luke 23:45). Believers also come to the “spirits of the righteous men made perfect” – the OT saints – as they join in worshipping Christ together. These saints, unlike Christians who are made perfect at the moment of belief, had to wait for Christ’s day to realize their perfection (Heb. 11:40). In addition, they come to Jesus who will make them like him upon seeing him. And finally, believers come to the “sprinkled blood which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” Abel’s blood sacrifice to God was acceptable, being offered in faith, but Jesus’ blood is a once for all sacrifice which cleanses once, for all time.
Food for Thought
Take time today to contemplate the truths of Heb. 12:22-24. Sadly, our focus is easily taken away from what is truly awesome and turned instead to worldly treasures. We are far too often taken away by riches, leisure, sickness, and death. As a Christian, look at what you come to when you come to Christ! No longer take your position in Christ lightly. Get out of bed and worship, and join with all the others in spirit who bow before His holiness, both past and present.
Hebrews 12:25-27… See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” 27 This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
The writer’s argument went something like this: “As Christians, you have not come to darkness and gloom or to death and punishment like Israel did at Sinai. You have come to God’s heavenly throne! Whereas before you could not approach the Almighty God apart from a priest, now you may because His Son, the Great High Priest, has accomplished salvation for you by dying on the cross in your place. Now you are acceptable and forgiven because of what Christ did for you. Because of this ‘see to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking’” (12:25).
In Heb. 1:2 the writer taught that God was speaking in these “last days” through His Son. And because His Son (Jesus Christ) is superior to all who have ever gone before and who will ever come afterward, he is not to be refused or ignored. After all, if Israel was promised severe punishment for even touching Mt. Sinai while God’s presence was there (on the earth) during the days of the Mosaic Law, then the punishment for ignoring Christ’s words – who speaks from heaven while at the right hand of God the Father – can only be worse. The Israelites who ignored God at Sinai forfeited their right to enter the earthly Promised Land. But for all who hear and ignore the words of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of all men – who speaks from the heavenly Mt. Zion – they forfeit the right to enter the heavenly Promised Land. So since the blessings of receiving the promises of the New Covenant are infinitely greater than those of the old covenant, the ramifications for refusing the NC are also infinitely greater (cf. Heb. 10:28-29).
While Israel stood at the base of Mt. Sinai in Ex. 19-20 God’s presence caused the earth to shake, and it was terrifying. But in the future when Christ returns to Zion he is going to cause the heavens to shake. The Lord predicted this through the prophet Haggai: “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven” (2:6). What this will look like is explained in Rev. 6:12-14 where the sun becomes black as sackcloth, the whole moon becomes like blood, the stars of the sky will fall to the earth, and the sky will be split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up. In other words, everything physical will be burned up, and only that which is eternal will remain.
Peter speaks of that future day when God will shake the heavens and the earth: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up... looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat” (2 Pet 3:10, 12).
The only things not shaken in that day will be that which is eternal. God has already prepared a “new heaven and a new earth” which will replace the first heaven and earth that will have passed away (Rev. 21:1). The New Jerusalem will come down from the sky – Zion! And all of God’s eternal children will receive this “kingdom which cannot be shaken.”
Food for Thought
There will be many Esau’s when God shakes the heaven and earth – repentant people (12:17). But it will be too late then. We simply cannot ignore Christ’s words as found in the Bible. Read them! Study them! Obey them! That point can never be stressed too strongly.
Hebrews 12:28-29… Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
The “therefore” in v. 28 draws the whole argument to a logical application. Having shown that God will return to shake the world upside down and burn it with fire in the end times, true Christians must be prepared, for they will be the only ones standing when it’s over.
“Shaken” means to be distressed or unsettled, so a kingdom which “cannot be shaken” is one that is immovable. This is the eternal kingdom of God. It is not of this earth which was cursed from Genesis 3 onward due to man’s sin. This is a new heaven and earth that is not susceptible to sin and the curse. The fact that it is unshakable means that the events which occurred in Genesis 3 cannot occur again when God starts over in eternity. This is the place where believers go in spite of their sins simply because they believed in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross for salvation. They don’t deserve salvation, but God has graciously granted it as a gift.
Now since believers will receive such a kingdom by God’s grace, the writer says, “Let us show gratitude.” The tense of the Greek verb, however, literally says, “Let us be continually grateful.” Now the only way to exist in a continual state of gratefulness is to never lose sight of what Christ has graciously given. It’s quite possible that the reason people don’t think too much about heaven today is because they have it too good here on the earth! But the opposite is also true, for the Hebrews audience illustrates that when life’s circumstances turn sour – when God’s discipline becomes intense – Christians again tend to forget about heaven and an long for earthly relief. Hence, the application and urgency of the Epistle to the Hebrews – both then and now.
