1. Christ is a faithful and merciful high priest, 3:1-5:10
vi] Jesus the great high priestArgument
This passage serves as an encouragement and exhortation to those who are tempted to turn aside from "the narrow way." Our author points out that there is one who can help us resist this temptation and maintain ourselves on the path of faith. Jesus, as high priest, has made this journey, faced all the trials and temptations, all the limitations and weaknesses, all the weariness of the human journey, and yet has done so without turning from his reliance on the Father - without taking the broad way that leads to destruction. Jesus is now enthroned beside God the Father and on our behalf he speaks for us, assuring our right-standing in God's sight and aiding us in the journey of faith. In him we undertake this journey and persevere to the end.
i] Context: See 2:10-18. The argument now moves from cursing to blessing, judgment to grace. This argument, affirming the glory of God's grace in Christ, covers 4:14-5:10. Jesus, our Great High Priest, was made complete through suffering, a suffering that led to glory, and such will be the experience of his disciples. Koester suggests that the argument presents in three paragraphs: 4:14-16; 5:1-4; 5:5-10. Thematically, all three paragraphs are similar in that they focus on Christ the high priest, with each paragraph touching on three topics; "the high priest's position, his qualities and the service he offers", Koester. In the second paragraph these topics are inverted, so ABC / CBA / ABC:
4:14. The Son is a high priest;
5:4. A true priest is called by God;
5:5-6. The Son is called a priest.
4:15. The Son sympathizes with weakness;
5:2-3. A true priest curbs emotion and offers sacrifice for himself because of weakness;
5:7-8. The Son offers prayer for himself with cries and tears.
4:16. The Son provides mercy and help;
5:1. A true priest provides offering for sins;
5:9-10. The Son provides eternal salvation.
ii] Background: A general introduction; See 1:1-4.
iii] Structure: This passage, Jesus the Great High Priest, presents as follows:
Jesus is our great high priest, v14;
Jesus, our high priest, is able to sympathize with our weakness, v15;
Jesus, our high priest, is able to provide mercy and help, v16.
Our author describes Jesus as a "great high priest." In this sense he is similar to Aaron who passed through the inner vale of the Tabernacle and came into the presence of God. There, before Aaron, was the mercy seat, along with the Ark containing the tablets of the Law, his staff and a bowl of manna. On the Ark sat the Lord - it was his throne. Once a year Aaron came before the mercy seat to speak for the people on account of their sins - to seek divine forgiveness and favor. In this sense, Jesus too has passed through the vale; he has passed through the "heavens"; he has passed through the vale of the heavenly realm. Jesus has made his journey through this age and the age to come, through the earth and the dimensions beyond, and he has done so with a sure faith in the divine will. Jesus has remained true to the Father and is now enthroned in his presence. Therefore, Jesus is our great high priest, far greater than Aaron, for he is both perfect man and perfect God - glorified.
So far we have learnt that Jesus was made complete through suffering, that he was guided through suffering to glory, and that such will be the experience of his disciples. Believers may well suffer in the present, but we have a great high priest enthroned in glory who is willing and able to represent us before the throne of God's grace, such that mercy and help, in Christ, is ultimately ours. To possess this providential grace we must "hold firmly to the faith we profess."
v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
Text - 4:14
Our invitation to the throne of God's grace through our great high priest, v14-16; i] Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the great high priest, v14. Jesus, our great high priest, has journeyed before us. He has served as a pathfinder and is now enthroned beside God the Father. Our security rests in holding fast to Jesus and all that he has done for us. We must hold firmly to the confession of our faith in Jesus Christ.
oun "therefore" - Drawing a logical conclusion; "because we have a great high priest .......... therefore let us hold firmly ..."
econteV (ecw) pres. part. "we have" - having. The participle is adverbial, probably causal; "because we have a great high priest."
megan adj. "great" - great. In the Old Testament the high priest was literally the "great priest." Here the addition of "great" serves to make Christ's priesthood superior to the Aaronic priesthood. He is superior in that he is truly man and truly God.
dielhluqota (diercomai) perf. part. "has gone into / ascended into" - has gone through, passed through. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "a great high priest"; "who has passed through the heavens." The writer is saying that Jesus has passed through the heavens, has come into the throne-room of the living God and is now enthroned there (1:3, 13, 4:16, 8:1, 10:12). In this position Jesus represents us before the Father. The TNIV expresses this well.
ouranouV (oV) "heavens" - The plural is used because the Hebrew word is plural. The plural doesn't necessarily support multiple heavens, particularly different heavenly layers designed to suit the worth of a saved person. If this were the case, I would certainly be in the lowest level, and you would probably be with me there!
tou qeou (oV) gen. "[Son] of God" - The genitive is adjectival, relational. The phrase "Jesus the Son of God" stands in apposition to "great high priest."
kratwmen (kratew) pres. subj. + gen. of a thing "let us hold firmly to" - may lay hold of, take possession of, obtain. Hortatory subjunctive. "We must never lose our grip of the faith we have professed", Barclay.
