top of page

A Tale of Two Mountains (Hebrews 12:18-28)

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

The two kingdoms

My people had travelled a great distance from Egypt. With some stop-offs, we finally encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. I had been this way before in my previous travels, having lived not too far off in Moab. Yet, it is in the middle of nowhere. I call this place, “The Wilderness”.

After everyone put up their tents and had settled in, I went up the mountain in the hope of meeting the God who had led us out of Egyptian slavery. Maybe he could offer us guidance. Not long after I had reached the top, with no small amount of exhaustion, like a friend, God called out to me, “Moses, tell the people of Israel, ‘you have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and how I have brought you to myself. Now, if you obey me and keep my covenant, you will always be my treasured passion among all other nations. All the world is mine, and you will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ Moses, you need to tell your people this.”

After our conversation, I went down the mountain and called the elders of Israel together and told them what God had commanded me. I was delighted, all the elders said, “We will do everything God has asked of us.” And so greatly encouraged, I told God how the elders responded. I wasn’t expecting God’s response, “Moses, when I speak to you, I will come in a thick cloud so that all the people below the mountain will hear when I am talking to you. I will do this so that they will always believe you.”

After I had told everyone what God had said, the Lord instructed that I consecrate everyone so that they may be ready in three days, because on the third day God was going to come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. God made it clear that while he was on the mountain, no one was to approach it or even touch the edge of it, not even an animal. Whoever or whatever touches the mountain was to be put to death instantly by arrow or stone.

The third day arrived, and even though we were told about this day, it was dramatic. A thick cloud with flashes of lightning and thunder enveloped the mountain, and there was a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone from the least to the greatest trembled in fear. I led my people to the foot of the mountain to meet their God. By the time we gathered together to look up at the mountain, it was covered with smoke, like from a kiln, and the entire mountain trembled violently. Many people lost their footing. The trumpet sound grew louder and louder, it was terrifying, even for me. I called out to God, and he responded from the thunder, “Come up to me, Moses.” (Exodus 19:1-20).

Many years later while I was in the presence of God, he reminded me of the time when I had brought forth the request from the Israelites, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” So, God said to me that in the distant future he would raise a prophet like me from among my people and that they were to listen to him. God would put his words in this prophet’s mouth, and he will tell the people everything I tell him, he will speak in my name (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).

The author of Hebrews tells us that we have not come to this mountain, Mount Sinai which is covered with darkness, gloom, and storm and cannot be touched. People were terrified at God’s command that even if an animal touches the mountain it was to be put to death. The whole experience was so terrifying that even the great prophet Moses said that he trembled with fear!

Can you imagine what it would have been like for the ancient Hebrews at the bottom of Mount Sinai? But this prophet whom Moses spoke, invites you and me to a different mountain, Mount Zion.

We don’t know who wrote the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, but we do know that the author wrote his letter to Christian Jews suffering persecution, possibly in Italy. Some of these Christians under severe pressure were leaving their newfound Christian faith and going back to Judaism where they were protected under Roman law. Those who had not already gone back to Judaism were at least considering it. The author of Hebrews sends his letter to this church to demonstrate how much more the new covenant under Jesus as its mediator is superior and more magnificent than the old covenant of Mount Sinai. In so doing he encourages the Christian Jews to remain faithful in the church and continue in their devotion to Jesus Christ.

If Mount Sinai was a mountain in the wilderness of cloud, darkness, and fire, Mount Zion is a mountain-city of celestial light. This is God’s mountain, God’s city, it is the heavenly Jerusalem. Revelation tells us that this will be the dwelling place of the living God and he will dwell with his people. In Revelation 21, if you work out the dimensions of the new Jerusalem you will discover that the shape of the city is a perfect cube. It’s not a literal city mind you, that descends from outer space and lands on earth like a ginormous spacecraft, rather its shape tells us something about what it is. The holy of Holies in the tabernacle and later in the temple was also shaped like a cube and was where the very presence of God dwelled. This cubed new Jerusalem offers us imagery that God himself would come and dwell with us in a far greater way than he ever did in the holy of Holies. To give you an idea, God is not talking about a room with the golden ark, he is talking about a great city.

