Hebrews 4:14-16


Hebrews 4:14-16

14 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. 15 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. 16 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.

A July 10, 1920 New York Times headline cannot help but grab the attention. It reads, “PARES OFF HIS FLESH, GRAFTS IT ON WIFE; Chicago surgeon Avert Amputation of His Bride’s Leg by heroic Operation. TAKES NO ANESTHETIC Former Captain Overseas Shaves Off Cuticle with Razor—“Took Nerve,” He Admits.”

What on earth? Jimmy Draper explains:

            The story of Dr. Orlando P. Scott may help us to see how our Lord enters into our suffering. In the year 1919, he was the doctor on duty in a hospital where his wife was a patient. She had been involved in a tragic accident. While he was the only available physician, she needed immediate skin grafting to save her life. Without anesthesia, he stood and cut flesh from his own body to graft it into the body of his wife. He did so without noticeable pain because he was under an anesthesia from above. He was under the power of love, and he suffered with her as he operated under the anesthesia of love.[1]

It is a fascinating and arresting story. Think of the dynamics at work here: a person in authority is moved by deep love and compassion to heal somebody at their point of greatest need and brokenness through an act of painful self-sacrificial love.

There is something very gospel about that, is there not?

Theodore of Cyr, the 5th century theologian and bishop of Cyr, wrote of our text:

The believers at that time were subjected to constant billowing by trials; so he consoles them by bringing out that our high priest not only knows as God the weakness of our nature but also as man had experience of our sufferings, remaining unfamiliar with sin alone. Understanding this weakness of ours, he is saying, he both extends us appropriate help and when judging us he will take our weakness into account in delivering sentence.[2]

Let us dive into this profound and beautiful truth of the love of God in Christ.

Christian, hold fast and draw near boldly…

Our passage has three verses (14, 15, 16). The first and last of these three verses are united in the fact that they call us as followers of Jesus to do something in particular. The middle verse, however, is the verse that animates and enables the first and last verses. That is, the bookend verses are made possible by the central affirming verse. Let us consider the two bookend verses, the first and third verse.

14 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.

The first command is for us to “hold fast our confession.” That is, do not do what many of the children of Israel did in the wilderness and lose faith and develop a hard heart. Hold fast to the gospel! Why? Because Jesus “has passed through the heavens.” That is, Jesus has opened to us the eternal rest that only he can offer. Speaking of “has passed through the heavens,” Donald Guthrie writes helpfully:

It is most likely that the idea is general and is intended to contrast with the limited entrance of the Aaronic high priest within the veil. Our high priest penetrates to the very presence of God. The words suggest that no hindrance obstructs his passage. We may compare the statement here with that in 10:19 which declares that, in view of our high priest’s work, we now have confidence to enter ‘the sanctuary’. We share the access of our high priest.[3]

In keeping with this idea it should be remembered that the veil of the temple was made to look like the canopy of heaven. In other words, the earthly priests passed through the heavens to enter the Holy of Holies, but only our “great high priest” Jesus could ultimately, once-for-all, “pass through the heavens.” For this reason, our faith is secure and strong! Hold fast to it.

16 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.

Not only do we hold fast but we “draw near” boldly “to the throne of grace.” Through Christ we can now come to the Father! And we need not come with fearful hearts! The idea of drawing near to the throne of grace “with confidence” “expresses…joyful confidence…”[4] What is more, this drawing near is utterly dependent upon holding fast. Why? Because the gospel we hold fast to is what informs us how we can draw near in the first place.

If we do not hold fast to the confession we will not draw near to the throne. On the contrary, if we do not hold fast to the confession we will cower away from the throne. Why? Because we will have forgotten the depths of God’s love for us and we will have forgotten the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ!

So these two ideas—(1) hold fast and (2) draw near—are critically important for the child of God! Do not let go! And do not shrink back! Hold fast! Draw near!

…because our High Priest sympathizes and understands.

Between the two verses that express these two commands is one of the most amazing and beautiful verses in all of the Bible.

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…

The first part of the verse is a double negative: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize.” If that confuses you, put it in these terms: “we do have a high priest who sympathizes”!

This verse gets to the very heart of God and the very essence of the importance of the incarnation. Our high priest, Jesus, is not aloof or distant. The transcendent God whose ways are not our ways has drawn near and come among us in Jesus. In the incarnate Son our God has taken on flesh. As a result, He understands! He sympathizes with the human plight. Donald Guthrie observes:

Only in this epistle (here and in 10:34) is the verb sympathize (synpatheō, literally ‘suffer along with’) used in the New Testament. Here it relates to Christ’s sympathy with his people, and in 10:34 to the Christian’s compassion for prisoners.[5]

The verse goes on to make a truly mind-boggling statement about the reality of Christ’s sympathy for us:

15 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.

Amazing! Christ can sympathize with us because Christ was “tempted as we are” “in every respect.” The ESV Study Bibledefines “Jesus was tempted in every respect” as meaning “in every area of personal life.”[6]

He understands because He Himself has been tempted in every respect.

The implications of this must not be missed. It means that Christ will never look at you and say, “I do not understand your struggles.”

At this point the final three words of verse 15 must be brought in to inform our understanding of what is being said here: “yet without sin.” Christ was tempted in every respect but Christ never gave in to the temptations the devil threw at Him!


Not once.

Christ never sinned.

Yet Christ was tempted.

How much was He tempted?

In every respect as we are!

Think of when the devil tempted Jesus. The temptations we read of in Luke 4 should be seen not only in their particulars but also in their implications concerning the full extent of the temptations Christ underwent. Consider:

Jesus faced temptations of the body.