Gratitude for what Christ has so graciously given allows believers to “offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (v. 28). Reverence for God entails caution, respect, discretion, and pious care. Awe over God is a “timid apprehension of danger.” It’s not the same Greek word for “fear” in the sense of being horribly frightened, but it is closely related. Taken together, being continually thankful to God would translate into a healthy regard for a holy God and His written word, which if a person violates, he must be disciplined.
This proves that non-Christians absolutely cannot worship Christ, for true worship comes from a thankful heart over what Christ has done. Unbelievers do not accept Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and until they realize that they have been forgiven of sin they simply won’t worship.
True worship is acceptable to God. In the OT when an animal was offered on the altar of burnt offering, the fire consumed it. In reference to “our God is a consuming fire” (v. 29; cf. Deut. 4:24), God is either going to accept the Christian’s worship or reject it. If it’s offered with reverence, awe, and gratitude to Christ, it is acceptable. But note the terror surrounding God for those who do not offer proper worship and who fall back into a religion of works to gain God’s approval. For them God is a consuming fire, one that devours His enemies when he shakes the earth at the end of time (cf. 10:27; Num. 11:1; 16:35; Ps. 97:3; Isa. 66:15; 2 Thess. 1:8).
Food for Thought
There is very little reverence and awe for God these days in church. They had very little of it in Corinth in the first century, and Paul lambasted them for it. I wonder what he would say to today’s church with all its rock music, shallow theology, and poor giving. How about liturgies done in unknown languages where few, if any, understand? True worship is of the heart, done out of gratefulness, and offered with reverence and awe. And God willingly receives it.
I. The Dread of Mt. Sinai (18-21)
A. A dreadful mountain
B. Darkness, gloom, and tempest
C. Loud trumpets of judgment – blown by angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Ps. 68:17)
D. Death for those who touched
II. The Joy of Mt. Zion (22-24) – (David put ark on Zion; Solomon moved it to Moriah)
A. Heavenly Jerusalem (Eph. 2; Phil. 3; Rev. 21)
B. Assembly of angels (a gathering for a public festival)
C. Church of the firstborn (“heirs w/Christ… firstborn among many, Rom. 8:17, 29)
D. God, the Judge of all (right in the middle)
E. Spirits of saints made perfect (OT saints awaiting perfection, Heb. 11:40)
F. Jesus, our Mediator
G. Blood better than Abel’s
· Abel’s blood spoke from the earth and cried for justice (Gen. 4:10)
· Christ’s blood speaks from heaven and announces mercy for sinners.
· Abel’s blood made Cain feel guilty; drove him to despair (Gen. 4:13-15)
· Christ’s blood frees from guilt and opens the way into the presence of God.
III. Do Not Refuse Christ’s Words (25-27) Cf. Heb. 1:2
A. Eternal punishment for refusal
B. Heaven and earth shaken (Hag. 2:6)
C. Only eternal will remain (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10, 12; Rev. 6:12-14).
IV. True Worship is of the Heart (28-29)
A. “Receiving an unshakable kingdom...” (shaken is “distressed; unsettled”)
B. Offered in gratitude (“let us show continual grace”)
C. Offered with reverence & awe (“caution; respect”… “timid apprehension of danger”)
D. Received by God (He “consumes” it – 1 Kings 18:38); offered as “soothing” Lev. 1
1. Unbelievers unable to worship
2. Believers without gratitude do not worship
1. Hebrews 10:27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.
2. Exodus 24:17 And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top.
3. Numbers 11:1 Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.
4. Numbers 16:35 Fire also came forth from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.
5. Deuteronomy 4:24 “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
6. Deuteronomy 9:3 “Know therefore today that it is the Lord your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the Lord has spoken to you.
7. Psalm 50:3 May our God come and not keep silence; Fire devours before Him, And it is very tempestuous around Him.
8. Psalm 97:3 Fire goes before Him And burns up His adversaries round about.
9. Isaiah 66:15 For behold, the Lord will come in fire And His chariots like the whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire.
10. 2 Thessalonians 1:8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
Sinai or Zion? Zion is by grace; Sinai is through works.
“Therefore, because we will receive a future unshakable kingdom, let us show continuous gratitude by which we might offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.”