His Perfect Provision
Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. (4:16)
The One who understands us perfectly will also provide for us perfectly. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Jesus Christ knows our temptations and will lead us out of them.
Come to God’s Throne of Grace
Again, the Holy Spirit appeals to those who are yet undecided about accepting Christ as their Savior. They should not only keep from going back into Judaism, but they should hold on to their confession of Christ and, finally—and necessarily—go on to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.
Most ancient rulers were unapproachable by the common people. Some would not even allow their highest-ranking officials to come before them without permission. Queen Esther risked her life in approaching King Ahasuerus without invitation, even though she was his wife (Esther 5:1–2). Yet any penitent person, no matter how sinful and undeserving, may approach God’s throne at any time for forgiveness and salvation—confident that he will be received with mercy and grace.
By Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, God’s throne of judgment is turned into a throne of grace for those who trust in Him. As the Jewish high priests once a year for centuries had sprinkled blood on the mercy seat for the people’s sins, Jesus shed His blood once and for all time for the sins of everyone who believes in Him. That is His perfect provision.
The Bible speaks much of God’s justice. But how terrible for us if He were only just, and not also gracious. Sinful man deserves death, the sentence of justice; but he needs salvation, the gift of grace. It is to the very throne of this grace that any person can now come with confidence and assurance. It is the throne of grace because grace is dispensed there.
How can anyone reject such a High Priest, such a Savior—who not only permits us to come before His throne for grace and help, but pleads with us to come in confidence? His Spirit says, “Come boldly all the way to God’s throne that has been turned into a throne of grace because of Jesus. Come all the way up, receive grace and mercy when you need it—before it is too late and your heart is hard and God’s ‘today’ is over.” The time of need is now.
What a High Priest we have. He sympathizes and He saves. What more could He do?
16 Verses 14–15 have set side by side the two essentials for the perfect high priest: to be in the position of ultimate authority with God in heaven, and yet also to have a personal knowledge of our human condition. No earthly priest could offer the first, and no angel the second, but in Jesus we have both. So there can be no barrier to the parrēsia (GK 4244), “confidence” or lack of inhibition, with which we can approach God (cf. 10:19–22, where the same word parrēsia is used). In the OT, the priests alone were entitled to “approach” the sanctuary, but now through our great high priest all of us can fearlessly approach God himself. Of course we must not forget the absolute holiness and majesty of the God who “lives in unapproachable light” (1 Ti 6:16), but through Jesus we have come to know that the throne of majesty is also a “throne of grace,” a place of welcome, not of rebuff, where “mercy” and “grace” are freely available through the high priest who has gone there to intercede for his people (7:25). This theme of access to the presence of God will be graphically developed in 12:18–24. And its relevance is not only to our ultimate acceptance before God when this earthly life is finished but also to the present crises of life on earth; in such “time of need,” too, effective “help” is there for the asking.
16 Therefore, says our author, let us come with full confidence to the throne of grace. This throne of grace is the throne of God, where Jesus, as his people’s high priest, sits exalted at the Father’s right hand. It is the antitype, in our author’s mind, to the “mercy-seat” in the earthly sanctuary, of which he speaks below in 9:5; in Tyndale’s New Testament and the Great Bible (1539) the same rendering, “the seat of grace” (following Luther’s Gnadenstuhl), is used both there and here. It was at the earthly mercy-seat that the work of atonement was completed in token on the Day of Atonement and the grace of God extended to his people; the presence of the Christians’ high priest on the heavenly throne of grace bespeaks a work of atonement completed not in token but in fact, and the constant availability of divine aid in all their need. Thanks to him, the throne of God is a mercy-seat to which they have free access and from which they may receive all the grace and power required “for timely help” in the hour of trial and crisis.71
16 Because “we,” as God’s people, have this kind of high priest, the pastor urges us to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” in order to receive the help we need for victorious living. Under the Old Covenant none could “approach” God’s “throne,” the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place, save the high priest, and he but one day in the year. This annual approach was with great fear because God’s throne was the place of judgment against sin.
