Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #805 -- August 28, 2020
Love is not love which alters when it
alteration finds, or bends with the remover
to remove: O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark
that looks on tempests and is never shaken.

William Shakespeare {1564-1616}
Sonnet 116 (published 1609)

The Unshaken Kingdom
A Study of Hebrews 12:27-28

When the forces of darkness descend upon and spread across a nation, when evil takes hold of a people and inspires a growing number to engage in abominable acts, when tyranny and oppression are daily unleased upon a people by their leaders, a people desperate for relief, it is very easy to understand how discouragement, despair, and even a longing for death (with a "better beyond") can characterize the emotional state of the downtrodden. The prince of this worldly, ungodly darkness, that serpent of old we call Satan or the devil, is powerful, something we too often disregard to our own peril. He can employ earthly powers and institutions and rulers to "make the earth tremble, and to shake kingdoms" from their foundations (Isaiah 14:16). All through human history, as Good and Evil war in a great cosmic battle, peoples and nations have felt the impact of this struggle. It is wearying, it is emotionally, spiritually, physically draining, and at a point we cry out for relief. We long for peace; we long for justice and righteousness; we long for a kingdom or nation that cannot be shaken to its core by dark, malevolent forces that rise against it. We yearn for that which is lasting, which can endure all assaults against it; indeed, we long for a time when nothing can shake the foundations of our lives, our families, our country. Shaken kingdoms lead to a shaken people, which far too frequently leads to shaken faith!

We are going through some extremely difficult times right now in our beloved country (and this is no less true of other nations as well). Over the years there has been an increasing invitation to the Lord God to take His Presence elsewhere (to phrase it "nicely"). And He is doing so!! That void of Light was immediately filled by Darkness, and we are now increasingly experiencing the bitter consequences of that choice. The United States of America is being shaken, a violent shaking apart that has come upon us seemingly overnight, yet in reality that is not true, for we have been inviting it for quite some time by our growing rejection of God and anything to do with living according to His will. "My people have forgotten Me days without number!" (Jeremiah 2:32). "Because My people have forgotten Me, ... they have caused themselves to stumble in their ways. ... Their land will be laid waste, an object of lasting scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads. Like a wind from the east, I will scatter them before their enemies; I will show them My back and not My face in the day of their disaster" (Jeremiah 18:15-17).

Are we beyond hope? Is our fate sealed? Are we, as a troubled nation, past the point of a divine redemption? Honestly, I don't know. I pray we are not. I know there are many good, righteous people in our nation, but at the same time I can't help but feel somewhat like Abraham as he sought to appeal to God for mercy for Sodom: "Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?" (Genesis 19:23-24). We all know the story only too well: Abraham actually got the number down to ten righteous people, yet Sodom could not be saved. I would really like to believe that we have not yet reached that point of no return, however with each passing day, and with the countless stomach-churning abominations each new day brings to our view, it is becoming increasingly evident to me that if we haven't yet reached that point, we are most certainly not all that far from it. Nevertheless, no nation is beyond redemption if they will genuinely turn from their evil ways and sincerely return to their God. "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray, and if they will seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14; cf. Jonah 3).

We live in a fallen world. Thus, you and I, regardless of where we live and the cultural, societal, economic, and educational differences that may exist between us, nevertheless can agree that as a result of this fallenness, the foundations of our lives are continually being shaken, and at times severely. We do our best to try and accommodate our lives to these uncertainties and troubling circumstances of life in a fallen world, yet if we are honest with ourselves we must admit that we live in "times that try men's souls," to quote from Thomas Paine (1737-1809), and on occasion we find our faith being challenged and our trust in Him tested. When one's world is being shaken, so also is one's personal perception of his/her place in that world. Our foundations seem less sure to us; our convictions less certain. Doubts arise, and for some even a sense of despair and impending doom. The Lord understands our emotional and spiritual reactions to such external circumstances, and He knows only too well how such can impact our faith. Thus, we are warned in Scripture that such times will come upon us, and that we should prepare ourselves for these troubling times. Part of that inner preparation is an awareness that in a shaken world, and in our own shaken societies, there are nevertheless realities that remain unshaken. When it seems our world, and all its accompanying institutions, are crumbling around us, we are given the assurance that there is still a "firm foundation" upon which we can stand and thus survive! That sure and solid rock that is immoveable and unshakeable is our Lord and His eternal kingdom!

