Draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, for Jesus is our high priest.

The large middle section in Hebrews presents Jesus as our high priest.  The introduction and conclusion of this section are in many respects similar and also summarize the main points of the entire section.   Christians must draw near to God’s throne and they may do so with confidence, for Jesus is faithful, sympathizes with our weaknesses and appears as high priest for us before God.

Previous articles

This is the fourth in a series of articles on the teachings in the letter to the Hebrews on Christ as our high priest.

The first article explains How Jesus became high priest.  God perfected Jesus through suffering.  Jesus offered Himself without blemish to God, making purification of sins through death.  Jesus then sat down on His Father’s throne and became our high priest in the tabernacle in heaven.

The second article presents Jesus as a better high priest, for the Levitical priesthood was merely a copy and shadow of the tabernacle in heaven, and therefore was unable to do away with sin.  “Perfection”—a word which Hebrews uses for being put right with God—is possible only through Christ.

The third article analyzes Jesus’ role as our high priest.  He is sympathetic and merciful, and appears before God for us.  God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”, and our high priest Jesus guarantees that promise.

Inclusios

Bible writers were not able to add section headings to their writings.  When the Bible was written, people did not even insert spaces between words.  Instead of section headings, they used repetition: They marked out sections of text by starting and ending a section with similar phrases.  Theologians call this technique bracketing or inclusios or bookends.  Since inclusios serve as section headings, they help us to understand the message better.

The purpose of this fourth article is to discuss the two bookends.

Possibly the best example of such an inclusio in Hebrews is 4:14-16 and 10:22-24; the start and end of the section on Jesus as our high priest.  Note the many similarities between these two sections of text:

4:14-16Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

10:19 Since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, … 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,26 but if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.

For the sake of simplicity, these two sections of text are referred to as bookends in this article.

The text has been color coded to show the similarities.  Both:

  1. Start with a similar phrase:
    ▬ “Therefore, since we have a great high priest” (4:14, 16);
    ▬   “Since we have … a great priest” (10:19, 21);
  2. Say we must “draw near with” “confidence” (4:16; 10:19) or “in full assurance of faith” (10:22),
  3. Provide explain why we can be confident.
  4. Provide advice; what we must do.
  5. Provide explain why we must draw near.

These two bookends therefore not only identify 4:14 to 10-31 as a discrete unit within Hebrews, they also serve as a summary of that entire section.  Below the main principles contained in these two bookends are discussed.

Why we can approach God with confidence

The following reasons for our confidence are provided by these bookends:

4:15 He sympathizes with our weaknesses, for He has been tempted in all things as we are.

10:19-20 He created for us on the living way into the tabernacle in heaven by His death.

10:23He … is faithful”.

The living way into the tabernacle, which He created for us by His death, is symbolic language.  It simply means that His death made it possible for us to approach God through Christ.

That He sympathizes with our weaknesses, because “He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered” (2:18), should also not be taken literally.  Jesus was not more sympathetic with sinners after His life on earth than what He was before He became a human being.  To understand what this means:

▬ Remember that the earthly tabernacle, with all its ceremonies, was a symbol of reality (8:5; 9:8-9; 10:1).

▬ For that reason, and because his Jewish Christian readers were familiar with the earthly tabernacle, the writer explains the unseen but real events in heaven, which we only dimly understand, by using the terminology of the earthly tabernacle and its ceremonies.

▬ Therefore, since the high priests of old “can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” because they knew what it was like to be tempted (5:2), the writer similarly describes our high priest Jesus as sympathetic “with our weaknesses, for He has been tempted in all things as we are” (4:15).

His sympathy and “the living way”, which He created for us into the tabernacle, may seem very dissimilar, but actually are similar.  His sympathy and “the living way” are simply two different ways of saying that we are welcome to approach God through Jesus.  Furthermore, both are the consequence of His life on earth:

4:15We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are

10:19-20 He created the living way into the tabernacle for us by His death.

The entire purpose of Hebrews

It may be correct to say that the entire purpose of Hebrews is to give us the certainty that we may approach God, knowing that we will receive “mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16) for He loves us and have sympathy with our weaknesses.  Note that the words underlined in the verses below all relate to this certainty we may have:

4:16Let us draw near with confidence”.
6:18We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us”.
6:19This sure and steadfast hope is our anchor of the soul”.
7:19Bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God
10:22Full assurance of faith

What Hebrews advises us to do

The ultimate purpose of the letter to the Hebrews is reflected in the “let us” passages, of which there are many (4:1, 11, 14-16; 6:1; 10:22-24; 12:1, 28; 13:13, 15), but only the ones quoted below form part of the middle section of Hebrews (4:14-10:31), which discusses Christ as our high priest:

4:14 Let us hold fast our confession”.
4:16Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace”.
10:22Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”.
10:23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”.
10:24Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds”.

