In our last lesson we left off with the author teaching us to not trade in the eternal inheritance of God for the physical comforts of this world. Now the author is going to describe where we have come and pay attention to what we are receiving. We have not come to the physical, but to the eternal.
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” (Hebrews 12:18-21; ESV)
You Have Not Come… (18-21)
The author begins by telling his audience what they have not come to. They have not come to what may be touched, that is, physical things. In particular, the author is describing Mount Sinai when the people of Israel came to the mountain. To appreciate what the author is relating to, let us read Exodus 19:10-20:21 and see the power and vivid imagery of God coming to his people. Deuteronomy 5:22-27 gives us a little more information about the terrifying image of God’s presence at Sinai. It was imagery intended to bring about awe and fear. The warnings to the people intended to bring that fear. No one was to come near the mountain. Limits were set around the mountain and no one was not come close. If they did, they would be killed by God. Even if an animal came close to the mountain, it would be killed also. What a powerful picture of the presence and holiness of God! Do not come near to God. Be fearful! Be afraid! Stay back! Even Moses was afraid. God is holy and this fear was to compel the people not to sin (Exodus 20:20).
But the author has told these disciples that they have not come to that mountain. They have not come to the physical things that can be touched. This is not the way it is any longer. It was that way, but not now. That is not what we have come to.
You Have Come… (22-24)
Rather than explaining more, the author tells us what we have come to. We have come to Mount Zion. We have not come to the physical but, by implication, to the spiritual. We have come to Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. We have not come to the physical city, but to the city of the living God. By faith Abraham looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). That is the city we have come to. Let us consider what else we have come to.
To innumerable angels in festal gathering.
Too often we read these descriptions and do not ask what this is telling us. We simply say that we have come to innumerable angels. But what does that mean for us? Consider the scriptures and as we read these texts, think about where these innumerable angels are.
“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9-10; ESV)
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:11-12; ESV)
What is the writer saying that we have come to when telling us that we have come to the innumerable angels? We have come to the very presence of God. We have not come to the God who had to tell the people to not come near him because of his holiness. We have come near to God, which is the point the writer of Hebrews made earlier in his writing.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16; ESV)
The assembly of the firstborn and spirits of the righteous made perfect.
What else is the author telling us we have come to? Remember that the writer of Hebrews is teaching us what we have left and what we now have. This is not a third party. He is telling us that we are part of the new covenant, we are the assembly of the saved, and our names are written in heaven. I like the HCSB here: “to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven….” You are part of something great. You have not come to the physical. Rather, you are part of the group of people whose names are registered in heaven. Simply awesome!
We are of the firstborn, not only because Jesus is the firstborn of the dead, but because we have valued our birthright. We have not been like Esau, the firstborn, who despised his birthright inheritance and gave it away for the pleasures of this world. We are not that. We value our inheritance with God and are part of the family of God (Hebrews 2:11). Part of this assembly are those have died. They are also part of the family and we are joined together. Death separates us, but we are still joined together as God’s saved family.
This is really awesome. You have not come to the physical. You have not come to Sinai. But you have come to Jesus. Moses was the mediator of the Sinai covenant. Jesus is the mediator of the Zion covenant. We have come to the sprinkled blood, which is a picture of atonement. It is not the blood of wrath, which is what the blood of Abel spoke. Abel’s death demanded vengeance on Cain. We have come to the blood of Jesus which takes away wrath and brings mercy. We are under the new covenant of Jesus. That is what we have come to.
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (ESV)
A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken (25-29)
Now this is where the author’s teaching goes deep in this chapter. Unfortunately, the text has been glossed over. I listened to a number of sermons online and all of them missed the thunderous point that the author is making. So let’s dig deeper.
Now some may have the tendency to read this and think that God is a kinder, gentler God. Before we approached God with fear, but now we can go to God any way we like. To prevent such thinking, the writer of Hebrews gives a warning now.
“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.”
Here is another argument from the lesser to the greater. If they did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses who warned them on the earth, how do we think we will escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven? Obviously, we will not escape judgment. Now watch what the author presents.
Shaking of heavens and earth
When God spoke at that time his voice shook the earth (vs. 26). This observation refers back to the events of Mount Sinai that we read about earlier. But something has been promised for right now (the first century when the author is writing these words). The promise the author is referring to is found in Haggai 2:6, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” Before we read on, let us consider that this prophecy was stated by Haggai in the context of the construction of the temple in Jerusalem. Read on.
The author states that this promise refers to the removal of things that are shaken. What are the things that are shaken? The author is referring to the things that are made. The things that have been made must be removed so that the things which cannot be shaken can remain. What are the things that cannot be shaken? According to verse 27, the things that cannot be shaken are the things that have not been made with human hands. Verse 28 gives us more clarity that the things that cannot be shaken is the kingdom we are receiving. Now we cannot pass this by because he just made a critical point that is easy to miss.
The things that have been made must be removed so that the things that cannot be shaken can remain. The things that are shaken was Mount Sinai and the quotation was given in the context of the building of the physical temple in Jerusalem. Verse 27 tells us that these things must be removed so that the unshakable kingdom of God can remain. The point is not that we can go before God any way we want. The point is that God has kept his word, bringing about an unshakable kingdom that we are able to enter because we have come to Mount Zion and not Mount Sinai. We are part of the assembly of the firstborn, those who have not thrown away their birthright inheritance.
Verse 28 — Therefore, we need to be grateful for the kingdom we are receiving. We need to be thankful to be fellow partakers of the superior covenant, superior sacrifice, superior high priest, and superior kingdom. Let us then offer acceptable worship in reverence and awe because God is a consuming fire. God is not lenient now. Our God is a consuming fire. We need to worship him with reverence and awe. We need to be obedient since we are part of this unshakable kingdom.
- Look at what you have come to!
- Look how you are part of the unshakable kingdom!
- Look to how you can worship God acceptably!