Hebrews 12:18-29 is structured around a discontinuity of the location of worship, and the rest of the book reflects this emphasis. In Hebrews 12:18, Sinai stands as a representative for worship under the Law, and thus the location of this worship is first the Tabernacle and later the Temple. In contrast, worship for a Christian takes place on “Mount Zion, even the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22). These synonymous terms refer to the heavenly city,1 the place where God himself dwells, which is made clear by the groups of participants there: joyful angels, “the assembly of the firstborn,” God, and “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (vv 22-23). The term ἐκκλησία in verse 22 likely refers to the common sense of NT “church” and thus designates post-Pentecost believers, while the latter term describes OT saints now “made perfect” by the atonement of Christ’s blood.2 So the company of worshipers in this heavenly scene includes angels, NT Christians, and OT believers. Here in this heavenly city God actually dwells; the worshipers come to him rather than he coming down to them as in the Sinai experience and his presence in the Tabernacle and Temple.
The author of Hebrews contrasts these locations in a number of ways throughout the book. He distinguishes between “the true tent that the Lord set up” and the one set up by man (8:1-2). This heavenly tent is “greater and more perfect” since it is “not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (9:11). He calls the earthly places of worship and all that they entail “copies of the heavenly things” (9:23) and “copies of the true things” (9:24). The Law in general is “a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (10:1).
The discontinuity between these locations of worship is not, however, a decisive one. Rather, the book of Hebrews develops the understanding that such physical locations of worship in the OT economy were actually prototypes of the actual worship in heaven, where Christians are now seated through Christ. The tent set up by man and the human sacrifices “serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (8:5); Moses had been instructed to construct the earthly tent according to a “pattern” of the heavenly Temple. Thus a thorough knowledge and understanding of OT worship is critically relevant for the NT Church, for it illustrates some of the metaphysical realities of heavenly worship.
- Lane, Hebrews, 465-466. [↩]
- Homer Kent, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 273. Some see the term ἐκκλησία in verse 22 as being used in its more general sense of “assembly” rather than the technical “church,” thus referring to the complete company of God’s people. Either way, these are beings in heaven and not on earth. [↩]