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Hebrews 12:18-29

Sunday Morning Bible Study

January 27, 2019


The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers.

The author expects the readers to be well acquainted with Levitical worship and sacrifice.

He will constantly quote the Old Testament in a way that expects that the reader understands what he’s talking about.

We also know that these believers were encountering very strong persecution.

Times were so bad that some were beginning to wonder if they shouldn’t quit following Jesus.

We’ve seen three elements woven throughout this letter to the Hebrews.

1. Both Testaments

Even though the Old Testament has become “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13), the entire book of Hebrews is built upon the clear foundation of the Old Testament.
(Hebrews 8:13 NKJV) In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
You aren’t going to understand Hebrews, or even the New Testament correctly unless you learn the Old Testament.

2. Jesus is superior

He’s superior to angels, Moses, and the Torah.
He’s superior to the Levitical priests and their sacrifices.

3. Don’t quit

The ultimate goal of the book is to encourage those who are struggling with difficult times, and help them to endure.

We are now coming into the closing reasons we shouldn’t quit.

12:18-21 The First Mountain

After Moses and the Israelites made it out of Egypt, it took them three months before they made their way to Mount Sinai. 

God wanted the people to keep their distance from the mountain lest their uncleanness get too close to God’s holiness, and they die.

(Exodus 19:12 NKJV) You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

Though the traditional site for Mount Sinai is in the Sinai Peninsula, some of us think Mount Sinai is in Saudi Arabia, a mountain known as Jabal Musa, or Jabal al Lawz.

The following clips are from the video “Mountain of Fire”, made by a couple of researchers who investigated this mountain.

At the base of the mountain they found piles of stones, which may have been the boundary markers.

Video:  Mountain of Fire – Boundary Markers
Moses was told to have archers set up to kill anyone crossing the boundary markers.

The top of the mountain is black, and when they climbed the mountain they found that the stone wasn’t volcanic, it was burnt.

Video:  Mountain of Fire – Blackened Rock
We’ll see in a minute that Exodus describes God descending on the mountain as fire.

Moses’ first altar (Exo. 24:4) was built at the base of the mountain with twelve pillars – and there’s a structure there that even has remnants of pillars.

(Exodus 24:4 NKJV) And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel.

The explorers found a large stone structure which they think could have been the altar connected to the golden calf.

Video:  Mountain of Fire – Golden Calf Altar

Video: Mount Sinai map

The traditional “Mount Sinai” is in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.  But a place that better fits the Exodus narrative is on government restricted land in Saudi Arabia.
Notice the black top to the mountain.
There’s a spot at the base of the mountain where Moses’ altar might have been, and where these pillar remnants are.
There’s a strange structure that could be the golden calf altar.

The Exodus account goes on to describe what happened on the day that God spoke the Ten Commandments in the hearing of the people.

(Exodus 19:16–19 NKJV) —16 Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. 19 And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.


Sinai was real

Our passage is going to compare Sinai to heaven.
Some people will want to tell you that Sinai was just a myth passed down from generation to generation.
Not so.
Heaven too is not a myth.

Our Hebrews writer now takes us back to those same days…

:18 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest,

come toproserchomai – to come to, approach

perfect tense

may be touchedpselaphao – to handle, touch and feel

blacknessgnophos – darkness, gloom

darknessskotos – darkness; of night darkness

tempestthuella – a sudden storm, tempest, whirlwind

:19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.

beggedparaiteomai – to ask along side, beg to have near one; to beg from, to ask for, supplicate


should not be spokenprostithemi – to put to; to add

Aorist passive infinitive

Literally, “that no word be added”

After God spoke the Ten Commandments in the hearing of the people…

(Exodus 20:18–19 NKJV) —18 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

:20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.”

endurephero – to carry; to bear, i.e. endure, to endure the rigour of a thing, to bear patiently one’s conduct, or spare one (abstain from punishing or destroying)

Imperfect active indicative

commandeddiastellomai – to draw asunder, divide, distinguish, dispose, order; to admonish, order, charge

present passive participle

arrowbolis – a missile, dart, javelin

shot withkatatoxeuo – to shoot down or thrust through with an arrow

Future passive indicative

stonedlithoboleo – to kill by stoning, to stone

Future passive indicative

:21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)

terrifyingphoberos – inspiring fear, terrible, formidable; affected with fear, timid

the sightphantazo – to cause to appear, make visible, expose to view, show; the appearance, sight

present passive participle

exceedingly afraidekphobos – stricken with fear or terror, exceedingly, frightened, terrified

tremblingentromos – trembling, terrified

:21 I am exceedingly afraid and trembling

Probably a quote from Deut. 9:19.

