“Although others did so in the past, you have not arrived at a mountain ablaze with fire, storms, darkness, gloom, a trumpet blast, and God’s voice. Those who heard that voice begged they would not have to hear it any more, for they could not stand to hear His commands. If even a wild animal touched the mountain, it was to be killed. So terrifying was the scene that Moses said ‘I am terrified and shake with fear.’
As enrolled citizens of heaven you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God. This is the heavenly Jerusalem with myriads of angels – the festal assembly and congregation of the firstborn. You have come to God who is the Judge of all men on earth. He is Lord of the redeemed in heaven, who are now enjoying the fulfillment of their hopes. You have accessed Jesus – who mediates the new covenant and whose sprinkled blood has more power than the blood of Abel.” (paraphrased)
The writer once again contrasts the negative elements of the old dispensation with the positive elements of the new. He uses the powerful imagery of two mountains in his analogy, Sinai and Zion, to encourage those vacillating between Judaism and Christianity.
Continuing his theme of the inferiority of the old Judaic system, the writer reminds his readers of the terrors associated with the law. He first shows what they had been delivered from (vv. 18-21) to help them appreciate what they can look forward to (vv .22-24). Sinai was real, material, and earthly. But the writer’s focus is not on this particular mountain, but the formidable manner in which God manifested Himself. The Bible always stresses the lessons to be learned from an encounter with God, rather than the location of the encounter. This can be illustrated by a situation involving Simon Peter. Awestruck by Christ’s transfiguration, Peter suggested monuments be built on that spot to commemorate the event (Mk. 9:5). The Father spoke from heaven, indicating that listening to His Son takes priority over the construction of memorials (Mark 9:7).
Because Sinai was the site of the giving of the law, this mountain eventually became emblematic of Judaism. Surrounding Sinai is an area of rocky, barren desert. Such remote desolation is a snapshot of the unregenerate condition of the human race. The scene on Sinai was perfectly designed to affirm Jehovah’s holiness and restricted access. In preparation for the Lord’s verbal pronouncement of His laws, the people were ordered to sanctify themselves. Stipulations included washing their clothes, distancing themselves from the mountain, and abstaining from sexual relations (Ex. 19:10-15). The people saw Sinai burning with fire, yet enveloped in dark clouds. Because the concept of fire is associated with judgment, Jehovah spoke from the midst of Sinai’s fire (Deut. 4:11-12). Without shelter or a place of refuge near the mountain, they were forced to listen to the words directly spoken by God.
The word “blackness” (gnopho) bespeaks a murky, impenetrable gloom thicker than darkness. “Tempest” (thuelle) is a word meaning “to boil or rage.” This may be a reference to a terrific, violent storm or a whirlwind of hurricane force. When the trumpet sounded, its blast was so loud all the people in the encampment trembled (Ex. 19:16). God’s dynamic voice boomed forth the Ten Commandments (Deut. 4:12-13). It was so powerful, even the tribal leaders begged for Moses to speak instead of God….for “if we hear the voice of the Lord any longer we will die” (Deut. 5:23-27).
God’s commands often incited terror. This was epitomized in His warning concerning touching His holy mountain. Moses was ordered to set boundaries for the people: they were forbidden to go near the mount under penalty of death. So unapproachable was Sinai that an animal who came into contact with the mountain had to be killed from a distance, with stones or arrows, in order to avoid direct contact (Ex. 19:12-13). This stipulation was designed to further emphasize the seriousness of the offense. If even a straying animal was to be killed in this manner, surely human beings could expect no mercy.
“Fear” (ekphobos) means “to be terrified.” Moses’ body trembled and shook with fright. Long after the incident with the golden calf at the base of the mountain, he affirmed he was afraid of God’s hot displeasure that day (Deut. 9:19-21). If Israel’s leader was intimidated by the Lord’s manifestation on Sinai, the scene must have been awesome indeed. The combination of darkness, thundering, earthquakes, storms, loud trumpets, and the booming voice of Jehovah produced a picture of abject terror. All the elements of the turmoil on Sinai combine to demonstrate the unsettled characteristics of Judaism.
“But” is the pivotal term alerting us to the graphic contrast between the terrors described in the previous four verses and the blessings revealed in the following three verses. The darkness of Sinai has been dispelled by the and radiance of Zion.
In order to prove that Believers in all dispensations will receive the same reward, a series of contrasts are now set forth:
Sinai epitomized that which was temporal.
Zion epitomizes that which is spiritual.
Sinai was inaccessible and inapproachable.
Zion is accessible and approachable.
Sinai reflected God’s presence temporarily.
Zion reflects God’s presence permanently.
Sinai represented judgment, with Moses as mediator.
Zion represents grace, with Jesus as Mediator.
The word Zion means “fortress.” Mount Zion was an ancient Jebusite stronghold atop the highest elevation in Jerusalem. David captured it and proceeded to make the entire area the center of worship. Because of this, Zion came to be seen as the dwelling place of God on earth. After Solomon built the temple nearby on Mount Moriah, Zion was extended to include the temple area as well. Zion eventually became synonymous with Jerusalem or The City of David. It was selected by God as His dwelling place (I Kgs. 14:21 & Ps. 132:13-14). “The Lord shall reign over them in Mount Zion, from henceforth and forever” (Micah 4:7). Zion is emblematic of God’s revelation of Himself to Israel. Jerusalem and the surrounding area hold special significance for Believers as well, for it was there Jesus redeemed the human race and rose from the dead.
