Lesson 22: You Have Come to Mount Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem (2024)

Hebrews 12:18-29

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:18-24 contrasts the experience of God’s presence at Mount Sinai and the experience of God’s presence at Mount Zion when disciples of Jesus are gathered. The description is “eschatological” in character, that is, it describes the experience of the saints through the eyes of the end (telos) or God’s goal. It is the presence of the future. When assembled, Christians experience God as a people gathered in God’s throne room. This foretaste of the future is experienced in the communal gathering of God’s people.

The description of the Sinaitic experience recalls Exodus 19 (which is quoted in Hebrews 12:20, citing Exodus 19:12-13). It was a terrifying, holy, and transcendent experience. God’s holiness excluded sin and sent fearful trembling throughout Israel—so much so that they did not want God to speak directly to them.

This was the “day of assembly” in Israel when the people gathered in the presence of God at the foot of Sinai (Deuteronomy 9:10; 10:4; 18:16). It is an assembly context. The presence of God is reflected in the thundering, shakings, and lightning enveloping the mountain. It is a holy mountain because God’s holy presence is there. But that holiness distances people from the mountain. They have limited access to God’s presence. They could not touch the mountain.

The key word in the text is “approach” or “draw near” or “come to” (Hebrews 12:18, 22). It is the same term used in Hebrews 4:16; 7:25; 10:1; 10:22; 11:6. It is “worship” term; a liturgical term. It means to enter God’s presence. That presence came to Israel in a terrifying way at Sinai, but now the church has come to God with eschatological joy, a joy that experiences the fullness of God’s redemptive presence. We experience the future of God’s promise to us in the presence of the divine.We come, as an assembly and in the assembly, to God, that is, we enter God’s presence with boldness and joy.

The new covenant through Jesus brings us to the God’s own self. We enter the Most Holy Place, God’s own sanctuary. We come to where God lives (Mt. Zion or heavenly Jerusalem). This dwelling-place of God is described by its surroundings.

  • We come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly—angels surround the throne of God and live in his holy city. They worship God and the Son as they celebrate the redemption God has accomplished through Jesus. When we enter God’s presence through assembling togehter, we join the chorus of the angels, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
  • We come to the church of the firstborn ones, whose names are written in heaven—to the assembly of God’s people that is the company of the redeemed. They have their names written in the book of life. This language is used in OT and Jewish literature for God’s redeemed people. This probably refers to those saints who still live upon the earth. Literally, it reads: “assembly [church] of the firstborn ones.” They are God’s firstborn, the elect ones of God. This is God’s people who are still running the race but are part of God’s election. They are all “firstborn” (there is no hierarchy here based on who was born first or even created first). When we draw near to God’s holy city, we not only come to God but we also “go to church.” We join the heavenly assembly where the whole church all over the world is gathered. Wherever the church assembles upon the earth, whether in Singapore, Nashville, or Frankfurt, it gathers in the throne room as the one people of God.
  • We come to the spirits of righteous people made perfect—to saints who have received the perfection. They have been perfected by the blood of Jesus, through their own suffering in life, and their presence in glory. The “spirits of righteous persons” was a well-known idiom for dead saints in Jewish Second Temple literature (cf. Jubilees 23:30-31; 1 Enoch 22:9; 102:4; 103:3-4; 2 Apoc. Baruch 30:2). They are righteous in the sense of having received divine approval by faith (Hebrews 11:4, 7). They are “perfected” in their heavenly, eschatological glory, which (I think) includes their resurrection (remember this is an eschatological text; not a Platonic one). These are the faithful who persevered as Hebrews 11 noted, but they are also the faithful of the centuries since. Consequently, we recognize the whole history of faithful believers who are gathered in the presence of God, including those whom we have known in our own lives but have passed into heavenly realms upon their death.

We we assembly here on earth, we are gathered there in the heavenly Jerusalem. It is a foretaste of the eschatological glory of the new heaven and new earth when all God’s people will be gathered around the throne together and see the face of God.

This describes the reality of heavenly glory, and the text affirms that believers on the earth are participants in that reality. We come (approach, draw near) and participate in the assembly of God’s people in his presence. We come to God by the blood of Jesus, and we experience the fellowship of angels, dead saints, and the church throughout the world.

God has spoken! God spoke at Sinai (Hebrews 12:19, and has also spoken through the Son (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). God has spoken through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 12:24), which is the blood of forgiveness (in contrast to Abel’s cry for vengenance and justice in Genesis 4:10). If we refuse this divine speaking, nothing but judgment is left. If Israel refused the Sinaitic divine speaking and did not escape judgment, how much less will the church escape God’s judgment if we refuse his speaking through his Son?

