Where Are You Now?
Some Comments on Hebrews 12:18-24
By Jonathan Mitchell
In Heb. 12, vss. 18-21 we have a reference to where God's people were, when Israel was under the Law that was given to them at Mt. Sinai. The language here is descriptive of that time and place, following Israel's exodus from Egypt. The message of this passage that was written to Hebrew Christians in the 1st century is that they (and thus, we, also) are no longer there. We even have a different "spiritual" mother that those under the Law had (Gal. 4:26). So let us first examine this dark contrast:
18. Now you see, you folks have not approached to (or: come toward so as to be now arrived at) something tangible (or: [D and later MSS read: a mountain] being habitually handled or normally touched), and something burning (or: having been burned by fire), and to a thick, dark storm-cloud, and to murky, gloomy darkness (or: the realm of nether gloom; the dark, shadowy quarter of dimness and obscurity), and to a whirlwind (tempest; hurricane),
The first clause is critical for a correct understanding of God's reign and kingdom. It is not something tangible. We have not arrived at a physical location or a physical manifestation. We should not look for a cloud filling the rooms of our gatherings (e.g., 1 Ki. 8:10). This is not to say that God is in any way limited in how He might choose to manifest Himself, but it is not the focus of our lives. The glory is Christ within and among us. You see, we have approached and have now arrived at a spiritual mountain, as we will see, below. The kingdom of God is within and among us. It is God's sovereign reign, influence and activities within His body, the called-out covenant community, which sits enthroned with Christ in the realm of the Spirit, the heavens (Eph. 2:6).
We are no longer at "something burning" (neither Mt. Sinai, not the brazen altar of the tabernacle/temple), and do not live with "thick, dark storm-clouds" or "murky, gloomy darkness" or "whirlwinds." No, we have come to the Light and the leading from the Spirit.
19. and to a blare of a trumpet, and to a sound of gush-effects (or: a sound of the results of a flow; or: a voice of spoken words; a sound of declarations) - of which those hearing [it] asked to the side that there be no word added for them (or: of which, the folks listening refused and begged for release, to [the result that] no message be put toward them).
20. For they were not bearing (or: = carrying [through with]) that [which was] being presently distinguished (set and arranged throughout as strict orders): "And if a little animal may touch (come in contact with) the mountain it shall be repeatedly pelted with stones (or: stoned)." [Ex. 19:12-13]
21. And so fearful was the thing being seen, Moses said, "I am terrified (out of myself with fear) and trembling within." [Deut. 9:19]
His perfect love has cast out all fear (1 John 4:18). Heb. 10:22 informs us,
"we can be continuously and progressively approaching with a true heart in fullness of faith (or: in faith's being brought to the full)."
"So everyone come here, toward Me! - all those constantly weary and exhausted from toil and labor, as well as folks having been caused to carry a load, and continuing burdened down - and I, Myself, will refresh you and cause you folks to rest." (Matt. 11:28)
The toil and labor was from trying to keep the Law; the load and the burden were the added rules that the Pharisees and scribes had put upon the people (Matt. 23:2-7). We read of the "rest" in Heb. 4:1ff.
Our author has been building his contrast of the old to the new, by accessing once more the story of Israel as Mt. Sinai, describing aspects of the scene there - which was the creation of Israel as a nation - an organized society. But now let us examine the apocalyptic description of our present location and the realm of the Spirit in which we who are "in Christ" continuously live:
22. But to the contrary, you folks have approached so that you are now at Mount Zion - even in a city of a continuously living God; in "Jerusalem upon heaven" (or: in a Jerusalem pertaining to and having the character and qualities of a superior, or added, heaven and atmosphere; or: in Jerusalem [situated] upon, and comparable to, the atmosphere) - also among ten-thousands (or: myriads) of agents and messengers (people with a/the message):
The author frankly states this as a fact, using the perfect tense to show that the action happened in the past and now exists as a finished result. We are now at Mount Zion. We no longer operate from Mt Sinai. Mt. Sinai (figure of the Law) was
"picked up and cast (thrown) into the midst of the sea" (Mark 11:23).
In Gal. 4:21-31, Paul allegorically associates Hagar, the slave-girl, with Sinai which habitually gives birth to slavery. He ends his argument with a quote of Gen. 21:10,
"Cast out the slave-girl [= the Law] and her son [the slavery that the Law produces]."
John saw the Law/Sinai as
"something like a great mountain, continuously being burned in fire, was thrown into the sea" (Rev. 8:8; cf vs. 18, above).
We are now at a new mountain, and we live in God's city - in fact we are God's city. We see this city described in the apocalyptic vision given to John in Rev. 21. Paul referred to it as
"the Jerusalem above... who is our mother" (Gal. 4:26).
This is where we are and who we are.
