February 2011 • Volume XIII, Issue 10
Mount Sinai (2)
Hebrews 12:18-21 constitutes a warning against
apostasy, especially departing from the gospel of Jesus Christ for
Jewish legalism. The first of the seven things mentioned about Mount
Sinai (here representing Old Testament law and worship, without Christ’s
cross and mediation) in Hebrews 12:18-19 is that it is touchable,
physical and material: "the mount that might be touched" (18). By
contrast, the other mount, Mount Sion, is not touchable, physical or
material (22). In keeping with the nature of Mount Sinai, as touchable,
physical and material, the form of worship laid down at Sinai consisted
of a "worldly sanctuary," i.e., the tabernacle (9:1); "carnal
ordinances" (10); a physical altar; animal sacrifices; priestly garments
made of linen; etc.
The second of the seven points made concerning Mount
Sinai is that it "burned with fire" (12:18). Fire symbolizes God’s
presence for He is a "consuming fire" (29). Particularly, fire
represents God’s jealousy and His burning severity against sin and
sinners. "For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God"
(Deut. 4:24). God’s fiery judgment falls upon Judaism without Christ,
Jews who apostatize from Christianity, all who depart from the gospel
and all who know not the Lord Jesus.
The third and fourth phenomena at Mount Sinai are
similar: "blackness, and darkness" (Heb. 12:18). Both "blackness, and
darkness," as well as "fire," are mentioned in Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy
4-5. We could say that blackness is the colour of a thing and darkness
is its effect upon others, so that the (all-encompassing) blackness
causes darkness. There are two main ideas here: first, blackness and
darkness terrify us (the fear of the dark!) and, second, they hinder or
stop our beholding God’s glory. But how can there be both fire and
darkness/blackness? Surely the fire would dispel the darkness to some
degree? It is the same in hell which Scripture describes as a place of
both darkness and fire. Both fire and darkness increase terror.
The fifth feature at Sinai is the "tempest" (Heb.
12:18).The tempest includes thunder and lightening in the sky above.
This adds to the terrifying effect of God’s revelation at Mount Sinai to
give the law. Do you really want to leave the gospel church of Jesus
Christ? To go back to Old Testament law and worship? To Sinai? To this?
The sixth aspect of God’s revelation at Mount Sinai
is "the sound of a trumpet" (19). There was no physical trumpet at
Sinai, but Jehovah produced the sound of a trumpet, an "exceeding
loud" sound (Ex. 19:16), growing "louder and louder" (19) as He came
nearer to the mount. The dreadful sound of the trumpet announced the
coming of Almighty God and summoned the people before Jehovah the judge.
All this symbolizes the terror of the law convicting us of our manifold
sins and sinfulness.
"The voice of words" is the seventh and last
phenomenon at Mount Sinai (Heb. 12:19). God thundered the ten
commandments with a deafening sound that struck fear into the hearts of
the assembled people. What an awful event was the giving of the law!
Think of what Israel saw: a mountain burning with fire and enveloped
with blackness and darkness, with lightning streaking across the sky.
And what did they hear? Thunder, a trumpet and the voice of God!
Look at the fearful response of the people at Sinai.
They "intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more"
(19). Why? "For they could not endure that which was commanded" (20).
This is not to say that the people did wrong in begging God not to speak
to them in this way any more. They were right and God agreed; from now
on He would speak to them through Moses the mediator (Deut. 5:23-31).
But Hebrews 12 is saying that God’s voice itself was terrible to their
ears and that what it said condemned them, "For they could not endure
that which was commanded" (20). By God’s thundering the law, all knew
themselves to be guilty and condemned sinners, worthy of eternal
destruction. This reminds us of Galatians 4:21: "Tell me, ye that desire
to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?" Thunder, trumpet, God’s
terrifying voice and so on—this is what you get if you go back to Old
Testament law and worship and forsake Jesus Christ and His New Testament
Mount Sinai even spelled destruction for livestock:
"And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or
thrust through with a dart" (Heb. 12:20). Do you hear what God is
saying? "Keep your distance! You have no access to the mount! Keep out!"
Not even animals are allowed to get close, never mind people. This is
the message of Old Testament worship. The holy of holies is out of
bounds for 99.999% of the people. Only the high priest gets in—briefly,
once a year and he has to bring blood. God, whether at Sinai or in the
most holy place, is shut off. No access! Keep your distance! Do you get
the point? Jehovah is inaccessible by means of Old Testament law and
worship. Only by the blood of Jesus Christ can we draw near to God. So
do not return to the weak and beggarly elements of the law! And what
happened to a beast, say a sheep or a calf, that strayed up the mount?
The people were to kill it by stoning or by a dart (arrow). Why not by a
knife? The Israelites must not get close; they must keep their distance
even from the animal that touched Mount Sinai. If the Israelites were
not to get too near to an animal that strayed onto the mount, they must
surely keep their distance from the dreadful God revealed at Sinai!
