THE TWO MOUNTAINS: SINAI AND ZION
After urging his readers to endure in the faith, the writer of Hebrews tells them why. That is why he starts verse 18 with the word “for”. He tells them in very poetic terms that, as great as the covenant at Sinai was, the new covenant is so much better. This is a beautiful passage.
What You Did NOT Come to
The Hebrew Christians did not come to the Old Covenant. The writer describes the experience of God giving the covenant as it is recorded in Exodus. It was an awesome and fearful experience.
The thing that can be touched was Mount Sinai. It was physical and earthly. Exodus 19 tells us that the people of Israel gathered at the Lord’s command at the base of the mountain. Moses went up on Mount Sinai to talk to God and receive the covenant. Thunder, lightning and a thick cloud came on the mountain. Hebrews says there was fire, darkness, gloom and tempest (or storm). (18) Then there was the sound of a trumpet. (19) Exodus 19:16 says there was a very loud trumpet blast. Then, the trumpet blew louder and louder. (19:19) When God spoke, there was loud thunder. The people were so afraid they did not want to be there. They asked Moses to do it for them. (Exodus 20:18-19) It was a scary event. Even Moses said he trembled with fear. God demonstrated that he was not approachable except by his designated priest. He demonstrated that he was the sovereign, the powerful party in the covenant. He wanted them to fear him and not sin. (Exodus 20:20)
And, this is the God into whose hands you fall if you live under the law rather than grace. When you stand before God alone, as opposed to in Christ, you bear his wrath expressed in his terrible power. That is why Hebrews 10:31 told us “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God”.
But, Hebrews has already gone to great lengths to tell us the Old Covenant has become obsolete and is replaced with the New Covenant. Therefore he says you who have professed faith in Christ, even though you are Jewish, have not come to the Old Covenant, but the New Covenant instead.
What You Came To
The first description of the New Covenant is “Mount Zion”. Verse 22 says they came to Mount Zion. That is in contrast to Mount Sinai. t is a heavenly place rather than an earthly place.
What is Mount Zion? The Bible teaches us that Jerusalem, and the mountain on which part of it was built, is a type for a new Jerusalem or Zion that is the holy city of God prepared for the church. And by church I mean the believers of all time. This is why, in verse 22, he uses three phrases to describe this eternal place: Mount Zion, the city of the Living God, and the heavenly Jerusalem.
We have seen that the writer of Hebrews applied Psalm 2:7 to Jesus. In that Psalm, God the Father said to God the Son “You are my son; today I have begotten you”. The verse right before it, though, Psalm 2:6, says “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Although the first king set on that hill was David, the last king, Jesus, will reign forever in Zion, the symbol of the permanent abode of God’s people with God dwelling and reigning in their midst.
Psalm 110 is the basis for much of the sermon that is the book of Hebrews. Psalm110:2 says “The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.” Again, he will reign as the Davidic king for eternity amongst his people. Jeremiah spoke of a heavenly city also.
Jesus spoke of preparing a place for us. John 14:3. Paul picked up the theme in Galatians 4:26 says “But the Jerusalem above is free and she is our mother”. Philippians 3:20 says “our citizenship is in heaven”.
And there are other folks there in heaven we come to. First, he says there are innumerable angels in festal gathering. Heaven is full of angels. God is not alone up there. Remember how Elisha was surrounded by a great Army of Syrians and said “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16) The Lord opened his servants eyes to see the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire. Jude 14 says the Lord will come with ten thousands of angels (holy ones). John’s visions of heaven in Revelation include angels. In Revelation 5:11, John saw angels numbering myriads and thousands of thousands. This verse is a reflection of Daniel 7:10.
What are these angels doing in heaven? The English Standard Version says they are in festal gathering. They are celebrating, having a festival. I believe they are worshipping God with great joy. The New International Version calls it a joyful assembly. Notice the stark contrast between the fear of Sinai and the joy of Zion (heaven).
So, believers come to heaven, the New Jerusalem, complete with many angels joyfully worshipping God. What else do they, and we, come to? They come to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. The firstborn is Jesus. He is the firstborn as the Son of God, the first of all who will be saved and resurrected to new life. Romans 8:29 says “For those whom he foreknew (believers), he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”.
So, the assembly of the firstborn, is the gathering in heaven of all believers who have died and gone to heaven. You do not die and go to sleep until the resurrection. You die and go to heaven and join the assembly, the church, of Jesus in heaven. You are enrolled in heaven because you name is written in the book of life. This is the book opened at the judgment as shown to John and recorded in Revelation 20. John said “if anyone’s name was not found written the the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15)
By the way, when were our names written in this book of life? Revelation 13:8 says it was “before the foundation of the world”. There is a song that talks about a new name written down in glory. But the Bible says all the names were written down before the world was made.
God the father will be there. He is called the “judge of all”. Everyone who ever lived will stand before God and be judged. Those who are not saved are condemned because the have sinned and earned the wage of death. (Romans 3:23; 6:23) Notice that we come to God. At Sinai, Israel could not come to God. They were not to even touch the mountain. Only Moses, representing the people, could come near. When the tabernacle was constructed, a veil kept the people from the presence of God. Only the high priest could go in. It was the same with the temple. But, when Jesus died for us, the veil of the temple was torn. This showed that Jesus led the way into the presence of the Father. Not since man’s fall in the Garden had man been allowed to approach God. But in Christ, we have access to the Almighty God. What a privilege!
The “spirits of the righteous made perfect” is another reference to believers who have died physically, but had their spirits resurrected to heaven, awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. They are righteous, for they are credited with the righteousness of Christ in return for their belief in him. Romans 5:21-22 says “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” They are also “made perfect”. They no longer sin. They have been made new, at least in spirit.
This picture of heaven saves the best for last. Last is the hero of our story, Jesus Christ. He is the mediator of our covenant. His blood shed for us is the blood that established our covenant.