Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

They Overcame

An Unshakeable Kingdom

The audience addressed in the epistle to the Hebrews were Christians from a Jewish background, who had already endured much for their decision to follow Christ (Hebrews 10:32-34) and yet were in danger of going back to Judaism because on the surface it appeared to have more earthly comforts, prestige and security. In like manner, today Catholicism, Mormonism and the Muslim faiths all appear to be doing very well, have a tremendous amount of earthly wealth, glory, resources, a vast network that takes care of its members, and many followers. These faiths equally appear to be immune from losing followers due to either the inconsistency of their teachings or misdeeds of their members. They, like Judaism prior to A.D. 70 appear to be unshakeable.

You are Not There

The Holy Spirit recalls the scene at Mount Sinai when God came down and gave the Law (12:18-21).  This scene is described just as it is described in Exodus 19:10-25; 20:18-21“Darkness” is the kind of darkness that accompanies a storm. “Gloom” is the gloom of twilight and “whirlwind” means a cyclone or tornado. This event was so serious, that even if an animal strayed, no man was to go after and retrieve it, rather it was to be killed from a distance. Even Moses was terrified.

You are Here

In contrast to the awesome events at Sinai when the first covenant was given, these Christians have come to the heavenly Mount Zion. You have come to is in the perfect tense, which indicates a past action with continuing results. The readers were still living on the earth, yet the Holy Spirit says that because of their relationship with Jesus Christ, they have already arrived at the heavenly Jerusalem. In the same way the writer of Ephesians can affirm that saints on earth are already seated with Christ and experiencing the blessings of being ‘in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 1:3; 1:20; 2:6).

The Heavenly Jerusalem

When this letter was written, the earthly Jerusalem along with the Temple still were standing (8:13; 13:12). While that city might have seemed impregnable and the Temple complex amazing, it was all very temporary and would disappear in the matter of years or months. Even though Christians are not yet in the heavenly city, we are presently enjoying some of the privileges of our heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:21). This is the city for which Abraham longed (Hebrews 11:10). “The city of the living God”: Christians have come to this city, yet the full enjoyment of everything this city has to offer is still future (Revelation 21:1-4). The term general assembly means “festive gathering”. “Church of the first-born”: They are firstborn ones, enjoying the rights of firstborn sons because of their relationship with Christ, who occupies the status of the Firstborn (Colossians 1:15). Seeing that Christians are presently firstborn ones, their birthright is not to be bartered away, as was Esau’s (Hebrews 12:16). 

God, the Judge of All

Through Jesus we can approach the very throne of God (Hebrews 4:16). “And to spirits of righteous men made perfect”: This would include the Old Testament faithful with whom Christians share salvation, including those examples of faith mentioned in the previous chapter. They are still “spirits” because prior to the resurrection they will exist without a body. “Made perfect”: Even though they were faithful while on earth, it remained for Jesus’ death to guarantee the forgiveness of their sins (Hebrews 9:15; 11:40). “The souls of the just when separated from their bodies, do not wander up and down in this world, nor hover about the sepulchers where their bodies lie; nor are they detained in any purgatory, in order to bring about a more perfect purification; nor do they fall asleep” (Wilson, p. 173). “And to the sprinkled blood”: That is, Jesus’ own blood, in contrast to the blood sprinkled when the First Covenant was established (Hebrews 9:18ff). “Which speaks better than the blood of Abel”: Abel’s blood testified to his faith (Hebrews 11:4). Abel’s blood also cried out for vengeance (Genesis 4:10), in contrast, the blood of Jesus promises pardon and cleansing. 

Pay Attention

12:25 “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking”: Here we have the responsibilities incumbent upon Christians since we have far greater blessings and privileges in the New Covenant. “Him who is speaking”: God still speaks, especially in this letter (1:1-2). God no longer speaks from Sinai and yet God continues to speak through His Son. “For if those did not escape”: Man may rebel against God and prosper for a while, but man cannot escape God’s justice or the reality of His existence. The entire Bible stresses the same theme; no man or woman can escape from God’s expectations (Hebrews 2:2; 3:8-10; 9:27). “Who warns from heaven”: It was from Mount Sinai, an earthly hill that God gave the first covenant, by contrast, it was from Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, from the very throne of God that He proclaims the gospel.

