I thought I would share with you my contemplation of three mountains in Hebrews 12:18-24.
In this passage, we note two mountains representing concepts of tremendous significance: Mount Sinai, and Mount Zion. Mount Sinai represents law and the old covenant. Mount Zion represents grace through a new and better covenant.
You will remember the experience of the children of Israel when they first received the law at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses went up into the fiery mountain and received the law and the two tablets of stone from God. When he came back down from the mountain, the people were already breaking the very commandments they had just promised to keep, resulting in fearful judgment (Exodus 24; 32). With the intercession of Moses, the nation was spared (Ex. 32:11-14).
But where is Mount Zion, and what happened there? In the Old Testament, the term “Zion” is linked with Jerusalem, the city of David. Many times it is linked with victory, glory, and divine presence and favor. Hebrews 12:22, the term Mount Zion symbolizes the location of “the heavenly Jerusalem.” This is the place God has promised to bless. This is the place to which God’s Lamb will return, and this is the place where the King of kings will reign in all His glory in a future day. The Hebrew writer links it with the church’s position of grace, in contrast to Mt. Sinai’s law.
The contrast in Hebrews 12 is clear, and the physical contrast brings out some spiritual differences between law and grace. Let’s consider them briefly.
At Mount Sinai, we read “Moses exceedingly feared.” It was a place of dread, a fearful place. There was an all-consuming fire, the symbol of the awesome holiness of the God of the universe, a God who must judge sin. A whirlwind and violent earthquake shook the mountain, showing the tremendous power of the unapproachable, unseen God. A holy God must have holy requirements: thus, at Sinai, duty was demanded. The law brought fear, because it displayed a holy God who required absolute holiness in His people, a holiness which they could not live up to. The character of God was in stark contrast to a sinful people. Lightning flashed, and thunder rolled as God spoke from the mount. The mountain was shrouded in darkness: God was hidden from human view, and death was declared with the blast of a trumpet for any man or beast that would even touch the mountain where God came to meet with one man, Moses. When God commenced to speak to the people, they could not bear to hear the words of such a holy God and cried to Moses for him to speak to God on their behalf.
Come now to Mount Zion, the mountain of grace. What a contrast! If at Mt. Sinai, there was fear and dread, at Mt. Zion we find peace, for Jerusalem means city/foundation/possession of peace. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 8:1). If Sinai brought darkness, exposing the sin of the people, and obscuring God from mankind, at Mount Zion we find light, and access to the very throne room of God (Rev. 21:23). “Now are ye light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8). “We have boldness and access with confidence” (Eph 3:12). If Sinai displayed the all-consuming fire of God’s holiness and the warning of certain death, Mount Zion displays the all-sufficient cleansing of the water of the Word and the blood of God’s Lamb. If Sinai shook with the power of an omnipotent God as if it could fall at any moment under the Almighty, Zion stands in an unshakable, eternal kingdom. If at Sinai the people were bound by duty to keep the whole law, or die, at Zion there is rest in the all-sufficiency of the work of Christ to cleanse from all sin, bringing eternal life to the thirsty soul (Rev. 21:4). Finally, if at Mount Sinai the people could not bear to hear the words of God, at Mount Zion, the very Word of God dwells with men (Rev 21:3). He spoke and said, “I will come again, and receive you unto Myself.” He speaks the words of eternal life. To receive His word is to receive life, and in place of a whirlwind of divine fury, we receive, within, the Spirit of God in all of His transforming power.
Two mountains. Two stark contrasts. “But,” you say, “you spoke of three mountains.” And that I did. For without the third mountain, we would have no way of getting from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion. The valley is too deep. The passage is impossible. We need Mount Calvary.
Was Calvary truly a mountain? Christ was crucified outside of Jerusalem, and we have already considered Jerusalem as being located on Mount Zion, so I think the term is appropriate. It is the mountain of divine provision and substitution, where Abraham gave up his only son to God and God provided a substitute for his Isaac (Genesis 22:2). It is the mountain of divine sacrifice, where David offered to God a sacrifice to put away the plague of sin (2 Chronicles 3:1). It is the mountain of the divine presence, where Solomon built a sanctuary in which the LORD dwelt (2 Chronicles 3:1). (More on that here.)
Mount Calvary takes us from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion. It is the bridge between sinful mankind and a holy God. At Mount Calvary we find the answer to man’s problem that he has had ever since Adam’s fall: the problem of his sin.
Calvary’s dread purchased our peace (Luke 22:44). Calvary’s fire purchased our healing (Lam 1:13; John 19:28; Isaiah 53:5-6). Calvary’s dark separation purchased our union to God, bringing us into His marvelous light (Psalm 22:1-2; Mark 15:33-34; 1 Peter 2:9). At Christ’s death, the earth shook and the rocks were split (Matt 27:51) as the Author of Life went into death to take our place and offer us life. Calvary’s duty purchased our deliverance from the bondage of sin and provided eternal rest (John 19:30; Titus 3:5; Heb 4:10). We hear unforgettable words from Mount Calvary: words of distance–“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”– and words of grace, “Father, forgive them.” Yes, Mount Calvary transports us from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion. This Mediator had the power to deliver us from judgment (Heb 12:24). What grace! What love!
The character of our God has not changed. He is still a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). But thank God, by His infinite grace the veil separating us from God was rent at the cross. We can now enter into a relationship with Him in which we are enabled to serve Him acceptably, not now out of duty, but out of devotion as our hearts overflow in love to the Savior who did so much for us.
Have you arrived at Mount Zion? Have you been to Mount Calvary? Sinai’s terror is the lot of all those who reject the Savior and refuse to hear His voice. Mount Zion’s rest is the bliss of all those who bow to Him as Lord and accept Him as their own Savior. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).