Terror to Reverence (Hebrews 12:18-24)

(For 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:) But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,” (Hebrews 12:20–22, AV)

I remember having a dream while I was in college. However, this dream seemed very real. I dreamt that I saw God. He appeared as a consuming fire. I knew it was God and was terrified. Rightfully so, for my life was filled with sin and I had no reverence for God. Looking back on those days, I was fortunate that I survived many of the foolish exploits that I embarked upon. For, I was in no condition to meet the righteous Judge.

The author of Hebrews gives his Jewish audience a familiar picture. He takes them back to the time when Moses led the nation to Mount Sinai. On the morning of the third day, the Scripture tells us that on the mountain there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud and a very large trumpet blast. This caused all the people to tremble with fear. Scripture goes on to tell us that the mountain was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire and the whole mountain trembled. (Exod 19:16, ff.)

There at the foot of the mountain, the priests and the people were not permitted to come up to the mountain and to the Lord. The Lord had instructed Moses to set limits around the mountain to keep the people away and further instructed Moses to have the people consecrated. Furthermore, the Lord warned the people not to even touch the edge of the mountain for if they did, they would be put to death. Only Moses and Aaron were permitted on the mountain. (Exod 19:9, ff.) Moses then went upon the mountain to receive the Law. God entered into a covenant with the people with Moses as the mediator of the covenant.

The restriction placed upon the people represented the real separation between the people and God. In the law, God established legal standards for the people. He also established a priesthood and sacrifices for transgressions. The law also established a tabernacle and a high priest who would be the mediator of the Old Covenant. Yet, even under this covenant there was still a barrier established between man and God. It was a barrier of man’s sinful condition. No doubt, man understood what this meant for, other than the high priest on the day of atonement, he could not enter the holiest place in the Tabernacle, for to do so meant death. This must have placed fear into the hearts of the Jewish people.

The author of Hebrews is now contrasting the Old covenant with the New Covenant. He indicates that those who believe are not coming to the mountain that was so terrifying (v21), but are coming to “mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (v22). It is a place of beauty and life into which Jesus as the initiator and mediator of the New Covenant has given access to every one of true faith. For those who believe, a dreaded fear has changed into reverential fear. Once there was a dreaded fear of meeting God the Supreme Judge, but now a reverence in meeting God our Father in heaven.

Praise the Lord for His amazing grace.

Published by Steve Hankins, Th.D.

Steve has had extensive military, business and ministry experience. He has served for over 16 years in full time vocational ministry and many years of part time ministry in churches. He has led churches through start-up and recasting of vision. Now He resides on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he is working to help smaller churches and believers to renew their hearts and regain the joy of the Lord.

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