(Deuteronomy 9:19 NKJV) For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the Lord was angry with you, to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me at that time also.

So there at the base of Mount Sinai, the people were terrified with what they saw, and so was Moses.

There is a sense in which it is terrifying for any sinner to be in the presence of God.

And we are all sinners, even Moses was a sinner.

Don’t think that this concept of the fear of God goes away in the New Testament.

We’re going to talk about another mountain, but the sense of God’s power and overwhelming holiness will remain.
Even New Testament believers need a healthy fear of God.

12:22-24 The Second Mountain

Picture yourself on a hike in the mountains, hoping to climb to the top of some peak.  You finally make it to the top of that mountain and feel like you’ve accomplished something special when you see across a valley another mountain in the distance.  That other mountain is huge.  It dwarfs the one you’re on.

As believers in Jesus as Messiah, the readers of Hebrews have found that there’s another mountain.

That mountain is far bigger than the one they’re on.

The mountain they’re on only gave them the vantage point of being able to see the larger mountain up ahead.

Instead of looking to Moses and Sinai as the final answer to life’s questions, we’ve come to find that there’s another mountain that comes into focus.

:22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,

you have come toproserchomai – to come to, approach

perfect active indicative

innumerablemurias (“myriad”) – ten thousand; an innumerable multitude, an unlimited number; innumerable hosts

:22 you have come to Mount Zion

Mount Zion is the mountain on which Jerusalem sits.

This is a heavenly version, the “New Jerusalem”. (Rev. 21:2)

(Revelation 21:2 NKJV) Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
This is where God dwells.  This is heaven.

All that follows is a description of what heaven is like.

:22 to an innumerable company of angels

These are not people who have “earned their wings” and become angels.  People don’t become angels.

Angels are a distinct race of created beings with great power and who serve God.


Heaven is awesome

We are going to get quite a peek at heaven this morning.
I hope I whet your appetite for what’s ahead for us.

:23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,

:23 to the general assembly

The translations are a little dull here and doesn’t quite paint the right picture.

general assemblyπανήγυρις  / paneguris (“all” + “gather”) – a festal gathering of the whole people

There was an old 70’s Christian song by Freddie Field called “That Morning”, with the lyric, “everyone will be there”.
A form of the word is used in the LXX in:
(Isaiah 66:10 NKJV) “Rejoice with Jerusalem, And be glad with her, all you who love her…
Some translate this word as “a festive gathering” (CSB)
I’d describe it as “everyone worships”, or simply being “joyful”.
We get a heavenly peek at this in Revelation 5 when a great multitude …
(Revelation 5:12 NKJV) saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
Heaven is a place where everybody worships, everybody rejoices, everybody has overflowing joy.
David wrote,
(Psalm 16:11 NKJV) …In Your presence is fullness of joy

:23 church of the firstborn

churchἐκκλησία /ekklesia (“out” + “to call”) = “called out ones”

The church are all those who have been “called out” and who belong to the “firstborn”.

the firstborn – πρωτότοκος/prototokos – the firstborn

Quite a few commentaries struggle with this, some even suggesting it’s talking about Israel since Israel is called God’s “firstborn” (Ex. 4:22)
(Exodus 4:22 NKJV) Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.
The Greek word here is used 9 times in the NT, and in all but one instance it refers to Jesus.
The church is made up of the called out ones that belong to Jesus.  It’s in heaven.

:23  who are registered in heaven

registeredἀπογράφω/apographo – to enter in a register or records

Perfect passive participle
As a “perfect” tense, this is something that’s been completed in the past with results that carry on to the present.
Here’s a beautiful truth from the grammar – we’ve had our names written down in a book in heaven, and that registration is still valid.
Have you ever planned your vacation, gotten to the hotel and found they’ve lost your reservation?
You are still registered. You belong.

:23 to God the Judge of all

Don’t forget this.  Every person will one day stand before the judge.  He’s in heaven.

:23 to the spirits of just men made perfect

justδίκαιος/dikaios – righteous, innocent, guiltless

Heaven is not filled with people who were good enough, but it will be filled with people who have been made righteous through what Jesus did for us on the cross.
(2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Heaven is filled with cleansed people.

made perfectτελειόω/teleioo – to make perfect, complete

perfect passive participle

:24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

:24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant

mediatormesites – one who intervenes between two, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or form a compact, or for ratifying a covenant; a medium of communication, arbitrator

A mediator is a go-between.

A mediator is one who sets up an agreement between two conflicting parties.

We see mediators involved in divorce settlements and contract disputes.

Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant. 

He set up the agreement between God and man.

Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant.

