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Sermon preached on Hebrews 12:25-29 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/17/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“A Kingdom Which Cannot Be Shaken”
Shake or shaking. It’s a word that’s three times in our text for today. And as I prepared for today’s sermon, I was surprised the range of translation and usage of this word in the Bible. It can be used to describe the emotional shaking of fear, sometimes translated as trembling. It can be used to describe the shaking of the earth in an earthquake, sometimes translated as “quaking”. It can also be used to describe the shaking of something to the point of destroying it, sometimes translated as something being “moved” or “not moved”, depending on the case. Interestingly, when thinking about theophany, the appearing or manifestation of God, all three of these senses of “shaking” can come into play biblically. The Bible describes how shaking of the earth often is associated with theophany. The Bible describes the shaking of fear and trembling by humans when God appears in theophany. And the Bible describes the shaking of destruction that God brings in his divine wrath when he comes in theophany. Well, I’m starting off here talking about “shaking” and theophany because those related concepts are at this heart of today’s passage. And in typical Hebrews fashion, today’s passage does that with an Old Testament quote. Verse 26 quotes a verse about “shaking”, Haggai 2:6. To some degree, the whole short book of Haggai seems to be in view.
Okay let’s get shaking for today by looking at the past shaking that is mentioned in verse 26. It mentions how in the past God’s voice shook the earth. In light of the context of last week’s passage, this clearly references Sinai. We had been reminded of all the sights and sounds that “shook” the people when God appeared to the people at Sinai in theophany. But we had also mentioned that his voice literally caused the earth to quake, Exodus 19:18.
Yet, if we look carefully at verse 25, the reference to these old covenant people there describes how they didn’t escape God’s judgment. They didn’t escape him who had warned them from earth, i.e. Sinai. What does he have in mind when he says they didn’t escape? In light of verse 26’s quote from Haggai, Hebrews must have in mind when Babylon came and conquered God’s people and destroyed Jerusalem including the temple. That’s what Haggai surely had in mind when it compared a past shaking of earth versus a future shaking of earth and heaven. Haggai was describing Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem as that first earthly shaking. That’s the context of Haggai, it a book written in the aftermath of the Babylonian destruction. Surely, Haggai sees that first “shaking” describing how God used the Babylonians to punish his people, destroy their earthly Jerusalem, and remove them from the promised land.
So, notice then what Hebrews is doing here. In talking like this about the old covenant people it conflates two events that are separated by a long period of time. He brings together the forming of the old covenant at Sinai and the breaking of the covenant that resulted in the Babylonian destruction. Those events were separated by hundreds of years, but Hebrews can rightly say that when that later generation was shaken by God via the Babylonians that it was because they rejected God’s warnings that he had spoken at Sinai. That makes sense, as it was at Sinai that God said that if they adhered to the covenant they would have a blessed life in the promised land, but otherwise they would be cursed and expelled from the land.
Realize then what is implied then when at verse 28 it says that we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken. Said in light of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, it says that the old covenant Davidic kingdom, was in fact shakable. Jerusalem was conquered; its walls destroyed; its temple demolished; its Davidic king unseated. That kingdom was shakable and it was in fact greatly shaken. This shows that the promise God gave to David of an everlasting kingdom from his lineage had not yet come to pass. The messianic kingdom to come from David’s lineage was yet to come. But when it did come, the promised Messiah would bring a kingdom that could not be shaken.
So then, that’s the hope in mind when the book of Haggai was written. Haggai is a book about rebuilding what was shaken, while looking forward to something much better to come. Haggai was a prophet after God shook and destroyed Jerusalem via the Babylonians. He was a post-exilic prophet calling the people to rebuild what was shaken. Haggai specifically was calling the people to rebuild the temple. That’s how Haggai chapter 1 starts out, speaking against the people how they were putting a lot of time and money into building themselves really nice houses, while the temple still lay in ruins.
