Lecture 24: Hebrews 12:18-29
Lecture: Hebrews 12:18-29
18 For you have not come to something that can be touched, to a burning fire and darkness and gloom and a whirlwind 19 and the blast of a trumpet and a voice uttering words such that those who heard begged to hear no more. 20 For they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches
the mountain, it must be stoned.” 21 In fact, the scene was so terrifying that Moses said, “I shudder with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly 23 and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than Abel’s does. 25 Take care not to refuse the one who is speaking! For if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less shall we, if we reject the one who warns from heaven? 26 Then his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “I will once more shake not only the earth but heaven too.” 27 Now this phrase “once more” indicates the removal of what is shaken, that is, of created things, so that what is unshaken may remain. 28 So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe. 29 For our God is indeed a devouring fire.
I. Purpose and Process
We are coming now to the climax of the whole book; here the author pulls a lot of the strands together to give a beautiful theological exhortation in a unique form. The purpose of this section is to bring into focus the power of the new covenant. It’s in this exhortation section and the author is painting a picture of the blessings of the new covenant. Remember that all through the book, we have learned to persevere in order to receive the inheritance or reward. Now he shows us that we indeed have that in the new covenant itself. So the process here in this passage of 12:18-24 is in the form of a comparison-contrast which is set up in parallel fashion. He contrasts two mountains, Mount Sinai over against Mount Zion. Mount Sinai represents the old covenant and Zion represents the new covenant. We have been working toward this point in the book and now we have arrived. So the imagery has you wondering not yet arriving; you need to keep going and enter in. Now the author says that you have not come to mountain that can be touched; but you have come to Mount Zion. The author is setting up a synominal picture of encouragement for us.
A. Hebrews 12:18-24
18 ου (not) γαρ (For) προσεληλύθατε (you have come forward to) ψηλαφωμένω (being handled) όρει (the mountain) και (and) κεκαυμένω (being kindled) πυρί (with fire,) και (and) γνόφω (to dimness,) και (and) σκότω (to darkness,) και (and) θυέλλη (to storm,)
19 και (and) σάλπιγγος (to the trumpet's) ήχω (sound,) και (and) φωνή (to the voice) ρημάτων (of utterances,) ης (of which) οι (the ones) ακούσαντες (hearing) παρητήσαντο (asked pardon) μη (to not) προστεθήναι (proceed) αυτοίς (to them) λόγον (for the word;)
20 ουκ (they could not) έφερον (bear) γαρ (for) το (the) διαστελλόμενον (giving of orders, saying,) καν (And if) θηρίον (a beast) θίγη (should touch lightly upon) του (the) όρους (mountain,) λιθοβοληθήσεται (it shall be stoned,) η (or) βολίδι (an arrow) κατατοξευθήσεται (shot with.)
21 και (And) ούτω (so) φοβερόν (fearful) ην (was) το (the) φανταζόμενον (visible display,) Μωϋσης (Moses) είπεν (said,) έκφοβός ειμι (I am frightened) και (and) έντρομος (trembling.)
22 αλλά (But) προσεληλύθατε (you have come forward) Σιών όρει (to mount Zion,) και (and) πόλει (the city) θεού ζώντος (of the living God,) Ιερουσαλήμ επουρανίω (heavenly Jerusalem;) και (and) μυριάσιν (to myriads) αγγέλων (of angels,)
23 πανηγύρει (to the festival) και (and) εκκλησία (to the assembly) πρωτοτόκων (of the first-born) εν (in) ουρανοίς (the heavens) απογεγραμμένων (having been registered,) και (and) κριτή θεώ (to God the judge) πάντων (of all,) και (and) πνεύματι (to spirits) δικαίων (of the righteous) τετελειωμένων (having been perfected,)
24 και (and) διαθήκης (covenant) νέας (of a new) μεσίτη (the mediator) Ιησού (Jesus,) και (and) αίματι (to the blood) ραντισμού (of sprinkling,) κρείττον (better) λαλούντι (speaking) παρά (than) τον (the one) Άβελ (of Abel.)
