The Arguments Proper, 2:10-12:29

3. God's people persevere through suffering by faith, 11:1-12:24

ix] Mount Zion


Our author now exhorts us to listen carefully to the voice of God. The passage contrasts Sinai with Zion; it contrasts the declaration of the law with the declaration of the gospel. Although the declaration of the law was awesome, filling those who were present with fear, binding them with great responsibilities and terrible consequences, the declaration of the gospel is far more awesome and demanding. The contrast serves as a warning against treating the gospel lightly, of not submitting wholeheartedly to its claim on our lives.


i] Context: See 11:1-3. Christ, our Great High Priest, was glorified through suffering and in him we are glorified. The third argument in support of this proposition, 11:1-12:24, encourages perseverance through the instrument of faith. Arrival at the celestial city and the blessing of the firstborn in Christ, marks the climax of the third argument, and of the book as a whole, cf. Koester, 12:18-24. Bruce says of this passage that "it contrasts the giving of the law with the reception of the gospel."


ii] Background: A general introduction; See 1:1-4.


iii] Structure: This passage, Mount Zion, presents as follows:

The fearful gloom of Sinai, v18-21;

The awesome wonder of Mount Zion, v22-24.


The passage falls into two halves, both introduced by the verb proselhluqate, "you have come", v18-21, 22-24. Mount Sinai is contrasted with Mount Zion, the focus of the contrast being on the divine revelation administered by Moses and Christ.


iv] Interpretation:

The "blending of encouragement and rebuke" (Wilson) in Hebrews leaves us somewhat unsure whether this same approach is being used here in the contrast between Sinai and Zion: v18-21, foreboding / v22-24, joy ("gloom ...... liberation", Neil) - "no longer are Christians faced with the terrors of Sinai, for they themselves have access to the heavenly presence", Caudill. Yet, it seems more likely that Hebrews is making the point that both revelations require careful attention, with the revelation of Mount Zion, the gospel, requiring our total attention. As Lane notes, in this passage a judgment theme is not far below the surface.


Biblical theology: In this passage, and in verse 22 in particular, the writer theologically links the people of the Sinai covenant with the people of the gospel covenant. This is a perfect example of Biblical theology at work where the events of the Old Testament are paralleled with those of the new. The writer aligns our standing in the present spiritual kingdom of God with particular events which affected the people of the historic kingdom of God in 1500BC (The pre-exile people of Israel). In their journey they met with the living God prior to their entrance into the kingdom - into the land flowing with milk and honey, into Palestine (Canaan). We have come to our Sinai, our Zion, to a trembling mountain of glory and wonder. We have done this in the hearing of the gospel. In listening to this message and accepting it, we have placed ourselves at the foot of God's heavenly mountain. The people of Israel heard God speak as they listened to the reading of the Sinai covenant, and in that reading they trembled. We too have heard God speak. We have heard the gospel, and like them, we should be filled with fear. Unlike the children of Israel, we have heard the gospel declared from a mountain that cannot be touched or seen, a mountain that is reality itself. Sinai was but an image of the heavenly Zion, its awesome power a mere shadow compared to Christ.


"Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant", v24, but is it actually new? Hebrews constantly refers to the covenant, mediated by Jesus, as "better", "superior", "another", "new" and "eternal". This terminology supports the oft-stated dichotomy between an old and new covenant / testament, but in reality, there is only one covenant, reinstituted on numerous occasions, along with a final renewal by Christ. The final renewal of the covenant mediated by Christ is indeed "superior", etc. but is as much a revelation of God's grace as was God's covenant with Abraham. Often the old and new are presented in terms of law and grace, but the earlier revelations of the covenant agreement, as with that mediated by Christ, establish a relationship with God that is based on grace / mercy, appropriated by faith, and not works of the law. Sinai is often seen as a law-based agreement, but as the apostle makes clear, the function of the law is to expose sin and so point Israel back to the basis of their relationship with God founded in the Abrahamic covenant, namely by grace / mercy through faith. So the diaqhkhV neaV, "new covenant", is a final renewal of the covenant in Christ which fully realizes the intentions of God's agreement with humanity. "Sooner or later, everything old is new again", Stephen King.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text: 12:18

