1 November 2014

Hebrews 12:18-24

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (vv. 22-23)


All Saints' Day is one of the great celebrations of the Christian year, when we remember all those saints who have walked the path of faith before us. Perhaps today you'll have the opportunity to sing, or listen to, William Walsham How's hymn 'For all the saints who from their labours rest', to the great tune by Vaughan Williams. Those saints are not just the men and women whose names we remember down the Church's long history, but all those who have been faithful Christians, those whom Paul addresses as saints of the Church at the beginning of so many of his letters (eg 1 Corinthians 1:2).

The writer to the Hebrews has been listing men and women of courage, whose lives were marked by faith (Hebrews 11). Now in this chapter he turns to Christians of the present day, surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), those who have faithfully endured suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Were the recipients of this letter failing in their faith (Hebrews 12:3-4)? If so, the writer seeks to encourage them by reminding them of the glory that they already share.

The writer contrasts Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. When the people of Israel met God at Sinai, it was a terrifying experience, the mountain wrapped in cloud, the presence of God overwhelming (Exodus 19:12-16). In contrast, what awaits us on Mount Zion is the celebration to end all celebrations, with all the angels in party clothes (verse 22), with God, who has judged the righteous and made them perfect, and with Jesus, who has brought all this about through the covenant of his blood.

A further contrast with "the blood of Abel" (v. 24), crying out for retribution for his murder (Genesis 4:10), reminds us that when Jesus' blood was spilt, it was to save us, not to condemn us. As the Israelites met God at Mount Sinai, to hear the words 'You shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation' (Exodus 19:6), so God's people now meet God at Mount Zion to celebrate their identity (verse 23) through the covenant relationship in Jesus.

To Ponder

  • Today's Church tends to concentrate on the problems of today's world. Should we pay more attention to the promise of heaven? Why, or why not?
  • Who are the saints who inspire you? (These may be saints from history, or may be Christians from your own church or your own past.) 

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.