So, the purpose is to bring in the blessings of the new covenant. He says that you have not come (in the Greek text, there is a word for mountain); it is something that can’t be touched. He speaks this way because of the command that if an animal touches the mountain then it has to be stoned. The imagery that follows is like a nightmare; it is like a horror movie type of imagery of a burning fire and gloom of darkness with a whirlwind and sound of a trumpet and a voice of words. If you read the Sinai passages that you have in Exodus 19:16-22 and 20:18-21, you have this storm on the mountain; it’s dark with flashes of lightening. You have this booming disembodied voice that speaks from the mountain. So, the author is using this kind imagery. They, who heard it, begged that the word would not be spoken further to them. The situation was so horrible that they begged not to experience what was happening. Don’t add to the words that we have already heard! They were not able to bear the command that if even a beast should touch the mountain, it will be stoned. Then in verse 21, he says that he was so afraid at the sight, Moses said that I am terrified and trembling. The first half of the passage is speaking about this event at Mount Sinai and it is the event from which they made a covenant with God. Historically, this moment is when they came to make a covenant with God. In speaking on this passage, Bill Lane has made a statement on this where he talks about just how the whole point of this passage is to stay away. He says that every aspect of division provides encouragement for coming boldly into the presence of God. The frightful vision imagery of blazing fire, darkness and gloom fades before the reality of the Living God in the heavenly Jerusalem. The author is setting up this visual imagery in a cacophony of whirlwind trumpet blast and sound of words in order to put it in bold contrast to the phenomenal beautiful and blessing of the new covenant.
You look at this old covenant passage where everything about it says stay away. It is like there is a ‘Do Not Approach’ sign. It is almost as if you have both the dynamics of God saying that he wants a relationship with you but stay away because I am holy and you will be destroyed if you get too close. It is similar to what we see in the Old Testament tabernacle system that you both have a way provided for maintaining the relationship in moving into the presence of God, but there is also a barrier forbidding you to enter directly into his presence. There is an important theological point here; there is an important and vital aspect of theology that takes seriously the holiness of God. This is foundational; in dealing adequately with biblical theology you have got to go past Sinai in understanding the holiness of God. There is something to be learned in regards to the value of forgiveness because of the horror of the wind and holiness of God. The imagery of the old covenant seems impersonally and frightening. As the author turns to deal with the following passage, he brings Moses into the picture. In terms of Moses’ fear, this isn’t clearly in view in the Sinai passages of the Old Testament. In Hebrews 12:21, the writer concludes by noting that even the mediator of the covenant, Moses, was overwhelmed by the experience. This isn’t necessarily recognized in this passage in which the author is alluding up to this point. The author may be alluding to Deuteronomy 9:19. Remember what part of what Hebrews does, he pulls together passages that have verbal analogy that relate to each other in some way and reads them together. In Deuteronomy 9:19 Moses says that he fears the anger and wrath of the Lord. The context of Deuteronomy 9 concerns the people’s idolatry with the golden calf. There are a number of touch-points with Deuteronomy 4. For example, both experiences occur at Sinai and both concern the preeminent expression of covenant guidelines; both contexts also involve the mountain burning with fire and Moses speaking with the Lord in 9:19. So, if this reading of the reference in Hebrews 12:21 is correct, Moses trembling with fear is a response to the intensity of God’s wrath in the face of people’s sin. What the author does, he brings in this element of Moses because he is working on parallels. He wants to bring in the mediator of the old covenant because he is going to mention the mediator of the new covenant in Jesus. However, he wants to maintain the intensity of the picture in bringing in this element of Moses’s fear and trembling in drawing from the broader narrative of Deuteronomy. So the emphasis of the whole passage is to drive home terror; something that is not welcoming.
In the second half of the passage verses 22-24, he focuses on Mount Zion. But this gives strong contrast; you have come to Mount Zion and the city of the Living God. Remember those passages we have seen in Hebrews 11; they were searching for a city whose maker was God. He says that you have arrived in the new covenant; you have come to Mount Zion and the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and we have a great many angels in festive assembly and to the church of the prototocun; this is not the firstborn; he uses prototocus to speak of Jesus. (Prototocus could refer to a variety of things, like fellowship in the ancient world. But, it is the firstborn, the heir and I think the emphasis here is to stress that we are the heirs of God) Now, it reads that we come to the assembly of the firstborn ones. That is us. This is drawing a parallel between our son-ship and Jesus’ son-ship. In our relationship in the new covenant, we are all honored heirs of son-ship. We have come to the assembly of the firstborn ones enrolled in heavens to the judge, God and to God the judge of all and to the spirits of the righteous having been made perfect. Having been made perfect is a term that he’s been using through the whole book. This is to a meditator of a new covenant, Jesus and to the sprinkled blood speaking better than that of Abel.
