Isn’t it wonderful, when you are going through a difficult period in your life, that you can find someone who says, “I’ve been there too”?
Robert Griffin’s song “I’ve Been There” talks about how Jesus came into this world as a man and “began a journey of experiences just for me, just for me.” And he says to us, “I’ve been there so I understand; I’ve been there, walked as a man; I’ve felt the pain that you’re feeling now…”
Jesus has experienced, at least categorically, everything we have experienced, including temptations and therefore he can sympathize with us in our sufferings and temptations.
We all have need for grace. All of us face situations that are beyond our wisdom, beyond our strength, beyond our patience. Some people live with crippling fears and others anxious doubts. Some live in fear of the future while others struggle with regrets about the past.
But it doesn’t matter whether your struggles are overwhelmingly catastrophic, or whether they have been crippling you for years, the only thing that matters is that you know you have a great need AND that you know you have a sympathetic Savior who can sympathize with your troubles and give you mercy and grace to help when you need it.
Not everyone has that, but oh Christian, you do!
We are looking now at the last three verses of Hebrews chapter 4, the closing of this section that started in chapter 3, verse 1, which forms our author’s second warning, not to harden our hearts in unbelief.
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
As usual, Charles Spurgeon put it well:
The sympathy of Jesus is the next best thing to his sacrifice. . . . It has been to me, in seasons of great pain, superlatively comfortable to know that in every pang which racks his people the Lord Jesus has a fellow-feeling. We are not alone, for one like unto the Son of man walks the furnace with us.
These verses stand at a particularly important junction in the book of Hebrews, serving both as a conclusion to the exhortation not to harden one’s heart from 3:1-4:16 and also as an opening to the great central exposition on the high priesthood of Christ. Just as Christ is superior to the angels and to Moses, He is also superior to the Aaronic priesthood.
These three verses consist of three intertwining components, two exhortations to “hold fast our confession” and to “draw near to the throne of grace,” supported by the discussion of Christ’s superior priesthood. Two exhortations, grounded in a profound spiritual truth.
What our author is focused upon is the fact that Christ’s priestly work is finished—sins have been paid for at the cross—and now Christ “has passed through the heavens,” that is, He has ascended and now sits in session at the right hand of God.
Our writer believes that this truth should help us to “hold fast our confession” and “draw near to the throne of grace.”
As you look at these two exhortations, “holding fast” is the command not to move away from Christ and “drawing near” is the command to move forward, towards Christ. It is the same truth that he will drive home again and again, DON’T MOVE AWAY FROM JESUS CHRIST.
Stand there and don’t move away—there are truths we should not move from.
Once you have that relationship with Jesus Christ, move into a deeper relationship with Him. You don’t need something more, something added…just Jesus Christ.
These two exhortations fit together hand-in-glove. They catalyze and balance each other. “Hold fast…draw near…hold fast…draw near.”
When we are being tempted to draw away, that is exactly when we need to stay near.
“The reference to Jesus in his office as high priest in v. 14 is not an afterthought, but the intended conclusion of the entire argument. The crucial issue for the community is whether they will maintain their Christian stance [that is, there complete, unwavering hope in Jesus Christ]. The issue was posed conditionally in 3:6b, and more pointedly in 3:14. It was raised again forcefully in verse 14 in the exhortation to hold fast to the confession that identified Christians as those who had responded to the message they had heard with faith (cf. v. 2). The ministry of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary as a faithful high priest in the service of God gives certainty to the promise that God’s people will celebrate the Sabbath in his presence if they hold fast their initial confidence” (William Lane, p. 105).
So chapter 4 ends these two chapters with a positive exhortation, in comparison to two chapters of serious warnings (3:1-4:13), including the preceding image of the scrutiny and judgment of the Word upon our lives in 4:12-13.
In these last two paragraphs our author has clued us in to two resources we need in order to persevere and win the race—(1) God’s Word which reveals our hearts and (2) God’s grace which helps us.