The contrast between Sinai and Zion, v18-24: i] The fearful gloom of Sinai - "Unlike Israel's ancestors, you didn't experience the awesome presence of God at Mount Sinai", v15-21: Our author reminds his readers of the awesome moment when God spoke with the people of Israel gathered before Mount Sinai, Deut.4:11f. Yet, his readers have not come to such a mountain, they have come to a mountain far more awesome. The Sinai event emphasized the holiness of God, along with the fear and awe that is rightly felt in the presence of His glory. Even Moses himself was filled with fear. This idea comes from Deuteronomy 9:19, although it is not explicitly stated that Moses trembled with fear.

gar "-" - for. Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining the nature of the "grace" which the readers must not fall away from. As such, v18-24 serve as the basis for the preceding exhortation, v14-17. Given that the exhortation serves as a warning, there is a sense of abode in v18-21. So as not to promote a causal link this conjunction is best left untranslated, as NIV.

ou proselhluqate (prosercomai) perf. + dat. "you have not come to" - you have not come up to, drawn near to, approached.

yhlafwmenw/ (yhlafaw) dat. pres. part. "[a mountain] that can be touched" - being touched. "Mountain" is understood and, as with all the other nouns in this verse, would be classified as a dative of direct object after the verb prosercomai, which takes a dative of persons and of the divine. This participle, dative in agreement with "mountain", along with "[to a fire] having been burning", serves as an attributive adjective, as NIV, although both may function as substantives; "you have not come to what you can touch, to flames of fire", Moffatt.

puri (pur puroV) dat. "[that is burning] with fire" - a fire [having been blazing]. The perfect tense indicates an ongoing burning. The dative as above, "[you have not come to ....] a blazing fire", ESV, but possibly adverbial, modal or accompaniment, as NIV, so "a smouldering mountain with fire, darkness, gloom and tempest." The descriptives probably allude to Deut.4:11 - the awesome presence of God on Mount Sinai. "You have not approached (come to) something that is manifest, a blazing fire, darkness, gloom, tempest, ...."


The descriptives listed in v18 continue; "they heard His voice and were filled with fear."

hcw/ (oV) dat. "to [a trumpet] blast" - to sound, noise [of a trumpet]. Dative of direct object after the verb prosercomai, "come to, approach." The genitive salpiggoV, "trumpet", as with "words", is adjectival, attributive, limiting the noun "blast"; "...... darkness, gloom, tempest, trumpet blast and speaking voice."

h|V gen. pro. "that" - of which. Object of the substantive "those who heard", partitive genitive, "of which = of the words / of the speaking voice"

oiJ akousanteV (akouw) aor. part. "those who heard it" - the ones having heard. The participle functions as a substantive.

prosteqhnai (prostiqhmi) aor. pas. inf. "that [no further word] be spoken [to them]" - to be put on, added. The infinitive forms an object clause / dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing what they "asked / begged", namely "that no word be put on them" = "that the voice uttering the words should say nothing more to them", cf. Ex.20:19, the people said to Moses "you speak to us, and we will hear you, but don't let God speak to us lest we die."


gar "because" - for. Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why the people can't bear ferw to hear the divine injunction, cf. Ex.19:12-13. Ellingworth suggests that rather than introducing an explanation, the conjunction here serves to introduce a threat added to the list of the fearful phenomena, v18-19.

to diastellomenon (diastellw) pres. pas. part. "what was commanded" - the thing being commanded. The participle serves as a substantive. "The idea is that if the prohibition applies even to an animal, how much more to a human being", Koester. "For they were appalled by the order that, if even a beast touched the mountain, it should be stoned to death", Barclay.

kan + subj. "if even" - A composite word, kai an. Introducing a conditional clause, 3rd. class, where the condition has the possibility of being realized, "and if, as may be the case, ..... then ....."

liqobolhqhsetai (liqobolew) fut. "it must be stoned" - it will be stoned. The purpose of stoning serves to separate an individual from the offending animal, so emphasizing the danger of an inappropriate approach to the divine.


