17 October 2015

Hebrews 4:12-16

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.” (v. 14)

Psalm: Psalm 112


In a way this passage offers an answer to some of the questions I have already raised this week, about the way we understand the Bible. The writer to the Hebrews regarded "the word of God" as "living and active" (v. 12) - the Holy Spirit speaking directly to readers. But of course that only meant what we call the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures, which they used so extensively in their letter (or sermon!) to Jewish Christians. (The New Testament did not then exist, and only some of the writings that eventually made up the New Testament were in circulation - and I doubt if the writer would have had much time for Paul's letters!) It is of course also true that, like all preachers, the writer to the Hebrews selected their biblical texts very carefully in order to support the points they wanted to make...

The jump to verse 14 seems rather abrupt, but the theme of high priest was introduced in Hebrews 2:17 and now we return to it. Jesus, the Son of God, is the "great high priest who has passed through the heavens". For 1st-century Jews, the heavens were the various layers in the sky above, occupied by the planets, sun, moon and stars and inhabited by angels, with God somewhere above. Jesus is exalted above the angels, and is now by the "throne of grace" (v. 16). The imagery is drawn from the Jerusalem temple, where only the High Priest could stand before the 'mercy seat' or "throne of grace" in the Holy of Holies. Hebrews may have been written after 70AD, when the temple had been destroyed and there was no longer a high priest, which gives the image added power for Jewish Christians who may have wondered how God could now be approached. The reassuring answer was that Jesus had opened the way.

To Ponder

  • The contents of the New Testament were decided over a lengthy period by various church scholars and committees. Does that automatically make them "the word of God" and "living and active"? Or is that a decision we must make as individual readers?
  • How might you make the idea of "a great high priest who has passed through the heavens" meaningful to modern readers of the Bible?
  • "Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (v. 16). These are very reassuring words, but what might they actually mean in terms of personal experience?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.