He has set up a new agreement between God and man.

Jesus is in heaven.

:24 to the blood of sprinkling … better … than … Abel

sprinklingrhantismos – a sprinkling (purification); blood of sprinkling; i.e. appointed for sprinkling (serving to purify)

Part of the sacrificial ritual involved the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice on the altar.

Abel was one of Adam’s sons.  His sacrifice was acceptable to God while his brother Cain’s wasn’t. (Gen. 4:4-5)
(Genesis 4:4–5 NKJV) —4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
As good as Abel’s sacrifice was, Jesus’ sacrifice was better.
Jesus was the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29)
(John 1:29 NKJV) The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
When we take communion, we remember His blood.
We’ll grasp the importance of His blood in heaven.
Heaven is a wonderful place.

12:25-29 The Mountain’s Challenge

Our writer has issued several warnings throughout this letter to those who are thinking of turning their back on following Jesus.

Here’s the final warning that comes from what we’ve just discussed.

:25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,

refuseparaiteomai – to ask along side, beg to have near one; to avert by entreaty or seek to avert, to deprecate; to refuse, decline; to shun, avoid

aorist middle subjunctive

escape – pheugo –to flee away, seek safety by flight

turn awayapostrepho – to turn away; to remove anything from anyone; to turn him away from allegiance to any one; tempt to defect

:25 did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth

spokechrematizo – to give a divine command or admonition, to teach from heaven

This word has been used twice in Hebrews, of Moses and of Noah:
(Hebrews 8:5 NKJV) —5 who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”
(Hebrews 11:7 NKJV) —7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

I don’t think the “Him” should be capitalized.  I think the writer is talking about Moses.

Moses was the mouthpiece of God.  God spoke through Moses.

If these Jewish readers remember their Old Covenant, they will know that things didn’t go well for those who refused to follow Moses through the wilderness (they didn’t escape)
If those in the wilderness didn’t do well by not listening to Moses on the earth, how do you think it will go for those who refuse what Jesus is saying from heaven?

:25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks


Say yes to Jesus

The people reading this letter are thinking they might walk away from Jesus and go back to Judaism.
That doesn’t make sense at all.  How can you follow Moses and NOT follow Jesus.
Mount Sinai leads to Mount Zion.
Moses points to Jesus.
There’s nowhere else to turn but Jesus.
Some of you may have never taken that step of opening your heart to Jesus.
You need to take a serious look at reality.
You will indeed die one day and you will face the Creator.

I have a young friend who woke up last week and his wife was dead.

Your Creator has done everything He could to make sure you make it into heaven – He sent His Son to pay for your sins.

(John 3:16 NKJV) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Your Creator simply wants you to believe in Jesus.

What are you going to say to God when you face Him?

You think you are good enough?  You’re not.  None of us are.

Suppose I say to you that I have a supply of winning Lottery Tickets in my back pocket each worth Ten Million Dollars, and I want to give one to anyone who asks.
Would you ask?
Ten million dollars will buy you lots of things on earth, but when you die, it will all be left behind.
Eternity in heaven on the other hand is priceless.
Video:  Mastercard Priceless – Badger makes it home

Getting to heaven is finally making it home.

In heaven, everyone you know who is a believer will be there.
Video:  Mastercard Priceless Five Generations

:26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.”

shooksaleuo – a motion produced by winds, storms, waves, etc; to agitate or shake; to cause to totter; to shake thoroughly, of a measure filled by shaking its contents together; to shake down, overthrow

aorist active indicative

shakeseio – to shake, agitate, cause to tremble; of men, to be thrown into a tremor, to quake for fear

Present active indicative

:27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.

indicatesdeloo – to make manifest; to make known by relating, to declare; to give one to understand, to indicate, signify

present active indicative

removalmetathesis – transfer: from one place to another; to change

:27 the removal of those things that are being shaken

There will be coming a day when this future “shaking” happens, and the things that are “shook up” will be removed, and the only thing that remains are the things that can’t be shaken.

(Hebrews 12:27 NLT) This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.

:26 shook the earth

There are two earthquakes here (even two words for “shake”).

When God spoke to the people at Mount Sinai, the mountain shook (Ex. 19:18)
(Exodus 19:18 NKJV) Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.
Our writer quotes Haggai, writing nine hundred years later, that there will be another shaking. (Hag. 2:6)
(Haggai 2:6 NKJV) “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land;

There will be a new heaven and a new earth.

:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

:29 For our God is a consuming fire.

:28 since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken

receivingparalambano – to take to; to receive something transmitted

Present active participle

cannot be shakenasaleutos – unshaken, unmoved; metaph. not liable to overthrow and disorder, firm stable.  This is the opposite of the word for “shaken” in verse 26,27.

