This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (6:19–20)
God gave Abraham the security of His Person, His purpose, and His pledge. All these He also gives to us who have believed in Christ. But He gives us yet another, His Priest. As our High Priest, Jesus serves as the anchor of our souls, the One who will forever keep us from drifting away from God.
Jesus’ entering within the veil signifies His entering the Holy of Holies, where the sacrifice of atonement was made. Under the Old Covenant it was made yearly by the high priest. Under the New is has been made once for all time by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Our anchored soul is, in God’s mind, already secure within the veil, secure within His eternal sanctuary. When Jesus entered the heavenly Holy of Holies, he did not leave after the sacrifice as did the Aaronic high priests, but “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). In other words, Jesus remains there forever as Guardian of our souls. Such absolute security is almost incomprehensible. Not only are our souls anchored within the impregnable, inviolable heavenly sanctuary, but our Savior, Jesus Christ, stands guard over them as well! How can the Christian’s security be described as anything but eternal? Truly we can trust God and His Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, with our souls. That is good cause to come all the way to salvation and to enjoy its security.
19. As an anchor, &c. It is a striking likeness when he compares faith leaning on God’s word to an anchor; for doubtless, as long as we sojourn in this world, we stand not on firm ground, but are tossed here and there as it were in the midst of the sea, and that indeed very turbulent; for Satan is incessantly stirring up innumerable storms, which would immediately upset and sink our vessel, were we not to cast our anchor fast in the deep. For nowhere a haven appears to our eyes, but wherever we look water alone is in view; yea, waves also arise and threaten us; but as the anchor is cast through the waters into a dark and unseen place, and while it lies hid there, keeps the vessel beaten by the waves from being overwhelmed; so must our hope be fixed on the invisible God. There is this difference,—the anchor is cast downwards into the sea, for it has the earth as its bottom; but our hope rises upwards and soars aloft, for in the world it finds nothing on which it can stand, nor ought it to cleave to created things, but to rest on God alone. As the cable also by which the anchor is suspended joins the vessel with the earth through a long and dark intermediate space, so the truth of God is a bond to connect us with himself, so that no distance of place and no darkness can prevent us from cleaving to him. Thus when united to God, though we must struggle with continual storms, we are yet beyond the peril of shipwreck. Hence he says, that this anchor is sure and stedfast, or safe and firm. It may indeed be that by the violence of the waves the anchor may be plucked off, or the cable be broken, or the beaten ship be torn to pieces. This happens on the sea; but the power of God to sustain us is wholly different, and so also is the strength of hope and the firmness of his word.
Which entereth into that, or those things, &c. As we have said, until faith reaches to God, it finds nothing but what is unstable and evanescent; it is hence necessary for it to penetrate even into heaven. But as the Apostle is speaking to the Jews, he alludes to the ancient Tabernacle, and says, that they ought not to abide in those things which are seen, but to penetrate into the inmost recesses, which lie hid within the veil, as though he had said, that all the external and ancient figures and shadows were to be passed over, in order that faith might be fixed on Christ alone.
And carefully ought this reasoning to be observed,—that as Christ has entered into heaven, so faith ought to be directed there also: for we are hence taught that faith should look nowhere else. And doubtless it is in vain for men to seek God in his own majesty, for it is too far removed from them; but Christ stretches forth his hand to us, that he may lead us to heaven. And this was shadowed forth formerly under the Law; for the high priest entered the holy of holies, not in his own name only, but also in that of the people, inasmuch as he bare in a manner the twelve tribes on his breast and on his shoulders; for as a memorial for them twelve stones were wrought on the breastplate, and on the two onyx stones on his shoulders were engraved their names, so that in the person of one man all entered into the sanctuary together. Rightly then does the Apostle speak, when he reminds them that our high priest has entered into heaven; for he has not entered only for himself, but also for us. There is therefore no reason to fear that access to heaven will be closed up against our faith, as it is never disjoined from Christ. And as it becomes us to follow Christ who is gone before, he is therefore called our Forerunner, or precursor.