to fantazomenon (fantazw) pres. pas. part. "the sight" - [and so fearful was] the thing appearing. The participle serves as a substantive. Referring to the theophany (manifestation) of God's descent upon the mountain in fire, smoke, etc., v18-19. The manifestation was so awesome that even Moses was overcome by fear and trembling. Of course, the actual quote is made in the context of the Golden Calf incident, but Hebrews gathers it up within the Sinai event as a whole. "Even Moses was terrified", Peterson.


ii] The awesome wonder of Mount Zion, the heavenly city, v22-24. Believers, on the other hand, have gathered before Mount Zion, a far more awesome manifestation of God's glory.

What we "come to" is presented in a series of phrases formed by datives of direct object after the verb proselhluqate, "you have come to." It is possible to arrange these phrases as eight paired items:

We come into the presence of the living God, into the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem;

We come and serve with the angelic host, and do so with those who have sought to know the living God from the beginning of time;

We come into the presence of the merciful judge, and stand before him with all the saints who have been saved by faith, cf. 11:6;

We come to Jesus the mediator of an eternal covenant, an agreement founded on the cross, the sacrificial death of Christ.

alla "but" - but, and. As is usually the case in Hebrews this conjunction is contrastive, often of whole classes, as here, where the two mountains are compared.

proselhluqate (prosercomai) perf. + dat."you have come to" - you have come up to, approached. cf. v18. The perfect expressing a past action realized in an ongoing state. The "approach" is to eight paired items: you have come to God's mountain / the city; to a host of angels / the assembly of believers; to the divine judge / the spirits of the righteous; and to Jesus the mediator / the sprinkled blood. Note Westcott's thematic suggestion for the pairs: scene, people, judgment and grace.

Ziwn dat. "[Mount] Zion" - This noun, as with the ones following, serves as a dative of direct object after the verb prosercomai, "to come to"; "you have approached Mount Zion" and not "Mount Sinai." Although Jerusalem can take the place name Zion, Zion more often refers to the theological / spiritual ideal of Jerusalem, the heavenly city, as here.

kai "-" - and. Possibly "even" here prompting an appositional/epexegetic sense to the couplet; "even the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God."

zwntoV (zaw) gen. pres. part. "[the city] of the living [God]" - The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "God", as NIV, while the genitive is adjectival, possessive, ie. the city belongs to the living God - he laid its foundations and brings it to fruition. The eschatological city of Zion serves as a metaphor for the kingdom of God, and ultimately represents the eternal reign of God. The descriptive "living" certainly includes the idea of eternal, but probably the idea is more in the terms of "life giving."

aggelwn (oV) "[you have come to thousands upon thousands] of angels" - [to a countless thousands, myriad] of angels. The genitive is adjectival, limiting "myriad", "an angelic throng." These "mighty ones" are "ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation", 1:14.

panhgurei (iV ewV) dat. "in joyful assembly" - to a joyful gathering, assembly. The dative is often treated as adverbial, modal, expressing the manner in which the angelic throng behaves, so NIV, NRSV, NJB, NAB, Moffatt, Cassirer, although it is possible that it modifies "the church of the firstborn", v23, so REB, Barclay, ... On the other hand, this dative noun can again serve as a dative of direct object after the verb prosercomai, "you have come to.... an angelic throng, [to] a festal assembly, to the church of the firstborn ..." This classification is usually not accepted as it destroys the symmetry of the passage. The "joyful" may express singing, Rev.5:11f.


kai "-" - and. As noted above, possibly introducing the second part of the couplet, so "even the church of the firstborn, ....." If this is the case then "angels" may just mean "God's messengers", a term that can apply to the saints / believers. Although somewhat of a stretch, the imagery does fit with Daniel's vision of the heavenly court, Dan.7:10. None-the-less, the imagery here is more likely of the heavenly gathering of angels and men, cf. En.39:5.

ekklhsia/ (a) "[to] the church" - [you have come to] the assembly. Dative of direct object, as above, "you have approached the church .....", not dative of accompaniment, "with the whole church", NJB. "To the assembly of the firstborn", Moffatt.