And so, the people did heed that call. They did rebuild the temple. That’s recorded in the historical book of Ezra, and we also see that in Haggai. Yet, Haggai 2:3 reports what we also see in the book of Ezra. The people who were old enough to remember the previous temple recognized how inferior the new temple was. In other words, the former temple made by Solomon was much more glorious of a structure than what they were able to rebuild after the Babylonian exile. Surely the people after years of being in exile weren’t returning with a lot of wealth. They were fortunate to be able to rebuild anything, I’m sure. But this reality should have told the people an important truth: that hope of the glorious messianic kingdom still had not been realized. You see, before the Babylonian exile, the prophets had not only prophesied the impending destruction and exile of God’s people. They also prophesied that afterward the Messiah would come and rebuild the kingdom into something far more glorious than before. So then, when the people who remembered the former glory before the exile saw the inferior temple that was built, they knew that those prophecies hadn’t yet been fulfilled. The rebuilt temple and the rebuild Jerusalem wasn’t more glorious than before. The people would need to keep waiting for the Messiah to come and establish his more glorious kingdom.
And so that’s what Haggai 2 goes on to reaffirm. In reflecting on this inferior temple, Haggai goes on to prophesy in 2:9 that God was yet going to make a temple that was far more glorious than the original Solomonic temple. And when you read Haggai there, you might think it’s talking about the temple that they just made. A possible reading of Haggai 2:9 might make you think it’s saying that God’s going to yet take this inferior looking temple and keep fixing it up until it is far more glorious than before. Yet, when you keep reading in Haggai, and when you line up the rest of its prophecies with the New Testament, you realize that is not the case. Haggai goes on to talk about how this glorious temple would come in conjunction with God conquering the enemy Gentile kingdoms (2:22) through the restored Davidic king (2:23), i.e. the Messiah. Furthermore, we see in the quote given here in Hebrews, from Haggai 2:6, the glorious temple wouldn’t ultimately come until after this future shaking. And so, after the exile, God’s people began an effort to rebuild what had been previously shaken. But the final rebuilding wouldn’t be complete until this future shaking of heaven and earth predicted by Haggai in Haggai 2:6 and quoted here in Hebrews 12:26.
Let’s then turn now to look at this coming shaking. What we should immediately notice in verse 26 is that this prophesied shaking will shake not only the earth, but also heaven! If you are at all wondering when that will be and what it refers to, let me suggest that there are so very many passages that speak in similar terms. There are both Old and New Testaments prophecies that talk about this. This is ultimately referring to that final climactic Day of the Lord. At the end of this age, Jesus Christ will return, and both the heavens and the earth will be shaken. Then there will be a final day of judgment. Then the current heavens and earth will pass away, being transformed into a new heaven and a new earth. That is when the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven and be established on this new earth. That’s the Mt. Zion from last week’s passage; it will come then and be established as our heavenly city on this new earth in the world to come. There, we will have the most glorious temple; a temple where the LORD God and the Lamb are its temple.
So many passages I could point you to for this. Matthew 24 speaking of how the heavens and earth will pass away, describes how the heavens will be shaken when the Son of Man returns at the end, coming on the clouds. Isaiah 34 says that at the end the sky will be rolled up like a scroll and the host of heaven will go away as the Lord comes to bring judgment on the nations. Isaiah 51:6 says that the heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment. 2 Peter 3 describes how the day of the Lord will come like a thief in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the earth and its works will be burned up, so that we are looking forward to the new heavens and the new earth, as Isaiah 65 and 66 prophesied. And this is what Revelation 21 and 22 so gloriously paints and pictures for us.
Other passages could certainly be referenced. But what we see in those various prophecies is summarized in verse 27. There it describes the scope of this final “shaking” at the end of this age. What will be shaken? What will be destroyed at that final day of when God comes in Christ to judge the world? The things that are shakable. Verse 27 says there are some things that are shakable and some that are not. In other words, there are some things that will endure beyond the “shaking” of that final judgment. Some very obvious things that come to mind are like what we find in Matthew 24:35. There, Jesus affirms that heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will never pass away. God’s Word will endure forever, even beyond the day of judgment. Likewise, Isaiah 51:6 says that through heaven and earth and its inhabitants will pass away, God’s salvation and God’s righteousness will not! 1 Corinthians 3 talks even about our works done in this life by Christians. Some of our works will pass through that final day of judgment and endure and be rewarded. Other works of ours will not, described there in 1 Corinthians 3 as being burned, like the refining fire that purges away from gold all its impurities. But the good news there in 1 Corinthians is that we who hope in Christ will be saved through that final shaking.
This is explained further here in verse 28 by saying that our heritage then as Christians is this unshakeable kingdom. In other words, at this final shakedown at the end of this age, all the shakable things are destroyed, but this kingdom we’ve received will endure. Therefore, at the end, in the final day of judgment, when the dust clears, we will be saved. By the grace of God, Christians will dwell with God in that unshakeable kingdom for eternity. That is the world to come. That is what we have already begun to come into in this life, in faith in Jesus.
