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Hebrews 12:22–24

“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”

New covenant realities are far superior to old covenant types and shadows. The author of Hebrews makes this point repeatedly to issue stern warnings about falling away from the faith (for example, see Heb. 10). His argument is that since it was a grave thing indeed to reject God under the old covenant, it is far worse to reject Jesus and thus to reject God under the new covenant since the new covenant is so much better. As John Calvin comments, the greatness of the new covenant means that “the more disgraceful and less excusable is our ingratitude” if we abandon Jesus.

Hebrews 12:18–29 makes this point yet again, comparing the old and new covenants once more in order to set up the warning. Yesterday we looked at the inferiority of the old covenant with its limited access to God, its earthly nature, and its stress on the Lord as holy Judge of sinners (vv. 18–21). Taken together, these things can make us hesitant and afraid to approach God. Today’s passage stresses the superiority of the new covenant.

The author of Hebrews uses the heavenly nature of the new covenant to depict its greatness in comparison to the old. Under the new covenant, we enter heaven itself, and we can do that regardless of whether we belong to the priestly tribe of Levi (Heb. 12:22–24; see also 6:19–20; 10:19–22). No barrier now stands between Christians and the very presence of God as stood between the old covenant saints and the glory of God in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle and temple. We thus gather with the angels and the saints who have gone before us. Positionally, we are in heaven alongside all the faithful men and women who have served God throughout history. This has implications for many aspects of the Christian life, particularly corporate worship. Though corporate worship may be scheduled in earthly buildings, we actually enter heaven every time we gather with other believers to praise our God.

Since God does not change (Mal. 3:6), He is no less the holy Judge over all today than He was under the old covenant, as Hebrews 12:23 reminds us. We encounter Him in heaven as our Judge. But under the new covenant, we have stronger assurance of the love and forgiveness of God than most believers had under the old covenant. Through the blood of Jesus, which cries out not for vengeance as Abel’s blood did but for our pardon, we know God more clearly as Judge and Father (v. 24).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Athanasius of Alexandria writes regarding the blood of Jesus: “We are purified by his precious blood, which cleanses us from sin. His blood does not cry out for vengeance as did the blood of Abel.” Old covenant saints benefited from Jesus’ sacrifice no less than we do, but we have a clearer understanding of it. This should make us even more eager to fellowship with God in prayer and to thank Him for all His blessings.

For Further Study
  • Psalm 48
  • Isaiah 12:5–6
  • Ephesians 2:1–7
  • 1 Peter 1:17–19

The Terror of Sinai

Heeding the One Who Speaks

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From the August 2020 Issue
Aug 2020 Issue