The preacher quotes Haggai 2:6 as a warning about judgment. God shook the earth, which is a metaphor for divine judgment. The preacher heightens the judgment by God’s promise to shake the heavens. Just as God brought the fullness of redemption through Christ, so also God will bring the fullness of judgment to those who reject or abandon Israel’s Messiah. God will shake everything—all of created reality, and by that shaking reveal what is unshakeable. The unshakeable reality is the kingdom of God—the redeemed community in the presence of God that Christ has established through his blood within God’s good, renewed creation.

The recognition that God is a “consuming fire” reflects the reality of God’s righteous judgment. The preacher quotes Deuteronomy 4:24. We approach God with boldness, but with respect and awe. We approach God in full recognition of divine holiness and in full recognition that if we reject God’s grace judgment awaits us. Nevertheless, we approach him in worship with boldness and gratitude. We do not fear his presence but rejoice in it. Consequently, we experience his kingdom presence with the confidence that God receives us graciously through the work of Christ.

Moreover, we receive–even now–this kingdom that cannot be shaken. It is present now though not yet fully here. While we wait for that fullness, “let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.” This is liturgical and priestly language. “We offer” is priestly service, a term that characterized the Levitical priesthood. When we assemble, we assemble as “firstborn” priests who offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to God with the kind of respect and awe that reflects the eschatological reality of where we are: we are gathered in the most holy place, in the holy sanctuary, before the throne of God and the Messiah who sits at God’s right hand!

The exhortations that filled chapters four through twelve are fundamentally calls to perseverance. Don’t give up; don’t miss the grace of God; don’t refuse God’s gracious offer. When the offer is rejected, there is nothing else left but judgment. God is a consuming fire and when we lose our inheritance rights, we will experience God’s fire.

This is the reality that the preacher of Hebrews calls us to picture. He projects us into the throne room of God. We are in the Most Holy Place. We come—in our daily lives, but also in our assemblies—to Mt. Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. We come to God who is surrounded by his angels and the saints who previously died and now enjoy God’s presence (as in Revelation 7:9-17). Furthermore, as we gather in God’s presence, all the saints around the world are present there as well. We are not alone! We gather with thousands of angels, millions of saints—both on earth and in heaven.

This is what God has accomplished for us through Jesus Christ. God has invited into the divine presence and given us access to the Most Holy Place. Even now we enjoy his eschatological presence with eschatological joy while we wait for Jesus to appear a second time. This encourages us to persevere. We don’t give up because we enjoy the presence of God even now.

I wish I had known this perspective when I was working with a struggling, small church in Northeast Philadelphia. Sometimes we felt so alone. We felt so small. We felt so useless at times. Perhaps that is how Roman Christians felt and they had the added prospective persecution in the near future that would make martyrs out of many of them! But we are not alone, and neither are we small. Moreover, we are not useless—we are God’s witnesses. We bear witness to the faith, hope and love in a fallen world. We worship and we serve. We gather with saints, both dead and alive, in God’s presence and in the presence of his angels. We, even in the midst of this great contest and struggle, experience the future through faith. We know eschatological joy through faith.

Have you ever seen “Places in the Heart” which stars Danny Glover and Sally Fields? During the movie several of the stars died, but at the end of the movie they reappear. They reappear in the final scene of the movie that is a communion service. In that final scene the camera pans the rows as each participant partakes and some of those who have already died are again on those pews drinking the communion cup. The scene portrays the eschatological reality that we now experience. As we eat and drink in the presence of God, we eat and drink with saints who have gone on before us. We eat and drink together in the throne room of God with all of God’s saints. As we gather around the table, the Spirit of God lifts up into the throne room of God and we experience a foretaste of eschatological fellowship at the messianic table in the kingdom of God.

Given this vision of eschatological joy in festive assembly, the preacher exhorts his people to continue in their faith because they already possess the goal, that is, they already experience eschatological joy through faith. That is our hope and that is why we continue the journey. And because God has given us this gift through Jesus, that is why we praise him. So, “let us worship and be grateful.”

Bibliographic note: if you are interested in an understanding of Hebrews 12:27 that includes a renewal of creation rather than the removal (annihilation) of creation, see Jihye Lee, “The Unshakeable Kingdom through the Shaking of Heaven and Earth in Hebrews 12:26-29,” Novum Testamentum 62, no. 3 (2020), 257-272. In his reading, this apocalyptic language reflects Second Temple Judaism’s affirmation of the descent of God’s presence and locating humanity in God’s presence within the renewed creation. It is not a function of Platonic dualism as many suggest.