Now, however, God’s people are urged to draw near to the true heavenly “throne” of God “with confidence” because their High Priest has made that “throne” a throne “of grace,” a true “mercy seat,” for those who approach God through him. God is no less holy than he was in the OT (cf. 4:12–13; 12:25–29), but Christ’s obedient sacrifice has taken away the sin of the faithful and “cleansed” their “consciences from dead works” (9:14) so that they can come into the presence of this holy God. Thus the “confidence” (3:6; 10:19–23, 25) with which God’s people approach is more than a feeling. Through the work of Christ they have received authorization to enter God’s presence. As God’s people the recipients of Hebrews and we as their heirs can be sure of God’s gracious acceptance.
The combination of “mercy and grace” powerfully pictures the total adequacy of the benefits God’s people receive when they enter God’s presence through this “merciful” (2:17) High Priest. “Mercy” is reminiscent of God’s covenant love and unfailing faithfulness demonstrated in the history of Israel and culminating in Jesus Christ. Through God’s “mercy” the faithful are forgiven and released from their sins. The words translated “find grace” are often used in the Greek OT of finding “favor” in someone’s eyes.29 As noted above, this “throne of grace” is a place where God’s people meet with God’s favor and acceptance. “Grace,” however, is much more than passive divine acceptance. “Grace” is the new reality of redemption freely available for God’s people through the death of Christ (2:9) and mediated by God’s Spirit (10:29). God’s “grace” provides the power to overcome temptation and to live faithfully in all the circumstances of life. God’s “help” is “timely” because it is available twenty-four hours a day—whenever his people face trials and temptations. His “help” is sufficient to enable his people to “hold firmly to the faith” they “profess” despite opposition and persecution.
These two exhortations, the first in v. 14 and the second in vv. 15–16, mutually support one another. Because our “great High Priest” (the one who is “the Son of God” and has entered heaven on our behalf) is also “Jesus” (v. 14a), who sympathizes “with our weaknesses” (v. 15), we, as God’s faithful, both can and should draw near to God confident of acceptance and of finding the “help” (v. 16) needed to “hold fast” the “faith we profess” (v. 14b NIV).
4:16 / If the readers are to “hold firmly to the faith” (v. 14), they will need to avail themselves of the help that comes from the very presence of God. Using imagery drawn from the temple cultus (e.g., approach), the author encourages boldness: with confidence (cf. 10:19). It is no light matter to draw near to the throne of grace. But there the readers will find the mercy and grace they need, and just at the time of need. In keeping with the language of the cultus, this throne of grace is probably analogous in the author’s mind to the mercy-seat in the holy of holies (cf. 9:5). It is assumed rather than stated that the high priest who is able to help is there at the throne (cf. v. 14 and 1:3, etc.).
We have now reached that stage in the author’s argument where he must set forth the qualifications of Jesus as high priest. This he does by first reviewing the role and the nature of the office according to the ot Scriptures, and then by showing how Jesus fulfills the same criteria.
16. Let us therefore come boldly, or, with confidence, &c. He draws this conclusion,—that an access to God is open to all who come to him relying on Christ the Mediator; nay, he exhorts the faithful to venture without any hesitation to present themselves before God. And the chief benefit of divine teaching is a sure confidence in calling on God, as, on the other hand, the whole of religion falls to the ground, and is lost when this certainty is taken away from consciences.
It is hence obvious to conclude, that under the Papacy the light of the Gospel is extinct, for miserable men are bidden to doubt whether God is propitious to them or is angry with them. They indeed say that God is to be sought; but the way by which it is possible to come to him is not pointed out, and the gate is barred by which alone men can enter. They confess in words that Christ is a Mediator, but in reality they make the power of his priesthood of none effect, and deprive him of his honour.
