The passage from Hebrews today is one of my all-time favorite passages of Scripture. Of course, I have a lot of all-time favorite passages! Verses 22-24 may be my favorite description of the world we Christians live in – my favorite description of the Church – though it may not seem so at first.
I believe that, as with St. John and Revelation, the writer of Hebrews is saying something even more wonderful than that one day we will come to Mount Zion, where God dwells and there is an innumerable company of angels. I believe that we are not only to think of this passage in terms of its ultimate consummation and glory to come, but also that it is our heavenly reality right here and now.
How can I boldly (or is it “baldly”? Increasingly, I think it’s the latter) assert something so audacious? Though I want to leave time to actually meditate on this incredible truth, I want to make sure I take along with me as many of you as possible to see this truth.
First, the writer of Hebrews wrote his letter, as did St. John, to encourage real, live Christians in the first century who were undergoing severe testing. Just as St. John repeatedly says he is speaking of things that must shortly come to pass, the writer of Hebrews tells the Hebrews that they have come to this Mount Zion he is about to describe. Not will come, but have come. In other words, this is already their reality, if only they had the faith to see it.
Second, he tells the Hebrews that they have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. Now this phrase could be taken in a number of ways, but since it is the reality that he is already describing, and since Jesus has already created a new heavens and a new earth, it applies to the Hebrews now. Furthermore, St. John tells us that the name of the city of God is “the New Jerusalem” and that this City of God comes down out of heaven (Revelation 3:12). In other words, the heavenly reality that Christ has established in the heavens reaches down to the earth. I hope so, or else the wall of separation was never really taken away, and my High Priest can’t really help me after all.
When St. John saw this new heaven and new earth, he said that he 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 heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people’” (Revelation 21:2). This New Jerusalem has the glory of God (Revelation 21:11).
Now what is this New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven and is already here for the 1st century Hebrews and which, like Moses but much more glorious, reflects the glory of the Lord? It is the Church, which is the tabernacle of God. It is the Holy Bride of Jesus Christ, the place where God indeed dwells with His people. Should we need more persuasion, the writer of Hebrews tells us that this New Jerusalem is the general assembly and church of the firstborn (verse 23).
Wouldn’t it be strange if God came to the Israelites with a mountain that burned with fire and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of many waters and called out a church for Himself in the Old Covenant; and then Christ came to tabernacle with men (Immanuel – “God with us”) so He could create a future heavenly city and church – and somehow left us stranded, without coming to us and calling us to be His visible Body, here and now?
The truth is that we have come to this heavenly Jerusalem, and it is the Church, the place where God dwells among His people, the place surrounded by a great cloud of faithful saintly witnesses as well as an innumerable company of angels. We have, even now, come to the Judge of all, to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to His better blood that takes away our sins.
We are fellow citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God, with the saints and members of his household. We are being built into His holy Temple, the dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).
This is the miracle of Hebrews 12 and of the heavenly Jerusalem!
Since this is true, what does it mean to us? It means that we live in the heavenly realm even now, and even though imperfectly. It means that we can approach the Throne of Grace with confidence because we have access to the heavenly places, where we are, in fact, seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). It means that everything that the writer of Hebrews has been teaching us about Jesus Christ and His ministry on our behalf is available to us right here and now (though not in all of its consummated fullness).
We all believe that God is with us, through the work of His Son and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But if this is true, doesn’t it also mean that we now live in the heavenly places? If only we had the faith to see it, we would see that this is the fundamental reality of our existence, even now. And it would revolutionize our lives! Do you not know that you are the Temple of God, the place where He has tabernacled with men and the place where His glory dwells?
When I see that Hebrews 12 is speaking to me in this life, and not simply in the distant life to come, it has a way of waking and shaking me up. Suddenly, God and heaven and the consequences of my life lived before Him, don’t seem so remote. Suddenly, Jesus Christ, my High Priest, and His sacrifice and His intercession don’t seem so remote either.
But since I am receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, a kingdom in which Christ is enthroned as Judge and King, and since my God is a consuming fire, I should serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (verses 28 and 29). There are those words fire and fear again. I think we have succeeded too well in taming an imaginary Christ of ours who was made like us in every way so much that there’s not much room for a Transfiguration of Him in our lives. It is as if we have never read Matthew 17 or Revelation 1 or Hebrews 12.
If only we had a vision, like St. John or the writer of Hebrews, of who Jesus Christ really is, and, therefore, for who we really are, things would be different. It would be less possible for us to drift and more possible for us to spend time training our children and discipling one another. If only we saw Jesus in the midst of the heavenly Jerusalem and saw that we were there with Him, we might take more seriously His call to complete obedience and faith.
I know, I know – but how do I get such faith? There are many ways to approach God and nurture our faith, but the number one answer the writer of Hebrews would seem to give is: obedience. I believe that there is a mysterious and wonderful symbiotic relationship between obedience and faith. The more faith you have, the more you will obey. The more you obey, the more faith you will have.
You have come today to this New Jerusalem and to an innumerable company of angels. You have come to Jesus Christ, the Judge and Mediator of all, or, more truly, He has come to visit you this morning.
But enough of these mere words!
Behold! Your God and King!
How will you live in His Presence today?
Prayer: O God of God and Light of Lights, come and be my Sun today: reveal Yourself to me today, and give me the grace of life to stand in Your presence; purge me from all my sin that I might dwell in Your Presence; and allow me to see You so clearly today in my life that I desire to please You by my sacrifice of obedience and until my heart glows with the flaming fire of Your Presence. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
How might I more profitably have the vision of Christ and the New Jerusalem before me? Here are but a few ideas: gaze intently at Christian art that represents these things to you; sing songs or hymns that help you see Him (for ex., “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken”); memorize an appropriate verse of Scripture; set aside a special time of prayer; do something with the saints on earth!
Resolution: I resolve to take whatever measures are necessary to plant a vision of Jesus Christ before me all throughout today.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day