The glory and privilege of the New Testament economy and church include our coming to Mt. Sion and Jerusalem: "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22). Mt. Sion here is contrasted with Mt. Sinai (18). Sinai is a touchable, physical and material mount, whereas Sion is a nonphysical, nonmaterial mount. It is a spiritual reality. For the church militant—us here in this world—Sion is approached and ascended only by faith.
Mt. Sion (on which was the royal palace) here also encompasses Mt. Moriah, the temple mount, as is generally the case in the Bible. Mt. Sion with its palace represents Christ, the great Davidic king, and His promised rule over the people of God. He ushers in the kingdom of God, the reign of the Triune God bringing righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. 14:17). The temple on Mt. Sion (understanding Sion more broadly, as above) is God’s dwelling place bespeaking our covenant fellowship with Him in Christ. The Lord Jesus is our priest, sacrifice and altar at this temple, bringing us redemption and the forgiveness of sins. This is why, especially in the Psalms and the prophets, Sion is presented as the place of love, grace and joy, the place of salvation and all blessedness.
Thus we have all the glorious promises and prophecies concerning Mt. Sion in Scripture. Consider Psalm 2. Despite the hellish opposition of Herod, Pontius Pilate and the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles (1-3; Acts 4:25-28), God establishes His Son as "king upon my holy hill of Zion" (Ps. 2:6). The believing Gentiles are included in His "inheritance" and "possession" (8), but He will smash the reprobate wicked with His "rod of iron" (9). Mt. Sion is the place where we are born again (87:4-6) and Mt. Sion is invincible (46; 48; 125).
This is what you, child of God, are come to: the glorious reality foreshadowed and typified by Mt. Sion in the Old Testament. The prophecies made concerning Mt. Sion predict the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ. All the promises concerning Mt. Sion—its beauty, joy and security—are yours, believer! Don’t let anyone take them away from you by applying them to the Jews in some future, earthly millennium.
From this we see two key hermeneutical principles or two vital rules of Bible interpretation. First, Scripture interprets Scripture. Second, the New Testament interprets the Old Testament (and not vice versa). Some call this "spiritualizing" and they despise it and sneer at it. But I remind you, Mt. Sion, unlike Mt. Sinai, is not a mount that may be touched (Heb. 12:18-22). Mt. Sion is approached only by faith; this is the idea of "come" in verse 22 (cf., e.g., Matt. 11:28; John 6:35; 14:6).
Now turn to Isaiah 2:1-4. Verse 2 predicts that Mt. Sion will be raised to become the highest mountain in the world. Some reckon that this refers to orogeny in a literal Jewish millennium, that Mt. Sion will rise above Mt. Everest. But Hebrews 12 teaches that Sion is a mountain that cannot be touched (18, 22). Moreover, this conception of Mt. Sion is too low, for Hebrews 12:22 speaks of "the heavenly Jerusalem" and therefore a heavenly Sion in Jerusalem. Galatians 4:26 refers to the "Jerusalem which is above," which is "free" and "the mother of us all." Going up to Mt. Sion in Jerusalem (Isa. 2:3) does not refer to trekking to the Middle East in a Jewish millennium; it is approaching the God and Father of the church of Christ, for through faith we "are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22).
Isaiah 4:5 does not literalistically predict pillars of fire and smoke on top of every home in a Jewish kingdom. It prophesies God’s gracious covenant presence in the homes and worship services of His New Testament people, protecting and guarding us. "For all the promises of God in [Christ] are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God" (II Cor. 1:20).
Hebrews 12:22 states that we are come "unto the city of the living God." A city with houses, streets and walls is a place of order, beauty and defence, unlike Sinai a mountain in the wilderness. Jehovah, the living God, dwells with His people in His city permanently; this is not just a brief terrifying appearance as on Sinai. The river of the Holy Spirit makes glad this city of the living God (Ps. 46:4; Acts 2) —this gospel church and its spiritual worship in the New Testament economy.
Hebrews 12:22 next refers to "the heavenly Jerusalem." "Sion," "city" and "Jerusalem" are all of one piece. Jerusalem is the city of the living God, and Sion is the place of the temple and palace in the city of Jerusalem. Therefore, a "heavenly Jerusalem" means a heavenly city and a heavenly Sion. This is a point made repeatedly in the last three chapters of Hebrews to Jewish Christians in danger of Judaizing, seeking literal, physical, Old Testament shadows rather than their reality in Christ. Father Abraham was not waiting for a literal, physical city, for "he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (11:10). The Old Testament patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and Sarah (8-15) were not supremely hoping for a literal, earthly Canaan: "they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city" (16). But God is ashamed of those who merely desire an earthly country. Thus the Christian church confesses, "For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (13:14). We, as our text puts it, "are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (12:22). This is far better!
- Volume: 13
- Issue: 6
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