Studies in the Book of Hebrews—Chapter 12:18-29

Approaching Mount Sion

THROUGHOUT THIS EPISTLE Paul has presented various incentives to faithfulness, and assures the Hebrew brethren that despite the difficulties of the narrow way of sacrifice the Lord’s grace will be sufficient for their every time of need. In the second and third verses of this chapter he mentions the “joy” that was set before Jesus which enabled him to endure “the cross” and despise “the shame” which was heaped upon him by the “contradiction of sinners.” Beginning with verse 18, the apostle, in a most eloquent manner, sets a wonderful joy before the Hebrews and before us, the joy of participation in the Messianic kingdom with all the called and faithful ones whom the Lord will similarly honor and bless.

VERSES 18,19  “Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more.”

This is a reference to the experiences of Moses and the Israelites in connection with the inauguration of the typical Law Covenant. Similar language to this is used in Joel 2:1,2, which is a prophecy of the “day of the Lord,” that period in the Divine plan when the long-promised kingdom of Christ is about to be established in power and great glory in the earth. ‘Fire,’ ‘darkness,’ ‘tempest,’ and ‘thick darkness’ are all used symbolically in various prophecies to describe the great Time of Trouble which immediately precedes the full manifestation of kingdom glory to the world and the inauguration of the New Covenant.

VERSES 20,21  “(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake.)”

‘They could not endure that which was commanded.’ Exodus 20:18,19 refers to this and verse 19 reads, “They said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” In Deuteronomy 18:15-18 Moses refers to this request of the people that God speak no more to them lest they die, and promises that the Lord will raise up another “Prophet” to them, “from among their brethren,” one who would be able to give them that which they desired at Horeb, which was life. It is this promise that Peter quotes in Acts 3:22, indicating that it will be fulfilled during the “times of restitution of all things” following the Second Coming of Christ. Thus again do the Scriptures confirm the fact that the inauguration of the Law Covenant is typical of what occurs following the return of Christ to establish his kingdom and to inaugurate the New Covenant.

VERSE 22  “Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.”

In the Greek text, the word which is here translated ‘come unto’ is one which means ‘approached to.’ (Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott) The antitypical mount Sion is the Lord’s kingdom. That kingdom was not established at the time Paul wrote this epistle, so it could not be true that the Hebrews had come unto it in the sense of being in the kingdom and reigning with Christ. But they were approaching unto that kingdom. The hope of the kingdom was their inspiration, and the goal for which they were striving was joint-heirship with Jesus in that kingdom. Revelation 14:1 pictures the entire “little flock” (Luke 12:32) class, together with Jesus, the “Lamb,” on mount Sion. In a prophecy concerning Jesus as king supreme in the kingdom, the Heavenly Father said, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.”—Ps. 2:6

The church throughout the entire age has also been approaching unto ‘the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.’ This is the city for which Abraham looked, “whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb. 11:10) It is shown in Revelation 21:2 as “coming down from God out of heaven.” It is another symbol of Christ’s kingdom. It will not be a humanly constituted government, for its authority and power come from God ‘out of heaven.’ The hope of reigning with Christ in this ‘city’ has been one of the inspirational joys of the entire church.

In this city, God, the fountain of life, will exhibit to mankind the principles of righteousness contained in his eternal laws, and show the people how to apply them in their daily affairs of life. The foundations of that “new Jerusalem” will not be a great army or navy, but the Divine principles of righteousness and truth.

The church has also been approaching ‘an innumerable company of angels.’ This is clearly a reference to those angels which the Lord has made as “a flame of fire,” and who have been sent forth “to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” (Heb. 1:7,14) These holy and invisible messengers of God have had a very prominent part in the development of the church. We do not know how many of these unseen servants of God there are, but among them there are some assigned especially to the Lord’s people. All along the way, and in every changing experience of life, our guardian angels have been present to guide us in the paths of righteousness, and to protect us from harm. What a joy it will be to meet and fellowship with them!

VERSE 23  “To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.”

Jesus said, “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) And we are approaching unto, and will ultimately meet with, all whose names have been thus enrolled. The ‘church of the firstborn’ is a more comprehensive expression than the “church of Christ.” The use of the word firstborn takes our minds back to the type, and to the fact that it was the firstborn of Israel who were saved from death by the blood of the Passover Lamb.

After the nation left Egypt, the tribe of Levi was substituted for the firstborn, and set aside to be the religious servants of the people. From the Levites the priests of Israel were chosen, the high priest being typical of Christ, and the under-priests representing the church of Christ. (Heb. 3:1; I Pet. 2:5,9) The Levites in general were the servants of the priests, and represent those pictured in Revelation 7:9-17 as a “great multitude” who serve God day and night in his temple. Paul includes these in the ‘general assembly,’ by describing it as the church of the firstborn.

What an inspiration it is to know that we are approaching unto such a wonderful company of God’s people! There will be Paul and Peter and John, and all the apostles and other faithful ones of the Early Church, besides those dear ones whom we have personally known and loved. It is a joy even now, at meetings and conventions, to fellowship with those of like precious faith. How much greater will be our joy when, having reached the end of the way of sacrifice, we join this general assembly, not temporarily, but to be with them forever! Who could faint, or grow weary, when such a glorious prospect is held up before us?