What Can Be Shaken

12:26 “And His voice shook the earth then”: The Holy Spirit here confirms the historical accuracy of Exodus 19. God actually did descend upon Mount Sinai: Exodus 19:18; Judges 5:4-5; Psalm 68:7; 77:18; 114:1-4. “Shook”: “To shake something is to show its instability and therefore its temporary nature. “But now He has promised, saying”: This reference is from Haggai 2:6-9. “At the same time the mention of the ‘shaking’ allows the writer to turn to another Old Testament passage that also talks about a ‘shaking’” (Reese, p. 231). “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven”: The Hebrew writer notes that the first shaking had taken place at Mount Sinai (Hebrews 12:26). Thus, Haggai is speaking of a new era, which will be ushered in with great commotion and upheaval. 1. Great political upheavals took place before Jesus came: The Persian Empire fell to Alexander the Great. The Greek Empire divided after Alexander’s death, and the fragments of that Empire warred among themselves until the Romans conquered the world. 2. The teachings of Christ spiritually and morally shook up the first century world (Acts 17:6). 3. Various physical convulsions accompanied the coming of Jesus – the star, darkness at noon when He died on the cross; the earthquake at His resurrection, and the marvelous things that happened on Pentecost. This shaking also involved removing the Old Covenant and the Jewish economy, and establishing the Church, the kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28).

The Unshakeable Kingdom

“Fill this house with glory”: Some feel that this happened when Jesus taught in the temple. Remember, the temple was a copy of the true house of God, the church (1 Timothy 3:15). The church established by Jesus would be far more glorious than even the temple built by Solomon, for it would be a spiritual temple composed of living stones (1 Peter 2:5). “In this place I shall give peace”: The spiritual temple that replaced the temple is a relationship in which people find peace with God and each other (Isaiah 2:2-4; Ephesians 2:11-22; Zechariah 6:12-13). 12:26 “Not only the earth, but also the heaven”: Some feel that this shaking refers to the Second Coming when Jesus will remove the heavens and the earth (2 Peter 3:10; Hebrews 1:10-12), yet this removes the prophecy of Haggai from its proper context, that is, the prediction that the first covenant was to be shaken, and removed when Jesus appeared the first time. 12:27 “This expression, ‘Yet once more’”: The Holy Spirit knew that we would have questions about the interpretation of the second shaking in the previous verses. “Removing”: This is the same word that is translated “changed” in Hebrews 7:12, and there it refers to the removal of the first covenant. While some see this verse as applying to the Second Coming when all physical things will be removed, the writer notes in 12:28 that presently Christians on the earth enjoy something that is unshakeable, that is, the Kingdom of God. Therefore, the “created things” in this context applies to all the things associated with the first covenant. Also note that the writer does not say “created things”, but rather, “as of created things”. The idea could be that the first covenant was temporary “as” are all other created things on this planet. 

12:28 “Therefore”: This verse is the conclusion the Hebrew writer draws from Haggai’s prophecy and its fulfillment. “Since we receive a kingdom”: Believers are now receiving (present participle) an unshakable kingdom. The Old Testament had predicted the arrival of God’s kingdom during the days of the Roman Empire (Daniel 2:36-44). Both Jesus and John the Baptist had preached that the kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus noted that the kingdom would come within the lifetime of His disciples (Mark 9:1). Paul noted that the Colossians had been translated into the kingdom (Colossians 1:12-14), and John said he was in the kingdom (Revelation 1:9) as well. The kingdom of God is none other than the church of Christ, for both relationships are purchased with the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; Revelation 1:5-6), both contain the same people (Revelation 5:9-10; 1 Peter 2:5-10), and the Lord adds people to both (Acts 2:47; Colossians 1:12-14). 

Mark Dunagan |
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017