Haggai and Zechariah preached to the exiles who returned to rebuild the temple when King Darius ruled the Persian Empire (Hag 1:1; Zech 1:1). Further historical details can be identified in the book of Ezra. After the exiles finished the foundation for their temple, non-Israelites offered their assistance. The offer was pretentious and would have compromised Israel’s purity (Ezra 4:2). Although the exiles initially responded with great devotion against this threat of syncretism, in time fear took the Israelites captive in Jerusalem. The people of the land continued to discourage the Israelites and bribed local leaders to frustrate the exiles as they continued to build the temple (Ezra 4:4-5). With the construction at a standstill (Ezra 4:24), Haggai challenged the exiles to evaluate their priorities, trust God, and get to work.
Haggai’s prophecy that the Lord would shake the heavens and the earth stitches together the storyline of Scripture, connecting the exodus event and the return of Christ. Haggai urged his readers to be faithful in the earthly orientation of the old covenant—the physical realities of the tabernacle and temple, the religious structures God initiated when He redeemed His people from Pharaoh’s grasp (Hag 2:4-5). In light of what God had done for His people in Egypt, the returned exiles could be confident of vindication in a future day when the Lord would shake the nations and bring their treasures to Jerusalem (Hag 2:6-7). In Heb 12:26, the author of Hebrews employed Haggai’s description of the Lord’s cataclysmic activity (Hag 2:6) in order to help his readers understand the new covenant in Christ.
(1) Haggai’s phrase “once more” (Hag 2:6) provided the author of Hebrews a historical basis for pointing his audience forward to a future day when God would again intervene mightily on earth. When Haggai wrote “Once more,” he was implying that God’s activity for the returned exiles would reflect God’s earlier intervention at the exodus. Haggai viewed the exodus holistically, linking the plundering of the Egyptians (Exod 12:33-36) with God’s mountain-shaking presence on Mount Sinai (Exod 19:16-19) and God’s presence in the tabernacle (Exod 40:34-35). Haggai prophesied that just as the Lord had intervened to bring His people out of Egypt with great wealth and signified His presence among them by filling the tabernacle with His glory, the Lord would again intervene so that the exiles would have full treasuries to adorn their new temple. In Heb 12:26, the author of Hebrews applied Haggai’s “Once more” to encourage his audience regarding what God would do for them at the consummation of the new covenant, when Christ returns.
(2) Haggai’s reference to the shaking of heaven and earth (Hag 2:6-7) provided the author of Hebrews a framework for articulating the finality of the new covenant. Haggai said that the Lord would shake the heavens and the earth to aid the returned exiles. In Heb 12:26, the author noted that God would shake not only the earth but also heaven. He thus inverted Haggai’s references to what the Lord would shake. Why the inversion? For the author of Hebrews, the religious activities of Judaism—those which Haggai esteemed for his audience—were earthly and removed when the new covenant was inaugurated in Christ’s blood. On Mount Sinai, the author of Hebrews wrote in Heb 12:18-21, the Lord shook the earth with His presence when He gave Moses the law. In Heb 12:22-24, the author of Hebrews noted that his audience, the participants in the new covenant, had not come to Mount Sinai but Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, and Jesus’ shed blood. Since God’s voice shook Mount Sinai, the author of Hebrews argued in Heb 12:25-26, those hearing the word of the new covenant must pay attention. According to the author of Hebrews, God was ready to shake “not only earth but also heaven” (Heb 12:26) so that the created things of earth might be removed and only the permanent, heavenly realities would remain (Heb 12:27). For the author of Hebrews, the eternal, heavenly realities of the new covenant included Jesus’ presence in heaven at God’s right hand (Heb 1:13). There Jesus serves as a great high priest, like Melchizedek, giving believers access to God (Heb 4:14-16; 6:19-20; 7:26-28; 10:19-23). The heavenly realities, the author of Hebrews wrote, have been sprinkled by Jesus’ blood (Heb 9:23), the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb 13:20). But Jesus will not remain in heaven forever; Christ will return again to bring salvation for all who are waiting for Him (Heb 9:28). When Christ returns, the earthly shadows of religion will finally be removed, and the heavenly realities of the new covenant will be visible for all. Concluding his reflection on Hag 2:6, the author of Hebrews exhorted his audience, saying, “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; for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:25-29).