thV oJmologiaV (a) gen. "the faith we profess" - of the confession, profession. Genitive of direct object. The word can be understood in two ways, either "that which is confessed" or "the act of confessing." The first is preferable, thus "the faith which we confess/profess."
ii] Jesus is a high priest tested as we are tested and so fully identifies with us in the struggle of life, v15. Our great high priest is not someone remote and uninvolved in our situation. Jesus has taken our humanity and become like us, he has gone before us, suffering and facing the very temptations, doubts and fears that we face, and he has done so without wavering in his reliance upon the Father, 2:17ff; He has faced testing in the wilderness. Jesus has been tested like us, and yet in his life there has been no compromise, no doubting, no cursing of God, no rebellion. So, he is totally able to both empathize and help us in our troubles.
gar "for" - Expressing cause/ reason, explaining why we should stick with our confession through think and thin; "because we ....."
mh dunamenon (dunamai) pres. pas. part. "is unable" - not being able. The participle is adjectival, attributive; "who cannot feel sympathy", TEV.
sumpaqhsai (sumpaqew) aor. inf. "to sympathize / empathize" - to share the experience of, feel with, empathize, understand from inside. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verbal aspect of the participle. Because Christ was exposed to the full force of a world out of control, he is well able to empathize with our struggle to retain our faith in an unseen God, cf. 2:17ff. "We have no superhuman High Priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible", Phillips.
taiV asqeneiaiV (a) dat. "with [our] weaknesses" - in the weaknesses [of us]. Dative of reference; "with respect to our weaknesses." Here in the sense of our frail humanity constantly harassed from within and without such that our reliance on God is undermined. "Unable to feel for us in our weaknesses", Cassirer.
de "but" - but, and. Here adversative / contrastive.
pepeirasmenon (peirazw) perf. pas. part. "we have one who has been tempted" - having been tempted, tested, tried. The participle is adjectival, as for "not being able [to sympathize]." For someone like Jesus, who did not succumb to temptation, the agony of the temptation would be far stronger than we who succumb early in the battle. "He has gone through the same ordeal of temptation as we have to go through", Barclay.
kata panta kaq oJmiothta "in every way, just as we are" - according to all things, according to the same likeness. The repeated preposition, with its different soundings, kata ... kaq, + acc. produces an emphatic punctuated statement; "in every respect, in every likeness, just as we are tested/tempted." Given this fact, Jesus is well able to "empathize" with us in life's difficulties.
cwriV + gen. "yet without [sin]" - apart from, without [sin]. The phrase can mean either that Jesus was free from the temptation to sin, or that although tempted, he didn't sin. The second is best; "except that he never sinner", Phillips. Christ's faith/faithfulness to the Father's will was constantly tested, reaching a crescendo on the Mount of Olives when a way, other than the cup of suffering, seemed so right. Yet, for Jesus it was "not my will, but thy will be done." Jesus faced the full force of temptations, as we all do, but unlike us, he did not succumb to them.
iii] As our high priest, Jesus freely offers us mercy and aid in our times of need, v16. Given the above, we should confidently approach the mercy seat - come in prayer before our Lord and God, seeking his aid and forgiveness. Our great high priest is enthroned in the presence of God the Father. He has set aside our condemnation, through his sacrificial work on our behalf, and he now speaks for us and aids us in our walk of faith. So then, we should approach God with confidence so that "we may receive "mercy" and forgiveness, and "grace to help us in time of need."
oun "then" - therefore. Inferential. Given v14-15, "let us therefore ...."
prosercwmeqa (prosercomai) pres. subj. + dat. "let us [then] approach" - let us go to, come to. Hortatory subjunctive. The word is commonly used of a priestly approach to God, which now through Christ, is available to all believers.
tw/ qronw/ (oV) dat. "the throne" - Dative of direct object, of place, after the verb "go to, come to." The image comes from the "mercy seat" in the tabernacle/temple sanctuary which was approached by the high priest on the day of atonement as he sought God's mercy for Israel's sins. "Before the throne of our merciful God", CEV.
thV caritoV (iV itoV) gen. "of grace" - The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "throne". We possibly have here a typical Jewish indirect reference to God, so simply "the throne of the gracious God." The throne of grace is best understood as a throne characterized by grace, by God's kindness, his mercy, possibly "the throne which is the source of divine grace", cf. Isa.16:5.
meta + gen. "with" - Here adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of the approach; "we must fearlessly and confidently come to the throne of grace", Barclay.
parrhsiaV (a) "confidence" - [with] confidence, boldness, assurance. The confidence possessed by believers is "based on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ who restored the relation between God and man", W.C. Unnik.
iJna + subj. "so that [we may receive ..... find ..]" - that. Introducing a purpose clause, "in order that we might receive .... find ...", but also possibly expressing hypothetical result; "so that we might ..."
eleoV (oV ouV) "mercy" - Mercy and cariV, "grace", are often linked together, with mercy expressing what we receive from God and grace expressing the divine act of mercy; "so that we may receive mercy and find grace coming to our aid in time of need", Cassirer.
eiV + acc. "to [help us in our time of need]" - for/to [timely assistance/help]. Here expressing purpose / end view; "with a view to." "And find grace to help us just when we need it", TEV.