EXTRACT: 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.
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.
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:
4:14-16 “Therefore, 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:
- Start with a similar phrase:
▬ “Therefore, since we have a great high priest” (Heb 4:14, 16);
▬ “Since we have … a great priest” (Heb 10:19, 21);
- Say we must “draw near with” “confidence” (Heb 4:16; 10:19) or “in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:22),
- Provide explain why we can be confident.
- Provide advice; what we must do.
- Provide explain why we must draw near.
These two bookends therefore not only identify Heb 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:
Heb 4:15 He sympathizes with our weaknesses, for He has been tempted in all things as we are.
Heb 10:19-20 He created for us on the living way into the tabernacle in heaven by His death.
Heb 10:23 “He … 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 (Heb 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 (Heb 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” (Heb 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:
Heb 4:15 “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”
Heb 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” (Heb 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:
Heb 4:16 “Let us draw near with confidence”.
Heb 6:18 “We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us”.
Heb 6:19 “This sure and steadfast hope is our anchor of the soul”.
Heb 7:19 “Bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God”
Heb 10:22 “Full 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 (Heb 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 (Heb 4:14-10:31), which discusses Christ as our high priest:
Heb 4:14 “Let us hold fast our confession”.
Heb 4:16 “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace”.
Heb 10:22 “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”.
Heb 10:23 “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”.
Heb 10:24 “Let 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” (Heb 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 Heb 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:
Heb 4:16 “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”
Heb 10:26 “For 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” (Heb 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” (Heb 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.