Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Hebrews 12:21-23
Pastor Steve Schell
Sunday: Hebrews 12:21
Verse 21: Even Moses later on acknowledged being fearful when he appealed to God for mercy on behalf of the nation after they worshipped the golden calf (Dt 9:19, 20). By reminding his readers of these things the author is contrasting the Old Covenant with the New. He’s asking those thinking of returning to the Old to recognize what a poor trade they would be making. The Old held no promise for a joyful union with God. Instead it was marked by fear and separation. God was distant from His people at Sinai so why would anyone prefer that covenant to the joyful eternal fellowship promised by the New?

Monday: Hebrews 12:22
Verse 22: Now he turns his attention to portraying the rewards of the New Covenant using deeply Jewish imagery, and as he does he tells us something profound. He makes it clear that the New Covenant is not a new religion. Jewish followers of Jesus are not ceasing to be Jewish nor are they abandoning the faithful among their ancestors. Jesus came so that all true Israel can be with God. Without the mediation of His blood none of the Old Covenant saints would be allowed to come near to God. This is not to say that believing Gentiles are not welcome as well, but he is making it clear that Jesus is first of all Israel’s Messiah (Mt 15:24; Jn 4:22; Ac 3:26; Ro 1:16). He is the fulfillment of Israel’s ancient longings. Just as Israel left Mt. Sinai and, after settling the promised land, worshipped God at Mt. Zion, Jewish believers must move on from the covenant made at an earthly Mt. Sinai and march toward the heavenly Mt. Zion. In fact, faith in Jesus makes it possible for them to enter into the Holy of holies of God’s presence even now (Heb 9:11; 10:19-22).

Tuesday: Hebrews 12:22
Verse 22 (continued): The “city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” is the same glorious eternal city for which Abraham longed (Heb 11:10, 16). It’s the “New Jerusalem” that John describes in Revelation 21:1-22:5. Just as the tabernacle and temple were only prophetic symbols pointing to the spiritual realities of heaven (Heb 8:5; 9:23, 24; 10:1) so earthly Jerusalem is only a “shadow” of the eternal city God is preparing as a dwelling place for His people (Jn 14:2, 3). The next reference to “myriads (a number so large it can’t be counted) of angels” is not incidental. It makes an important statement. Deuteronomy 33:1-29 records “the blessing with which Moses…blessed the sons of Israel before His death” (v 1). In the second verse of that blessing Moses tells Israel that when the Lord’s glory came to them at Mt. Sinai, Mt. Seir and Mt. Paran “He came with myriads of Holy Ones, on His right hand angels with Him” (LXX, literal). In other words, where the God of Israel is there are countless numbers of angels.

Wednesday: Hebrews 12:22, 23
Verse 22 (continued): The point that the author is making by mentioning angels to these Jewish believers is that their faith in Jesus will bring them to the same God who met with Israel in the Exodus. As Jews they are not being asked to follow a new god. By receiving Jesus’ atonement they will spend eternity with their God and His angels in His heavenly city. But just as Israel had to leave Mt. Sinai and travel on to Mt. Zion, so too they must leave the Old Covenant and come to the New. Verse 23: Three times a year all males in Israel were to gather for a “holy convocation” in Jerusalem (Ex 23:14-17): 1) Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:4-8) to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt; 2) the Feast of the Harvest (first fruits) to bring the first fruits of the spring wheat (Lev 23:9-14); and 3) Ingathering (booths) bringing the autumn harvest of fruits and olives (Lev 23:33-44). The same word which is translated here as “general assembly” is used in the Septuagint for these gatherings (Isa 66:10 in LXX; Eze 46:11; Hos 2:11; 9:5; Am 5:21), and here the author is applying this word to the massive crowd who will gather in heaven. Just as Mt. Zion and Jerusalem are “shadows” of the eternal reward awaiting believers, so too were the festivals when all Israel came together to worship at the temple. Like the enormous crowd which gathered at those festivals there will be a “holy convocation” in God’s heavenly city.

Thursday: Hebrews 12:23
Verse 23 (continued): The word translated as “church” in the phrase “church of the firstborn” is a word commonly used in the Septuagint to speak of other types of worship gatherings beyond the three national festivals. It’s usually translated as the “assembly” or “congregation.” By using the words “church (congregation) of the firstborn” the author pictures heaven as a worshipful gathering of firstborn sons. The word “firstborn” takes us back to the first night of Passover when Israel’s firstborn sons were spared death as long as the blood of the Passover lamb marked the doorway of that home (Ex 12:12-14; 13:2, 11-15). Later on at Mt. Sinai God explained that all the firstborn in Israel in every generation must be “redeemed” from death. This was to be done in two ways: by giving the tribe of Levi to Him as priests (Nu 3:11-13) and by paying a certain amount of money when a man or a clean animal was born (Nu 18:15, 16). A firstborn must be redeemed or killed, though human sacrifice was never an option because God hated it. This is the concept behind the term “congregation of the firstborn.” Here is a gathering of men and women all of whom would have died had not God redeemed them with the blood of the Passover lamb Jesus. They are worshipping because their life has been rescued from death.

Friday: Hebrews 12:23
Verse 23 (continued): The author next describes these “firstborns” as having their names recorded in the registry of heaven. He uses the same word Luke uses for the census taken by Caesar Augustus prior to Jesus’ birth (Lk 2:1, 2, 3, 5). This idea of a census of registry of names for the members of the family of God goes back to the Exodus (Ex 30:12; 38:26). When speaking to God Moses referred to this book of names (Ex 32:32, 33). Later the prophets mentioned it (Ps 69:28; Eze 13:9; Da 12:1), and the concept was explained more fully in the New Testament (Lk 10:20; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). Having one’s name “enrolled in heaven” means that person is accepted by God into His eternal family. So the crowd that the author pictures is made up of people whose names are recorded in that book, they are, as it were, members of the heavenly nation of Israel (Ro 9:4-8; Gal 3:6-9) which is made up of believing Jews and Gentiles (Ro 11:13-24; Eph 2:11-19; Rev 21:12, 14).

Saturday: Hebrews 12:23
Verse 23 (continued): Ultimately the New Covenant does not lead us merely to a place called “heaven” or even other people, it leads us to God Himself. And the God to whom it leads is the “Judge of all,” so if our sins had not been atoned by Christ we could not participate in that gathering. God is a just God who will punish the wicked but He is also merciful and therefore has given righteousness to those who repent and have faith. What makes this enormous assembly in heaven so remarkable is that all who are gathered there are sinners who deserve judgment yet have been completely accepted by the “Judge of all.” The author goes on to note that this gathering includes “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” It is an odd way to refer to believers because certainly more than their “spirits” are present. Their resurrected bodies are present as well. But if by this phrase he is telling us that the spirits of Old Testament saints will be fully included in that “perfection” (Heb 11:39, 40) then the statement becomes a very important one to his readers. It assures them that their ancestors who truly walked in repentance and faith (Heb 11) will be resurrected and standing there with them in that great assembly (F.F. Bruce, Hebrews, Erdmans, 1964, p.378).

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