trwtotokwn gen. adj. "of the firstborn" - of firstborn ones. The genitive is adjectival, epexegetic; "consisting of firstborn sons", Barclay. The word "church" in the Gk. just means "assembly, gathering." Presumably this gathering is of believers, although some commentators thinks it refers to the angels. If believers, it is probably all believers, living and dead - the church universal.

apogegrammenwn (apografw) perf. pas. part. "whose names are written" - having been enrolled, registered. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "firstborn"; "who have their names recorded in heaven", Cassirer.

en + dat. "in [heaven]" - Local, expressing space/sphere.

pantwn adj. "[you have come to God, the judge] of all men" - [a judge, God] of everyone. The genitive is adjectival, of subordination, limiting "a judge", not "God";" God is a judge over everyone." Is he the judge of "everyone", or "the righteous men made perfect"? So Junkins, "you will have come before God, the final judge of the godly among us, who will be there."

kai "-" - Again the syntactical issue raised above, so "even the spirit of righteous men .....", ie. taking an exegetical sense, exegeting "everyone".

pneumasi (iV ewV) "to the spirits" - spirits. Spirit, soul = being, life force, divine breath. Often viewed as "a current designation of the souls of men separated from their bodies, prior to the resurrection", Hughes. Yet, the separation of body and soul is a Platonic idea, not a Biblical one. The body and soul are inseparable, they constitute the self, and for this reason both are raised and transformed together at the resurrection. Given that God's domain is outside of time, there is a sense where, in Christ, we are already raised and reigning with Christ, and this may be in the writer's mind. Possibly these "spirits of just men made perfect are "believers of pre-Christian days", Bruce, possibly "those who have died, but who now inhabit the heavenly city that is the goal of the pilgrimage of godly men and women under both covenants", Lane, or more probably, "those who are alive in Christ and who now inhabit the heavenly city that is the goal of godly men and women throughout the ages."

dikaiwn (oV) gen. "of righteous men" - of righteous. The genitive is adjectival, possibly possessive, or epexegetic. "Righteous" in the sense of covenant compliant, right with God.

teteleiwmenwn (teleiow) perf. pas. part. "made perfect" - having been perfected. The participle is adjectival, limiting "righteous", "who have been made perfect [by God, ie. a theological passive]." Often understood as "sanctified - by a once only sacrifice Christ "perfected forever them that are sanctified", 10:14, 11:40, cf. Bruce. Koester suggests "who have been made complete", in the sense of "receiving all that God has promised."


mesith/ (hV ou) dat. "[to Jesus] the mediator" - [you have come to Jesus] mediator = one who causes or helps parties to come to an agreement*. The last of the datives of direct object. The substantive construction introduced by "mediator" stands in apposition to the dative of direct object "Jesus".

neaV gen. adj. "of a new [covenant]" - The genitive substantival phrase "of a new covenant" may be taken as adjectival, attributive, limiting "mediator", "Jesus the new covenant mediator", or verbal, objective, "Jesus who mediates the new covenant", Moffatt.

kai "and" - Syntax as above, poss. "even [to] the sprinkled blood ....", ie. epexegetic of mediating the new covenant via the cross.

rJantismou (oV) gen. "sprinkled [blood]" - of sprinkling. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, as NIV. Imaging the function of sprinkling the blood of a sacrificed animal on the people of Israel as a symbol of atonement and thus covenant renewal, here of Jesus blood shed for us.

lalounti (lalew) pres. part. "that speaks [a better] word" - speaking [better]. The participle is adjectival, "which word / message / revelation / promise [is better]." "His sprinkled blood says much better things than the blood of Abel", CEV.

kreitton adv. "better .... [than]" - Used with para to establish a comparison. Probably "superior [to]", Koester. Hebrew's is possibly making the point that Christ's blood is superior to Abel's in that Abel's blood still cries out, cf. 11:4, or Abel's blood called for vengeance, Christ's for mercy. At any rate, Christ's shed blood is superior; it achieves its intended end. It is not clear to whom Christ's blood cries out; does it cry out to us (it proclaims the gospel of redemption), or God (it articulates the basis of a permanent covenant)?


Hebrews Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]