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. 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. 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.
Hebrews 4: 14-16
The author of Hebrews has already mentioned in this letter that the Messiah is a high priest (Hebrews 2:17), but now he will examine it more fully (5:1-10).
It will be helpful to recognize that there were three offices in Israel that governed the nation: prophet, priest, and king. Prophets spoke the Word of God, thereby exposing sin. Because of that exposure, the people were in need of a priest, someone who could remove the sin barrier and maintain their relationship with God. But then there was a need to be dominated by God, so God gave them kings.
A case could be made that Messiah was a prophet for thirty-three years. but has now been high priest for two thousand years. That might be why the writer spends so much time on the theme of the priesthood of Messiah, seeing he has been functioning as a priest for so long. Another reason for the emphasis on priesthood in this letter may be the fact that there were many priests in the first century that came to confess Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 6:7). In fact, a case can be made that this letter was written to former priests. Or else the readers of this letter had been affected by the Dead Sea Sect, which focused largely on the need for a pure priesthood.
The writer stresses that as a great high priest, Jesus has passed through the heavens. This phrase (passed through) is language reflective of the earthly high priest passing through the Holy Place on his way into the Holy of Holies. The writer will focus on the high priest entering the Holiest of all to observe the Day of Atonement. This will be the main focus of chapters nine and ten of the letter. The writer calls upon readers to “hold fast their confession.” The word confession is translated from the Greek word “homologia,” which is also translated by the English word profession (2 Corinthians 9:13, I Timothy 6:12, I Timothy 6:13, Hebrews 3:1, Hebrews 4:14, Hebrews 10:13).
The writer now informs the readers of the blessings they now have with Jesus as their high priest due to his unique ability to sympathize with their weaknesses (4:15). This is rooted in the truth of the Incarnation; that God became a human being and was thereby subject to all of the temptations that human beings regularly face. But three words separate the Son of God’s temptations from ours— “yet without sin.” While he was subject to all of the same temptations as we are, yet he never gave into them, causing him to sin. If he had given in, he would have forfeited his ability as our great high priest to atone for our sins.
Therefore, Jesus is uniquely qualified to sympathize with the temptations we face since he himself faced them during his earthly life. That is what the writer now says about Jesus; that He is the One “who in every respect has been tempted as we are.” There is nothing we face that He hasn’t faced as well. That doesn’t mean he has faced every specific sin we have faced (he never faced the temptation to speed in a car), But it does mean that he faced the same kind of temptations that we have, yet chose not to give into them.
Because of Jesus’ atoning work, we can draw near with confidence to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Anytime I read this statement, the story of Queen Esther comes to mind. When faced with the inevitable death of her people, Esther willingly took her life into her hands by approaching the king without being summoned. It was considered a crime punishable by death to approach the king without an invitation. But Esther did so for her people. And the king graciously held out to her the golden scepter. The king’s throne was a ‘throne of grace’ to Esther.
This throne is the place whereby we can receive two things we desperately need; first, to “receive mercy” and then find “grace to help in time of need.” Our first great need is to receive mercy, which is God looking with compassion upon us. The Greek word is eleos which is derived from the powerful Hebrew word, chesed. That Hebrew word is so powerful that no single English word can adequately define it. Mercy, kindness, lovingkindness, covenant love, and faithfulness are all words used to convey the meaning.
The second thing we desperately need is grace which is charis. Grace is sufficient for all we will ever need. Our minds should remember Jesus’ answer to Paul when he asked that the thorn in his flesh be removed: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). That means that there is nothing we will ever face that the grace of God cannot sufficiently handle.