Lesson 19: You Have Come To Mount Zion

The first part of chapter 12 was an exhortation to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (vs. 1) and listed two sources of motivation: 1) the great host of witnesses and 2) Christ’s example of endurance. But where does this race finish; what is the goal? That is the subject of vss. 18-29, but rather than simply defining our goal, the author makes yet another contrast between the old and new covenant.

The idea of “drawing near” has been an important one in the letter. The Law and its accompanying sacrifices could not perfect those who attempted to draw near under the old covenant (Hebrews 10.1), but Jesus’ sacrifice and His priestly ministry allow us to draw near in confidence (Hebrews 4.16; 7.25; 10.22). Significantly, the word translated in the NASB as “come to” in Hebrews 12.18,22 is the same word translated as “draw near” in the above passages. As we run the race with endurance, we are drawing ever nearer to the true Zion!

Sinai and Zion Contrasted (Hebrews 12.18-24

As he’s done throughout the letter, the author makes another contrast between the old and new covenants. The old covenant is typified by Sinai, a scene of terror. The new covenant is typified by Zion, the new Jerusalem and a scene of celebration. Let’s begin by noting some of the ways Sinai is described:

  • “ can be touched” Sinai was a tangible and physical place. It could be touched, even though Israel was warned against doing so (Exodus 19.12-13).
  • “blazing fire…darkness…gloom…whirlwind” see Exodus 19.18; Deuteronomy 4.11; 5.22. 
  • “blast of a trumpet” see Exodus 19.19. 
  • “sound of words” see Deuteronomy 5.22. 
  • “begged that no further words be spoken to them” see Deuteronomy 5.23-27; Exodus 20.18-19. 
  • “they could not bear the command…” Not speaking to the disobedience of the people on this account, rather emphasizes the sense of terror that even this command evoked.
  • “so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling’ The Exodus account does not present Moses as fearful at Sinai, however other encounters with God did fill him with fear (see Deuteronomy 9.19; Acts 7.32; Exodus 3.6). 

Contrasted with this scene of terror is Mount Zion, a scene even more awesome than Sinai, but approachable because of the work of Jesus (vs. 24). 

  • “to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” the very city the faithful of old were searching for (see Hebrews 11.10,16). 
  • “myriads of angels” these had also been present at Sinai (see Deuteronomy 33.2). 
  • “general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” harkens back to Hebrews 1.6; 2.12. 
  • “God, the Judge of all” note Hebrews 2.2-3; 4.13; 6.8; 9.27; 10.26-31. The idea of God as Judge is terrifying, but for those who are part of God’s family, His judgments are vindication.
  • “spirits of the righteous made perfect” including those faithful saints of the old covenant (see Hebrews 11.39-40). 
  • “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” see Hebrews 9.11-15. Remember, this is a better covenant, based on better promises (see Hebrews 8.6-13). 
  • “sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel” The sprinkled blood is the means of ratifying the covenant (Exodus 24.8). In this case, an innocent had to die… just as Abel was innocent (Hebrews 11.4). However, Abel’s blood brought a curse (Genesis 4.11-12), while Jesus’ blood brings perfection (Hebrews 10.14,19). 

Since we’ve come to Zion (Hebrews 12.25-29)

Zion is superior to Sinai in every way, the most important difference being that Jesus’ work as mediator allows us to draw near in confidence (see Hebrews 4.16). We are greatly blessed, receiving the kingdom the faithful of old were looking for (Hebrews 11.10,16). And such blessing carries with it obligation: “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking…” The author again harkens back to an earlier point: the superiority of Christ and the blessings He brings carries even greater responsibility to heed what He says! (see Hebrews 2.1-4). 

The author proceeds to give another reason why his audience should “not refuse Him who is speaking”: the great day when both heaven and earth will be shaken… leaving only the heavenly kingdom which won’t be shaken. The author quotes from Haggai 2.6-9, written during a time when the Lord was going to shake the kingdom of Babylon (cf. Isaiah 13.1-22). Just as the Lord had shaken that great kingdom, a day was coming when all of creation will be shaken! But “we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken”!

Such assurance should instill in us a desire to heed the words of our Lord, not out of slavish obedience, but with gratitude as we seek to present our entire lives as an offering of “acceptable service with reverence and awe”. The closing verse, “for our God is a consuming fire” is interesting for it takes us back to the terrible scene at Sinai (see Deuteronomy 4.24). It provides further reason to serve Him with “reverence and awe” but also gives assurance for it is He who will shake all of creation… leaving only His faithful who will stand with Him.

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