Meditations in Hebrews 12: 52. An Unshaken Kingdom
Heb 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.
The writer has just set up two pictures, one of Mount Sinai and one of Mount Zion. Sinai represented the old covenant and Mount Zion represents the new covenant. Now he takes those two pictures and, slightly extending them, uses then as a further argument to encourage ongoing faith.
Don’t refuse God: He starts this part with a simple exhortation: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” (v.25a) Both covenants are about God and us, about how God speaks and we obey; that is at the heart of both. But then he uses the first as a comparison to highlight the second and provide the basis of the argument to put teeth into the exhortation: “If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?” (v.25b) In the days of Moses, the people were slow in obeying the Lord who spoke from Mount Sinai; that is the starting point of this argument. So if we have God who now speaks directly from heaven, he continues, shouldn’t we all the more pay attention when He brings us warnings.
Old Covenant Shaking: But he then takes us on to a new avenue of thought: “At that time his voice shook the earth.” (v.26a) He refers to what happened when Israel got to Mount Sinai: “The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently.” (Ex 19:18) That was the old covenant experience but since then the Lord has spoken again: “but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” (v.26b) This was a reference to an Old Testament prophecy: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: `In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Hag 2:6,7)
A Future Shaking: He explains this: “The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (v.27) When the Lord said, ‘once more’ through Haggai it was like Him saying, “Once again I will shake everything, and the intent was that material things would be removed and only spiritual things would remain.
The Present Kingdom: This brings us to the present kingdom of God: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” (v.28a) i.e. because we are receiving a spiritual kingdom that cannot be shaken and removed, there is a natural follow-on: “let us be thankful.” (v.28b) i.e. because we have a new long-term security this should leave us feeling thankful but, more than that it should stir something deeper within us in respect of the Lord: “and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (v.28c)
Right Response is Awe: The reference to ‘reverence and awe’ again has its origin in the Old Testament record: “for our “God is a consuming fire.” (v.29 quoting, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deut 4:24) The thinking behind that is that God is protective about His kingdom and His people and, wanting us to understand the reality behind these things, wants us to have right responses to them. A right response to knowing Him and experiencing His kingdom should be an awe or respect for the Lord that stirs not only thankfulness but also worship.
Recap Chapter 12: So let’s recap what we have seen in this chapter:
- First, (v.1) an exhortation, bearing in mind all the testimonies of chapter 11, to throw off anything that might cause us to fall short of them (implied),
- Second, (v.2,3) an exhortation to use Jesus as a further example to encourage us,
- Third, (4-11) teaching on understanding discipline which God brings to all His children in His desire to change us to conform to Jesus; discipline is simply training that brings us into line with His will,
- Fourth, (v.12-17) various exhortations to live holy lives,
- Fifth, (v.18-24) a teaching using the analogy of two mountains representing the old and new covenants and their differences
- Sixth, (v.25) a further exhortation to listen to God and obey Him,
- Seventh, (v.26-27) a teaching that although there were shakings with the coming of the old covenant, the Lord had said He would shake things (in the end days?) so that only His kingdom would stand.
- Eighth (v.28,29) a final exhortation that this should stir within us a sense of thankfulness and worship in respect of our God who has done these things.
A Review: Now as an overview of this list, note there are five sets of exhortations – to cast of distractions, for focus on Jesus, to live holy lives, to be obedient and to be thankful worshippers. These are backed by three teachings
– about discipline as part of the life of the Christian,
– about the differences between the two covenants and how the second one should motivate us and, finally,
– about our present experience in an unshakable kingdom that gives cause to be thankful and worship.
Many of these things can be seen as things to help the first century believers as they struggled in the face of persecution and countering heresies. We might find it valuable to go back through the list above and check off our lives against the five sets of exhortations to see if we are conforming to them in our lives today.