Is right now your time of need? Have you any times of need today? This week? Maybe nothing but a time of need! The hymnist Robert Lowry expresses the reality, “I need Thee every hour.”
Our writer believes that Jesus’ high-priestly ministry on behalf of the believers, correctly understood and implicitly believed, would be a great anchor in the coming storms.
R. Kent Hughes draws the contrast between Christ’s priesthood and the Aaronic priesthood they had grown up under:
To dramatize the greatness of Christ’s priestly ministry, the author contrasts it with the ministry of the Levitical high priest who once a year passed from the sight of the people into the Holy of Holies bearing the blood of atonement. In contrast, Jesus, our High Priest, passed once for all from the sight of his people at the ascension to the ultimate Holy of Holies, having shed his own atoning blood. Specifically, the contrast becomes clear as we reflect on the temporal and circumscribed nature of the high priest’s work. Once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the high priest, representing all the people, entered the Holy of Holies, where he sprinkled blood on the mercy seat to symbolically atone for all the sins of the people. But even before doing this, he had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins. And then when he entered the Holy of Holies he only stayed long enough to sprinkle the atoning blood.
His entrance into the Holy of Holies was through three portals. First, he bore the blood through the door into the outer court. Second, he entered another door into the Holy Place. And third, he entered through the veil of the Holy of Holies. Thus, the ancient high priest had a three-portaled entrance in coming before the thrice-holy God—and he had to do it year after year.
On the other hand, Jesus, our great High Priest, after his once-only sacrifice for sins on the cross, passed “through the heavens”—going through the first heaven (the atmosphere), the second heaven (outer space), and finally into the third heaven (the most holy of all places, the presence of God, cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2–4). And there he sat down (something no high priest had ever done!) because his atoning work was finished. He remains at God’s right hand, making intercession for us.
The idea that Jesus is our high priest has been mentioned before (Hebrews 2:17 and 3:1) but now this concept will receive extensive treatment.
The writer of Hebrews calls attention to the unique character of Jesus as high priest.
No other priest was called great.
No other priest passed through the heavens.
No other priest is the Son of God.
Aaron was the high priest, Jesus Christ is the great high priest. He is superior in every way. The high priest was superior to all the other priests; Jesus is superior to the high priest.
Never was it said of any OT high priest that he was “great,” not even of Aaron the first one. Only of Jesus is this attribute given.
The high priesthood was hereditary (Exodus 29:29-30; Leviticus 26:32), a fact to which the author of Hebrews gives extensive attention (Hebrews 7:11-28), and normally for life (Numbers 17:7; 25:11-13; 35:25, 28). Although the high priest shared a number of duties with the other priests, he alone could enter the Most Holy Place on the annual Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1-25).
Why is Jesus superior to the high priest?
First, because He is not just a man, but the God-man, referred to here as “Jesus, the Son of God.” That makes him the most competent high priest to represent man before God.
He was not merely a human exalted to this priestly place. He is the divine Son of God who created the earth and the heavens (Hebrews 1:8–10). This gives his sacrifice its infinite worth. Jesus does not take the blood of bulls and goats into the heavenly temple. Nor does he even take the blood of a mere human. He takes his own precious blood, the blood of the Son of God (Hebrews 9:12). And when God the Father sees this sacrifice for my sin, he says, “That is enough. The debt has been paid. My righteousness is vindicated. My glory is exalted.” And he overlooks my punished transgression and counts me as his loved and innocent child (John Piper, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/draw-near-to-the-throne-of-grace-with-confidence).
Even though the high priest could represent the nation on the Day of Atonement, he was a sinner himself and would have to offer up sacrifices for his own sins first (5:2, 3; 7:27; 9:7). As our current text points out, in verse 15, Jesus, although tempted in every way as we are, was “without sin.”
