What does it mean to come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16)?

Hebrews 4:14–16 declares, "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." The author of Hebrews is comparing the old, Mosaic covenant with the new covenant instituted by Christ. Here he is making a comparison with the Aaronic priesthood.

Under the Mosaic covenant, God's presence dwelled with the ark of the covenant in the innermost chamber of the tabernacle or temple, called the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. The high priest could enter that room once per year, on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). When Jesus was crucified, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies tore from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). Jesus was the "once for all" (Hebrews 10:10) sacrifice through whom we can have forgiveness of sin and become children of God (John 1:12). Unlike other priests, who must first sacrifice for their own sins and who will eventually die, thus leaving their priestly role, Jesus had no sin and He is alive (Hebrews 7:23–25; 10:11–14). He is the "great high priest who has passed through the heavens."

The "throne of grace" is an allusion to the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. Because Jesus has made the way for us, we can "hold fast our confession," being confident in His work. Because Jesus is fully human and fully God, we know He understands us. He has lived the human experience. Nothing we experience or express shocks Him, and He has compassion for us. Knowing all this about Jesus, we can approach God boldly. We need not fear God's wrath because Jesus has made atonement for us on the cross. We need not fear that God is disinterested because in Christ we have been adopted as His child (Galatians 4:4–7). We know that God will be merciful and gracious. So we confidently approach Him in prayer.

The Greek word rendered "confidence" or "boldly" (KJV) refers to frankness or openness in speech. We see numerous examples of this type of honesty in prayer throughout the Psalms. Jesus, too, demonstrated this type of honest approach to the Father (John 17; Luke 22:39–26). Romans 8:14–17 says, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." Jesus told His disciples, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. … If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:7, 11). When we understand who God is and know our position before Him in Christ (Ephesians 1:3–14), we can come before Him in complete honesty, knowing He will respond to us with perfect love.

Hebrews 10:19–22 gives similar encouragement, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." Those who are in Christ have been made clean and have been invited into full relationship with God.

Romans 8:26–30 gives this encouragement about prayer and God's work in our lives: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."

In short, coming boldly to the throne of grace means coming to God in prayer with confidence and honesty. The barriers of the old covenant have been removed because Jesus has fulfilled it. He has ushered in a new, better covenant. And now, just as a trusting child approaches her loving father, we, the children of God, can approach our perfect Father.

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