There is a passage in the epistle to the Hebrews that seeks to convey this important truth: "This expression, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of what can be shaken - that is, created things - so that what is not shaken might remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:27-28, Holman Christian Standard Bible). We who are children of God by grace through faith are the recipients of a kingdom that cannot be shaken, which is a very encouraging promise for those living in troubling times. In the midst of chaos, we find peace in Him. "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage: I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (John 14:27). During the raging storms of this life, we may sleep soundly in the ship, as did Jesus, while it is being tossed upon the surface of the sea. We remain unshaken by the turmoil around us, for we are citizens of a kingdom that is unshaken and unmoved by such earthly events and circumstances. What a powerful message of hope! And it is ours for the taking: a gift of God by grace through faith. "Therefore," as the writer of Hebrews notes, "since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace."

That last phrase is key to our understanding of this passage; indeed, even to our understanding of salvation and our place within this everlasting, immovable kingdom. It is a gift of grace, and we should hold on to it firmly to the end. "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Romans 5:1-2). We stand on solid ground: a firm foundation upon which we are being built up into a holy dwelling place; a dwelling place within a kingdom never to be shaken or overthrown. In 1874, Priscilla J. Owens penned a poem that would later become one of our most beloved hymns ("We Have An Anchor," music composed by William J. Kirkpatrick), the chorus of which states: "We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll; fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior's love."

Yes, by faith we "hold on to grace," as the writer of Hebrews declares. In that same chapter, he also cautioned: "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God" (Hebrews 12:15). When we proclaim the gospel of Christ Jesus, we proclaim the grace of our Lord God. The two are inseparable. Because of the atoning work of our "great High Priest" the Lord Jesus, we may now "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace," from which are abundantly given "mercy and grace" (Hebrews 4:16). There are several versions of the Bible, however, which do not read, "let us hold on to grace." Instead, they read, "let us show gratitude," or "let us be thankful." Although we most assuredly are to be grateful and thankful for God's blessings upon us, embracing "grace" seems far more compatible with the context. "The Greek is, literally, 'let us have grace;' the meaning is, 'let us hold fast the grace or favor which we have received in being admitted to the privileges of that kingdom'" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "'Let us have grace' means that it behooves us to seize God's unmerited approval in Jesus" [Dr. David Guzik, Enduring Word Commentary, e-Sword]. The Greek scholar, Dr. Kenneth Wuest, wrote, "The writer exhorts his readers to appropriate the enabling grace of God" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2, p. 231], and to not let it go under any circumstances (something some of those to whom this epistle was being written were considering doing). Dr. Charles Ellicott makes this observation: "Many render the last word 'thankfulness,' but the ordinary translation 'grace' is preferable" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 344].

In Hebrews 12:27-28, which is the text being examined in this study, we find a contrast between what can be shaken and what cannot be shaken, with the conclusion being that the latter is better than the former. This should be a "no brainer" for anyone with even an ounce of common sense and spiritual perception. However, as we all know from experience, those deluded by the darkness have very little of either. "The apostle is contrasting the things which are fixed and stable with those which are temporary in nature" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. By the use of the word "kingdom" in these two verses one is understandably led to think in terms of nations and empires, of governing entities and those who wield power within them. This most certainly is a valid application of the principles of the passage, but not the only application (and, in fact, probably not the primary one). Keep in mind the overall context of this epistle: the old covenant, with its many religious trappings, has now given way to the new covenant, one that is far superior in every way. Throughout this epistle this contrast is emphasized in various ways, all to bring home the truth that what has now come is better than that which has faded away. Thus, why would anyone choose to leave the new and return to the old?!

By the time the Messiah came upon the scene, the Jewish religious leaders had so buried the basic truths conveyed by the teachings, symbols, and rituals of the old covenant under such a heap of human tradition that they were barely discernable. None of what they came up with was eternal or lasting in nature. It was all temporary at best, and thus destined to perish. Indeed, the many externals of the old covenant that God Himself had specified were not divinely designed to be permanent, but were put in place only until the time of the new order of things (Hebrews 9:1-10). With the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of this new order (covenant, and all that pertained to it), the temporary things forever gave way to that which was designed to be permanent. This did not refer to God's moral code, of course, for that is applicable in every time and place. However, it did apply to the sacrificial and ceremonial aspects of the old covenant. Those served their purpose; it was time for them to be forever set aside. The concept of "shaking" something was to convey the idea that it could be shaken apart and thereby rendered void of its intended purpose. "To shake something is to show its instability and therefore its temporary nature" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 463]. Albert Barnes concurred: "Everything which was temporary in human institutions; everything in the ancient system of religion, which was merely of a preparatory and typical character, would be removed. What was of permanent value would be retained. The effect of the gospel would be to overturn everything which was of a temporary character in the previous system, putting in its place principles which no revolution and no time could change" [Notes on the Bible, e-Sword].

