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Entering the Holiest

November 2003 | by Edgar Andrews

‘Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, his flesh, and having a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near…’ (10:19-22)

An edited extract from

A glorious high throne

– a new ‘Welwyn Commentary’ on Hebrews by Edgar Andrews

I

n summarising the work of redemption and the benefits of the new covenant, the writer to the Hebrews highlights three things that believers possess in Christ. The first is boldness, the second is access, and the third is representation.

We have boldness in the blood of Christ, access through the life of Christ, and representation by the priesthood of Christ. Let us consider these in turn.

Boldness

It is difficult for modern readers to grasp the radical nature of the first of these statements: ‘having boldness (or authorisation) to enter the Holy Place’. To a first-century Jew, the idea that anyone other than the high priest might seek to enter the holiest-of-all — even in thought or imagination — would be profoundly shocking.

This awesome privilege was reserved for the high priest, and that but once a year. And even he would have entered fearfully, knowing the fate that awaited any who dared approach the presence of God with less than perfect obedience.

How, then, can the writer claim that all who believe in Christ may enter the inner sanctum boldly, without fear or trepidation?

It is one thing to ‘come boldly to the throne of grace’ (4:16), amazing as that is. It is an entirely different matter to enter the presence of one who dwells ‘in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see’ (1 Timothy 6:16). Yet, insists the writer, believers have boldness to do exactly that.

The blood of Christ

The solution to this paradox is that we have ‘boldness … by the blood of Christ’ (10:19). When the high priest of old entered the holiest he did so under the protection of the shed blood of animal sacrifices.

The law taught him that God accepted their death in place of his own. But even so, since his conscience was not cleansed by those sacrifices, he must have entered with dread, not boldness.

There was a further problem. He was only safe as long as he followed perfectly the detailed instructions God had given. How could he be sure that his obedience was perfect?

Under the new covenant, everything is different. Firstly, the believer enters the holiest — the presence of the living God — not alone but ‘in Christ’. We are accepted, not in and of ourselves, but ‘in the Beloved’ (Ephesians 1:6).

Secondly, and more objectively, we come authorised and protected by the blood of Christ, the eternal Son of God, whose perfect self-offering guarantees our acceptance in a way that animal sacrifices never could.

Thirdly, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses our consciences, so that we come before God in the happy awareness of being truly clean in his sight. As the writer tells us in 10:14, we have been ‘perfected for ever’ by the shedding of that blood, and perfection makes us bold.

Fourthly, our confidence lies not in our own obedience but in Christ’s perfect conformity to the will of God (10:7).

Our boldness, therefore, derives from our understanding of what Christ has achieved for his blood-bought people, and from our faith in the perfection of his offering. This underlines the practical importance of the doctrine of the atoning and vicarious death of Christ.

Access — the new way

We learn next that we have access to ‘the Majesty on high’, not only through the death of Christ, but also through his life — we come ‘by a new and living way’.

John Owen expounds the significance of the ‘new’ way as follows: ‘It is new (1) because it was but newly made and prepared; (2) because it belongs unto the new covenant; (3) because it admits of no decays but is always new, as unto its efficacy and use’.

It is a new way, firstly, because it differs profoundly from the way people came to God under the old covenant. They came to an earthly tabernacle with dead and ineffective sacrifices (9:11-12).

They came through a sinful human intermediary, the high priest, who must atone for his own sins before he could account for theirs (9:7; cf. Leviticus 16:11,15). They came with uncleansed consciences, and in their coming were reminded of their sin, not relieved of it (9:14; 10:3-4).

Sadly, there are many today whose coming to God is equally marred. They trust in earth-bound institutions; in their own works rather than Christ’s. They rely on human priesthoods, not on his high priestly office.

They know little of the sanctifying work of the Spirit or the cleansing of the conscience by the blood of Christ. Consequently, they know little of that ‘access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (Romans 5:2).

Access — the living way

Secondly, we come by a living way, for Jesus himself is ‘the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him]’ (John 14:6).

We often apply these words to the unsaved, urging them to put their trust in Christ. But the statement applies equally to the believing soul. He does not just show us the way, or open the way — he is the way into communion with the Father.

When we approach God, we do so in Christ; that is, by virtue of our union with him in his death, resurrection and exaltation. We come also by virtue of his indwelling Spirit (John 17:23; Romans 6:4-8; 8:9-11; Galatians 2:20).

That he has ‘consecrated’ (or opened) this way ‘for us’ means that he has pledged himself and undertaken to be our eternal access to the Father. ‘He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him’, just because ‘he ever lives to make intercession for them’ (7:25).

Through the veil

The new and living way has been created ‘through the veil, that is, his flesh’. The veil referred to here is the curtain that separated the most holy place — and the Shekinah glory — from the remainder of the tabernacle.

Anyone entering the holiest-of-all must pass through this curtain. It was this same veil (albeit in the temple of Herod) that was ‘torn in two from top to bottom’ when Jesus died, signifying that the way into the holiest had at last been laid open (Mark 15:38; Hebrews 9:8).

The veil represents Christ’s flesh in several ways. Firstly, it is the incarnate Christ who reveals the Father, while yet veiling the sinner from God’s burning holiness. To look on the Shekinah was death, but to gaze upon God’s glory ‘in the face of Jesus Christ’ is life and health (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Secondly, the rending of the veil, giving access to the holiest, pictures the breaking of Christ’s body (‘his flesh’) on the cross. Delitzsch declares, ‘The veil which was rent by the Lord’s death in order to [permit] our entrance was that pierced body of humiliation’.

Thirdly, although the veil was a barrier to man, it was also a doorway. The man Christ Jesus has, by the offering of his flesh, removed the barrier and opened the door.

Representation

Not only do we have boldness and access — we also have representation in the form of ‘a high priest over the house of God’ (10:21).

The epistle has so much to say about the high-priesthood of Christ that little more can, perhaps, be added. However, the writer’s purpose here is not to augment what he has already told us, but to remind us of it.

Our boldness and access can (and must) be traced back to the person of Christ and the priestly role he has graciously undertaken. We dare not enter the holy place alone.

As High Priest, Christ is uniquely privileged to enter the presence of God’s burning holiness. If we also are to enter, it can only be ‘in him’ that we do so.

We are ‘accepted in the Beloved’, not on our own account. Even our election and predestination do not qualify us to meet with God. Christ alone is our means and right of access.

Precious in his eyes

Under the old covenant, the high priest ‘carried’ the tribes of Israel into the presence of God. How? By bearing their names inscribed on gemstones sewn into the breastplate and epaulets of his robes.

These engraved stones served as ‘a memorial for the sons of Israel’ before the Lord (Exodus 39:6-7, 8-14). This gloriously pictures the way Christ represents his new-covenant people before the Father.

As regards their weakness, he bears them on his shoulders. As regards their value in his sight, he carries them on his heart.

As our great high priest, he dwells in the presence of Almighty God with our names upon his shoulders and our needs upon his heart. Like the jewels in the ephod and the breastplate, we are precious in the eyes of God the Father and of God the Son.

References have been omitted from this shortened extract.