What does Hebrews 12:28 mean?
ESV: Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,
NIV: Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,
NASB: Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let’s show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;
CSB: Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe,
NLT: Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.
KJV: Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
The writer of Hebrews has compared the scene at Mount Sinai, where God gave the old covenant (Exodus 19:9–20), to the nature of the new covenant, depicted in heaven (Hebrews 12:18–24). The old covenant's introduction came with an earthquake, and the earth itself is destined to one day be undone and remade (Revelation 21:1). Heaven, and the new covenant, on the other hand, are part of the eternal plan of God that will never be undone. Unlike the fallen world, and the temporary old covenant, heaven, and the new covenant, are those things which "cannot be shaken," and so they will remain, forever.
The original Greek of this verse carries some details which are mostly lost in English translation. This is reflected in the way various English versions use different phrasing, attempting to fully capture the thought behind these words. The Greek phrase echōmen charin is variously presented as "let us be grateful" (ESV), "let us be thankful" (NIV), "let us have grace" (KJV), or even "let us hold onto grace" (HCSB). While the English phrasing seems to only refer to gratitude, the Greek seems to be relating our obtaining this kingdom with the notion of grace. This would be consistent with the Bible's entire view of salvation, which is presented as something available solely on the basis of God's grace (Romans 11:6; Ephesians 2:8–9).
Likewise, this verse uses the Greek construction di' hēs, which is translated as "and thus" (ESV) or "and so" (NIV), or using some concept of "by", such as the KJV, NASB, and HCSB. This ties the phrase echōmen charin—the reference to grace—to the following mention of offering God an acceptable sacrifice. Combined, this creates an overlapping impression: that we obtain membership in this unshakeable kingdom, by grace, and by that same grace we are able to offer eternally acceptable sacrifice to God (Hebrews 10:14; Romans 12:1). The Greek word used for the idea of "sacrifice" is related to both service and worship.
This ties various themes of the book of Hebrews into a single basic statement. We might reject God (Hebrews 2:3), but we cannot escape Him or His judgment (Hebrews 4:13), so membership in His eternal kingdom (Hebrews 12:27) is offered to those who trust in Christ (Hebrews 6:11–12), who is both the means (Hebrews 2:10) and the reward (Hebrews 12:28) of the only ultimate salvation offered to mankind (Hebrews 9:24–28).
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 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.''
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.
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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