When we have seen the privileges that are already ours, we have every reason to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and persevere in penitential faith until that which is now ours in part becomes ours in whole and forever.
The letter to the Hebrews, as our studies throughout the year have shown, is full of Old Testament language and ritual. Running throughout it is an ongoing sense that as believers we are on the move, on a pilgrimage through the wilderness. This motif echoes in our ears as we turn the pages. We are seeking to reach the land of rest (4:1). Indeed we can already come near enough to see the throne of its King (4:16; 10:19). It is the throne of grace before which Christ our High Priest stands. So we run the race before us with perseverance, our eyes fixed on Him (12:1–2).
All this lies behind the remarkable words of Hebrews 12:18–28. We have come to Mount Zion — not to Mount Sinai, as Moses and the first pilgrim people did. As participants in the new exodus accomplished by Christ (see Luke 9:31, where “departure” literally means exodus), we have come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. We have already received a kingdom that cannot be shaken (12:28). That is why we must see to it that we “do not refuse him who is speaking.”
This sustained use of Old Testament imagery is all-pervasive in Hebrews, although elements of it obviously appear throughout the New Testament. But the underlying structures of thought are the same in three ways. First, the promise of the old has been fulfilled in the new, in Christ. Second, another grammatical pattern is evident, one which we usually associate with the apostle Paul; namely, the indicatives of grace give rise to the imperatives of obedience. Third, this principle is also evident in the way in which Christians are urged to live in the light of the privileges they enjoy already and therefore to persevere to enter those they do not yet fully experience. Thus promise leads to fulfillment, grace leads to obedience, already is linked to not yet.
Now, as the author comes to the final warning passage in Hebrews 12:25–29, it helps if we see its apparent severity in the light of this third principle. “You have not come … But you have come” (Heb. 12:18, 22). What are our privileges? They are truly amazing. Rather than come — as did believers in the day of promise and shadow — to an assembly convened at a mountain engulfed with a sense of awful judgment, we have come to the abiding city of God. Indeed we have come to God Himself, not with Moses, but with Jesus. For we have received the new covenant in His shed blood.