Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion, Part 1
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
We examined Hebrews 12:1-17 in our last study. In verses one through three, the writer encouraged us to 'lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us,' so that we may run the race of faith in the way God commands us to run. How are we to run? The writer said, 'fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith' (vs. 2). We are to run looking ahead to Jesus because it was He who ran the perfect race during His life on earth. When we run looking to Him, He enables us to run straight with the endurance needed to finish the race.
When we keep our eyes focused on Christ, we find that our suffering for the faith is nothing compared to what He endured. The writer said 'For consider Him who endured such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.' (vs. 3) We are to fill our minds with Jesus Christ, reminding ourselves of His sufferings, and we will be encouraged to press on toward the goal.
In verses 4-11, the writer focused on helping us understand God's purposes in bringing us through difficulties, trials and sufferings. He reminded us that we have not suffered to the full extent because we have never resisted 'to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.' (vs. 4) He then reminded us that we are sons being disciplined for the sake of growth, by our Father (vs. 5-6). And while discipline by our earthly fathers is 'for a short time, as seemed best to them,' discipline by God is for 'our good, that we may share His holiness.' (vs. 10)
In verses 12-14, the writer commanded us to 'Persist' and 'Pursue.' First, we are to strengthen ourselves and keep our eyes on Christ so that we lay a straight path for those who follow us. Secondly, we are to 'Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.' Our conduct is to be characterized by the holiness we receive through our salvation in Jesus Christ.
Finally, in verses 15-17, the writer warned believers to be aware of the influence of unbelievers on the body. He said, 'See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.' (vs. 15) A person who has, perhaps, professed Christ as Savior and then encounters persecution will become 'embittered,' and cause division in the body. As believers, we need to be aware of these types of people in the body so they do not influence us. Esau was the example the writer used. He sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. The point the writer made was that unbelievers have no hope of repentance once they reject the person and work of Jesus Christ.
For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, 'If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.' And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, 'I am full of fear and trembling.' But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. See 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 shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And 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.' And this expression, 'Yet once more,' denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom, which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:18-29)
In verses 18-29, the writer issues the fifth warning passage in the book of Hebrews. His emphasis is to drive home the point that there is no future in going back to Judaism. He reminds them what it was like under the Mosaic system. In verses 18-21 he compares the Law to Mt. Sinai, while in verses 22-24 he compares all we have in Christ to Mt. Zion. Then, in verses 25-29, he turns his full attention to the warning passage.
In verses 18-21 he says, 'For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, `If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.' And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said,' I am full of fear and trembling.'' The message the writer is communicating is that Mt. Sinai was a physical mountain whose characteristics were 'blazing fire...darkness...gloom and whirlwind.' Sinai conveyed the message 'keep away,' just as the Law conveyed the message 'keep away from the glory and presence of God.'
This is seen in Exodus 19:10-12 when Moses commanded the people '...on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, `Beware that you do not go up on the mountain Or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through. Whether beast or man, he shall not live...'' The command was clear, 'Stay away!' If someone did touch the mountain, they were to be immediately put to death.
In Exodus 19:16-21, the emphasis on keeping away from the presence of God continues. Moses says that on the third day God descended on Mt. Sinai in a cloud, with thunder, lightning flashes, and the sound of a very loud trumpet so that 'all the people who were in the camp trembled' (vs. 16). Mount Sinai was covered in thick smoke because the Lord descended upon it 'in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently' (vs. 17). Again, the Lord warns Moses to tell the people to stay away from the mountain (vs. 21), so that they will not die. The warnings to stay away, along with the physical display of God's might was an awesome, fearful sight that struck fear in the hearts of the Israelites.
This is a microcosm of the whole Leviticus system. It was not a pleasant experience to enter into the presence of God. Rather, the people were told to 'Stay away,' and they were afraid of God. This continued even after the tabernacle was constructed because only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. The rest of the people had to 'stay away' or else they would experience the wrath of God.
(See also Exodus 20:18-22, Deuteronomy 4:10-24)
The writer contrasts the awesome, fearful judgments associated with the Law and Mt. Sinai, with the salvation and grace associated with the finished work of Jesus Christ and Mt. Zion in verses 22-24. He says, 'But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
And to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel' The writer identifies Mt. Zion, as it is referred to in these verses, as a heavenly city that cannot be touched by our bare hands where the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ flows outward to all its inhabitants.
Geographically, Mt. Zion was one of the hills on which Jerusalem was constructed. It became another name for the city throughout the Old Testament. For example, in 2 Samuel 5:6-9, we are told that David conquered 'Zion' and renamed it 'the City of David.' Throughout the Psalms and the words of the prophets, Zion became the picture of a beautiful and desirable city full of the glory and presence of the Messiah (Isaiah 24:23). This is the context in which the writer identifies the city in verses 22-24. It is the 'heavenly Jerusalem,' the city of 'The living God.'
