14 October 2017

Hebrews 4:14-16

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness” (v. 16)

Psalm: Psalm 103


Having warned people that they must not grow hard-hearted or weary in their faith our author turns once again to encourage them. In so doing they turn to an image which may seem distant to us but was familiar to them, namely that of the high priest.

Those people who were first addressed by this letter would doubtless have made an association with the Jerusalem temple, the daily sacrifices which took place there, the priestly families who were responsible for the worship of the temple and, in particular, the high priest who had responsibility, as a descendant of Aaron, to offer sacrifice for the people on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16).

However, although throughout this letter our author uses some of the imagery found in Leviticus to speak of Jesus the readers are directed away from the exclusive order of priests of which Aaron was seen as the father. Later they will speak of the whole Aaronic priesthood as being like a shadow of what God is really doing in Christ. This would have been a challenging concept for readers to grasp, but vital for them if they were to continue on the Christian road.

Jesus, the high priest, is first described as having ascended to heaven. In other words, he uniquely fulfils the role of presenting humanity to God, not from an earthly distance but in the very presence of God. However, although risen and ascended, Jesus uniquely understands human nature, including its tests and temptations, for he too has been tempted.

It is unlikely that many in first-century Judaism had much contact with the high priest in Jerusalem. Indeed, he does not come across as very approachable. In contrast, Jesus may be approached with confidence, not only because he is the effective high priest in God's presence but also, in light of his knowledge of what it is to be human, because he is mercy and grace personified.

To Ponder

  • In what way can you use the picture of Jesus as high priest to help your own faith to grow?
  • Charles Wesley's words "Bold I approach the eternal throne" (Singing the Faith 345) are deliberately shocking, given the thought that people should really be overwhelmed by God's presence. How do you find the balance between coming to God with confidence and yet experiencing proper awe in your worship and prayer? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Donald Ker

Donald Ker is a supernumerary minister in the Methodist Church in Ireland. As well as serving as a circuit minister in Bray Co Wicklow and as Superintendent Minister at Belfast Central Mission, he has been General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland and its President in 2009/2010.