Shaking Things Up (Hebrews 12:18–29)
One of the widespread misunderstandings of Hebrews is that it pits the heavenly (uncreated) world against the earthly (created) one, that it anticipates an annihilation of the cosmos while heaven remains as God’s unshakable kingdom. Such a misunderstanding might seem to find support in texts such as Hebrews 12:26–27.
At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
But upon closer examination, we see that heaven and earth are not very different from each other. The heavens will be shaken as well as the earth (Heb. 12:26). Hebrews describes the heavenly world as a “creation” just as much as the cosmos (Heb. 8:2; 11:10). It speaks of resurrection (Heb. 6:2, 11:35), which is a reclamation, not an annihilation, of creation. It understands the cosmos (Heb. 1:2–6, 11:3) to be the inheritance of the Son. It proclaims that the offering of Christ was a bodily, in-this-world event of flesh and blood (Heb. 12:24; 13:2; 13:20). Ultimately, “shaking” is the removal of whatever is imperfect or sinful from both heaven and earth, not the destruction of the earth in favor of heaven.
The language here is a reference to Haggai 2, where “shaking” refers to the overthrow of foreign occupiers, so that Israel and its temple can be reconstructed. This reference, and the argument of Hebrews as a whole, indicates that the ultimate result of this shaking will be the filling of God’s temple—on earth—with glory. The entire cosmos becomes God’s temple, cleansed and reclaimed. In Haggai 2, the shaking of heaven and earth leads to the realization of the peace on earth we are exhorted to pursue earlier in Hebrews 12. “‘In this place I will give prosperity [shalom],’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Hag. 2:9).
What is transient, then, is not the created world but the imperfection, evil, and strife that infect the world. Pouring our lives into God’s kingdom means working through the creation and redemption that belong to the advancing rule of Christ (Heb. 7:2). No matter whether we are fry cooks, educators, athletes, managers, homemakers, ecologists, senators, firefighters, pastors, or anyone else, the way to participate in Christ’s kingdom is not to abandon “worldly” work in favor of “spiritual” work. It is to persevere—with thanksgiving to God (Heb. 12:28)—in all kinds of work under the discipline of Christ.