The contrast that the writer draws between verses 18-21 and 22-24 is similar to the contrast seen in Galatians 4:21-26. In this passage Paul addresses those who wanted to return to the Law. He says, 'Tell me, you who want to be under the Law, do you not listen to the Law?' In other words, those who wanted to go back under the Law really did not understand what the Law said. He goes on to draw an analogy between the two lines of descendants from Abraham. Abraham had two sons, one by a bondwoman (Hagar), and one by a free woman (Sarah). In verses 24-26 Paul says the women 'are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our Mother.' Again, we see Mt. Sinai (the Mosaic system) is bondage and slavery, thus it is condemnation. But Mt. Zion (the heavenly Jerusalem) is 'free.' Paul is saying that we are no longer bound to the Law. Rather, we have entered into a new covenant. We belong to the heavenly city.
And that is the point! There is no reason to go back to the Law because It would be foolish to go back to a system of fear and slavery, when we have entered into a new covenant that allows us to be 'free.' This was the focal point of all Old Testament saints. Remember what the writer said about Abraham in Hebrews 11? He said, '...he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God' (vs. 10). And what about the other patriarchs associated with Abraham? '...They desire a better country, that is a heavenly one...' (Vs. 16). We have entered into the provision that enables us to belong to the New Jerusalem because of the new covenant through the blood of Jesus Christ. Everyone who trusts in the person and work of Christ is granted citizenship in the heavenly city. But we will not come to a full realization of the blessings and benefits that await us in that city, until we inhabit the city as its residents.
John, in Revelation 21:2-23 gives us a glimpse of the magnificence of the heavenly city. He says, 'I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband...Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel...and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone...and the twelve gates were twelve pearls...and I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.' This is the glorious city that all those who trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ will one day enter.
The writer identifies five groups of individuals, in Hebrews 12:22-24, who inhabit the heavenly Jerusalem. First, there are 'myriads of angels, to the general assembly.' Literally, this phrase can be translated 'myriads of angels in festal gathering.' This in contrast to the angels gathered at Mt. Sinai, who were there as protectors of the glory and presence of God. Here, they are gathered for a joyful, festive purpose.
The second group is the 'church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven.' This group includes all those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior from Acts 2 until the Rapture. The term 'first-born' could refer to our intimate relationship with Christ, the 'first-born born of all creation,' (Colossians 1:15), or it could refer to the term that was used to describe the fact that the first-born, of the Israelites, was physically enrolled as belonging to God. Because God spared their first born when he slew the first born of the Egyptians (Numbers 3:40), the Jews were enrolled in books stating that they belonged to God. We, as believers in the church age, are not physically enrolled in Israel on lists like the Jews were. But the point is, we are 'enrolled' in the book of life, and are citizens of the heavenly city.
The third person who is an inhabitant of the heavenly Jerusalem is God Himself. As we saw in Revelation 21:2-23, the New Jerusalem is the place where God manifests and reveals His glorious presence. He is called the 'Judge of all.' This is a reminder to us that we are in the midst of a warning passage, and illustrates the danger for those who stop short of believing in Jesus Christ for salvation. We have seen this in other warning passages as well; (4:13, 10:30).
The fourth group, who inhabit, the heavenly city is very interesting. They are called 'the spirits of righteous men made perfect.' This is a reference to the Old Testament saints. They are called 'spirits' because they are not yet in their heavenly bodies. They left their bodies immediately upon death and entered into the presence of God. They currently live in the New Jerusalem as spirit beings. This underscores the thinking of the Hebrews. They wanted to return to the system followed by Abraham, Moses, and the rest of the Old Testament saints, but the Old Testament saints have been made partakers of the new covenant. They live in the heavenly city.
The fifth resident of heaven is the focal point. He is 'Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.' His presence illuminates the whole city. There is no need for the sun or the moon. The 'new covenant' has already been examined in detail in Hebrews 9. As one will recall, Hebrews 9:15 said, 'And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.' Christ instituted this 'recent' Covenant by voluntarily giving Himself to die on a cross for the sins of mankind.
The writer continues in Hebrews 12:24, '...and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.' Do you remember what God said to Cain after he had killed Abel? He said, '...the voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground' (Genesis 4:10). For what did the blood of Abel cry out? Vengeance. What is the focus of the whole Mosaic system? Judgment and vengeance! Jesus has instituted something much better. His blood does not demand vengeance, rather, it brings forgiveness, salvation, and redemption. When one understands this truth, it becomes clear; It is not by our works, our baptism, our church membership, or even our heritage, that we become citizens of the heavenly city. It is only by the 'mediator of a new covenant,' Jesus Christ, through whom we receive salvation and an eternal home in 'Zion.'
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