We will meet our loving Heavenly Father, ‘the Judge of all.’ Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8) Fortunately, the only ones who ever will see him face to face will be the pure in heart, and being thus pure, they will delight to be in the presence of him who is Judge of all, for they will have nothing to fear. “In thy presence is fulness of joy;” wrote David, “at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”—Ps. 16:11

The ‘spirits of just men made perfect’ to whom we are approaching are evidently the Ancient Worthies. They will, of course, be in the human, or earthly, phase of the kingdom. Nevertheless, the church will be in communication with them. All the Ancient Worthies were ‘just men,’ being justified by their faith. “They without us,” however, as Paul states, could “not be made perfect.” (Heb. 11:40) With the church complete and beyond the veil, the ‘making perfect’ of the Ancient Worthies will quickly follow. Thus as we look forward to the glorious consummation of our hopes, we visualize, with the other rewards to which we are approaching, the great joy of meeting and working with the Ancient Worthies.

VERSE 24  “To Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”

When we get the proper setting of this passage, and realize that the Mediator of the New Covenant is but one among many things to which we are approaching, it is clearly apparent that Paul is not telling us that the New Covenant is now functioning and that the Church is under it with Jesus as the Mediator. This is no more true than that the kingdom was established at Pentecost, or that the Ancient Worthies were resurrected at the beginning of the age; or that the church throughout the age has had the privilege of fellowshiping with the angels face to face; or have had the blessed privilege of meeting God the Judge of all, and enjoying the pleasures of his presence. In fact, just as all these joys are still future, and we are merely approaching unto them, so is the New Covenant. The text is a conclusive proof of this important truth.

We are also approaching unto the ‘blood of sprinkling,’ which speaks better things ‘than that of Abel.’ Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance, but the blood of Christ will speak of justice being satisfied, and that God’s love and power are ready to assist the dying world back to life and to fellowship with the Creator.

The thought of ‘sprinkling’ takes us back to the type, when “the book, and all the people” (Heb. 9:19) were sprinkled with the blood of the typical Law Covenant. The church “drink[s]” Jesus’ blood, and is cleansed by it. (John 6:53) We are also represented as using the blood as a covering or “robe of righteousness.” (Isa. 61:10) The symbolism of sprinkling seems to have been used particularly to describe the sealing of the New Covenant. I Peter 1:2 is interesting in this connection, for in this text the apostle tells us that our sanctification, or setting apart to God’s service by the Holy Spirit, is “unto” the “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ,” not by that sprinkling. In other words, the purpose of our sanctification is, among other things, that we might participate with Jesus as ministers of reconciliation, or comediators of the New Covenant. The blood will be Christ’s, but if faithful, we will have a share in the work of sprinkling.

VERSE 25  “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.”

In this verse Paul reverts to the opening theme of the epistle, that “we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” And the reason these things we have heard are so important is that they represent the voice of God which has reached us through his beloved Son, for in these “last days” God has spoken to us by his Son.—Heb. 2:1; 1:1,2

VERSE 26  “Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.”

The literal earth—that is mount Sinai—shook at the voice of the Lord when Moses mediated the Law Covenant. But Paul, quoting from Haggai 2:6,7 informs us that the heavens also are to be shaken in connection with the setting up of Christ’s kingdom. Through Haggai, the Lord said, “Yet once [more], it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.”

The shaking of the literal earth in the type foreshadowed the shaking of the symbolic heavens and earth in the antitype. Peter explains that this shaking will be so severe that “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (II Pet. 3:10) In reply to questions asked by the disciples concerning signs of the Master’s Presence, he replied that the “powers of the heavens” would be “shaken.”—Luke 21:25,26 (WED)

The reference in all these prophecies is to the present ‘heavens’ and ‘earth’, the spiritual and material phases of “this present evil world.” (Gal. 1:4) The spiritual or religious elements of our present social order are already terribly shaken, and they are fast losing their power over the people. This bears convincing testimony of the fact that we are at the very end of the age; that the kingdom to which the whole church has been approaching is now very near; and in the realization of this every Christian should truly rejoice.

VERSE 27  “This word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken [marginal translation, “may be shaken”], as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.”

‘Yet once more,’ this is to be the final shaking, and it is brought about by “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation,” but Jesus adds, “no, nor ever shall be.” (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21,22) The things which will be shaken, or removed, during this trouble will be the ones ‘that are made,’ that is, the man-made governments, institutions, societies, customs, and standards. These, for the most part being built upon the foundation of selfishness, will not stand up under the shaking and the “fire” of God’s “jealousy” by which the whole symbolic earth, is to be “devoured.”—Zeph. 3:8

But there will be some things which cannot be shaken. These will be the things pertaining to the kingdom of Christ. In Psalm 46 we are told that we should not fear though the “earth be removed,” and the “mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” (vs. 2) But we are also given the assurance that “she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.” (vs. 5) The preparation of the kingdom began at Pentecost, and throughout the age those associated with it have been approaching its completion, when it will rule the nations with power and in great glory. Hence it will never cease to exist, so is represented by Paul as remaining.

VERSE 28  “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

We are ‘receiving’—Greek, ‘associated with’—a kingdom which cannot be moved. Concerning it Daniel said, “It shall stand for ever.” (Dan. 2:44) This being true, ‘let us have grace’ or, as the thought here seems to be, gratitude. Our gratitude to God for his favor in extending to us the privilege of being associated with such a glorious kingdom, should move us to give all, even life itself, in his service, and to do so with reverence and godly fear—“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.”—Heb. 4:1

VERSE 29  “For our God is a consuming fire.”

This does not mean that God is a torment Deity. It is simply an affirmation of the fact that God is opposed to all sin and unrighteousness, and ultimately will destroy everything that is out of harmony with his holy will. He has made a wonderful provision of grace through Christ which makes acceptable the service of those whose hearts are perfect toward him, but his law still stands that “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) This ‘present evil world’ is now being ‘devoured’ by the ‘fire’ of God’s ‘jealousy,’ but if we keep our hearts pure, and serve him acceptably through Christ, we will have an abundant entrance into the new kingdom, even the kingdom of Christ.

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