All five these “let us” recommendations are from the two bookends, which confirms that these two bookends really are intended to bracket this large section of text (4:14 to 10:31).

Both bookends recommend the readers to “draw near” (4:16; 10:22) “to the throne of grace” (4:16).  Somebody once said that the entire letter to the Hebrews is an interpretation of Psalm 110.  In verse 1 of that psalm Jesus takes His seat at God’s right hand and verse 4 declares Jesus to be priest forever.  The writer of Hebrews combines these two events.  In other words, Jesus became high priest when He sat down on His Father’s throne.  On this basis we can conclude that the tabernacle in heaven is where God’s throne is.  Therefore, when 10:19 says that “we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus”, this is the same as saying “we have confidence” to “draw near”.

Why we must draw near?

Both bookends also explain why we must draw near:

4:16so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
10:26For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.

Putting these two statements together, we must draw near to find help against sin in our lives, for “He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:18).  However, the writer has already indicated that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10).  What further need is there to ”draw near … to the throne of grace”?  Why would we still need more grace?  This is explained in the next article in this series: Impossible to renew them again to repentance.

NEXT: Impossible to renew them again to repentance

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How Jesus became our High Priest

Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer?  And why was it necessary for Him to remain without sin?  When did He become our high priest?

Tabernacle in heaven

Summary of this article: The main point in the letter to be Hebrews is that Jesus is our high priest, serving in the true tabernacle in heaven.  To become high priest, He first had to suffer, because He learned obedience from what He suffered.  Being made perfect, He offered Himself without blemish to God; one sacrifice for sins for all time.  After His resurrection, Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne.  He then became our high priest, with the inauguration of the new covenant by the cleansing of the things in the heavens by His blood.

Purpose

Although no other letter in the New Testament explicitly teaches this, the “main point” of the letter to the Hebrews, to which about five chapters are devoted (4:14-10:31), is that Jesus is our high priest in the true tabernacle:

Now the main point in what has been said is this:
we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the
true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man” (8:1-2).

The previous verse (7:28) identifies this high priest is as the Son of God .

Hebrews is one of the most difficult books in the Bible.  Not only are the concepts complex; the highly symbolic and idiomatic language of the letter makes it even more difficult.

The purpose of this article is to give a simple as possible overview of Hebrews’ teachings of Christ as our high priest.  The relevant material from the letter is grouped into sub-topics, and discussed below in what seems to be a logical sequence.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the NASB.

Jesus was perfected through suffering.

As will be shown below, Hebrews uses the phrase “made perfect” for people whose sins have been forgiven (for instance 12:23).  But Hebrews also describes Jesus as “made perfect”.  He was “made perfect” through what He suffered:

2:10 It was fitting for Him (the Father) … in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation (Jesus) through sufferings”.

5:8-9Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered, and having been made perfect” (5:8).

7:28 He was “made perfect forever”.

Because He was made perfect, He was able to offer “Himself without blemish to God” (9:14).

Jesus was fully human

That Jesus was made perfect does not mean that His sins have been forgiven, for He never sinned (4:15).  This concept may be unfamiliar to us because we very often think of Jesus as God, which is not wrong, but we often fail to think of Him as a fully human being that had to learn like any other human being.  Hebrews teaches that Jesus became a human being in every respect: “He had to be made like His brethren in all things” (2:17).  Jesus therefore indeed developed through what He suffered.

Hebrews, similar to the other letters of the New Testament, emphasizes Christ’s death, as we will see below.  But Hebrews put more emphasizes on His life than what other letters do: specifically on His suffering, which also was His temptation:

2:18He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered“.

4:15He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin”.

Gethsemane

Don’t miss this point: His suffering was His temptation.  He was tempted to prevent or lessen His suffering, for He was able to that (Mt 26:53), but he patiently “endured such hostility by sinners against Himself” (Heb. 12:3).

Through death Jesus made purification of sins.

A question that arises, when reading Hebrews, is how people are saved, for Hebrews seems to say that people are saved through Jesus’ work as our high priest.  But Hebrews also agrees with other letters that “through death Jesus made purification of sins” (1:3).  Each of the verses quoted below refers to both His death and to dealing with sin:

9:26Now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”.

9:28Christ … offered once to bear the sins of many”.

