In the last post we so the effectiveness of the once for all sacrifice the high priest of our faith made through his own blood!
19-22 Now to all of this (i.e., the total forgiveness of sins and transgressions as seen in the previous passage/s) the author adds an exhortation to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. A diagram will help us understand the progress of thought:
Therefore […] let us draw near…(v.22)
Since we have confidence to enter the holy places (v.19a)
- By what means?
By the blood of Jesus (v.19b)
- And How?By the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh (v.20)
Since we have a great priest over the house of God (v.21)
- How are we to 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. (v.22)
The way Jesus opened for us is new and living, i.e., new in the sense of it was only established through Christ’s work and was not available before; “it did not exist until Christ opened it up and entered it himself (4:14)” (O’Brien, 364; Bruce, 250). Further the way is livingin the sense of that Christ Himself is living who provides the way. As God’s Word (4:12), Christ (7:25), and God Himself (10:31) is living so is the way, “it is life-giving” (O’Brien, 364) and provides access to God, the source of eternal life (cf. Acts 2:28; Ps 16:11).
There is some ambiguity about the Greek syntax and the meaning of through the curtain, that is, through his flesh. Since some took the veil of being a hindrance to the presence of God (e.g. Westcott, 322) they did not see it fit to parallel it with the Jesus’ flesh. But if we see the veil as being a means of access, then metaphorically speaking “Jesus’ sacrificial death was the curtain or means of access to the heavenly sanctuary for him and for all who trust in him!” (Peterson, in loc.). This seems to be the way it should be taken. Moffat writes that the expression at hand “is a daring, poetical touch, and the parallelism is not to be prosaically pressed into any suggestion that the human nature in Jesus hid God from men ‘in the days of his flesh.’” (143) O’Brien further maintains that in the first instance dia (a preposition) should be taken locally whereas the implied dia in the second instance instrumentally (364).
Verse 21 recalls the teaching of chapter 3 (especially vv. 1-6). Since we have such a great priest we are to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. This then is in congruency with the “new heart” promised in Jer 31:33 (cf. Ezek 36:26-27). We as “[t]he readers are to seize the opportunity of access to God which Christ’s priesthood and sacrifice have made possible” (Ellingworth, 522).
One more comment on this passage. What does the author mean when he states that our hearts [are] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water? Christian baptism might be in view (and for sure in NT times an un-baptized Christian was just an oxymoron as a square circle; the outer [i.e., the body] confirms to the inner [i.e., the heart]). Moffat maintains that the heart and the body “are a full, plastic expression for the entire personality, as an ancient conceived it” (145). But it might well be that the author thinks about the priestly purifications of Ex. 29:20f.; Lev. 8:23f., and so forth, where the blood is a means of consecration, yet not in conjunction with water except on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:4) where the high priest shall “bathe his body in water.”
Peter tells us in 1 Pet. 3:21“that baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The question here, however, is if the apostle is speaking of water or Spirit baptism (a debate we will not engage in at this time). But the “appeal to God for a good conscience” seems corresponds to Jesus’ cleansing of our conscience in Hebr. 9:14.
This phrase however might be understood (a minority view according to O’Brien, 368) on the ground of the OT prophecy found in Ezek. 36:25-27 (which is heavily packed with new covenant language):
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Through faith in Christ (which leads to baptism) our conscience is cleansed and we have free access to the throne room of God and which should approach this Life-Giver with confidence.
23-25 Another of the three exhortations in this paragraph is let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering and gives the reasonfor he who promised is faithful. Our hope depends on Him who is faithful and thus can be secure and without wavering. The next exhortation is that of love: and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. Peterson comments, “Since we share in the benefits of Christ’s high-priestly work as Christian brothers and sisters, we have a responsibility to minister to one another in love (cf. 3:12–13; 12:15–16)” (in loc.).
Thus the three cardinal Christians virtues are represented in these exhortations; i.e., faith (22), hope (23) and love (24–25).
But this ministry in faith, hope, and love can only be done if they are not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some. This expresses a negative habit of some among the readers who neglect formal meetings of the church. Moffatt writes, “Any early Christian who attempted to live like a pious particle without the support of the community ran serious risks in an age when there was no public opinion to support him. His isolation, whatever its motive –fear, fastidiousness, self-conceit, or anything else—exposed him to the danger of losing his faith altogether” (147). This may not be the case for any early Christian only but for us as well!
The author sees urgency in the encouraging one another since the Day is drawing near; the Day referring to Christ’s second coming, the consummation of time and the final establishment of God’s kingdom here on earth. Here the author might imply that “their gathering together [anticipates] the final ingathering of God’s people” (O’Brien, 371).
So what we learn from this passage is that we can have confidence to draw near to God (“the throne of grace”) since the blood of Jesus paved the way for us and our consciences are cleansed. We now have “a new and living way” on which we are to walk!
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Ellingworth, P. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids; Carlisle England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993.
Moffat, James. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Edinburgh: Clark, 1948.
O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; 2010.
Peterson, David. “Hebrews.” New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. Ed. D.A. Carson, et al. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Westcott, B.F. ed. The Epistle to the Hebrews the Greek Text with Notes and Essays. 3rd ed. London: Macmillan, 1920.