Volume 11, Issue 3: Exegetica
Which Cannot Be Shaken - Hebrews 12:25-29
Hebrews has been rightly called an epistle of warning. If we can infer the potential failings of the readers from the exhortations of the author, then these Hebrew readers were in danger of drifting away from the gospel (2:1), departing from the living God (3:12), coming short of His promised rest (4:1), falling into disobedience (4:11), becoming sluggish in their hope (6:12), wavering in their confession (10:23), forsaking the assembly of the saints (10:25), casting away their confidence (10:35), becoming weary and discouraged in their souls (12:3), and falling short of the grace of God (12:15). We have already examined in some detail the nature and possible causes of these failings. We will now consider the final such warning in this epistle.
“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” (Heb 12:25). The Hebrew Christians were in danger of refusing and turning away from Him who speaks. To whom does the author refer? To God, certainly. But consider the context of the verse immediately prior, where he refers specifically to “Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” Then he adds, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks.” These wavering Christians were being warned not to apostatize from the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Mediator and effective sacrifice, warned not to return to earthly mediators and the blood of bulls and goats, which can never take away sins. The Word of God came to Moses and all Israel on the mountain, and those who then turned away from Him in unbelief left their corpses scattered in the desert. How much more should we now fear Him, who speaks as Ruler from His heavenly throne and waits for His enemies to be made His footstool!
He is the Lord Christ, “whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven’” (Heb. 12:26). The Lord shook the earth when He descended upon Sinai to speak to Moses, and “the whole mountain quaked greatly" (Exod. 19:18). While the author undoubtedly has this episode in mind, he is also paraphrasing Haggai 2:6, “Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land.” Consider how the prophet then expands this thought: “’I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:7). This shaking refers primarily to the dislocations brought about by spectacular works of God in history. When His voice shook the earth, He called out Israel from among the earth, devastating Egypt, defeating Bashan, conquering Canaan. But when He established His new covenant by His death, resurrection, and ascension, He shook the heavens as well. This Stone which was cut out without human hands put an end to the old empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. He dislocated the old heavenly order, destroying the devil, disarming principalities and powers, and taking for Himself all authority in heaven and on earth.
These created entities were removed, for they were temporary. Even the old cult of the true God, depending as it did on fallible men, animal sacrifices, and a visible temple, was to be forcibly removed in a very short time. “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” (Heb. 12:27). Those priests are gone, our High Priest remains forever. Animal sacrifices have ceased, the blood of Christ speaks now without ceasing. The temple of Jerusalem was leveled, the eternal church is now His temple. The Lord promised to shake heaven and earth one last time and never again, for after that shaking all that remains is the unshakeable kingdom of God.
“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” (Heb. 12:28). This eternal, immovable kingdom is a gift from God, wholly undeserved by us to whom it is given. Yet as God’s gift, it will never be lost. For nobody can snatch this kingdom from His hand, and He has promised from of old not to give it to another: “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to another people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44).
In view of this great grace, we are to worship the Giver acceptably, meaning “with reverence and godly fear.” But because we have forgotten the greatness of our sin and the holiness of our God, we have lost reverence in worship, and have sought to please ourselves; we have given up godly fear, and gone after good feelings. Who among us trembles in worship? And that not with a self-made fear, but a fear given by God? Let us have grace, indeed! By God’s grace may we reject such carved images and remember our covenant Lord, “For our God is a consuming fire,” as Moses added in Deut. 4:24, “a jealous God.”