See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
This, is a powerful passage, one of amazing awe and wonder to ponder. The author begins it with an imperative, “See to it…” Who is speaking, the one we aren’t supposed to refuse? The answer is in the next sentence: Who warned the people from earth, and warns us from heaven? God would be my answer.
Go back to verses 18-21, and you can get an idea of what the author is referring to here. He recounted Mount Sinai, the fire, the darkness the smoke and shaking… Yes, there was warning for the people in all of that: They were to take the Law that was given to Moses seriously. Did they? Well, some of the time. Did those people get into the promised land?
No, they didn’t.
We have the reality that was to come, and yet we are being told not to turn away from Him. Yes, that warning was for the Jewish Christians of Nero’s Rome, and it is for those who followed them as well. The author continues his thought in the rest of this passage by making a comparison between God’s warnings on Sinai, and the judgment that is to come. When that day arrives, all of creation will be stripped away, and only that which is entirely of God will remain, and the very strong implication is that those who are left standing will be the ones who remained faithful to God.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
Here the chapter draws to a close. Look carefully and you see that it ends on an optimistic note. Preachers over the centuries have often quoted verse 29 “for our God is a consuming fire.” to strike fear into the hearts of their congregations, and that is a pity. They often left out verse 28 entirely, and verse 28 gives verse 29 its rich significance, for it reminds the readers of this letter that we have a great inheritance, that we are a heavenly kingdom and that we shall indeed stand on that day. Yes, we will stand for we will never turn away from Him. No! We will worship Him properly, with reverence and awe in loving and faithful trust.
To wrap up the chapter, I just want to mention one final thought about judgment day. What we have just read is not a literal description of the day. It is told here in figure, as an illustration of the reality that is to come; sound familiar? It probably won’t be a great earthquake that shatters everything except God’s people, but of course it will accomplish the same thing. For us today, it is simply important to understand that no matter what the future may hold, we simply need to remain faithful to our Lord, to love Him, to trust Him and to share His love with one another… and not worry about the details of the great day. We’ll come out just fine if we do that, and that is the point of the chapter.