The new Jerusalem in heaven is seen as the antitype of its earthly counterpart. It represents the eternal home of all Believers. Paul refers to “the Jerusalem which is above” (Gal. 4:26). John mentions the “Lamb who stood on Mount Zion” and “the city of my God, which is New Jerusalem” (Rev. 14:1 & 3:12). “John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2).
Because they had accepted Christ, the readers had entered a dynamic spiritual realm. In these next three verses, the writer lists some of the privileges associated with salvation. The Israelites assembled in dread and fear at the foot of Mount Sinai, but Believers are invited to boldly and joyously come to Mount Zion.
“The city of the Living God” will descend to earth in the end times (Rev. 21:2). It is logical to assume it will hover near Jerusalem, for no city is more prominent in Biblical prophecy. Zion is destined to become “the joy of the whole earth” for it is “the city of the great King” (Ps. 48:2). This is the city Abraham sought, “whose builder and architect is God” (Heb. 11:10). The writer does not merely contrast Sinai and Zion, but compares Zion with the heavenly Jerusalem. As Zion was seen as God’s dwelling-place on earth, so the New Jerusalem is seen as God’s dwelling place in heaven. This magnificent celestial city is described in vivid detail in Revelation 21-22.
The city of God has a vast population of angelic beings, including cherubim, seraphim, and archangels. Jesus informed us the angels in heaven demonstrate joyous exuberance in the presence of God over every sinner who is converted (Lk. 15:10). The concept of countless angelic hosts is prevalent in both the Old and New Testaments. Ten thousand angels accompanied the giving of the law on Sinai (Deut. 33:2). “Ten thousand times ten thousand” stood before God (Dan. 7:10). Around God’s throne, John saw angels which numbered “ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands” (Rev. 5:11). Such incalculable numbers are designed to picture innumerable multitudes.
Joining with the angelic hosts is “The Church of the Firstborn” – comprised of Believers who have retained their eternal birthright. It is so named because Jesus is “the Firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Paul refers to Christ as “the Firstborn of all creation” and “the Firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:15 &18). The “general assembly” (panegurizo) suggests a festal gathering. Myriads of angels join the saints in eternal, joyous praise.
The readers are reminded of the privileges attached to their heavenly inheritance. As the nation of Israel was God’s “firstborn,” so Believers enjoy the same relationship (Ex. 4:22). Unlike Esau who forfeited the blessings of his earthly father, we inherit the blessings of our heavenly Father.
The idea of a celestial registry is common in Scripture. “Written” is better translated “enrolled” (apographo). Jesus told His disciples to rejoice because their names were inscribed in heaven (Lk. 10:20). Both Paul and John refer to saints whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life (Phil .4:3 & Rev. 21:27).
Believers do not face God as a Judge, but enjoy a relationship with Him as their Heavenly Father (Rom. 8:15). God does not condemn those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). He is pictured here as the One who will judge those who oppose the Church, rather than executing judgment upon those within the Church.
“The spirits of just men made perfect” are those who have run their race here on earth and are now in heaven. The festal gathering in New Jerusalem includes Believers from every dispensation, tribe, and nation (Rev. 5:9).
The writer once again points to Jesus as our new covenant Mediator (8:6 & 9:15). The word “new” (neas) refers to that which is recent. The new covenant is as current today as it was in the first century.
The phrase “the blood of sprinkling” reminds us of what was dispersed during the first Passover (Heb. 11:28). The writer may also have in mind the blood that is allegorically applied to our conscience (10:22). But in keeping with the theme of this passage, it is more likely he is referring to that which was sprinkled when the old covenant was inaugurated (Heb. 9:19-20). Throughout the entire epistle, the writer never allows his readers to lose sight of the cleansing blood of Jesus.
The imagery of “blood speaking” is used numerous times in Scripture. In Revelation, martyrs cry out from God’s throne, asking how long they must wait until He avenges their blood (Rev. 6:9-10). Abel was cruelly murdered and his blood “cried out from the ground” for vindication (Gen. 4:10). However, the blood of Jesus “speaks” to the world with the message of redemption and reconciliation (Lk. 23:34).
QUESTIONS: THE NEW JERUSALEM
1. What title is given to God in Hebrews 12:23?
2. What title is given to the Son of God in Hebrews 12:24?
3. In order to help Peter get his priorities straight, what did the Father say from heaven on the Mount of Transfiguration? (Mark 9:7).
4. Speaking in unison, what will myriads of angels say the Lamb is worthy to receive? (Revelation 5:11-12)
5. What did God speak to the people that He later etched in stone? (Exodus 20:1-18; 24:12 & Deuteronomy 4:12-13)
6. The word “Zion” means:
7. In the marital analogy concerning the New Jerusalem, to what is the city compared?
8. What same title is given to Jesus in Hebrews 8:6, 9:15 and 12:24?
9. In Genesis 4:10 and Revelation 6:9-10, we find that a person (represented by their life’s-blood) actually ‘speaks’ to others even after they are dead. What you would like your life to say to others after you are deceased?