THE REALITY OF THE SUPERIOR PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST IMPACTS BOTH OUR STANDING BEFORE GOD AND OUR STEADFASTNESS IN FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE
Here we begin the final section of the Book of Hebrews. The great lofty truths of the superiority of Jesus Christ and of the New Covenant and of His atoning sacrifice for sins and of His high priestly ministry are all brought to bear now on our practical conduct. Doctrine is essential for life and must lead to the proper response. The author provides us with two encouragements based on our precious possession of bold access to God and of the high priestly ministry of Christ. Then he drives home three practical exhortations to persevere in faith, hope and love – the famous Christian triad. Take advantage of our privileged standing before God and remain steadfast as we draw near in faith, confess our hope and love the brethren.
Kent: This section of Hebrews consists of a series of exhortations based upon the great doctrinal truths set forth previously. The superiorities of Jesus Christ as sacrifice and as priest should have been fully apparent to every reader. These truths, however, must not remain as abstractions, but must issue in appropriate conduct. These exhortations to Christian practice are not mere moralizing, or admonitions to follow some new external code. They are the believer’s logical and appropriate response to the benefits secured for him by his Lord and priest, Jesus Christ.
Mohler: We have confidence to approach God through Jesus Christ’s priestly work. Because of this confidence, we can encourage one another to grow in assurance as we anticipate Christ’s return.
I. (:19-21) OUR STANDING BEFORE GOD — TWO ENCOURAGEMENTS FROM THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST
A. (:19-20) We Enjoy Great Access to the Presence of God by Christ’s Sacrifice
1. (:19) Entrance into the Heavenly Sanctuary
“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place
by the blood of Jesus,”
Bruce Hurt: “brethren” — In context it probably refers to the entire group of Jews among whom are some who are truly regenerate, others who are interested seekers, and finally those who profess faith (intellectual assent to the truth of Messiah) but have yet entered into salvation rest (absence of genuine saving faith effecting circumcision of their heart).
Mohler: The blood of Christ is integral to Christian theology. . . Hebrews shows that Christians have access to God precisely because the blood of Jesus Christ has made it possible. Without Christ’s blood there is no access to God. There is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood. Just as the old covenant required blood sacrifices, so too does the new covenant require a blood sacrifice. The final and effective blood sacrifice, however, came not through the blood of an animal shed on an altar, but through the blood of God’s own Son shed on the cross. In his perfect and sinless blood, we have boldness to enter the sanctuary.
F. F. Bruce: The “boldness” which believers in Christ have to enter the heavenly sanctuary through Him is set in contrast with the restrictions which hedged about the privilege of symbolic entry into the presence of God in Israel’s earthly sanctuary.
2. (:20) Embracing the New Pathway of Life
“by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil,
that is, His flesh,”
Spurgeon: There was under the (Old Testament) Law this ordinance—that no man should ever go into the holiest of all, with the one exception of the high priest, and he but once in the year, and not without blood. If any man had attempted to enter there he must have died, as guilty of great presumption and of profane intrusion into the secret place of the Most High. Who could stand in the presence of Him who is a consuming fire? This ordinance of distance runs all through the law; for even the holy place, which was the vestibule of the holy of holies, was for the priests alone. Those who refuse Jesus refuse the only way of access to God. God is not approachable except through the rending of the veil by the death of Jesus. There was one typical way to the mercy seat of old, and that was through the turning aside of the veil; there was no other. And there is now no other way for any of you to come into fellowship with God except through the rent veil, even the death of Jesus Christ, whom God has set forth to be the propitiation for sin. Come this way, and you may come freely. Refuse to come this way, and there hangs between you and God an impassable veil. Without Christ you are without God, and without hope.
Hewitt: Here it has the meaning of a way newly opened which before was inaccessible, for even the believer of the Old Testament could not enter God’s presence freely and openly, nor with the joyful confidence and intimacy suggested in this passage. This newly opened way is living, or effective, for the living Lord is Himself the way (Jn. xiv. 6). Unlike the ineffective way of senseless animals and dead works of the old covenant. . .