The author of Hebrews tells us that if you have come to this great heavenly city, then you have come to a joyful assembly of thousands upon thousands of angels, and you have come to the assembled church of Christ Jesus, the first born, by this he means Christ’s rank; his sovereignty over all creation. The church is those whose name is written in heaven.

You would have also come to God to whom this magnificent city belongs, and he is the only one who is the judge of all. This judge is not vengeful, he is loving and kind, but his judgments are just and fair. In this city, you would have come to those who are righteous and have been made perfect. If your name is in heaven (and I hope it is), you need not fear this judge, for he is love. He has also given us a mediator of the new covenant, his Son Jesus Christ, and it is he who makes the righteous perfect. We come to him. And if you have come to Jesus, you have finally also come to “the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel,” that is Jesus’ execution, his sacrificial death. It is his death and resurrection that brings to us the new covenant and the heavenly city. All our future hope as Christians centres around, one person, Jesus Christ.

Jesus shows us in Luke 13:10-17 the dramatic difference between the old covenant and the new covenant. If you know something about the Jews, no one does anything on the Sabbath except to attend synagogue. I had some experience of this growing up, limited though it was. I grew up in Umtata, in what was then the Transkei, and in our street, we had a Christian missionary family from the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. You could not have met a more loving and caring family, but they had one peculiarity, they kept the Sabbath on Sunday as good as any orthodox Jew. No friends around, no TV, no cooking, nothing.

Jesus is in this kind of context, he is teaching in one of the synagogues—evidently, you are allowed to teach on the Sabbath. A woman shows up. She was crippled for 18 years! Folded in on herself she could not straighten out. She caught Jesus’s eye and he called her to him. With a warm smile he said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” He placed his hands on her and right away she stood up straight. Oh, how she praised God! This is how Jesus was instituting the new covenant, bringing life to others, loving others, and caring for others over and above ritual and tradition. Ritual and tradition are good things, but not at the expense of the life-giving power of God and his new covenant.

Those still bound by the old covenant were indignant at Jesus because he had healed somebody on the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue said, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” Those words are so full of pretence, and Jesus knew it! “‘You hypocrites!’” He cried out. If you untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water on the Sabbath day, should not the woman who is so precious to God, and whom Satan has bound for so long be set free on the Sabbath?” Here you can see the two mountains in confrontation, the old covenant from Mount Sinai with all its rules and regulations, and Mount Zion, the inbreaking of the glorious new covenant.

The people of the old covenant were humiliated by Jesus’ words and those who were just beginning to taste the sweetness of the new covenant were delighted with all the wonderful things that Jesus was doing. Jesus the great mediator of the new covenant was bringing in something new, something delightful and beautiful. This my dear friends is what you and I get to enjoy.

I should say that the old covenant was good, but people either did not obey it, or were unable to, or when they did obey, they added additional burdens. So, for most people it was profoundly burdensome.

Although Jesus offers us an exquisite kingdom in the new covenant, we are given a warning. Don’t become complacent and over-familiar with God by refusing him. And neither should we refuse Jesus, for God the Father at Jesus’ transfiguration said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5). This was the same voice that shook the earth under the old dispensation from Mount Sinai. And this beloved Son, Jesus Christ, is God incarnate, that is God with us. He is the very same God from Mount Sinai; he is still a consuming fire. The new covenant is a shaking of things on earth and in the heavens. God is the judge and now that he has revealed himself to us through Jesus Christ, he will judge those who have come to know who he is but have rejected God’s voice.

Now that we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, we must gratefully worship God because Jesus protects us and keep us safe, we cannot be shaken, yes, even in persecution! If we are in Christ Jesus, we can draw near to the same consuming fire that only Moses was able to approach on Mount Sinai, and he will make us perfect. It is because of Jesus that we have the heavenly hope of the new Jerusalem where we will join in with the joyful assembly of thousands upon thousands of angels, and all those whose names are written in heaven.

Some of us here are closer to that day than others when they will see the loving face of Jesus and be enveloped in celestial light and the company of angels, where the fullness of love and joy abound unspeakable forever.


bottom of page