Only God’s kingdom will endure the dissolving and remaking of the cosmos. As mighty as the kingdoms of earth may seem for the moment, they cannot endure the passage of time, let alone the day of judgment!
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him 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 heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:25-29 ESV
The book of Leviticus is a fundamentally about worship. Particularly, it is about how a sinful people were to worship the holy and sinless God. The seriousness and solemnity of that privilege is made evident by a brief narrative that is found in chapter 10:1-3:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.
There is a large tendency among Christians to read such Old Testament passages with great gratitude that God is no longer “like that.” For it is largely believed that Jesus came to put an end to God’s angry phase back in the Old Testament. Of course, we do live under the age of grace, where God’s special grace is being poured out through the gospel across the globe and God’s common grace upon all men has never been more blatant. Our previous passage gave us a marvelous portrait of the far greater grace that we have under the new covenant in Jesus Christ. However, we should not imagine, as many have done, that God’s character has changed between the Old and New Testaments. As the author of Hebrews has pointed out numerous times already, he now warns once more that the unparalleled display of God’s grace goes hand-in-hand with an unparalleled display of His judgment that is still to come.
Do Not Refuse Him Who Is Speaking—Verse 25
In many ways the passage before us is the climax of Hebrews, while chapter 13 is all resolution (to speak in narrative terms). Our previous passage gave us a sevenfold vision of the new covenant that Christians have already entered through the once for all sacrifice of Christ. That mighty revelation paralleled the sevenfold vision Jesus as the divine Son of God in 1:2-3. Now the author continues onward to parallel the very beginning of his sermon-letter, which reads: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1-2a). Christ is the definitive and perfect Word of God, for unlike any prophet Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature. In all His words and deeds but also by His very being, Jesus communicated the nature of God to us.
Yet even though Christ has ascended to the right hand of God the Father after having perfectly accomplished His priestly work of redemption, He has not gone silent. As the author has been showing through this written sermon, God is still speaking by His Son through the Scriptures. Particularly, the author has labored to show how the Old Testament still speaks to us about who Jesus is and of the gospel that He came to accomplish. Indeed, all throughout the letter the author introduces Old Testament citation by saying he says or as the Holy Spirit says. Thus, by the sermon-letter of Hebrews, which is itself Scripture, and by the Old Testament passages that it has quoted, God is speaking to all who read these words. Though it may not seem as spectacular as God’s audible speaking to Israel at Sinai, it is a far greater revelation that we are hearing, and it is imbued with more grace and even an even greater glory.
Thus, we now begin the author’s final warning of the book: See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. This is the same command that the author gave in 3:12, saying, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” So we could similarly say here: Take care that you do not refuse him who is speaking. This is a matter worthy of your utmost attention and focus.
In Luke 10:38-42, we read the well-known account of Jesus in the house of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Mary, we are told, sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His teaching, while “Martha was distracted with much serving” (v. 40). After Martha demanded that Jesus make Mary help her, Jesus simply said this: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (vv. 41-42). This was a loving rebuke to Martha that even serving, as wonderful as that is, is not ultimately necessary. Gladly listening to and knowing Jesus is the one thing in this life that necessary, for it is the good portion that not even death can take away. Martha was failing to receive that good portion because she was too distracted to listen to Jesus.
Notice that the author of Hebrews here indicates that having read or listened to his letter means having heard Christ speak; therefore, if you refuse Him, you are not simply being distracted away from the one thing necessary. You are openly rejecting Him. The remainder of the verse adds to this warning:
For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
Again, this is not a new point that the author is making. The new covenant that Christ has inaugurated is marked by great grace that far exceeds the grace that was given through the old covenant; however, the judgment for refusing is also far greater. As 2:2-3 said, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” Or in 10:28-29:
Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of one or two witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
Indeed, remember the similar phrasing of 10:18 and 10:26. After spending chapters 7-10 describing the priestly work of Christ, the author finished by confirming Jesus’ once for all sacrifice by saying, “Where there is forgiveness of [sins and lawless deeds], there is no longer any offering for sin.” And we cry, “Amen!” Christ has paid it all. He has made the complete and final sacrifice for our sins, so there is nothing more that we need to give or could ever give to make our salvation more secure. Jesus has done it all!!
Yet in 10:26, the author used almost the same wording but put it in a different context: “for if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” In this verse, the same truth of Christ’s sufficiency takes on a terrifying tone. For if we reject the only sufficient sacrifice for sins, what else remains? To what other hope will we turn when we have rejected the salvation given through the shed blood of the Son of God?
That again is the question that the author sets before us here. If those who refused God’s speaking from Sinai did not escape the judgment that came for them, those who refuse God’s speaking through His Son from Mount Zion will certainly not escape an even greater judgment of God that is still to come.
The Great Shakening—Verses 26-27
In these verses, the author turns his attention upon that coming judgment, using the contrast between earth and heaven as his point of connection:
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 heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.
Briefly the author references the shaking of the earth that marked God’s speaking to Israel at Mount Sinai, but then he quickly moves on to contrast that shaking of the earth with God’s promise in Haggai 2:6 to shake both the earth and the heavens.