There are different elements here in relation to Mount Zion itself. First of all, we come to Mount Zion; in biblical literature, Mount Zion is closely related to Jerusalem. Together, they represent God’s dwelling place and the emphasis here is on the fact that we have come to the dwelling place of God. We have
come to the place where God lives. We have seen that the heavenly Jerusalem in that Jewish Apocalyptic idea will come down at the end of time where the dwelling place of God will be with us. Often, I preach on the dynamics of the new covenant community and the first dynamic concerns a new covenant community. If we are living as a new covenant community, one of the characteristics of this is being at home with God; the presence of God is with us. There is a heart to heart, face to face kind of relationship in coming into the presence of God. Passages like Exodus 33:11 says that the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend. God is calling us into intimacy and closeness with himself. If your church situation is what it should be, then we will experience the presence of God. God will be at home in the presence of everyone. Of course, God is at home theologically in the deadliest church in any town. We are talking about God’s active presence. I remember one person asking, if God did not show up at your church this Sunday, would anything be any different? So, what does the presence of God mean in terms of God being actively involved in what is going on? So, he says that we come to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
Secondly, we have come to (μυριάσιν) myriads of angels (πανηγύρει) in festival assembly. The idea of the Greek word here is a joyful gathering; this was used in the Old Testament to translate the joy surrounding their festivals. These were to be celebrated with joy. In the Greco-Roman world, this word
could be used for the celebratory atmosphere at athletic events. As you know in athletic events in our own country, some people just go crazy at a game. And so I think part of the sense of the passage has to do with the idea of festiveness and celebration of the freedom we have in the new covenant. You have the angels celebrating what God has accomplished. Now, I really like celebration songs in our church service. I also want us to really be quiet at times and be reverent in the presence of God. I think there is a balance here. However, I think it is also appropriate for us to celebrate what God has done. Sometimes, this takes different forms in the cultural worship we have. If you are from South America, there is a lot more open festive celebration as also in some African situations. Sometimes we may feel uncomfortable how others worship the Lord but if it is to the Lord worshipping in freedom, what can we say! The point here is, you and I need to grasp the joy and significance of the new covenant in such a way that we celebrate what God has done on our behalf and the freedom he has brought to us.
So, what do we think about our experience of church and the dynamics we are building; are we building an atmosphere in which people are excited and celebrate what God has accomplished on our behalf. Or, do we have people who basically ho-hum through the service with an attitude of just attending church every week and then go home and celebrate over who won the football game? This might say something to the fact that we have not grasped the depth of what is going on here in terms of calling people to joy. He goes on and says that we come to the assembly of the first-born ones; those who are the honored heirs who are enrolled in heaven and to God, the judge of all. I mentioned earlier that the concept of God being judge here is probably related to his vindication. It would seem to me to be very much out of context unless the author is saying that God is acting as judge who vindicates us and will judge and punish those who are evil and stand against God’s people. So, when he talks about God being the judge of all; I think the key note is probably on vindication because he is reciting the blessings of the new covenant. God is our judge in the sense that he is the vindicator of us under the new covenant. That would agree with what he says in terms of the spirits of righteous people having been perfected. In the context of the new covenant, he means that we have been made right with God; we have been brought to the point where God intended for people to get to in terms of the covenant with him. Finally, this beautiful verse; and we come to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood. Why is this new covenant blood of Jesus able to speak a better word than the blood of Abel? In the Old Testament context, Abel’s blood cried out from the ground for justice; the price must be paid for his murder. The contrast is obvious; with Jesus’ blood the price has been paid. People have been put in the right relationship with God on the basis of what Jesus has done. You have a beautiful picture of grace with this.
The most important truth which is the holiness of God is foundational. It is a vitally important spiritual truth. As we see the moral fibers of our culture decaying we can become fixated on shouted against the decay unless we be lost in it. If we are not careful, grace can get lost amid the shouts. We can be perceived as dragging people to the foot of Mount Sinai, attempting to hold their heads back forcing them to face the storm and feel the red hot flash of lightening and tremble at the weighty voice. Most unholy people who still do not like Sinai respond, I don’t want to listen to that voice anymore. If we bear a message of non- grace, they will run the other way when they see us coming. The path to Mount Zion, brushes against Mount Sinai, the holiness of God is a foundational aspect of the message of true grace. Zion must loom large in our vision and the vision of Christianity. It would be a shame if people never hear the music of the heavenly Jerusalem as the thunder of our Sinai drowns it out, if they never move past trembling Moses to meet Jesus who stands with his outstretched hands. When you look at the ministry of Jesus, the emphasis in dealing with sinners is placed on grace and forgiveness. It is a grace that forms; it isn’t a grace that says that way you can live the way you want. It is grace, it is forgiveness and welcoming people who are not like us, who are really sinful in ways that seems to contradict God’s desires in Scripture. I am not saying that we should not preach the holiness of God hard; I think that we should. This is part of preaching the whole council of God, but we need to make sure that grace is permeating our whole context in regards to God.
These climax passages like in 10:19-25 and here in 12:18-24, they don’t so much as give a definite bracket to something as they are acting as a net that point everything into the climax. So the climactic passages act more like the end of a funnel. In preaching this, I say that the new covenant community is
characterized by the active presence of God and by joy and also by grace. We can actively celebrate this by the idea of the Sabbath; when Sabbath comes, work ceases and all God’s people play. Our family lives this by having an extensive time off on Saturday and then a Sabbath tea on Sunday afternoon. This is where we have candles on a beautifully set table and eat fun finger foods.