19 The metaphors now pile up in rich confusion. Already in v. 18, we are “refugees” who “take hold of” the hope set before us (perhaps the language of claiming sanctuary; cf. 1 Ki 1:50; 2:28, taking hold of the horns of the altar). Now this same hope becomes an anchor that “enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.” (Grammatically it could be the “hope” rather than the “anchor” that enters, but since the anchor represents the hope, this makes little difference to the boldness of the imagery.) There is no need to try to visualize the bizarre picture of refugees holding on to an anchor as it goes through a curtain; the metaphorical sense is clear enough. It is about finding security in the safest place of all, and that place is described in the language of the inner shrine of the OT tabernacle. The anchor is “safe and sound”—it will not slip. And it provides security for the “soul,” a term we have considered at 4:12, where I suggested it may best be taken to refer to “our real, innermost selves.” Here it makes clear that the purpose of all of these physical metaphors is to describe our spiritual security.
20 The metaphor of the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle leads to a further extension of the imagery, and this time one that brings us right back to the main theme of Christ as our high priest. The sanctuary is not just the place where the “anchor” is fixed but also the place where our high priest has gone in “on our behalf,” as the OT high priest went in each year on the Day of Atonement on behalf of the rest of the people to make atonement for their sins. He is identified again by his human name, Jesus, as he was also in 3:1 and 4:14 when his high priestly office was introduced (and cf. the language of “going through” into heaven in 4:14). But unlike the OT high priests, whose privilege of entering the sanctuary was shared with no one else, our high priest has gone in as the “forerunner” (so rightly TNIV; NIV, “who went before us”), a term not used elsewhere in the NT but used in secular Greek especially for the advance guard of an army; it picks up the theme of the “pioneer” in 2:10, and especially as it will be developed in 12:2, where Jesus has run the race ahead of us. Where Jesus has gone, he prepares the way for his people to follow (cf. Jn 14:2–3); and in 10:19–20, we will be exhorted to do so. And his right to enter the sanctuary derives from his status, declared by God’s oath, as a “high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” Thus we are brought right back into the “difficult” argument begun at 4:14 and abandoned at 5:10, and this time the author will have no hesitation in developing his thesis from Psalm 110:4. It all hinges on the mysterious figure of Melchizedek.
6:19–20 / Because of the nature of the Christian hope as confident expectation, hope serves as an anchor for the soul, and therefore as that which can counteract the tendency of “drifting away” mentioned in 2:1. Our hope depends entirely on the priestly work of Jesus. This firm and secure hope is said metaphorically to enter the inner sanctuary, by which is meant that such hope involves our free access into the very presence of God. The language behind the curtain (lit., “within the veil”) alludes to Leviticus 16:2, 12 and refers to entering the Holy of Holies (inner sanctuary). This is the first occurrence of imagery that will be vitally important in chapters 9 and 10. Our unrestricted entrance into God’s presence is made possible only by the one who on our behalf has gone before us to prepare the way, who has become a high priest forever. Because of his work as high priest, we all can now go where only the high priest was privileged to go, only once a year. In the order of Melchizedek is another brief allusion to Psalm 110:4, which was first quoted in 5:6 (cf. 7:17). Having again mentioned Melchizedek and Jesus’ high priesthood, the author has come back to the argument he began in chapter 5 but broke off in 5:10.
6:18–20. The strength of God’s promise provided hope and encouragement for the readers of Hebrews. Where did they find this hope?
First, they found it in the complete trustworthiness of God’s Word. When God—who cannot lie—supports his statement with an oath, his followers find hope and encouragement.
Second, they could find it through their own tenacity in seizing the hope that was available. Retaining hope demanded strong action. The readers had drifted along aimlessly. They needed to understand and grasp the promises the Father had offered them. They should flee to Christ for security and protection from the uncertainty of the world.
Third, they found it in a safe and secure anchor—Jesus, our High Priest. We have a firm basis for our hope because Jesus finished his work on earth and continues that work in heaven as our High Priest, carrying us into God’s very presence. He has gone before us as a forerunner and is the assurance of our admission into God’s presence. His prayers for his people guard the church (Heb. 7:25) and give believers the hope of future glorification. Christians find a basis for hope in the completed and continuing work of Jesus.
Fourth, they found it because Christ is our High Priest forever. The fact that we have access to God’s presence forever gives us a firmness for our hope. This is a new idea. The next chapter of Hebrews develops the relationship of Christ as a priest to the priest Melchizedek.
In the summer of 1996, electric power outages twice hit the western United States when high demand and unfortunate accidents combined to trigger massive blackouts. The first failure affected two million customers in fourteen states on July 2. The second blackout affected four million homes in ten states. One spokesman for the power industry said, “Under no circumstance should this [a blackout] happen, let alone twice in one summer.” But it happened. Customers wondered if they could trust their power suppliers when they could not provide uninterrupted service.
