We’ve been talking lately about this wonderful passage at the end of Hebrews 6, a passage in which God encourages believers to hold on and persevere by building their hope strong in the promises of God. He notes that God not only promised, but swore an oath to Abraham, thus guaranteeing that He would keep all those promises. God did that to encourage us to hold on and persevere in tough times.
16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
We saw that last that God has gone to great lengths to encourage us, (1) because He wanted to (2) trying to convince weak faith (3) so that we would have strong encouragement (4) to hold fast.
Now, who is God making these promises to? In verse 18 he calls us “heirs of the promise” and we noted that Paul says that New Covenant believers participate in the promises to Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ.
Galatians 3:29 says, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
So just as Abraham received the promise, so we receive these promises. They become heirs by being born into the family, and we become an heir of these promises by being born again into the family of God.
Jesus Christ is the ultimate heir of the Abrahamic promises and we are co-heirs with Him (Romans 8:17).
So how does this affect you and me? Paul gives us the answer later in Galatians 3. We read in v. 26 that “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.” If you are “in” Christ by “faith” in his life, death, and resurrection, you are as much a “son” of God as is Abraham or any other believing Jew. Then we read this in vv. 28-29 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
So, when the author of Hebrews refers to “the heirs of the promise” he means everyone who has faith in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, whether slave or free, whether male or female. Gender doesn’t matter. Economic status doesn’t matter. Ethnicity doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters isn’t whether or not Abraham’s blood flows through your veins but whether or not Abraham’s faith is in your heart!
The second description of those who receive and benefit from these promises is those who
“have fled for refuge.” This is a wonderful picture of what it means to trust in Christ. It describes those who have abandoned all hope in themselves and are seeking His help.
In the Old Testament certain cities were designated “cities of refuge” (Joshua 20). When a person accidentally killed someone, they could flee to a city of refuge and be protected. That way, any family members of the victim who might in their rage want to kill him, would have to wait until the due process of law was fulfilled. They would have time to calm their thirst for blood.
The unintentional killer would “flee” to the safe haven of the city. Jesus is for us a city of refuge. We have found safety and security in him. But our grip on that hope is not always as sure as it ought to be.
So God reinforced His promise with an oath, not for himself, but for our benefit.
God did this so that we would be greatly encouraged, that we would be encouraged to flee to Him for refuge and lay hold of him like a man would lay hold of the horns of the altar to save his own life. God has done everything He can, even going overboard, to encourage us to cling more tightly to what we’ve fled to in order to take hold of it, to hang on to it.
Christ provides the safest place, the hope we count on, the encouragement we need.
Now, on the one hand, as those who persevere, we are told, “to hold fast to the hope set before us.” This implies action on our part. We are purposefully thinking and meditating upon what Christ has done for us. We are contemplating what is before us in heaven. We are thinking about those who have persevered in times past and finding encouragement through their example.
For example, in 1934, when twenty-eight-year-old John Stam, missionary to China, was being led away to execution by the communists with his wife Betty, someone on the road asked, “Where are you going?” John laid hold on the hope set before him and said, “We are going to heaven.”
But on the other hand, we are enabled to “hold fast to the hope set before us” because God offers us “strong encouragement.” Here is the ever-undergirding activity of God, who is “at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Here is the divine resolve, not a fickle wish, but “the unchangeable character of His purpose” or resolve, giving us the strong, unbending, unrelenting, enabling, strengthening encouragement to “hold fast to the hope set before us.” We hold fast because we are held fast.
John Piper points out how this ability to hold fast was secured by the blood of Christ:
- What Christ bought for us when he died was not the freedom from having to hold fast but the enabling power to hold fast.
- What he bought was not the nullification of our wills as though we didn’t have to hold fast, but the empowering of our wills because we now want to hold fast.
- What he bought was not the canceling of the commandment to hold fast but the fulfillment of the commandment to hold fast.
- What he bought was not the end of exhortation, but the triumph of exhortation.
This is why this pastoral writer of the book of Hebrews could tell them that he was convinced of “better things concerning you, things that accompany salvation” rather than apostasy (Heb. 6:9). And this is why he tells them that the evidence of being a partaker of Christ is holding fast to the assurance that is in Christ (3:14). And this is why he explains to them that they can hold fast their confidence and boasting of their great hope in Christ because they are part of his household (Heb. 3:6). God’s resolve through the work of Jesus Christ is to bring all of His children safely through the stormy trials and temptations of life to the glories of His eternal presence. Strong encouragement and a grip on the hope set before us: that is our perseverance anchored in the promise and character of God.
If we are stimulated to grab more tightly to Christ and His promise to save us—what’s the benefit?
Verse 19 says that “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…”
Our hope is like an anchor, stabilizing us in the midst of the storms of life. It is hope that enables us to persevere, to endure to the end successfully and ultimately inherit what has been promised.
All of us, at some time or another, will find ourselves needing a stabilizing anchor for our souls. It is for this reason that the anchor has been a symbol of Christian hope through the centuries. One of the well-known catacombs has over 60 anchors etched into its walls as reminders of how these believers endured persecution with a firm hope in Christ.