Albert Barnes: Through the veil, that is to say, his flesh – The Jewish high priest entered into the most holy place through the veil that divided the holy from the most holy place. That entrance was made by his drawing the veil aside, and thus the interior sanctuary was laid open. But there has been much difficulty felt in regard to the sense of the expression used here. The plain meaning of the expression is, that the way to heaven was opened by means, or through the medium of the flesh of Jesus; that is, of his body sacrificed for sin, as the most holy place in the temple was entered by means or through the medium of the veil. We are not to suppose, however, that the apostle meant to say that there was in all respects a resemblance between the veil and the flesh of Jesus, nor that the veil was in any manner typical of his body, but there was a resemblance in the respect under consideration – to wit, in the fact that the holy place was rendered accessible by withdrawing the veil, and that heaven was rendered accessible through the slain body of Jesus. The idea is, that there is by means both of the veil of the temple, and of the body of Jesus, a medium of access to God. God dwelt in the most holy place in the temple behind the veil by visible symbols, and was to be approached by removing the veil; and God dwells in heaven, in the most holy place there, and is to be approached only through the offering of the body of Christ.
B. (:21) We Enjoy Great Representation by Christ’s Priestly Ministry
“and since we have a great priest over the house of God,”
Kent: Believers not only have the benefits of a matchless sacrifice, but they also have the services of an incomparable priest. He is a great Priest (cf. 4:14) because of His own person as the Son of God, as well as because of His position within the heavenly sanctuary. He is over the house of God, as the sovereign of God’s household of faith (cf. 3:6). Even though He has opened the way for our direct approach to God, Christ does not cease His ministration on our behalf. He continues as our great priest, guiding, strengthening, encouraging, and interceding.
These two advantages (access to God, and a great priest) should give constant encouragement for a continual approach to God.
Richard Phillips: Verses 19-21 summarize all that has been taught in the great doctrinal sections of Hebrews by identifying two definitive possessions. There are two things we have, the writer says, because of Christ’s person and work.
The first of these possessions has to do with access to God through Jesus Christ. . . People who trust in Jesus Christ stand before an open door, with free and open access to God, and with their sins atoned for by his blood. . .
Our second great possession is directly linked to the first: “we have a great priest over the house of God” (Heb. 10:21). We have two things: confidence to enter and a great high priest. The point is that the one who opened and secured the way for us into God’s presence is there himself. He is there as our priest, representing us and pleading effectually for our acceptance, securing and sending to us the Holy Spirit so that we are fitted and empowered to be worshipers and priests before his throne. Because our high priest is there, we can know that we belong there, too, and can thus approach with confidence.
II. (:22-25) OUR STEADFASTNESS IN FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE –
THREE EXHORTATIONS FROM THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST
A. (:22) Draw Near to God in Confident FAITH
“let us draw near” — 4 Conditions specified:
G Campbell Morgan: In a previous note (Hebrews 7.25) we considered the fact that the intercessory work of our High Priest is only operative on behalf of those who draw near to God through Him. In these words we are called upon to avail ourselves of the privilege He has created of access to God. It is that possi¬bility of approach and access which is the supreme and glorious fact resulting from the work of our Priest. The very nature of this appeal emphasizes this. The one thing we are called upon to do is to draw near. In God, and the eternal order, there is no reason why we should not do so. Everything which excluded men from God has been put away. The rending of the Temple veil at the death of Jesus was symbolic. That which, in its wholeness, had been the symbol of man’s exclusion from God through sin, in its rent condition was the symbol of the open way to God. The life of Jesus in its final perfection was a perpetual message to men concerning their unfitness to enter the Divine Presence. Because He lived a life of unbroken fellowship with God, I know that I cannot do so; His fellowship resulted from His being well-pleasing to God. Nothing ever has separated between man and God, save sin. He was sinless, and so lived with God. But the death of Jesus has dealt with my sin, and so has made possible my return to God, my access to Him at all times and under all circumstances. Therefore the appeal tome is not a call to prepare myself, or to make a way for myself to God. It is simply to come, to draw near, to enter in. This I do only through my great High Priest, but this I may do through Him without faltering and without fear.