An imperfect priest can only offer imperfect sacrifices (9:11-14; 10:1-4). Therefore, both the covenant on which his priesthood is based (8:6ff.) and the Holy Place in which it is performed (9:11) are imperfect. Finally, the net result is imperfect. The old system “can never…make perfect those who draw near” (10:1).
He was also “great,” or superior, because he has been appointed by oath from God (5:4-10; 6:17-20; 7:15-22), which assures us that His priesthood is eternal (7:16-25). He will not be succeeded by any other.
He is great because He presented His own blood in the heavenly tabernacle rather than the earthly (8:2; 9:1-28), used superior blood, His own (9:1-28) and only had to offer a once-for-all sacrifice ((10:1-18). The high priest had to present an animal sacrifice year after year after year.
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, (Hebrews 10:12).
His blood was totally effective to cancel your guilt and deal a death blow to your shame once and for all!
In addition, the high priest, once he was finished with his offering, high tailed it out of there as quickly as possible. Jesus, however, when he had made “purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). This again indicates that His work was finished, final and totally sufficient. Nothing more was needed.
The Jewish high priest entered the inner sanctuary of the temple once a year and stood momentarily in the very presence of God. Jesus, by contrast, has entered the heavens and is always in the presence of God (Heb 9:24). He has been raised from the dead, has ascended to heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father. He has gone through and is “exalted above the heavens” (Heb 7:26). (William Hendriksen & Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: Hebrews, 124)
Rather than one who stands between God and humanity [like the typical high priest], Jesus takes us to God, ripping away the moral and ritualistic obstacles that prevented our free entrance to his presence. He not only has passed through the heavens, but he also has paved the way for us to join him in that adventure (e.g., 2:10; 6:20; 10:19-20). Thus, when we communicate the high-priest concept, we must emphasize its signification of a “means of free access to God.” (George H. Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, 178)
Now Christ sits in heaven. And what is He doing? He is continuing to make intercession for us.
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).
Now, often we miss the little words and the little words really do make a big difference. “Since then we have…” starts verse 14.
First, the word “since” is the first class conditional sentence, meaning that it is an assured condition. We don’t have to doubt it. We definitely do have this great high priest.
Second, notice that our author does not say, “Since there is a great high priest…” just stating it as a fact, but he says “Since we have a great high priest…” emphasizing our present possession of something very important. It is important for us to realize that we “have” this. It is not something that is just “out there,” but something we possess, or have personal experience of.
Blessings are fully realized and appreciated only if we “have them,” not if they just simply exist. It’s very important that we “have them,” that we really have them as a personal possession. And that is what our author is interested in, that we not simply talk about a priest existing, a great high priest existing, one who’s at the right hand of the throne of God, but he wants us to grasp the importance of knowing that “he” is ours, our great high priest. And, of course, the throne of grace is “our” High Priest’s throne of grace.
As Sam Storms notes:
Having just been told in vv. 12-13 that the Word of God pierces and divides and discerns our hearts and thoughts and intentions, having been told that we are all laid bare and exposed to the God to whom we must given an account, there is a strong likelihood that some will recoil in fear. The fear of judgment, the fear and apprehension of standing in the presence of an infinitely holy God, might paralyze some. So, our author says, “No, no, don’t be afraid. You must remember that Jesus is your high priest. He is the Son of God and has passed through the heavens and has taken his seat at the right hand of God, there to intercede on your behalf. He’s your advocate. He’s your defense attorney. He’s your eternal friend.”
Hard times had come upon the church. Believers were being persecuted for their faith. And some were beginning to think that it might be easier if they put aside their beliefs about Jesus and went back to their Judaism with its ceremonies and rituals.
Our author wanted to encourage them that they have a faithful friend, a great high priest who has not only done everything necessary for their salvation, but also sympathizes with their troubles and persecutions.
Since then 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 is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses [that’s the negative, now the positive…]
but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Then he comes back to the exhortation
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.