Hebrews 4:16

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

This is a well-loved, and often-cited, verse. It gives courage to the believer, and it is one which holds great importance for the one who is facing trials and difficulties. Countless well-intended and flowery comments have been made concerning it, applying it to the individual believer in their times of great need.

Having said that, proper context needs to be maintained in order to understand what is being conveyed. First, the context of the entire discourse has hinged on the idea of entering God’s rest. In verse 1 of the chapter, it said, “since a promise remains of entering His rest.” At that time, it was noted, “This is the key idea of the argument, and it is that upon which the whole discussion turns. There was the promise of rest, it was not believed by the people, and yet now the promise of rest still remains for God’s people. The truth of the matter still stands; it is yet ahead in God’s redemptive plans.”

Nothing has changed in this. With this understanding, we can now grasp what the author is saying. He begins with, “Let us.” The “us,” based on the context, refers to the Hebrew people who are offered the promise of entering into God’s rest. The chapter opens and closes with the same context. The author implores them to “therefore come.” They have an offer which is available to them, and they are being told to go forward and appropriate that offer while it is still called Today. They are to come and they are to come “boldly.” The Greek of the word signifies, “confidence (bold resolve), leaving a witness that something deserves to be remembered (taken seriously).” (HELPS Word Studies).

This is the attitude that they are to employ. They are to have faith, and they are to use that faith in an open manner, exercising it plainly. This then is in contrast to those in the wilderness who did not enter because of disobedience. The people are to see Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises, and they are to accept that premise and appropriate it. With this understanding, the author next says that they are to come boldly “to the throne of grace.”

The words are tied into the previous verses which spoke of the “great High Priest who has passed through the heavens.” Thus, the symbolism is that of the Old Testament where the high priest would go forth on the Day of Atonement and seek a covering for the sins of the people, finding mercy from there at the throne of grace – meaning the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant. That pictured the true place of propitiation, meaning Christ’s shed blood. From the Cross of Calvary, to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, Christ’s body was conducted. From there in His state of physical death, He accomplished the true, full, and final satisfaction of the sin-debt for Adam’s seed. To understand the symbolism of this from Exodus, please refer to this sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-VPtDW-qB8

Thus, Christ is both the High Priest and the One who is there at the Throne of Grace, offering Himself to those who come. With this understanding, the author then says of coming to the throne of grace, “that we may obtain mercy.” Of these words, Charles Ellicott says, “The real meaning is, receive compassion (Hebrews 2:17) in our weakness and trials. The thought of obtaining mercy for guilt is not in these words.” This is incorrect. He rightly cites Hebrews 2:17, but that says, “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

Two things are going on here. The first is the compassionate work of the High Priest (who is Jesus). The second is the merciful forgiveness of sin at the throne of grace (which is Jesus). Mercy is not receiving what is deserved. The author is imploring his audience to come boldly, because of our compassionate High Priest’s access to the throne of grace, to obtain mercy at that same throne of grace. This receiving of mercy is then tied into the next words, “and find grace to help.” Grace is receiving what is not deserved. The person deserves condemnation and does not receive it. The person does not deserve this mercy but obtains it. This is what is being conveyed now. The receiving of mercy, and the finding of grace to help, is then tied into the final words of the verse and the chapter, “in time of need.”

The word translated as “time of need” is found only here and in Mark 6:21. It signifies a suitable time, a strategic time, or even a time of a holiday or festival. The idea is that of the Day of Atonement. That was fulfilled, in its entirety, by the Lord Jesus in His work. That idea is that the offer is still open Today to the Hebrew people. Until they appropriate it, they are not accepted by God, even though they are called the people of God. The seasonable time is the time of Christ’s atonement. That time is open to any and all who come individually, and it is open to the people of Israel collectively as well. There is one, and only one, fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, but there is the availability of the efficacy of its effect while Today remains. In appropriating that work, those who so do will enter into God’s rest.

With this understanding, we can now consider the idea of this verse being applied to individual believers. Though this is not the context of the verse, we can now question, “If we have come to the throne of grace in our time of need (meaning our need for atonement of our sins), and that was granted by God because of Christ, do we still have that same access now?” The answer is, “Yes.” In Christ, the veil is rent, we have passed through to the Most Holy Place with Christ, and we are forever granted that access because of Him as our High Priest. And so, despite this verse speaking of the context described above, it can still be happily applied in the general sense which has been commonly applied to it. We will not damage the intent of the words using it in this way, as long as we understand the main context first and how it allows the secondary meaning.

Life application: Taking verses out of context, especially Old Testament verses which are spoken to Israel as a people, is not appropriate unless the truth can realistically be applied to us as individuals today. Care must be taken to always consider context first. From that, any secondary meaning can only be drawn if the main context allows it.

Lord God, help us to always keep our application of verses from Your word in their appropriate context. If we fail to do this, we can misappropriate claims to which we have no right. That will only lead to a false sense of reality within our churches and within our personal lives. May we have soundness in what we accept, apply only that which is appropriate, and so bring honor to You through this process. To Your glory alone may we live out our lives in Christ. Amen.

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