1. Authenticity / Sincerity
“with a sincere heart
James Coffman: With a true heart shows that no insincere person or hypocrite can ever really draw near to God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The Holy Spirit says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Success is promised the obedient. “And thou shalt find him, when thou searchest after him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). In the parable of the sower, the seed which produced the good fruit was that which fell upon the good ground, the honest and good heart. Only the honest and good heart without deceit or hypocrisy can approach God; none others need apply.
“in full assurance of faith,”
Mohler: Many Christians struggle with the certainty of their salvation. But the New Testament exhorts Christians to know they are saved. God grants assurance, not on the basis of man’s faith, but on the basis of Christ’s faithfulness.
Hewitt: in fullness of faith in Christ and in the perfection of His sacrificial work on the cross in virtue of which access is made possible. This faith must not be divided between Christianity and Judaism, or between Christ and the Church, or between our great High Priest, the only and all-sufficient Mediator, and a human priesthood.
3. Good Conscience
“having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience”
4. Cleansed / Purified
“and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Leon Morris: Baptism is the outward sign of an inward cleansing, and it was the latter that was the more important. So here it is mentioned first. The sprinkling of the hearts signifies the effect of the blood of Christ on the inmost being. Christians are cleansed within by his shed blood (cf. the sprinkling of the priests, Exod 29:21; Lev 8:30).
B. (:23) Hold Fast the Confession of Our HOPE
1. Our Responsibility = Perseverance
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,”
MacArthur: Hope is simply the trust that God will keep His promise and do what He said in the end, that’s what it is. Hold fast to your guarantee.
Wiersbe: We have noted in our study of Hebrews that there is an emphasis on the glorious hope of the believer. God is “bringing many sons unto glory” (Heb. 2:10). Believers are “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1) and therefore can rejoice in hope (Heb. 3:6). Hope is one of the main themes of Hebrews 6 (vv. 11-12, 18-20). We are looking for Christ to return (Heb. 9:28), and we are seeking that city that is yet to come (Heb. 13:14).
2. God’s Enablement
“for He who promised is faithful;”
Hewitt: The second exhortation is to persevere, and so hope is introduced. . . The simplicity and spirituality of Christianity no doubt gave rise to much criticism and placed the readers in danger of drifting back to ritualistic and other outward attractions of Judaism. They may have been strongly provoked to let go by the pressing difficulties and urgency of the times. A powerful persuasive encouragement to Christian fidelity is added, for he is faithful that promised. Mastery of the true significance of the faithfulness of God to His glorious promises should strengthen the Christian’s faithfulness to his confession of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
C. (:24-25) Encourage One Another in LOVE
1. (:24) Stated Positively
“and let us consider how to stimulate one another
to love and good deeds,”
Richard Phillips: There is a progression at work here. First is faith, which unites us to Christ and brings us to God. The result of that faith is hope, which secures our hearts in the storms of this life. With hope we no longer fear for ourselves but are able to give loving encouragement to others. Hope therefore springs forth in love, the love of God that fills the hearts of all who hope in him. John rightly tells us, “We love because he first loved us.” But he adds, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Joh 4:19, 21).
Kent: Positively, each reader was to promote spiritual growth in the church by encouraging (parakalountes). This encouragement might take the form of exhorting those who wavered, urging them to steadfastness, comforting those whose Christian commitment had brought trouble and distress, or by lending a strengthening hand to whoever needed it. How much better is this positive attitude of helpfulness toward others than the abandonment of the assembly that some had done. It also would serve to prevent such defection, for one who is genuinely involved in assisting others usually has little time to indulge his fears or nurse resentments which might cause him to forsake the fellowship of the saints.
2. (:25a) Stated Negatively
“not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some,”
3. (:25b) Stated Intensively in Light of Coming Salvation and Accountability
“but encouraging one another;
and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.”
F. F. Bruce: Before A.D. 70 those Christians who remembered and took seriously Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple were scarcely in a position to keep it distinct in their minds form the final coming of the Son of Man and the ingathering of His elect, which He also foretold. Only after the events of A.D. 70 was it possible to appreciate clearly that two separate epochs were involved in the twofold question of the disciples in the form given to it in Matt. 24:3. . . Each successive Christian generation is called upon to live as the generation of the end-time.