“See to it that you do not reject the one who speaks. For if they did not escape when they rejected him who warned them on earth, even less will we if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven. His voice shook the earth at that time, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what is not shaken might remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been in an earthquake? The answer to that probably depends on where you live, just like it does with about any other natural disaster. Different areas are prone to different kinds of disasters. I never thought I lived in an earthquake-prone region until I was sitting at my desk a few years ago and everything suddenly started shaking. It wasn’t a big earthquake (at least, we were far enough from the epicenter that we didn’t shake too much where we were), but it was an eerie moment. The world was moving, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. As we come to the end of chapter 12 today, the author is talking about another shaking that’s coming. But this one will be a bit bigger than what I experienced. Let’s talk about God’s shaking things up and the hope we have in His kingdom.
A really effective communicator can play with his audience’s emotions. Manipulation is never a good thing, but if you can take people on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster during your presentation, you can get them right where you want them, at just the moment you want them there. The author of Hebrews does that just a bit here at the end of chapter 12. As we saw yesterday, his comparison of the old covenant with the new left us exceedingly grateful for the latter over the former. The old covenant was made to sound like a terrifying thing. Thanks be to God that we are living under the auspices of a covenant rooted in grace. It is good that He had revealed enough of Himself by the time for the making of the new covenant that He didn’t have to put on the big, scary show to get us on board.
Yet just as the relief over that powerful truth may have been settling in for his audience, the author reminds them subtly, but ominously, not to take God for granted. The new covenant may be infinitely better than the old one, but the same God was responsible for making both. That is, the same God who spoke with a voice like thunder from the midst of the storm with flashes of lightning and the sound of trumpets warning the people to stay back from His terrifyingly holy presence lest they be consumed by it as He spoke the words of the first covenant to them is the same God who made the second. The second may be marked by joy and gladness and the redeeming blood of Christ, but the consequences for rejecting it will be no less severe.
What the author does here is to make an argument from the lesser to the greater. If the people who rejected the first covenant met a grim fate, by what means should we expect our rejection of the second covenant to go any better? It is a greater covenant, and so will not the consequences for rejecting it be even greater still? This second covenant is rooted not in the blood of goats and bulls, but in the blood of the very Son of God. Will not the God who sacrificed His beloved and only Son to secure a pathway to life for us take all the more seriously those who reject His efforts on their behalf? Goats and bulls were dispensable. The eternal Son of God is not. This second covenant is all the more dear to our God. Our rejection of it will thus meet an even worse fate.
Let me add a quick note on his use of the word “we” when talking about rejecting the new covenant. Some folks have argued that “we” here means he imagines people who are already believers might reject the covenant. In other words, like it has seemed he was indicating at a couple of others points in the letter, this could be seen as giving justification to the belief that a true believer can turn her back on her faith and walk away from the covenant. As I have argued each time this issue has been raised in this letter, I don’t believe that to be the case. I think the author here is using “we” more broadly than that to refer to himself and his contemporaries in that generation. In this sense, “we” includes anyone, but specifically those who are not yet followers of Jesus.
After this warning against rejecting the covenant, the author reminds us of what is at stake in another way. He quotes a verse from the prophet Haggai. Haggai was a prophet to Israel on this side of the Babylonian exile. His short collection of prophecy is dated incredibly specifically and was focused on encouraging the people to complete the rebuilding of the temple. At the same time, Haggai put this second temple in the context of God’s grander vision for a spiritual temple that was yet coming in the new age that could not be destroyed again. He assured them that even as He had shaken the earth once – which for them would have called up memories of the original destruction of the temple and the sending of the people into exile – He was going to come and shake not just earth, but heaven itself. Through the lens of the new covenant, we understand this as a reference to the return of Christ and the remaking of all of creation.
And this remaking is exactly what the author wants us to consider here. There is a day coming when this world will be transitioned into a new one. How exactly that is going to happen is not something we can say with much confidence. There are Scriptures that support both a view that God will simply restore creation from its current state, and also that He will completely destroy this creation as an act of judgment and create a new one in its place. Personally, I lean in the direction of some kind of a thorough shaking, whatever that happens to look like, followed by a restoration of what is.
Here’s the challenge point for us: We must make sure we are part of the kingdom that won’t be shaken. Those folks who refuse to embrace the new covenant remain part of a kingdom that will not last. It is slated for judgment. That judgment will be righteous, but it will also be thorough. What is old and broken will be undone, and it will be replaced by something new and glorious.
In Christ, we can be a part of what is new and glorious before it even arrives. We can secure our places there such that we won’t be affected by the shaking that is to come. We will be secure. That security – that eternal security – should be a point of great gratitude in our hearts and minds. It should lead us to worship the Lord for His greatness. We should exalt His holiness with the same reverence and awe the Israelites had, but with the joyful confidence of righteousness only found in the new covenant when we are covered by Christ. What a great and awesome God we serve!