B. Hebrews 12:25-29
25 βλέπετε (Take heed) μη (that you should not) παραιτήσησθε (refuse) τον (the one) λαλούντα (speaking!) ει γαρ (For if) εκείνοι (those) ουκ (did not) έφυγον (flee escaping,) τον (2 the one) επί (4 upon) γης (5 earth) παραιτησάμενοι (1 refusing) χρηματίζοντα (3 receiving a divine message,) πολλώ (how much) μάλλον (more) ημείς (we) οι (the ones) τον (2 the one) απ΄ (3 from) ουρανών (4 heavens) αποστρεφόμενοι (1 turning away,)
26 ου (of whose) η φωνή (voice) την (the) γην (earth) εσάλευσε (shook) τότε (then;) νυν δε (but now) επήγγελται (he has promised,) λέγων (saying,) έτι (Still) άπαξ (once more) εγώ (I) σείω (will shake) ου (not) μόνον (only) την (the) γην (earth,) αλλά (but) και (also) τον (the) ουρανόν (heaven.)
27 το δε (And the saying,) έτι (Still) άπαξ (once more,) δηλοί (manifests) των (3 of the things) σαλευομένων (4 being shaken) την (1 the) μετάθεσιν (2 transposition,) ως (as things) πεποιημένων (being made,) ίνα (that) μείνη (4 should abide) τα (1 the things) μη (2 not) σαλευόμενα (3 being shaken.)
28 διό (Therefore) βασιλείαν (2 a kingdom) ασάλευτον (3 unshaken) παραλαμβάνοντες (1 receiving,) έχωμεν (we should have) χάριν (favor) δι΄ (by) ης (which) λατρεύωμεν (we should serve) ευαρέστως (2 pleasantly) τω θεώ (1 God) μετά (with) αιδούς (respect) και (and) ευλαβείας (veneration.)
29 και γαρ (For even) ο θεός ημών (our God) πυρ (2 fire) καταναλίσκον (1 is a consuming.)
This is a warning passage here at the end of chapter 12. Here you have the author giving them a final warning. This parallels to the same type of warning you have in chapter 2:1-4. You have a similar kind of dynamic here. His first statement is, see to it that you do not refuse the one speaking. Why should you
heed this warning; if those did not escape when God warned them on the earth, then you will not escape if you turn away from the Word that God gives from heaven. This is an argument of lessor to greater where the lessor situation is shaking of the earth in Mount Sinai and God speaking. He is alluding to the booming voice that is speaking to them from Mount Sinai. If those people who were warned there, did not escape the judgment of God, then you also will not escape if God speaks from heaven. I think he is alluding to the word of salvation. This concept of shaking is very important here. If we turn away from the voice, which is implied toward the end of verse 25; this is the voice from heaven. Then in 26, he talks about the shaking of the earth, speaking about Mount Sinai.
Then he points to a passage in Haggai which you can cross-reference with Isaiah 13:13. Quoting the Haggai passage, he weaves his interpretation in this and says, yet once more I will not only shake the earth but also the heavens. The way the Old Testament reads it is, I will shake the heavens and the
earth. This is an implicit Midrash; it is when you weave the interpretation of the passage into the quotation. In verse 27, he interprets this as showing that there will be a removal of the things that can be shaken. He takes this part of the passage as referring to the end of the age, the end of time; in order that the things not being shaken might remain. So, he is taking this passage from Haggai 2 saying that God’s prophecy involves the end of the age where God is going to shake both the heavens and the earth. It will not only be the earth that he shook at Mount Sinai but a time is coming where the heavens and earth is going to be shaken. The author takes this as there is coming a day when the earthly reality that we know is going to be shaken in such a way that only which can’t be shaken will remain. This is from a broader New Testament theology standpoint where God will shake the current creation in such a way that what will remain; the eternal things will remain which I think includes the transformation of the heavens and earth at the end of the age. The point here is that this earthly system as we know it is going to pass away.
So, what does he do with this argument? He sets it up as an argument from lesser to greater, in order to say that we have this beautiful promise relating to the new covenant. But it is as if he is qualifying this by giving a final warning to those who are still out there on the edge in order to say that if God shook the earth through the warning of Mount Sinai, how much more should you and I not turn away from what God has spoken from heaven, specifically the Gospel. We must keep this in the perspective knowing that judgment is coming. There is coming a time with those who have invested wholly in this earthly realm as their ultimately value are going to find that shaken. So, what should we do since this is the reality? Since we receive an unshakable kingdom, let us have gratitude through which we serve God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. We need to worship God and perform acceptable service to him with reverence and awe. So, he keeps the promises before us of the new covenant and the beauty of the new covenant inheritance and a warning for those who would take it lightly.