For we must hold this principle,—that Christ is not really known as a Mediator except all doubt as to our access to God is removed; otherwise the conclusion here drawn would not stand, “We have a high priest who is willing to help us; therefore we may come boldly and without any hesitation to the throne of grace.” And were we indeed fully persuaded that Christ is of his own accord stretching forth his hand to us, who of us would not come in perfect confidence? It is then true what I said, that its power is taken away from Christ’s priesthood whenever men have doubts, and are anxiously seeking for mediators, as though that one were not sufficient, in whose patronage all they who really trust, as the Apostle here directs them, have the assurance that their prayers are heard.
The ground of this assurance is, that the throne of God is not arrayed in naked majesty to confound us, but is adorned with a new name, even that of grace, which ought ever to be remembered whenever we shun the presence of God. For the glory of God, when we contemplate it alone, can produce no other effect than to fill us with despair; so awful is his throne. The Apostle, then, that he might remedy our diffidence, and free our minds from all fear and trembling, adorns it with “grace,” and gives it a name which can allure us by its sweetness, as though he had said, “Since God has affixed to his throne as it were the banner of ‘grace’ and of his paternal love towards us, there is no reason why his majesty should drive us away.”
The import of the whole is, that we are to call upon God without fear, since we know that he is propitious to us, and that this may be done is owing to the benefit conferred on us by Christ, as we find from Eph. 3:12; for when Christ receives us under his protection and patronage, he covers with his goodness the majesty of God, which would otherwise be terrible to us, so that nothing appears there but grace and paternal favour.
That we may obtain mercy, &c. This is not added without great reason; it is for the purpose of encouraging as it were by name those who feel the need of mercy, lest any one should be cast down by the sense of his misery, and close up his way by his own diffidence. This expression, “that we may obtain mercy,” contains especially this most delightful truth, that all who, relying on the advocacy of Christ, pray to God, are certain to obtain mercy; yet on the other hand the Apostle indirectly, or by implication, holds out a threatening to all who take not this way, and intimates that God will be inexorable to them, because they disregard the only true way of being reconciled to him.
He adds, To help in time of need, or, for a seasonable help; that is, if we desire to obtain all things necessary for our salvation. Now, this seasonableness refers to the time of calling, according to those words of Isaiah which Paul accommodates to the preaching of the Gospel, “Behold, now is the accepted time,” &c., (Is. 49:8; 2 Cor. 6:2;) for the Apostle refers to that “to-day,” during which God speaks to us. If we defer hearing until to-morrow, when God is speaking to us to-day, the unseasonable night will come, when what now may be done can no longer be done; and we shall in vain knock when the door is closed.
16. come—rather as Greek, “approach,” “draw near.”
boldly—Greek, “with confidence,” or “freedom of speech” (Eph 6:19).
the throne of grace—God’s throne is become to us a throne of grace through the mediation of our High Priest at God’s right hand (Heb 8:1; 12:2). Pleading our High Priest Jesus’ meritorious death, we shall always find God on a throne of grace. Contrast Job’s complaint (Job 23:3–8) and Elihu’s “IF,” &c. (Job 33:23–28).
mercy—“Compassion,” by its derivation (literally, fellow feeling from community of suffering), corresponds to the character of our High Priest “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15).
find grace—corresponding to “throne of grace.” Mercy especially refers to the remission and removal of sins; grace, to the saving bestowal of spiritual gifts [Estius]. Compare “Come unto Me … and I will give you rest (the rest received on first believing). Take My yoke on you … and ye shall find rest (the continuing rest and peace found in daily submitting to Christ’s easy yoke; the former answers to “receive mercy” here; the latter, to “find grace,” Mt 11:28, 29).
in time of need—Greek, “seasonably.” Before we are overwhelmed by the temptation; when we most need it, in temptations and persecutions; such as is suitable to the time, persons, and end designed (Ps 104:27). A supply of grace is in store for believers against all exigencies; but they are only supplied with it according as the need arises. Compare “in due time,” Ro 5:6. Not, as Alford explains, “help in time,” that is, to-day, while it is yet open to us; the accepted time (2 Co 6:2).
help—Compare Heb 2:18, “He is able to succor them that are tempted.”
16. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
What encouraging words! The writer throughout his epistle exhorts the readers numerous times, but in this particular verse he has a special word for us. This time he does not exhort believers to rectify their way of life; he commends us for coming in prayer to God and urges us to do so confidently.
- “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence.” The invitation to approach the throne of grace implies that the readers are already doing this. The author also uses the same verb in Hebrews 10:22 (“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith”). He later repeats the same invitation in slightly different wording (see Heb. 7:25; 10:1; 11:6; 12:18, 22).
The verb approach may have a religious connotation, because it often referred to the priests who in their cultic service approached God with sacrifices (Lev. 9:7; 21:17, 21; 22:3; Num. 18:3). In Hebrews 4:16 the writer urges us to come near to the throne of grace in prayer, for the only sacrifice a believer can bring is a broken and a contrite heart (Ps. 51:17). The great high priest has brought the supreme sacrifice in offering himself on the cross on behalf of his people. The merciful and faithful high priest invites the weak and tempted sinner to come to the throne of grace.
What is meant by the phrase throne of grace? This is an explicit reference to the kingship of the Son of God (Heb. 1:2–4). Jesus sits at the right hand of God and has been given full authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). But the word grace implies that the reference is also to the priesthood of Christ. The sinner who comes to the throne of grace in repentance and faith indeed finds the forgiving grace of Jesus.
Moreover, we are exhorted to come to the throne with confidence; that is, we may come boldly (Heb. 3:6; 10:19, 35), not rashly or in fear of judgment, but “in full confidence, openness to God and in the hope of the fullness of the glory of God.” Jesus invites his people to approach freely, without hesitation. He holds out the golden scepter, as it were, and says, “Come!”
- “So that we may receive mercy and find grace.” Although the terms mercy and grace are often interpreted as being synonyms, their difference ought to be noted. Westcott makes the distinction succinctly:
Man needs mercy for past failure, and grace for present and future work. There is also a difference as to the mode of attainment in each case. Mercy is to be “taken” as it is extended to man in his weakness; grace is to be “sought” by man according to his necessity.
The mercy of God is directed to sinners in misery or distress; they receive God’s compassion when they approach him. And whereas God’s mercy extends to all his creatures (Ps. 145:9), his grace, as the writer of Hebrews indicates in Hebrews 4:16, extends to all who approach the throne of God. Mercy is characterized as God’s tender compassion; grace, as his goodness and love.
- “To help us in our time of need.” Help is given at the right moment in the hour of need. The author is not saying that the help is constant, but rather that it alleviates the need of the moment. That need may be material, physical, or spiritual. When we call on the name of the Lord in faith and approach the throne of God, he will hear and answer. He stands ready to help (see Heb. 2:18).
This aid, in the form of grace, comes when temptation seems to sway us. God provides the means to find a way out of our temptations. God is faithful (1 Cor. 10:13).
4:16. Given the fact that we have a sinless Savior, what can we do? What should be our response?
First, we must approach. Worshipers used this verb (Heb. 7:25) in describing their movement into God’s presence. We are to come to God with all the reverence and awe which his worship demands.
Second, we come to the throne of grace. This is a reverent reference to God’s presence. It is the place where God gives out his free favor. The term describes an attitude more than a place. The seeking sinner will find this throne of grace (Luke 18:9–14).
Third, we come in an attitude of confidence. Although we must approach God with reverence, we can enter his presence with freedom and without fear. The term describes a boldness based on an awareness that God has all the grace we need. It is the attitude of customers coming to a store seeking an important item which they know is plentifully stocked.
Fourth, we come for the purpose of obtaining mercy and grace. God’s mercy prescribes pardon for our many failures. God’s grace provides strength for the demands of God’s service.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 114–115). Chicago: Moody Press.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 73). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Bruce, F. F. (1990). The Epistle to the Hebrews (Rev. ed., pp. 116–117). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Cockerill, G. L. (2012). The Epistle to the Hebrews (pp. 227–228). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (p. 79). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 109–112). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 450). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 126–127). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, pp. 74–75). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.