Our last Bible study of Hebrews 12:12–17 focused on the obligations of a mature believer in Messiah. Now, beginning in verse 18, the writer goes back to the familiar topic in Hebrews of the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. He uses the metaphor of two mountains, Sinai and Zion, to point out the difference in relationship to God under the Old and New Covenants. Why would he need to do that? Because of the persecution these Jewish believers were experiencing, they were being tempted to return to trusting in the Torah.
By directing their thoughts back to the giving of the Law, the writer reminds his readers that they did not experience quietness, rest, and peace at Sinai, but rather an overwhelming fear from “a blazing fire,” and from “darkness and gloom and whirlwind.” The event was so frightening that even Moses himself said, “I am full of fear and trembling” (Hebrews 12:21). Clearly, the point the writer of Hebrews is making is that a believer seeking to escape persecution in this manner will not find the peace and rest he or she desires, but like Moses, would only experience an overwhelming fear.
Hebrews 12:18 begins with the negative phrase, “For you have not come to a mountain…” and describes the overwhelming fear on Mount Sinai. Now, in verse 22, it is contrasted with the phrase, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem….” As terrifying as the experience of Mount Sinai is, the heavenly Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem—the city of the living God—is quite the contrary. It is a place that brings rest and peace to the redeemed of the Lord. Though not presently on earth, the heavenly Mount Zion will be revealed prophetically in the future.
Beginning at the end of 12:22, the writer of Hebrews describes five groups of occupants in Mount Zion. The first group of occupants is the “myriads of angels.” It is interesting to note that the same myriad of angels at Mount Zion were also at Mount Sinai, but like the God they served there, they also were inapproachable and brought fear and terror to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 33:2, Daniel 7:10, Galatians 3:19). The second group is described as “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” The Church as a whole, comprised of both Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Messiah, will eventually be in the heavenly Jerusalem. However, given the context of the book of Hebrews, written especially to struggling Jewish believers dealing with persecution, the church of the firstborn is likely referring specifically to Jewish believers, as in the book of James who also refers to them as firstfruits.
The third occupant in Mount Zion is “God, the Judge of all.” God the Father, in His role as Judge, not only actively judges people to determine their eternal abode, but He will judge angels, as well—thus His title, “Judge of All.” The fourth group of occupants are “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” These are the Old Testament faithful, who the writer of Hebrews so beautifully describes in Hebrews 11. These believers are called “spirits” because they have not yet received resurrected bodies since the resurrection of Old Testament believers has not yet taken place.The fifth occupant is “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” Jesus’ Hebrew name, Yeshua, is His redemptive name. As our redeemer, Yeshua is the mediator of a new covenant.
Here, the writer of Hebrews uses the Greek word neos, meaning new in point of time, instead of the usual word kainos, meaning new in quality or nature. The new covenant was recently made, because Jesus’ blood was recently shed and speaks better than the blood of Abel, as it is the only blood that can bring us into the very presence of God.