10:12He … offered one sacrifice for sins for all time”.

13:12Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate”.

If this is so, what is the purpose of Jesus’ role as our high priest, which is so prominent in Hebrews?  The relationship between His death and His work as high priest, in the redemption of the world, is discussed in a separate article.

After His resurrection, Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne.

This is a well-known New Testament teaching, based on Psalm 110:1.  Hebrews often confirms this truth, saying that Jesus, after His resurrection, passed through the heavens (4:14) and “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3, cf. 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).

Jesus became high priest when He sat down on His Father’s throne.

When did Jesus become high priest?  Was He also high priest in Old Testament times?  The following indicates that Jesus’ life and death allowed Him to become high priest:

2:17 Jesus “had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest”.

9:11-12When Christ appeared as a high priest …, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle … through His own blood”.

Jesus therefore became high priest after His death, namely when he “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”.  These are one and the same event.  To understand Hebrews, one needs to get used to how the writer thinks.  He knew the Old Testament extremely well, and the Old Testament passage that is most quoted in the New Testament is Psalm 110.  Verse 1 of that psalm is interpreted by the New Testament as God saying to Jesus:

Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet”.

Then verse 4 adds

You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”.

The writer of Hebrews makes the assumption, since verse 1 applies to Jesus, that verse 4 also applies to Jesus.  This is something which the writer of Hebrews often do, namely to link things that are not clearly linked in the original text.  He therefore merges verses 1 and 4 into a single statement, which would mean that He became priest when He sat down on His Father’s throne.

But the writer goes further.  Since Jesus, according to Psalm 110:1, enters God’s immediate presence, and since only the high priest was able to enter into God’s presence (Ex. 25:22), the writer promotes the “priest” in Psalm 110:4 to “high priest” (see quotations above).  This something else that we must learn about the writer of Hebrews: He continuously quotes from the Old Testament, but he does so with significant freedom.  He adds or changes words and phrases to fit the point that he wants to make.  But that is okay.  The Bible is not inspired word for word; the writers are inspired with concepts, and they themselves must find the best possible words to express those concepts.

But it remains symbolic language.  The earthly tabernacle, with all its ceremonies, was only a symbol of reality (8:5; 9:8-9; 10:1).  For that reason, and because his Jewish Christian readers were familiar with the earthly tabernacle, the writer uses the earthly tabernacle with its ceremonies to explain the unseen but real events in heaven, which we only dimly understand.

Christ’s death enabled Him to become our high priest.

Hebrews 9 describes the inauguration of Jesus’s ministry in heaven.  The first 15 verses form a unit.  It starts with a description of the earthly tabernacle with its daily and annual ceremonies (9:1-7).  It then states that these ceremonies are symbols of what happens in heaven (9:8-9), and explains what these symbols meant:

Jesus entering the true tabernacle

When Christ appeared as a high priest …,
He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;
and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, …
For … how much more will the blood of Christ … cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
” (9:11-12)

In other words, Jesus’s death permitted or qualified Him to commence His work as high priest; His death was a prerequisite for entering the holy place.

Tabernacle in the wilderness

The second unit in Hebrews 9 (verses 16 and following) also starts by describing an aspect of the earthly tabernacle, this time the inauguration of the first covenant.  This ritual was performed by Moses 1500 years before Christ, when he used the blood of animals to clean the tabernacle (9:18-23).  Hebrews then implies that the cleansing of the tabernacle by Moses was a symbol of the cleansing of “the heavenly things themselves”.  The earthly “copies of the things in the heavens” were cleansed by the blood of animals, but the “heavenly things themselves” were cleansed with “better sacrifices” (9:23), namely “the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26).

To conclude then, in both units (9:1-15 and 9:16-24) Christ’s offering of Himself, as symbolized by His blood, enabled Him to commence His ministry on the new covenant in heaven.  This is consistent with the conclusion of the previous section above, namely that Jesus became high priest at his ascension to heaven, when He sat down on His Father’s throne.

Satan expelled from heaven

Hebrews does not explain why the “the heavenly things” had to be cleansed.  As stated above, this is symbolic language, but that does not mean it is meaningless.  It means that it must be interpreted.  It is often said and thought that the blood of Christ satisfies the demands of God’s righteousness.  Such thinking is not accepted here.  According to 2:14 He died to render the devil powerless.  And in Revelation 12 we see that the war in heaven against “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9) was brought to an end by Christ’s death. “The heavenly things” were cleansed by expelling Satan from it.  The See War in Heaven and Why Jesus had to die.

NEXT:  Jesus is a better high priest

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