25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire. – Hebrews 12:25-29 ESV
It pays to listen to God. That should go without saying. Yet when God spoke to the Israelites from Mount Sinai, they trembled in fear but refused to obey what He had to say. They were scared out of their wits by all the booming thunder, lightning, and smoke, but that fear didn’t turn into faithful obedience to God’s commands.
The author tells us “the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them” (Hebrews 12:19 ESV). They heard, but they felt like they had heard enough. Even Moses trembled in fear at the sight of God descending upon the top of Mount Sinai. And it was from the top of that mountain that God gave him the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant. From that point forward, the righteous expectations of God would be clearly articulated and scrupulously regulated through the Law. Sin went from being a somewhat subjective, arbitrary thing to a highly objective, non-debatable trespass against a holy God.
The author of Hebrews warns his readers not to repeat the mistake of their ancestors.
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. – Hebrews 12:25a ESV
God had come down from heaven and descended upon Mount Sinai. There He gave to Moses His list of commands. As God Almighty met with His servant on the mountaintop, His voice shook the heavens, and His physical glory could be seen from the valley below in the form of thunder, lightning, smoke, and fire. But while this spectacular sight petrified the Israelites, it failed to produce obedience.
…they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth… – Hebrews 12:25b ESV
While Moses had been up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people were down in the valley worshiping and dancing before a false god they had made. As a result of their disobedience, Moses commanded the Levites, “Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell” (Exodus 32:27-28 ESV).
While God spared the majority of His rebellious people, the history of the Israelites reveals that they failed to learn the lesson from that fateful day. Throughout their generations, the people of Israel would be marked by disobedience and disloyalty to God. Their ancestors heard His voice from Mount Sinai and yet, they refused to listen and suffered the consequences. This pattern would repeat itself over the centuries, as the people of Israel continued to hear but not heed the word of God.
And so, the author of Hebrews warns his readers not to repeat the same mistake. The glory of God no longer resides on Mount Sinai. Instead, He speaks from His throneroom in heaven, where He is accompanied by His Son. Yet, despite the distance, His words ring loud and clear.
Quoting from the Old Testament book of Haggai, the author of Hebrews credits God with the words, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (Hebrews 12:26 ESV). The actual quote from the prophecies of Haggai is “For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land” (Haggai 2:6 ESV).
When Haggai penned these words, the people of God had recently returned from exile in the land of Babylon and had completed the reconstruction of the temple. But the once-glorious temple of Solomon was just a shadow of its former glory. The city of Jerusalem was still being reconstructed and the nation was in a highly weakened state, with no king and no army to protect it. Yet, in the midst of that less-than-glorious setting, Haggai went on to deliver the following promise from God.
“And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:7-9 ESV
That prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. But the author of Hebrews is reminding his readers that the day is coming when it will be.
God is going to one day shake the earth again. This time, it will involve “the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:27 ESV). God is going to redeem what He has made. He will destroy the old created order, marred by sin, and replace it with something new and free from the effects of sin. The apostle John was given a vision of this future day and he recorded it in his Book of Revelation.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4 ESV
Centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah recorded the words of God describing the same incredible end-times event:
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” – Isaiah 65:17-19 ESV
The apostle Peter provided his readers with another glimpse of that coming day.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. – 2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV
So what should our response be to all of this? The author of Hebrews tells us.
Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire. – Hebrews 12:28-29 NLT
We have much for which to be grateful. Our God is in control. He has a perfect plan, and He will one day complete that plan and restore things back to the way He made them before the fall. So, let us hear His words of promise and rest in His holy character, fully believing that we will receive a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. This future Kingdom is the same one for which Abraham longed.
For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:10 ESV
All those listed in the great “Hall of Faith” lived their lives on earth, waiting for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16a ESV). The author of Hebrews goes on to say, “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16b ESV).
Unlike the Israelites who stood at the base of Mount Sinai and heard the voice of God, let us not “refuse him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25 ESV). Instead, let us “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28 ESV). By faith, we are to rest in the reality of the future Kingdom God has reserved for us because He is trustworthy and true, and He never fails to fulfill His promises. He has prepared for us a city and one day His Son will return and that promise will become reality.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.