"In this one, long, marvelous, bold sentence, the writer of Hebrews takes the reader all the way back to the origins of human civilization - the shedding of the blood of Abel [vs. 24, below] - and he says, 'Now everything has changed!'.... Now we have at last found the city Abraham was looking for [11:10, above]! Now there is a new way of structuring human civilization! Jesus has built a new city!.... dedicated with.... his own blood." (Brian Zahnd, Beauty Will Save the World, Charisma House, 2012, p 114, emphasis original, brackets mine)
The parenthetical expansions regarding Jerusalem, above, give some optional pictures of our situation:
1) it pertains to and has the character and qualities of ep-ouranios: a superior, or added, heaven or atmosphere. The added atmosphere is the Spirit of Christ; the superior heaven is the new temple (His body) - or the reign of God - in which we manifest Him and His actions.
2) "Jerusalem [situated] upon, and comparable to, the atmosphere" pictures God's people controlling their surrounding atmosphere and being comparable to the clouds which bring the blessings of God's "rain" upon the land.
We are "also among ten-thousands of agents and messengers" - or, we are associated with myriads of people that have a message, or The Message (the Word of the crucified Messiah and the risen Lord). These folks can be alive now on earth with us, or surrounding us like the clouds, in the realm of spirit (12:1) - those of the past, with their messages. This is apocalyptic - or some might say eschatological - symbolism that the author is using to describe the called-out covenant communities. The description continues in the following verses, with identity markers that we shall examine.
23. [that is] in (or: to) an assembly of an entire people (or: an assembly of all; a universal convocation) and in (or: to) a summoning forth (or: a called-out and gathered community) of firstborn folks having been copied (from-written, as from a pattern; or: enrolled; registered) within [the; or: various] atmospheres (or: heavens), and in (or: to; with) God, a Judge (an Evaluator and Decider) of all mankind, even among (or: to; with) spirits of just folks (or: breath-effects from those who are fair and equitable and in right relationship within the Way pointed out) having been brought to the destined goal (perfected; finished; matured; made complete),
24. and in (or: to) Jesus, a Medium (or: an agency; an intervening substance; a middle state; one in a middle position; a go-between; an Umpire; a Mediator) of a new and fresh (young; recently-born) arrangement (covenant; settlement; a deposit which moves throughout in every direction; a placing through the midst; a will and testament), and to and in blood of sprinkling, and to One continuously speaking something superior to (or: stronger and better than) Abel.
Verse 23 uses a term (pan-eguris) that describes the joining of Jew and Gentile, "to the end that He may frame (create; found and settle from a state of wildness and disorder) The Two [i.e., Jew and Gentile] into One New [p46 & others: common] Humanity within the midst of, and in union with, Himself, continuously making (progressively creating) Peace and Harmony (= shalom)" - Eph. 2:15. And this is part of the peace and harmony that we are to be continuously pursuing (Heb.12: 14).
The next term is ekklesia in the dative: in a summoning forth, or, to a called-out and gathered community. This corporate group is composed of firstborn folks, i.e., people that are a part of the corporate Messiah, who is the Firstborn (the Anointed Israel, who's Head is Jesus).
These are "folks having been copied (etc.)." Although Paul uses a different word, the same picture is drawn in Rom. 8:29,
"because those whom He foreknew (whom He knows from previous intimate experience), He also marked out beforehand (determined, defined and designed in advance) [as] copies (joint-forms) of the image (material likeness; portrait; mirrored image) of His Son (or: He previously divided, separated and bounded conformed patterns from the image of His Son) into the [situation for] Him to be (or: to continually exist being) the Firstborn among, within the center of, and in union with many brothers (= a vast family of believers)!"
The word having been copied is a perfect passive participle of apo-grapho. It can also be rendered "from-written, as from a pattern," or, "enrolled; registered." These last meanings can refer to being entered into the list of the residents of the City. Notice that they are copied, or from-written within [the], or [various], atmospheres/heavens. In other words, "heaven" is the origin of their design and the shape that they have been given. It also describes the character and essence of their beings.
The next phrase
"and in (or: to; with) God, a Judge (an Evaluator and Decider) of all mankind,"
is the next category in Whom, to Whom, or with Whom these Hebrew Christians (the recipients)
"have approached [and] are now at."
We have approached in the sphere, realm and spirit of God; we have also come to Him and with Him (cf Acts 17:27, 28). He continuously evaluates everyone and then makes constant decisions about them. This is because He is a Judge, and what God is, He continuously does. The idea of a final judgment at the end of history is a myth, unsupported by Scripture. Even the figurative "great white throne" judgment in John's apocalyptic vision is not termed a "final judgment." This is what God does. All you have to do is to read the Old Testament Scriptures and you find Yahweh habitually making decisions about people, nations, the earth, births, deaths, good, evil, joy, sorrow. He is completely integrated into the life of the earth and the life of humanity. Deism is utter blindness. To us that have eyes to see,
"He is constantly working all things together into good and is progressively working all humanity together into that which is advantageous, worthy of admiration, noble and of excellent qualities" (Rom. 8:28b).