This hope is an anchor. It provides stability. Though everything around you be chaotic, and wild, and out of control, this hope—this confident expectation—will be the stabilizing force.
Notice that it is described in two ways, as being “firm” and “secure.” “Firm” describes the believer’s hope as outwardly strong. There is nothing that can topple the believer’s hope. It will stand through the storms and earthquakes. Paul had this same idea in mind in those wondrous words of Romans 8:38-39.
We also find this anchor of the soul to be “secure.” This points to the inward character and stability of this anchor of hope, that it is firm within itself. In other words, there is no corruption, no deceit, no wavering, and no weakness in hope as the anchor of the soul.
This is why he said back in verse 11, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end,”
How does Christian hope strengthen us, enabling us to ride through the storms and stand secure in the earthquakes?
God’s intention is that it be strengthened by a fresh consideration of the integrity of God’s promise, his oath, both growing out of his eternal, unchanging faithfulness. He is a God who cannot lie, he cannot break a promise. He wants us to know that, to know that we know that we know that. And the way he does it is by swearing an oath by His own character.
But that’s just the first answer.
The second way hope is strengthened is by remembering that even now Jesus is present in heaven for us.
The latter part of verse 19 and then verse 20 read, “a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Our author will expand upon the “order of Melchizedek” in chapters 7-10.
He is telling us that although anchors typically drag along the bottom of the lake or sea, this anchor is lodged in the heavenly places. The idea here is that we hurl our anchor towards the clouds, past the stars and galaxies and into the very heart of heaven, where it moves through the outer courts of the heavenly temple into the holy place and penetrating even into the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God.
He doesn’t envision the anchor of hope as buried in the earth to help us keep our feet on firm ground or dropped to the bottom of the sea to help us simply weather the storm. This anchor is not of this world. Keeping his focus on our heavenly longing, and returning our attention to the center and source of all hope, Jesus Christ, the writer to the Hebrews says that this hope “enters within the veil” (6:19). (Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights: Hebrews, 101)
Why is our hope secure?
Because of WHO is there at the Father’s right hand interceding for us…Jesus Christ.
But there is something more, for there is another who has pierced the veil, one who actually tore it in two–Jesus: “Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (v. 20; cf. Mt 27:50, 51). We are anchored in the Father’s presence for eternity–and Jesus at his right hand perpetually intercedes for his Church. His continual priestly prayer for us is the medium for our survival. (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Hebrews, 178-9)
But how is our hope strengthened by that?
First, his presence there is a guarantee of our arrival there.
Notice that he “entered on our behalf” (Heb. 6:20). Going to heaven doesn’t mean that He has deserted us. He has gone before us to advocate and intercede for us and prepare a place for us (John 14:3-5).
It is Jesus’ present presence there at the Father’s right hand that guarantees that we will get there, not because we are any good, but because the Righteous One stands before God in our behalf.
Romans 8:34, in the midst of four great questions answering why we can be assured of our salvation, says this: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
And 1 John 2:1 says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
He also is the precursor of our arrival. Jesus “went before us” according to verse 20. He is more literally a “forerunner.” He precedes us. The word referred to military scouts, to advanced ships in a fleet, to the swiftest runner (the pace setter), to early-ripening fruit. The notion common to each is the idea of something going first assuring that others will follow. As our forerunner He has made the way for us to follow in His stead.
The forerunner was one who was ahead of the troops, going before them, preparing the way, and awaiting their certain advance to the same position. Here’s the message intended: we will be where Christ is, within the veil; for He has gone before us to prepare a place that we might be with Him forever.
John 14:2-3 holds a wonderful promise for us.
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
He prepares our way to glory (2:10). With such a leader who has opened the way through his own sacrificial death (10:20), there is no room for anxiety regarding his future purposes or doubt concerning his former promises. With such an anchor here and such a priest there, we must not fear and we need not fail. (Raymond Brown, The Bible Speaks Today: Hebrews, 122)
On the Day of Atonement, when the Levitical high priest stepped into the Holy of Holies, he was not a precursor, he was there alone. That curtain signified that admittance was strictly forbidden to the masses and even the high priest had to get out of there when his work was done.
But Jesus stayed within the Holy of Holies, and the curtain forbidding admittance was rent into from top to bottom and Jesus says to all, “Come, come, come in and meet my Father.”
What once was used to signify “keep out” is now inviting us in.
Do you have hope? Do you have this hope?
The point is this: Just as Abraham had God’s promise, believed God’s promise and came to realize the (at least partial) fulfillment of that promise, we also have a promise from God. The promise is that those who come to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of their sins, will be cleansed and secured for eternity, as Christ’s present ministry as our high priest proves. God has promised us this, and has guaranteed this promise by sealing those who believe with the Holy Spirit.
Hope is not based on some feeling. It is not established by our circumstances. It is based on truth. It is found in Jesus Christ.
The hymn Solid Rock possesses some of these concepts.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
Is Jesus Christ your hope?
If not, you are on sinking sand.
But you can stand on the solid Rock, Jesus Christ and though everything around you gives way, you will still stand, firm and secure. And, God will deliver you to His heavenly home.