At the beginning of Hebrews 3, we are told that Jesus Christ is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. As an apostle, sent from the Father, He represents God to us. As a high priest, designated to come before God on our behalf, He represents us to God. Consequently, the bridge between God and man is a bridge that can be traveled in both directions—from God to man, and from man to God. But in order to be the high priest, He also had to serve as the sacrifice, and this meant that He had to be a spotless sacrifice. This also is addressed by the author of Hebrews.
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14–16).
Summary of the Text
Because Christ was given to us, we have a great high priest. Because He is our high priest, He faces away from us, in order represent us in the heavens. In the heavens, He sprinkles His own blood on the altar (Heb. 9:12), and in the heavens He also intercedes for you (Rom. 8:34), praying for you by name.
We are instructed to hold fast our profession precisely because we have a high priest in the heavens, and this high priest knows exactly what it is like down here. The original word here is sympatheo—we have a high priest who is sympathetic with us in our infirmities. He was tempted in all the same basic areas we are tempted, and yet without sin. This excludes, of course, those temptations that would require a hardened life of prior sin. Some sins, like deep perversions, have sinful prerequisites. But He was tempted in all the ordinary avenues of human life. Now His ability to sympathize with us is not despite His perfection, but rather is the result of His perfection.
His throne is a throne of grace, not a throne of recrimination or accusation. It is a throne of grace. So, we are told, when you are in need of grace (unmerited favor) or mercy (demerited favor), or both, you are supposed to come to his throne boldly.
All of this is reflected wonderfully in the Definition of Chalcedon, which says that Christ was “like us in all respects, apart from sin.”
Some people are prone to rely on their own wits instead of the plain instruction of Scripture, and so they reason something like this. “If it was not possible for Christ to sin, then in what way was His temptation a true temptation?” And because we share some of the frailties of the objector, this kind of thing sometimes make sense to us.
Let us answer it with another illustration. Were Christ’s bones breakable? And the answer to that question is both yes and no. They were breakable in that they were made of the same breakable substance as our bones are. His bones were not unbreakable; they were not made out of titanium. But because Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), because the Word of God is unbreakable, His bones were not going to be broken (Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12; Ps. 34:20; 1 Cor. 5:7; John 19:36).
So in the same way Christ’s human nature was peccable (capable of sin), but the promises of God concerning Him were impeccable, which meant that God’s Word was going to be fulfilled in Christ, and that Christ would see the desire of His soul and be satisfied (Is. 53:11). The Christ would prevail through all of His temptations and trials, and He would praise His Father in the great congregation (Ps. 22:25). It could not happen otherwise.
We can only come before this throne of grace boldly if we are sure of our reception, and if we are also sure that the one who receives us warmly is actually capable of helping us. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). We must believe that He is there, and we must also believe that He is both willing and able to help us. “And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). And Christ said yes. God is able to help, and He is willing to help. But He is not willing to put us in charge of what constitutes help.
Suppose that temptation is the wind, and that sinning consists of blowing right over. Suppose also that all of we assigned the task of walking 10 miles in winds that were up to one hundred miles per hour. To make this an illustration with nice round numbers, suppose that 100 of us were told to walk this distance in this wind. Ninety of us blew over the moment we stepped outside, nine of us blew over after three yards—true saints, all nine of them, and one of us (Jesus) walked the entire distance. Now which of the 100 can be considered a wind expert? Who knows the most about it?
When you sympathize with a fellow right next to you, who blew over the same moment you did, your sympathy is weak and pathetic compared to the true sympathy that Christ has for you and for him. His sympathy is the stronger for His strength. His strength does not render Him a weak high priest. How could it? But we sometimes want to assume that true accountability can only be found in someone who has all the same problems—like a group of young men with a porn problem forming an accountability group, drowning swimmers clutching at one another.
Complete Man, Complete Officer
We have considered the person and work of Christ. The person of Christ was the result of the great miracle that was wrought by the Holy Spirit nine months prior to Bethlehem (Luke 1:35). And because He was the complete and perfect man, He also perfectly fulfilled the calling of His various offices (prophet, priest, and king). Only a perfect man can be a perfect prophet (Dt. 18:15). Only a perfect man can be a perfect high priest (Heb. 4: 14-16). Only a perfect man can be a perfect king (Rev. 19:16).
And precisely because Christ has entered into His inheritance, it is possible for us to enter into ours—because all that He has and is belongs to us by grace. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). The righteousness of the sinless one has been imputed to us, and so it is that we are righteous. And when we stumble and fall, the prayers of intercession on our behalf are offered up by a sinless high priest, who prays for us perfectly, and so it is we are accepted. And so it is that we cannot be anything but accepted in the Beloved.