Although the wording of this text can easily be applied to the ultimate realization of that coming kingdom in all its fullness, and in the fullness of its many promises which are yet future (the resurrection, the Bridegroom coming for His bride, the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and earth, the destruction of the wicked, etc.), and although that meaning is likely in the mind of the author to some degree, it is nevertheless true that this text, at least contextually, has a far more immediate application: It was to impress upon the hearts and minds of the Jewish Christians of the first century that something, and Someone, more lasting and enduring than their previous system of religion had come. That which was always intended to be temporary had served its purpose, and the Substance to which the shadows pointed had come! That which could be shaken had been shaken; that which could not be shaken had arrived. You have been gifted with grace! Grab on to it by faith and never let go! And see to it that nobody else falls short of that grace! For in Jesus Christ, your High Priest, a sacrifice has been made once for all, and the way to the throne of grace is now open to you. So, don't forfeit the eternal for the temporal.

"The 'kingdom' is not a frequent subject in this epistle, but this passage shows that the author understood ultimate reality in terms of God's sovereignty. This reality contrasts with earthly systems. They can be shaken, and in due course will be shaken. Not so God's kingdom! The author does not simply say that it will not be shaken, but that it cannot be shaken. It has a quality found in nothing earthly. The kingdom is something we 'receive.' It is not earned or created by believers; it is God's gift" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 144]. Let me close with the following beautiful perspective, one which I pray you will reflect upon and pray about in the days and weeks to come. "It was only 'the earth' that shook at Sinai (Hebrews 12:26; cf. Exodus 19:18), and that convulsion speedily subsided. Indeed, the Jews became lulled into the delusion that the Levitical institutions would never be overthrown. But Haggai predicted (Haggai 2:6-7) that the shaking which was to accompany the introduction of Christianity would affect 'the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and all nations.' It would do greatly more than produce alteration in the outer form and state of the Church. It would grasp its very heart and life - flooding it with the noonday light of spiritual truth, and with the abundant grace of the Holy Spirit. The movables of Judaism, which had been 'made' at Sinai - the tabernacle, the priesthood, the rituals, the sacrifices, the festivals, etc. - were 'shaken' and 'removed' when the Church 'came' to Zion. Judaism was only a scaffolding, set up temporarily with a view to the erection of the permanent structure of Christianity. Its ceremonial was the mere husk of religion; and when the husk rotted and perished, the kernel still lived and became fruitful. ... Establishments of religion are shaken; creeds decay and wax old. Denominations disappear, but the Church continues. Systems of philosophy will cease to be, but Truth, as it is in Jesus, endures" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21 - Hebrews, p. 370-371].


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Readers' Reflections

From an Author/Ed.D. in Maine:

Al, I always print your Reflections and then read them as time permits (so much to read; so little time). I am using the strict COVID shutdown here in Maine (largely successful by most measures) to catch up on some of your more recent issues. I especially appreciate your frequent focus on the importance of context, as in Reflections #799 ("Where Two or Three are Gathered: The Messiah's Message in Matthew 18:20"). You reminded us that while we may want to make a very valid point, "We simply need to be careful that we don't make such passages proof-texts for doing something not in the original intent of the author to his audience." Context cannot be overemphasized, especially as it has been abused probably more in our faith-heritage than in most others. As I wrote repeatedly in my book, which you reviewed a decade ago, "No truth of God can benefit from anyone's attempt to support it with Scriptures taken out of context. Truth can stand on its own." By the way, I took the liberty of reproducing your review of my book, which appeared at the end of the Readers' Reflections section in Reflections #440, and am using it as an insert when sending out the book to those who buy it, or when anyone inquires about the book. I am sending you a copy of that insert, as well as a list of my published writings. I still have copies of all these works, and more copies can be made as the requests come in. Thanks again, Al, for your endorsement and your writings.

From a Reader in Texas:

Hello Brother Maxey. Today I was reading the story of the four sons of Aaron (Nadab & Abihu and Eleazar & Ithamar) in Leviticus 10. It did not make sense to me. So, I did what we do these days: I Googled "Eleazar and Ithamar" and read web page after web page trying to gain some insight. In the process, I found your articles on these four brothers: "Nadab and Abihu: The Nature of their Fatal Error" (Reflections #63) and "Eleazar and Ithamar: An In-Depth Reflective Analysis" (Reflections #270). Your articles were life-changing for me! Once you explained it, I could see that God is not as fickle and demanding as some teach, but is forgiving and understanding. In fact, I think it was really only Moses who was upset with Eleazar and Ithamar for not eating the sacrifice. I guess Moses was just as freaked out by the burning of Nadab and Abihu as everyone else, and was probably worried that something like that would happen again to Aaron's other two sons. Moses didn't realize that God's righteous judgment was never really about the details of certain ceremonial acts, but was instead about an attitude of complete disrespect for Him that led to a willful disregard for His specific instructions. Good lessons for us all to learn! Thank you very much for your studies on this!

