Hebrews 12:18–24 focused on the contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. The writer concludes chapter 12 with a warning section, beginning in verse 25: “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.” “Him who is speaking” refers to God, who was warning the Jewish believers of His day not to turn away from their faith in Messiah Jesus.
“For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven” (v. 25). The author reminds his Hebrew readers that their ancestors had previously rejected God’s warnings “from earth” at Mount Sinai. In essence, those living under the Law did not escape the consequences of disobeying the Law. Just as God held the Israelites accountable to keep the word He had spoken to them, He also holds believers accountable now for the revelation given to them “from heaven.”
Describing the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, he writes in verse 26, “And His voice shook the earth then.” Quoting Haggai 2:6, he then anticipates the coming Messianic age: “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” The shaking of the earth on Mount Sinai symbolized the future, final shaking of the earth and heaven at the coming Messianic Kingdom. Haggai’s prediction of the coming Messianic age—associated with the second shaking of the earth and heaven—signifies that the old Mosaic order, which was established with a shaking of the earth at Mount Sinai, would eventually be done away with.
The writer of Hebrews clearly anticipated a final, future judgment of God, one in which He will shake the heavens and the earth prior to the Messiah’s second coming. He also wrote that all things that are shakeable and temporary will be removed: “This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (v. 27). Only those things which are unshakable, permanent, and eternal will remain.
The author wrote during the time when Rome would soon destroy the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. Since keeping the Mosaic Covenant was Temple-dependent, he told the Hebrew believers that the existing Mosaic order was a temporary arrangement that ultimately would be shaken and replaced with a permanent, eternal, and unshakable arrangement. He was implying that if his Jewish readers attempted to find refuge from persecution and affliction, they would be returning to that which ultimately would cease. They would find no permanent peace or rest in a temporary system about to be judged and shaken by God.
The writer states his conclusion in verse 28, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude.” He reminded Jewish believers who were suffering because of their identification with Messiah Jesus that they have the promise of “a kingdom which cannot be shaken,” one that is permanent and eternal. This reality should cause them to “show gratitude,” literally to “have grace.”
The author harkened back to Hebrews 4:16, where he reminded them they have access to the throne of grace where they “may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” In light of that grace, they can now “offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (12:28).
Why was it so critical for these Jewish believers to respond in this way? Because “our God is a consuming fire” (v. 29), the author wrote, quoting Deuteronomy 4:24. If these Jewish believers refused to return to God’s grace, they would subject themselves to God’s consuming judgment of 70 AD and eternal judgment. Refusing to offer God His due praise, offered by faith through Jesus the Messiah, results in divine judgment.