Not only are they in God's city, in an assembly of an entire people, in a called-out community, in God, but now they are
"even among (or: to; with) spirits of just folks (or: breath-effects from those who are fair and equitable and in right relationship within the Way pointed out) having been brought to the destined goal (perfected; finished; matured; made complete)."
I discussed this under the topic of the Father of spirits in Heb. 12:9 in John, Judah, Paul and ? (Harper Brown Pub., 2013), in the section, "Comments on Hebrews." But the context here suggests that the author is giving just another description of the same group - "every family (lineage; kindred; descent; paternal group) within heaven and upon earth (or: in [the] sky or atmosphere, and on [the] land)" - Eph. 3:15. These are folks that have been brought to their destined goal: to be in Christ. In this sense, this is a realized eschatological existence: they are here; they are finished and made complete in Him. Because of being branches in the Vine, they are finished, perfect and matured enough to produce His fruit (John 15). It is a corporate reality of the Christ. Even children (of which the kingdom is made) are able to produce His fruit because the Victor, the perfect expression of the Anointing, is resident within them and they are in union with Him.
Not only this, they
"have approached.... in Jesus, a Medium of a new and fresh arrangement."
He is the medium through which, and in which, they approached. They have drawn near through being in Him. It is a fresh, new (neos) arrangement. It has never been before. It is not a renewal of the old - a "renewal" would keep the old as viable and make it continue existing in place.
Jesus mediates His life to us through His Spirit - the effect of His Breath (John 20:22). He is also
"an agency; an intervening substance; a middle state; one in a middle position; a go-between; an Umpire; a Mediator" of a "recently-born covenant; a settlement deposit which moves throughout in every direction; a placing through the midst; a will and testament."
Each of these words holds a different nuance or meaning. My bold rendering holds what I see as being the central idea. But the Spirit can shed more light into our understanding as we meditate upon these other options.
The next phrase,
"to and in blood of sprinkling,"
takes us back to the Day of Atonement in Heb. 9, and to 10:22, which speaks of the same context. It refers to the blood of His cross, and to His sprinkling His life on our hearts. So here we have another witness of the context of verses 23 & 24: the creation of the body of Christ and His called-out covenant communities. It is a first century historical context that brought into being the new creation. This sacrifice speaks something [that is] superior to Abel, who made the first recorded blood sacrifice (Gen. 4:4), to which Yahweh gave heed. Abel began the type of the blood sacrifice system, demonstrating it to be superior to the offering of fruits and vegetables
(cf Heb. 11:4, "In faith Abel offered to God much more of a sacrifice than Cain").
But the ending of the blood sacrifices, once and for all, spoke into being a superior arrangement than that which had been in place for humans from Abel to Christ. Christ's blood stands "stronger and better," by comparison, when placed alongside (para) the blood presented by Abel's offering from his flocks. Here Brian Zahnd adds a good insight,
"The blood of Jesus speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Instead of crying out for vengeance, the blood of Jesus cries, 'Father, forgive them!' Instead of the curse of shameful guilt, ever-escalating vengeance and continual violence, the blood of Jesus brings the blessing of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. The blood of Jesus is the triumph of love.... the city of God is not built by a murder; it is built by a martyr..." (ibid. p 115)
So here is where our life in Christ continuously dwells: on Mt. Zion, within the Jerusalem-upon-the-heavens, the "spiritual Jerusalem," God's called-out, covenant community. May we all live our lives with this awareness as we exist here as "the light of the world" (Mt. 5:14). We read of our present situation in Rev. 21:
23. And the City continually has no need of the sun nor of the moon, to the end that they may (should) continually shine for her, for the Glory of God illuminates (enlightens; gives light to) her, and her lamp [is] the little Lamb.
24. And the multitudes (nations; people groups; ethnic groups; or: non-Jews) will continue walking about (i.e., living their lives) by means of her Light. And the kings of the Land (or: earth) continually carry (bring; bear) their glory [Codex Vaticanus adds: and honor] into her.
25. And her gates shall by no means be closed (or: locked) [by] day, for night will not be in that place (or: for there will not be night there).
26. And they will continue carrying (or: bringing) the glory (or: reputation; notion; opinion; appearance; imagination) and the honor (or: value; worth; respect) of and from the multitudes (nations; non-Jews; ethnic groups) into her.
This does not describe a literal city, "something tangible (or: [D and later MSS read: a mountain] being habitually handled or normally touched)," as vs. 18, above stated. It is the corporate body of people that manifest the image of God, the glory that is Christ Jesus.
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