God’s appearance to His people at Sinai was a key point in the history of redemption, and on that mountain Moses received detailed instructions about the tabernacle and its furnishings that were later acted upon to build the portable sanctuary (Ex. 25–31; 35:4–40:33). As beautiful as the sanctuary was, however, not just anybody could enter it and enjoy the presence of the Lord. Only the descendants of Levi, the priestly tribe, were allowed to serve in the tabernacle, but since the entire nation was supposed to serve as priests before God (19:1–6), how could this vocation ultimately be fulfilled if the ordinary citizen could not enter the tabernacle? This was a hint that Sinai would not be the last word. Something more would be done to allow the people free access to the Lord’s presence.
Our Creator’s later move from Sinai to the temple on Mt. Zion (Ps. 68:15–18) further confirms the provisional nature of Sinai and the laws given there. But even there the ordinary citizen of Israel could not come into the immediate presence of the Lord. For the people of God to be priests in the fullest sense, another step had to be taken.
As we see in today’s passage, this final step was taken in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews makes it clear time and again that the Sinai covenant was but a shadow of heavenly realities (Heb. 10:1–4). With His atonement, Jesus entered the heavenly tabernacle and shed His blood to purify His people and make us the priests we were always meant to be (9:11–28). Consequently, we can enter the presence of our Father with confidence and with full assurance of faith (10:19–22).
So we have not come to Sinai, that mountain where lightning flashed and the tempest roared. Instead, we have come to “the heavenly Jerusalem,” the place where we know even better the grace of God and have seen His faithfulness to His promises more tangibly than any Israelite who worshiped at Mt. Sinai (12:18–24). Along with the privilege of coming into the heavenly temple is the greater responsibility to persevere in faith. Those who did not fear the Lord at Sinai did not escape judgment, so how can we possibly hope to escape if we deny Him (vv. 25–29)? But we know that the Holy Spirit will work in those of us who are genuinely converted, leading us to heed this warning and thus keep us in the faith (Phil. 1:6).
We are not a people defined by Sinai and the covenant given there; rather, we are adopted into God’s family under the new covenant and enjoy the privilege of being able to come into His presence. We enter this presence every time we pray but especially when we enjoy corporate worship with the saints each Lord’s Day. Let us not take this privilege for granted, which can lead us to forsake the assembling of the body of Christ.