A whole lot of shaking

“See that you do not refuse him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven’” (Hebrews 12:25-26).

A recent Facebook post from a young Christian in Nepal read, “Another earthquake, already?!” This was in response to a moderate quake which once again shook that Himalayan nation. Readers may remember the massive earthquake of April, 2015 which devastated much of the country and resulted in almost ten thousand deaths and much structural damage. The population has strong memories of that event and even the slightest tremor causes deep anxiety and even terror.

The Hebrew writer contrasts old religious institutions of Israel with that new system inaugurated by Jesus. When it was time to begin God’s covenant relationship with Israel he brought them to Mount Sinai where he spoke to them, revealing his laws (Exodus 19 20; Hebrews 12:18-21). Though the Old Testament account does not specifically mention an earthquake, the description of “thunderings and lightenings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud” (Exodus 19:16) is consistent with the Hebrew writer’s comment, “Whose voice then shook the earth” (Hebrews 12:26).

This writer continues by quoting from the prophet Haggai, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven” (Haggai 2:6; Hebrews 12:26). He then interprets the prophecy to indicate “the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:27). Those unshakable things are summarized in the “Kingdom which cannot be shaken” which is received by believers in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:28).

Old Testament typology within the history and institutions of Israel and its anti-types (fulfillment) in the Gospel of Jesus Christ are major themes of the book of Hebrews. Jesus is pre-figured through angels as messengers of God (Hebrews 1:4-2:4); through Moses as deliverer from captivity (Hebrews 3:1-19); through Aaron as High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-8:6); and through the Tabernacle / Temple and the sacrifices of the Law of Moses as the means of redemption from sin (Hebrews 8:7-10:18).

All of the “shadows” or types of Mosaic history are described by the Hebrew writer as “Things that are made” (Hebrews 12:27). They are by their very nature inferior to the eternal, spiritual elements which comprise the institutions of Christianity. Jesus’ kingdom, unlike that established through Moses, is spiritual in nature (John 18:36). It is eternal, beyond the threat of uprising or invasion. Jesus’ sacrifice does not need to be repeated in perpetuity, but having been offered once continues to be effective for the remission of sin (Hebrews 9:23-28). He himself, alive and reigning at the right hand of God (1 Corinthians 15:20-28), serves as the perfect, eternal High Priest through whom every Christian has access to the presence of God whenever he or she feels the desire to approach him (Hebrews 4:15-16; 10:19-23) .

The Gospel of Matthew suggests another application of this concept of “shaking.” He relates an earthquake at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:51) and another at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2). These confirmed the divine nature of Christ (Matthew 27:54) as well as God’s involvement in establishing the Gospel of salvation.

When those familiar with Old Testament history read of these events the connection with the establishment of Israel is evident. The shaking of Mount Sinai and the shaking of Mount Calvary serve in the Bible as “bookend events,” pointing out a beginning and ending of the Mosaic covenant, and the beginning of the new kingdom of which Jesus Christ is King.

The Hebrew writer goes further to predict another and final shaking of the things that are made (i.e., the creation) when Jesus returns in judgment (Hebrews 12:27-28), and God reveals himself in a final way as “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). At that time “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

The predicted end of all created things makes it unmistakable that Jesus’ kingdom and covenant are the final stages of God’s history with humanity on this earth. No other system of salvation will ever be developed. Those who refuse God’s grace which is offered through Jesus will have no other opportunity. In the words of Hebrews, “There no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26).

Earthquakes and destruction will continue within the realm of creation until Jesus comes again. But there is security and safety even in the midst of them. That is found in the spiritual Kingdom of God and under the reign of our eternal King, Jesus Christ. As the Hebrew writer reminds us, “Therefore . . . , we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28).

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