Sinai was awful not only for the people and the
beasts, but even for Moses: "And so terrible was the sight, that Moses
said, I exceedingly fear and quake" (21). This was the Moses who had met
God at the burning bush. He had stood before mighty Pharaoh, bringing
Jehovah’s message of judgment upon him and his people time and time
again. He had faced down Israelite rebellions and murmurings. He was the
mediator! Yet even Moses shook in extreme fear. How much worse for those
who turn away from the Lord Jesus and go back to salvation by works or
return to the world! Rev. Stewart
Baptism With Fire
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but
he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy
to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Matt.
Question: "Could you explain what it means that Jesus
Christ will baptize with fire?"
The words of John the Baptist quoted above are a kind
of figure of speech called a hendiadys. Such a figure of speech is very
common in Scripture—and, for that matter, in our own daily conversation.
We may say, for example, "I am going to go to the store and buy a loaf
of bread." We do not mean that we are now going to do two unrelated and
completely separate things: go to the store and, in addition to going to
the store, we will also, somewhere, buy a loaf of bread.
The meaning is, as we all know: "I will go to the
store to buy a loaf of bread." In other words, we combine two words or
thoughts with the word "and," and thus mean only one thing.
A familiar hendiadys in Scripture is our Lord’s
words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). The Lord
does not mean that He is three separate and unrelated entities. He
means: "I am the way because I am the truth. And I am the way and the
truth because I am the life."
The Lord means the same thing in His words: "I am the
resurrection, and the life" (John 11:25). His meaning, obviously, is, "I
am the resurrection because I am the life."
The Old Testament also frequently uses this figure.
God told Eve in Paradise after she ate of the forbidden tree, "I will
greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception" (Gen. 3:16). The Lord
means that He would multiply the sorrow of Eve’s conception of children.
The words "sorrow" and "conception" are one idea, not two separate
The same figure of speech is used in Matthew 3:11. By
saying that Christ’s baptism is "with the Holy Ghost, and with fire,"
John means to say Christ’s baptism is with the Holy Ghost who comes with
fire. This was literally fulfilled at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit
was poured out by Christ and tongues of fire appeared along with the
But this necessary introduction does not yet answer
Fire is a picture of judgment in Scripture. Sodom and
Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone (Gen. 19:24). Fire burnt
up Nadab and Abihu when they offered "strange fire" at the tabernacle
(Lev. 10:1-2). The giving of the law from Sinai was accompanied by fire
(Ex. 19:18). The final judgment on this earth will come with a great
fire that shall consume all the creation (II Peter 3:7, 10-12).
Baptism is with both water and fire, according to
John the Baptist. The reference is not, of course, literal; when the
minister performs the rite of baptism he does not use fire. But what is
signified and sealed in the sacrament of baptism is signified and sealed
by the terms "water" and "fire."
The water of baptism signifies the washing away of
sin. As water cleanses the filth of the body, so does the water of
baptism cleanse the filth of the soul.
This must not be understood, however, as if the
outward administration of baptism cleanses the soul. This is the
teaching of the Roman Catholic Church with its doctrine of baptismal
regeneration. The sprinkling with water pictures in the sacrament the
blood of Christ. So, as water washes the body from dirt, the blood of
Christ washes the soul from sin.
But when John says "with the Holy Ghost and with
fire," the reference is somewhat broader. Fire is destructive. Fire is
the destruction that comes with judgment. Baptism is therefore a
sacrament that signifies judgment, a point not to be forgotten.
The flood that came in Noah’s day was both the
judgment and destruction of the world and the salvation of the church.
The church is delivered at the end of time by fire that destroys this
wicked world and cursed creation, and by it the church is saved from the
There are statements to that effect throughout
Scripture. Isaiah, in predicting the captivity, says, "Zion shall be
redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness" (Isa.
1:27). Peter speaks of the faith of believers as being purified with
fire as gold is purified with fire (I Peter 1:7). In the same epistle,
Peter speaks of judgments from God that "begin at the house of God;" and
he says that this is necessary for "the righteous scarcely be saved;"
that is, saved with great difficulty and only by means of judgment
That judgment that baptism signifies is the judgment
of the world that is present in our own flesh. Our flesh must be
destroyed in order for us to be saved. Sanctification comes through
destruction of the old and the birth of the new. Holiness comes only
through burning that which is corrupt so that that which is pure may be
saved. We are baptized into Christ’s death and buried with Him in order
that we may rise with Him unto newness of life (Rom. 6:1-10).
When John speaks of baptism by the Holy Ghost and by
fire, he means that this wonder work of God, this reality of which
baptism is a sign and seal, is performed only by the work of the Holy
Spirit of Christ. Christ, in His death, destroyed sin and corruption by
His obedience in suffering the punishment of God for sin. He was
perfected through fire—the fire of hell—and in this way He rose to
newness of life. He sends forth His Spirit into the hearts of His people
that their old man may be burned to make room for the new man that is
holy as Christ is.
There is an antithesis in our salvation: Redemption
through judgment; cleansing through fire; a new creature through
destruction. It is a wonder. It is the wisdom and greatness of God.
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