While everything else around us will inevitably be shaken and destroyed, God’s kingdom is forever.

What follows are in essence a command (which we’ll get to in a minute)

reverenceaidos – a sense of shame or honor, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect

godly feareulabeia – caution, circumspection, discretion; avoidance; a reasonable shunning; reverence, veneration; reverence toward God, godly fear, piety; fear anxiety, dread

:29 God is a consuming fire

This is the reason we’re supposed to do the things in the verse before.

consumingkatanalisko – to consume

present active participle

Israel in the wilderness –

God came down to Mount Sinai in fire (Ex. 19:18)
(Exodus 19:18 NKJV) Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.
Nadab and Abihu were drunk and decided they’d change the rules that Moses had laid out for the priests, and were destroyed by fire (Lev. 10:2)
(Leviticus 10:2 NKJV) So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.
Korah and his friends thought they too could break the rules when it came to the worship of God.
Some of them got swallowed up by the earth.
250 of them were consumed with fire (Num. 16:35)

(Numbers 16:35 NKJV) And a fire came out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering incense.

It’s after all this, before Israel goes into the Promised Land, that Moses warns the people to maintain a healthy fear of God,

(Deuteronomy 4:24 NKJV) For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
There are some who want Christians to “disconnect” themselves from the Old Testament.
Our writer instead uses the Old Testament to remind his readers that they still need to maintain a healthy respect for God.

:28 let us have grace

let us haveecho – to have, i.e. to hold

Present active “volitive” subjunctive – though this is subjunctive, it carries the force of an imperative, a command

gracecharis – grace; good will, favor; thanks

Here’s the first command.
This might be talking about the importance of us holding on to grace in our lives.
Grace is what God gives us when we don’t deserve it.
We need grace if we’re going to make it.

We are saved by grace.

(Ephesians 2:8 NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,

We are strengthened by grace.

(2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

I’m beginning to lean more towards this talking about being thankful.
Quite a few versions translate this as “let us be thankful”.
And this is a key …

:28 by which we may serve God acceptably

servelatreuo – to serve for hire; to serve, minister to, either to the gods or men and used alike of slaves and freemen; in the NT, to render religious service or homage, to worship; to perform sacred services, to offer gifts, to worship God in the observance of the rites instituted for his worship; of priests, to officiate, to discharge the sacred office

present active subjunctive (also may be a “volitive”)

This is the second command.

acceptablyεὐαρέστως/euarestos – in a manner well pleasing to one, acceptable

We’ve heard a related form of this word over and over again in our blessing:
(Hebrews 13:21 NKJV) …working in you what is well pleasing in His sight…
“grace” or “thankfulness” (v.28) are connected to serving God acceptably.

Paul uses the same two words,

(Romans 12:1 NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Worship involves giving our whole selves to God.


Well-pleasing worship

The word our writer uses for “serve” isn’t talking about being serving others, it’s a word that describes the worship of God, like the Jewish priests do in offering sacrifices to God.
The command is to learn worship that is “well-pleasing”
An element of healthy sacrifice is learning “thankfulness” (grace).

(Hebrews 13:15 NKJV) Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

Yet instead of living lives that are characterized by thankfulness, we’re more like the Israelites in the wilderness … always complaining.


While on a road trip, an elderly couple stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. After finishing their meal, they left the restaurant and resumed their trip. When leaving, the elderly woman unknowingly left her glasses on the table and she didn’t miss them until they had been driving about twenty minutes.

By then, to add to the aggravation, they had to travel quite a distance before they could find a place to turn around in order to return to the restaurant to retrieve her glasses. All the way back, the elderly husband became the classic grouchy old man. He fussed and complained and scolded his wife relentlessly during the entire return drive. The more he chided her the more agitated he became. He just wouldn’t let up one minute.

To her relief, they finally arrived at the restaurant. As the woman got out of the car and hurried inside to retrieve her glasses, the old geezer yelled to her, “While you’re in there, you might as well get my hat and credit card.”

Well-pleasing worship is about learning to be thankful, not griping and complaining.
Another aspect of worship involves grasping the concept of a healthy respect of God (reverence, godly fear).
If you were to take a mule down the rim of the Grand Canyon, I imagine you’d develop a healthy respect for that mule.
Video:  Grand Canyon Mule Ride

I’m not trying to say that our worship is like riding a mule, but our worship ought to have in mind the awesome, powerful God we are addressing.

We need to learn to respect Him enough to trust that He’ll get us to heaven.

The best worship involves the balance of thankfulness and healthy respect.