Jesus provides uninterrupted access to God’s presence for his children. We will never have an outage of divine power. His presence before God fills us with hope, encouragement, and stamina. With the strength we receive from him we can find the staying power to endure in our Christian commitment. Let us rise up and claim our heritage!
19. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.
The author, true to form, introduces a certain topic rather briefly in order to explain it fully in subsequent verses. In a brief exhortation he presents the subject hope (6:11); after discussing the absolute dependability of God’s promise to the believer, he explains the significance of hope (6:18–19). Hope, says the writer, is like an anchor; it gives stability and security to the soul.
The imagery is vivid and telling. The author paints a picture of a boat, battered by the waves but held in place by an unseen anchor that clings to the bottom of the sea. So man’s soul, buffeted by winds and waves of doubt, has a secure anchor of hope firmly fixed in Jesus. This anchor gives stability to man’s soul, and that includes “the whole inner life of man with his powers of will, reason, and emotion.”50 We relate to the image of an anchor and express our feelings in the words of Priscilla J. Owens:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll;
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.
But the Hebrews of Old Testament times and the Jews of the first century had a dislike for the sea. A reflection of this fact is that the word anchor never occurs in the Old Testament; and only four times in the New Testament, three of which appear in the account of Paul’s shipwreck (Acts 27:29, 30, 40). Therefore the author rather abruptly switches metaphors and mentions the veil of the Most Holy Place. The recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews were much more attuned to the worship services of tabernacle and temple; they knew the construction of the sanctuary; and the clause “it enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain” was meaningful to them.
The author of the epistle has come to the end of his exhortation that began after he had introduced Jesus as “high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (5:10). He returns to the subject of the high priesthood of Christ with a reference to “the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.” The words immediately reminded the readers of the Day of Atonement, when the high priest entered into the presence of God (Lev. 16:2, 12). Moreover, the Hebrews knew from the gospel proclaimed to them that at Jesus’ death the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom, exposing the Most Holy Place to the view of all who were inside the temple. They understood the reference to the inner sanctuary figuratively and associated it with heaven. Already the writer had called attention to this fact when he wrote, “We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (4:14).
20. Where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Our hope is pinned on Jesus, who has entered the heavenly sanctuary. An anchor lies unseen at the bottom of the sea; our hope lies unseen in the highest heaven. “For in this hope we were saved,” writes Paul. “But hope that is seen is no hope at all” (Rom. 8:24). Our anchor of hope has absolute security in that Jesus in human form, now glorified, has entered heaven. And he has entered heaven in his humanity as a guarantee that we, too, shall be with him. This guarantee is indicated by the phrase who went before us. (In the Greek the equivalent expression is the word prodromos, which means “forerunner.”) He goes ahead and we follow. Also note that the name Jesus and not Christ (5:5) occurs—a distinct reminder of the earthly life of the Lord. Jesus ascended in his glorified human body to heaven and entered the presence of God. As Jesus’ human body has come into God’s presence, so our bodies will enter heaven. That is our hope.
Jesus “has become a high priest forever.” This rather short sentence is filled with meaning.
- Jesus has become a high priest. He did not become high priest when he ascended into heaven. Rather, he took his place at the right hand of God the Father because he accomplished his atoning work on the cross. He indeed was the sacrificial Lamb of God offered for the sin of the world; as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people” (9:28).
- Jesus has become a high priest. The writer has called Jesus high priest in Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14–15; and 5:5, 10. He will explain the concept high priest in succeeding chapters, but in 6:20 the author stresses that Jesus entered heaven as high priest, as the one who atoned for the sins of God’s people. He opened the door to heaven because of his high-priestly work.
- Jesus has become a high priest forever. An Aaronic high priest served in the capacity of high priest for a limited duration. Jesus serves forever. The high priest entered the Most Holy Place once a year. Jesus is in heaven forever. “Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood” (7:24). Constantly he intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24).
By his death on the cross, Jesus fulfilled the responsibilities of the Aaronic priesthood. But as a high priest he had to belong to a different order. The writer of Hebrews showed that according to Psalm 110:4 God designated Jesus as high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (5:6, 10). The writer will explain this topic in the next few chapters.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 153–154). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.