What does Hebrews 12:18 mean?
ESV: For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest
NIV: You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm;
NASB: For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind,
CSB: For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm,
NLT: You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai.
KJV: For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
Verse Commentary:
The overall theme of the book of Hebrews is that the new covenant in Christ is superior to the old covenant of rituals and sacrifices. The passage just prior to this verse explained how even suffering and persecution should be viewed in light of that benefit. Those who live under the new covenant have good reasons, and God's power, to help them "hold fast" to this faith. This blends into the writer's next topic, which is that the new covenant gives us a better, easier, and more inviting way to interact with God.

Here, the writer points out another advantage of the new covenant. When God delivered written laws to Moses, He did so through ominous, frightening signs. This included fire, sounds, and a holy mountain that neither man nor animal was allowed to touch (Exodus 19:9–20). These miraculous events proved God's words to the people. At the same time, as upcoming verses will explain, they also inspired very understandable fear. God is holy, and part of this display was to underscore His holiness and the inability of man to approach God through his own efforts. Comparing the fear-inducing, physically-grounded origins of the old covenant to the welcoming, spiritually-grounded origin of the new covenant should give believers all the more reason to be faithful and confident.
Verse Context:
Hebrews 12:18–29 summarizes the lessons given through chapters 11 and 12. Those living under the new covenant have the advantage of looking to Christ, rather than to the law. The Old Testament was given through ominous signs, dire messages, fire, and sacrifice; it involved material things in a material world. God presented Himself as unapproachable, symbolic of His holiness. The New Covenant offers something better, and something beyond rituals and earthly needs. Also symbolically, Christ gives us an ability to approach God which the old covenant could not grant. While prior things can be changed and destroyed, the destiny offered to believers in Christ cannot. That is the ''kingdom that cannot be shaken,'' and our worship for God ought to reflect reverence as a result.
Chapter Summary:
Chapter 11 explained the victories of some of the Old Testament's greatest heroes. It also explained their sufferings and persecution. This chapter uses those examples as a ''cloud of witnesses'' to prove that God does not abandon us when we suffer. In many cases, He uses those experiences to ''train'' us, as if we were athletes, to make us stronger. In other cases, it's the same kind of discipline that a child receives from a loving father. Unlike the old covenant, which rightly inspired fear and dread, the new covenant offers us peace. As with any other matter of truth or falsehood, we should cling to what's true, so that we can be part of ''a kingdom that cannot be shaken.''
Chapter Context:
Hebrews chapter 12 builds on the example of the heroes of the faith mentioned in chapter 11. The main point of this lesson is that these figures endured suffering and hardship, yet held to their faith in God, which allowed them to achieve victory. Chapter 12, in particular, points out that earthly hardship is not a sign of God's displeasure, or abandonment. Rather, it's part of living in a fallen, godless world. And, in many cases, it's a form of ''training'' the Lord uses to mold us into more powerful instruments. This, as with other passages in Hebrews, leads into another explanation of why we should take these ideas seriously, and sets up a few final practical lessons in chapter 13.
Book Summary:
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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