From a Retired Army Chaplain:

Al, I just read your article titled "The Omniscient Witness: Reflecting on Genesis 22:12b" (Reflections #801) and was very encouraged by your study! When God asks a question, He is not really seeking information (for He already knows all things), but rather, as the Master Educator, is teaching. The first question God asks Adam after the fall is, "Where are you?" Because He already knew the answer, I hear God's compassion in this question for man's loss. Despite the brokenness of man, our Creator tempered judgment graciously. Al, I have shed tears for God many times because He knows everything. Yet, our Abba grants us the gift that He Himself will never have: the gift of experiencing genuine surprise.

From a Reader in California:

I have read "Contentiously Contending for Silence: Hermeneutical Muddling by the CFTF Faction" (Reflections #804), and from a heart of great love and respect for you, and having learned so much from you over the years, my only question here is simply, "Why do you even bother to respond at all to such people and their articles/teachings?!"

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Al, I ran across the following quote the other day from Alexander Campbell (which appeared in his publication "Millennial Harbinger") and I thought it went along very appropriately with your recent study titled "Sharing Satan's Sectarian Silliness: A Deadly Delusion of Non-Denominationalism" (Reflections #803). Campbell wrote, "I was once so strong a separatist that I would neither pray nor sing with another unless he was as perfect as I felt myself to be. I persisted in that most unpopular course until I finally realized that if my position be sound, there could never be a Christian or congregation upon the earth." Thank you, Al, for your Reflections articles!!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Maxey, Thank you, again, for your insightful articles! I have read them over the years and used many of your thoughts while discussing many of the topics you cover with some of our more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ. I have had the opportunity over the past two years to be involved in two debates with those who oppose the use of musical instruments. I say "opportunity" rather than "pleasure" because the first was anything but pleasureful: I participated in a Sharpening of the Sword conference here in Tennessee where I spoke against the idea that instruments are forbidden in worship to God. The other person involved in this debate was a brutal, vicious, unloving man who constantly screamed, "SING MEANS SING." By the time this event was over, I had promised myself never again to engage in such a waste of time! However, several months later another brother who had attended the previous event called to see if I would appear on a radio program to discuss the same issue. He assured me that our discussion would be nothing like the debate (he apologized for the behavior of the other man in that event), but that he would just like to discuss the issue. I gave in and appeared on the program. While the atmosphere was much more pleasant than the other had been, I still doubt that I got anywhere.

I give this background to let you know that I have read the majority of your Reflections, and I reread several of them in preparation for both the debate and the radio program. You have a way of expressing yourself that seems clear as day to me. I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone can continue to argue the "Law of Silence" when it comes to the Bible, and yet the man in the debate with me, as well as the one on the radio program, used that term repeatedly, and also referenced as proof-texts several of the passages you mentioned in Reflections #804 ("Contentiously Contending for Silence"). I used many of the same responses to their teaching that you have used, but I'm sure to no avail. In any event, I just wanted to thank you for your perseverance and your well-written and thought-through articles! They are a blessing to me! May God continue to bless you.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, regarding the "law of silence," there must be some psychological reason why some people tend to gravitate to this. I think it may be the insecurity of not having everything "nailed down" in neat boxes or on tidy lists, for then, and only then, they can know for sure that they are approved by God. It is a "legal contract" to them, and woe betide anyone who steps outside those parameters. It becomes a religion of convenience, and it promotes pride in what one knows and believes and practices, with the result being that God is particularly pleased with them to the exclusion of all others.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, you must be absolutely exhausted from all the years of dealing with those who declare the "law of silence" to be binding with respect to our salvation. I appreciate more than you will ever know your attempt to change the thinking of these people who refuse to listen or even try to understand the reality and truth of what you write! They will be the ones in heaven who will continually be looking around in shock at the many brothers and sisters in Christ who are there (whom they declared would not be), and saying, "What are you doing here?!" Al, may your messages open up the hearts of those who have closed theirs to the truth of what you write!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Al, I think you are right about the fact that there are many groups espousing the idea that they alone are the "one true church." A couple of years ago I went to see a friend who was in the flying club I'm in, and who was dying of cancer. We had had many conversations concerning religious questions. I only stayed about 10 minutes on this visit, and when I was leaving, he pulled me down to him and whispered in my ear, "You have got to become a Catholic!" I thought to myself, "Now, where have I heard that before?!" He died five hours later. As you know, it is not just the "Church of Christ" that has claimed, and is still claiming in some places, to be the "only one." Yes, there will be some very surprised souls on the day of judgment who will have come to realize at that point that "His people" are those who have named Him as their Lord and Master, not the ones who "have it right" on various religious understandings and practices. We are saved by grace through faith. God bless your work, Al.

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