The first temptation was fleshly.

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

Jesus had a physical desire. His desire was for food. This was good and right because He was hungry. Jesus had a body and bodies get hungry! So the devil tries first to use His physical desires against Him. He tempted Jesus in the area of His body.

If we see this not only as a specific temptation but as a paradigm then we realize two things. First, this first temptation represents the full range of fleshly temptations that the devil undoubtedly presented to Jesus throughout His incarnate state on earth. We can be sure that Jesus was tempted in every respect physically. Yet without sin!

Secondly, I believe we can see in this a model for how the devil tempts us. The devil often comes at us first physically, appealing to our body’s needs or desires. The desires need not be base or sinful. Hunger, of course is not. Neither or many other God-given desires that are intended for their specific time and place. But the devil attacks us physically in every way. He did the same with Jesus. But Jesus, unlike so many human beings, resisted the devil’s efforts.

Jesus faced temptations of the heart.

Then there was the temptation of the heart.

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

“Give me your heart, Jesus! Worship me!”

After the body, the devil goes after the seat of our affections: the heart. He wants Jesus to worship him in exchange for the kingdoms of the world. This foolish fallen angel dared to think that Christ would give him His heart! But He does not!

Jesus does not…but we do so often! We would never think of it as worshiping the devil, but whenever we succumb to the devil’s temptations we are truly making him our god in that moment, no?

Jesus resisted the temptations of the flesh. He also resisted the temptations of the heart.

Jesus faced temptations of the mind.

Jesus also resisted the temptations of the mind. Notice how, in the devil’s third temptation, he appeals to Jesus’ reason and logic.

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11 and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

I say he appeals to Jesus’ reason and logic because the devil attempts to reason with Jesus that, after all, Jesus cannot be hurt if He throws Himself down from the temple since the scriptures say the angels will protect Him from harm.

The devil tries to use the Bible…against Jesus!


But truly this is one of the devil’s favorite tactics. He loves a good Bible study, so long as he gets to be the one who teaches. This goes all the way back to Eden: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (3:1). Do you see? The devil tempts us by attacking our minds.

He tried the same with Jesus, but it did not work.

Again, we must see in these three temptations not merely the particulars but the full implications of how the devil tempts humanity. He attacks:

  • our bodies
  • our hearts
  • our minds

That is, he attacks all of us in every way that he can! Hear now our verse once again:

15 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.

Jesus understands! Jesus sympathizes! For while He never sinned, He was tempted in every respect as we are!

Does this make you uncomfortable? Why should it so long as we acknowledge with the scriptures that Jesus never sinned! Why does this make you uneasy? Because sin can be so gross? Indeed it can! And the devil tempted Jesus in all of these sins too. But Jesus never gave in!

I believe it as this point that the Docetistic impulse of many Christians is made clear. Docetism is an ancient heresy that downplays the reality of Jesus’ body, that attempts to minimize the fact that Christ really had a body! Docetists did not deny that He appeared to have a body, they just denied that He really had a real body.

I believe Docetism is alive and in the world today. We see it whenever people cannot face the full implications of the physicality of Jesus. He was fully God, yes, but He was fully man too! And, as a man, He was tempted. He was tempted as we are in every respect!

Why is this important? It is important because it means that Jesus did not die on the cross for sin in the abstract. He died for actual sins that He was actually tempted Himself to commit. But the fact that He never committed them means that He could die as the perfect sacrifice for them!

It also means that Jesus will never look at you in your temptations and say, “Ewww! Get away from me! How could you be tempted to that!” No, the scriptures tell us that He sympathizes us. He was tempted with the very same!

No, it means that Jesus looks at us in our temptations and says, “I understand. The devil tried to get me to do that as well. But I did not. And because I did not I could die on the cross not only to save you from that sin but also, through my resurrection, to empower you to say no to it this very moment! Do you see? Do you understand? I have already fought that battle! Hold fast to your confession and draw near to me and I will show you how to overcome this…for I have set you free!

The 10th century Byzantine Christian, Symeon the New Theologian, wrote:

Nearly all reject the weak and the poor as objects of disgust; an earthly king cannot bear the sight of them, rulers turn away from them, while the rich ignore them and pass them by when they meet them as though they did not exist; nobody thinks it desirable to associate with them. But God, who is served by myriads of powers without number, who “upholds the universe by his word of power,” whose majesty is beyond anyone’s endurance, has not disdained to become the father, the friend, the brother of those rejected ones. He willed to become incarnate so that he might become “like unto us in all things except for sin” and make us to share in his glory and his kingdom. What stupendous riches of his great goodness! What an ineffable condescension on the part of our master and our God![7]

Ah yes! What stupendous riches of his great goodness indeed! Christ has come to set us free! He has walked through the fire! He has been tempted and He has overcome. He is the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Your high priest, He understands, He sympathizes, and, praise God, He loves you!

Church, hold fast! Draw near!

To the lost I say: take up the faith and make this confession your own. Jesus is Lord and Jesus loves you! Come to Him today and be saved!


[1] James T. Draper. Hebrews (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishers, Inc., 1976), p.96.

[2] Heen, Erik M., and Philip D.W. Krey, eds. Hebrews. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed. Thomas C. Oden. New Testament, vol.X (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p.69.

[3] Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) . InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner. Hebrews. Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. Gen. Eds. T. Desmond Alexander, Thomas R. Schreiner, Andreas J. Kostenberger (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), p.154.

[5] Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews.

[6] Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 150575-150576). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

[7] Heen, Erik M., and Philip D.W. Krey, Hebrews, p.69.

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