On a side note, this passage again would suggest the imagery that we should want to be “left behind.” Some Christians suggest that Biblical imagery speaks in the opposite direction, that we don’t want to be left behind. But at least here, the language speaks of Christians being left behind and that’s what we would want. When Christ comes in that final judgment, that which is shakable is what is removed. That’s the literal language here of verse 27. The shakable things are what are “removed”. The non-shakable things are what remain, literally, what “abide”. We want to be left behind! To be left behind, here, means that you are left behind to enjoy the new creation and this glorious enduring messianic kingdom. To be removed, would be to be taken and thrown into the hell fire where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.
I hope you see how this prophecy of a future shaking complements so nicely with what we saw in last week’s passage. The Haggai prophecy that’s quoted here says God would yet bring a most glorious temple. He would yet establish Jerusalem. But Haggai says that won’t happen until the end. Until that prophesied day of the Lord. When God finally brings that about, it will be to finally bring that glorious temple. But it won’t be a temple of this current earth. No, it’s what was already described in last week’s passage. That which we’ve already come to in faith is the heavenly Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem. That’s the temple that Haggai spoke of. That’s what we’ve come to know in faith. That glorious temple exists right now up in heaven because it’s where God is up in heaven. Just like that enduring kingdom exists right now up in heaven because that’s where the Messiah King Jesus sits reigning right now up in heaven. We have come to this temple in one sense already by the spiritual access to that temple which we have here and now. And we have come to this enduring kingdom by faith and allegiance to its king, here and now. This is ours, it’s our current heritage. But we await the final shaking to get rid of all the other things that keep us from experiencing and enjoying all this to the full.
What do we do in the meantime while we wait? Well, sure, there are various things to be doing in the meantime. But verse 28 gives one very fitting thing, in light of all this. It says, “let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” Let’s reflect on that exhortation in the last part of our sermon today. First, “let us have grace” is an idiom. It’s about being grateful. It means “let us give thanks.” Kind of like we might say today before a mean “let’s give grace” and we mean “let’s say a prayer thanking God for our meal.”
So then, verse 28 calls us to thankfully serve God. The word for “serve” here is a worship word. It’s serve in the sense of priestly service in priestly acts of worship. See this exhortation in light of the temple imagery that’s been in this passage. We have already come into the heavenly temple that will be ours for eternity after this final day of shaking and judgment. So, right now, while we wait for the consummation, live as priests. Like Hebrews has been telling us, we live now as priests under our great high priest. Here and now we are to be faithfully drawing near to God in worship and in holy assembly.
I love how this ties together the contrast with Sinai. Last passage compared the Sinai experience with how we have come now to the heavenly Zion. Interestingly, the passage Hebrews drew its Sinai description from included Exodus 19. There, God said something that at first probably seemed strange. As he appeared to the people at Sinai, he said he desired them to be a kingdom of priests. But then he said they couldn’t approach him at Sinai. They had to keep their distance and Moses should setup a boundary around the mountain to keep them away. That didn’t seem to make any sense. How could you be a priest and not able to approach God? But Moses honored this and set up a boundary around the mountain like God instructed. But then later in that same chapter God out of the blue tells Moses that the priests couldn’t come up the mountain unless they first consecrated themselves. Moses then seems a bit confused. He basically says to God that this was irrelevant because you already told us that the people couldn’t come up the mountain and so he already setup a boundary to keep them out.
Here, now, what seemed confusing back then, is now so clear. God wanted a kingdom of priests. But they couldn’t be that until they were consecrated. But once they were properly consecrated, then they could draw near to God. Hebrews declares to us that we are now properly consecrated through faith in Christ and his consecrating sacrifice for us. So then, let us gratefully serve our God as his kingdom of priests!
And as this passage reminds us, let us do so with reverence and godly fear. Why? Because this God is a consuming fire. Surely that’s a reminder again of the judgment. It’s a reminder that this final shaking at the end of this age will bring fire and judgment on this world. So then, as those who profess Christ, let us continue to believe in him and trust in him until that great day. To abandon our hope now would be disastrous. Likewise, if there are any here today who have not yet put your allegiance in King Jesus, do so now today! Inherit the kingdom which will have no end and become royal priests of the Most High God. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.