The book of Hebrews is a sustained warning against apostasy, the departure of professing believers from the Lord Jesus, the doctrines of God’s Word and the true church. More specifically, Hebrews was written (in the first instance) to Jewish converts to Christianity, in the first century after Christ, in order to warn them against apostasy, so that they do not leave the Lord Jesus to go back to a Christless Judaism. To this end, Hebrews repeatedly contrasts the Old Testament church economy with the New Testament church economy. Again and again, Hebrews testifies that the new covenant in Christ is a better covenant with better promises, for it has a better priesthood and better sacrifices on a better altar in a better tabernacle. Moreover, for anyone to go back from Jesus Christ to the bondage of the law is to perish under the fiery wrath of God!
The second half of Hebrews 12 (verses 18-29) summarises the main points of the book of Hebrews under the imagery of two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. Verses 18-21 treat Mount Sinai, verses 22-24 set forth Mount Zion and verses 25-29 are an exhortation not to return to Mount Sinai but to persevere with Mount Zion.
The two mountains, Mount Sinai (18-21) and Mount Zion (22-24), are sharply contrasted. Sinai is "Mount Doom," if you will. It is an unapproachable and terrifying mountain. Don’t go there! Zion is a blessed mount, for there dwell the Triune God, the holy angels, the faithful saints and the Lord Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. Stick with the heavenly Jerusalem, the true church of Christ!
In order to understand the idea or significance of Sinai, we must note that the Jews, especially in the apostolic age, boasted in their religious privileges. They had a wonderful shrine containing holy furniture: the tabernacle/temple. There the priesthood officiated, the family of Aaron served by the Levites. Prominent in the work of the priests (aided by the Levites) was the offering up of sacrifices. As well as the burnt offerings, meal offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings and trespass offerings, there were the drink offerings, heave offerings, wave offerings, etc. The Jews also gloried in their laws. These statues, precepts, judgments, testimonies and commandments covered many areas: what you could eat or not eat (food laws) and what to do if you contract leprosy, as well as laws concerning religious festivals, ceremonial cleansing and all the rest. The Jews boasted in all these things (tabernacle/temple, priesthood, sacrifices, laws) because God gave these things to them. Jehovah gave these things to them out of love and mercy to them (rather than others) and He did this many hundreds of years ago, so that these forms of worship are very venerable and hoary with antiquity.
And where was Israel when God gave these things to His people? Mount Sinai! God gave the blueprint for the tabernacle and Moses built it at Sinai. The tribe of Levi was set apart at Sinai. The priests were first dedicated at Sinai. Rules concerning sacrifices were given at Sinai. At Sinai, God spoke to Israel from the mount. At Sinai, Jehovah gave Israel the ten commandments on two tables of stone. At Sinai, many other laws were given. At Sinai, God made Israel into a nation, His own covenant people.
Think too about Sinai in terms of the books of the Old Testament. From Exodus 18 to Numbers 10, Israel is camped at Mount Sinai. That’s over half of Exodus, all of Leviticus and about 30% of Numbers. Deuteronomy is in large part a repetition and application of laws given at Sinai. The rest of Old Testament history from Joshua onwards treats the blessings or cursings upon Israel according as they were faithful to God’s Word delivered at Sinai. Where did Elijah go to resign his office as prophet in the Northern Kingdom, a law-despising, covenant-breaking people (I Kings 19)? Sinai! Some of the Psalms reflect upon God’s revelation at Sinai (e.g., Ps. 68; 97). The Old Testament writing prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, called God’s redeemed people back to grateful obedience to His law delivered at Sinai.
In short, Sinai was the boast of the Jews because, unlike all other nations (with their false religions), Israel met God at Sinai and there they received their laws and distinctive form of worship from His hand. All this enables us to grasp the idea or significance of Sinai in Hebrews 12:18-21. Sinai here represents Old Testament law and worship, with its tabernacle/temple, priests, sacrifices, altar and plethora of commandments.
Now we need to understand what it is to "come" to Sinai in verse 18. "Come" is in the perfect tense and so it includes getting to Sinai and remaining or staying there. In other words, you first-century Jewish Christians have not come to and remained at Sinai—as it represents Old Testament law and worship, with its shadows and types, and without the mediation, sacrifice and blood of Jesus Christ. This is the idea of Sinai here: resting content with the forms of Old Testament law and worship, without the forgiveness of sins in the cross of Christ.
This is the argument of Hebrews 12:18-21. Do you, Jewish Christians, want the Old Testament law and worship given at Sinai (without the sacrifice of the promised Messiah)? You ought to read Exodus 19-20 and Deuteronomy 4-5 again, for the Old Testament law and worship given at Sinai (considered in themselves and without the blood of Christ) merely reveal God’s holiness and wrath. Think of God’s revelation at Sinai! The heavens were filled with thunder and lightening; the mountain was robed with fire and darkness; the earth shook with an earthquake. This is what Sinai (Old Testament law and worship) means without the blood of the cross: "... the mount ... that burned with fire ... blackness, and darkness, and tempest ... the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more ... they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake ..." (Heb. 12:18-21). Is this what you want?
- Volume: 13
- Issue: 3
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851