See also Ole Jakob Filtvedt, “Creation and Salvation in Hebrews,” Zeitschrift fur die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der alteren Kirche 106, no. 2 (2015), 280-303.

This entry was posted onJune 19, 2024 at 7:09 pmand is filed under Biblical Texts. Tagged: Angels, Assembly, Church, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Going to Church, Heavenly Jerusalem, Intermediate State, Liturgy, Mount Zion, Where are the Dead?, Worship.You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Lesson 22: You Have Come to Mount Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem (2024)


What is the significance of Mount Zion in Jerusalem? ›

Mount Zion is the place where Yahweh, the God of Israel, dwells (Isaiah 8:18; Psalm 74:2), the place where he is king (Isaiah 24:23) and where he has installed his king, David (Psalm 2:6). It is thus the seat of the action of Yahweh in history.

What does Hebrews 12 verse 22 mean? ›

In other cases, it is a reference to the city of Jerusalem itself. This verse encompasses this meaning, as well as a reference to the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1–4), the ultimate destiny of all who have faith in Christ. Rather than a smoky, flaming, forbidden mountain, the new covenant presents us with heaven.

What does Zion mean spiritually? ›

The name Zion is often used to describe a place appointed by the Lord where his followers can live and serve God. Scripture refers to Zion as the “City of Holiness” and a “city of refuge” where the Lord protects his people from the evils in the world.

Is Mount Zion the heavenly Jerusalem? ›

Mount Zion is a real place in the presence of the Lord. It is the heavenly Jerusalem.

What did Jesus say about Zion? ›

[17] So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more. [21] For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the LORD dwelleth in Zion.

What is God's promise to Zion? ›

Moreover, before many years have passed away, the Lord will command the building of the City Zion, and Jerusalem in Palestine will in due time be cleansed and become a holy city and the habitation of the Jews after they are cleansed and are willing to accept Jesus Christ as their Redeemer.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3: ...

What is the difference between Jerusalem and Zion? ›

Zion is a specific, historically important location — the name refers to both a hill in the city of Jerusalem and to the city itself — but it's also used in a general way to mean "holy place" or "kingdom of heaven." The root of Zion is the Hebrew Tsiyon, and while the word holds a special importance in the Jewish faith ...

What does Zion mean in Hebrew? ›

Zion's roots are varied, finding nourishing foundations in both the Hebrew ṣiyyôn, meaning "castle," as well as ṣiyya, meaning "desert." However, its most enduring meaning is the "highest point," in reference to Jerusalem's ancient citadel conquered by David.

What does Jerusalem mean spiritually? ›

In Isa 66:1–2 the earthly Jerusalem was regarded as the footstool of Yahweh, while the heavenly divine abode was seen as the real dwelling-place of God. Such an idea was developed from an old religious historical tradition according to which the earthly temple was only a replica of the heavenly one (Ps 11:4).

Is Mount Zion the garden of Eden? ›

The mountain upon which Ezekiel is set in Ezek. 40:2 is the Garden of Eden only by virtue of its identification with Mount Zion. In other words, the Zion of chs. 40-48 differs from the older conceptions by a factor borrowed from the para- dise traditions.

Is Golgotha on Mount Zion? ›

In his notes of various Biblical places he could still find in Palestine, Eusebius wrote of Golgotha: “Place of a Skull,” where the Christ was crucified, which is indeed pointed out in Aelia right beside (pros) the northern parts (tois boreiois) of Mount Zion.

What is the difference between Mount Zion and Sinai? ›

Mount Sinai as the locus of encounter or meeting between God and Israel only played a transitory role, whereas Mount Zion had perpetual significance as the destination, the dwelling place of God and his people.

What is the relationship between Zion and Jerusalem? ›

Zion (Hebrew: צִיּוֹן Ṣīyyōn, LXX Σιών, also variously transliterated Sion, Tzion, Tsion, Tsiyyon) is a placename in the Hebrew Bible, often used as a synonym for Jerusalem as well as for the Land of Israel as a whole.

What is Mount Zion in the Book of Hebrews? ›

Hebrews 12:22 In-Context

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.

What is the difference between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion? ›

Mount Sinai as the locus of encounter or meeting between God and Israel only played a transitory role, whereas Mount Zion had perpetual significance as the destination, the dwelling place of God and his people.

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