18You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. 19For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. 20They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.”
22No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. 23You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. 24You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.
25Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! 26When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” 27This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain. 28Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29For our God is a devouring fire.Hebrews 12:18-29
Now we are moving on to the next section, but we need to take stock of the flow of the text from what was written before this section and how it relates to what is before us now. I have told you already that Hebrews 10:19 is where the flow of thought began. But of course all that the author of Hebrews has written in the letter fits together. His letter is a very persuasive case for them not to forsake Christ and turn back to Judaism so that things would go well for them during Nero’s reign as Emperor. We have followed the argument to the point where he used Esau as an example. I trust you can see now the logic in using Esau as an example. The most appropriate states of mind or warnings from the example of Esau are hustereō and bebēlos. They are also the most appropriate warnings for us too. Not to just quit and give up or opt out of following because of the coming threat of death and not to treat spiritual things as unimportant or to spurn the spiritual in favour of the tangible, temporal aspects of life. Hang tough in order to appropriate the Life of the Age to Come (Eternal Life). Run the race until you gain the prize. You have to admit that is the best fit of using Esau as an example. As I have explained, I am convinced the best choice for the point of comparison with Esau is bebēlos as that is the essence of his story: neglecting the spiritual for a bowl of soup. Unbelievable!
The verses before us now form not only the pinnacle of his argument but the climax of his close. These verses (12:18-29) form the grand finale of his argument from Hebrews 10:19 but also it could argued, the perfect close for the whole letter. Follow after the holy eternal things, use the saints of old as your benchmark and hold on firmly to the faith you confess in Jesus Christ. Earlier in the letter he has compared the priesthood under the old system with Jesus as Great High Priest and he has compared the Old Covenant with the New Covenant.
In this closing section of the chapter or the letter, the author goes back to comparing Sinai (the epitome of the Old System) with Mount Zion, the city of the Living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem. Now he has switched his focus from the prophets, priests, the examples of the faithful or orders and structures to the places which become word pictures of it all: Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.
Take time to ponder what the author is telling us in this section. What is the crux of his argument now? How is he once more persuading the Jewish Christians and us, who are reading his letter in the 21st Century, to fix our eyes on Jesus and hang tough to the end? What end? Now it is time for you to work your way through these twelve verses to understand his main point. Then to put that into practice so that you might persevere to the end, despite any external persecution you may experience or any discipline the LORD may have to bring in order to enable you to appropriate eternal life. I think you will enjoy reading this passage in the New Living Translation above because it makes the author’s persuasive argument clear.
Below is the same passage in the New American Standard Bible with the standard titles for the pericope.
Contrast of Sinai and Zion
18For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19and 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. 20For they could not cope with the command, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.” 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
The Unshaken Kingdom
25See 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 us from heaven. 26And 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.” 27This 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.28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let’s show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;29 for our God is a consuming fire.Hebrews 12:18-29
Do those two different translations help to make the author’s point clearer?
Grapple with it first and I will begin the in-depth look into this passage in the following Gem. I didn’t write a Gem Friday because we have been taking more time to restructure the Deeper Bible material to suit the Online Learning process better. I will write the next Gem for release Wednesday to give you more time to do your wrestling with the text. Try to avoid limping, but if it’s part of God’s discipline and training for you, accept it with joy.
God can do in a moment what normally would take years. Keep the faith!Evelinne Lumongga
Sometimes all you need to do to get you to another level is a “Leap of Faith”.Ian
Sometimes it is a fine line between presumption and faith. Only in retrospect can we tell the difference.Ian
I tried to throw in the towel and God said, “Wipe your face, you’re almost there.”Anonymous