“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” Hebrews 4.16From David King
What a great hymn “And can it be” is, with that wonderful line, “Bold I approach, the eternal throne.” It is a triumphant finale to a glorious hymn. I think though, that we may have lost some of its glory, because we take it for granted. And as such, it doesn’t seem that much of a privilege to us. Perhaps that is why we tend to treat prayer so casually do it so infrequently.
When the writer to the Hebrews was penning the verse above, he knew that he was about to shake his listeners to the core. What he was saying to them was as revolutionary as Copernicus’ statement that the earth was not the centre of the universe. The first century Jewish mind had been well taught in the awesome glory of God – his white hot holiness. The temple was an illustration of that. It was placed at the heart of God’s people, because only they had the regulations and laws of the Torah to make them a barely fit place for God to dwell. But even then, God’s people had to be protected from his glory by several courtyards, temple guards, countless sacrifices and a heavy curtain.
No-one would dream of approaching God’s throne at all, let alone with confidence. Instead the prospect filled them with terror. So now imagine the reaction as the letter is read out and they hear this line, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.” Imagine the next time they turned to pray – the transformation, the sense of uncomprehending wonder they would feel. Imagine how precious it would be.
How can we recapture something of the sense of the terrifying majesty of the Living God?
This thought came to me, in my preparation for last Sunday’s sermon on Revelation 5. As I studied Revelation 4, which is the setting for Revelation 5, I was struck by the glory of the description of the throne at the heart of heaven. There are rings surrounding it like barriers to the throne. There is the thunder and lightning. No ordinary thunder and lightning, but thunder and lightning Sinai style. Thunder so awesome that the ground shakes. The closer you get, the more every fibre of your being wants to turn and run.
Then there are the heavenly beings. High officials in the throne room of God. Don Carson talks about how important people have flunkies. You don’t get to talk to the important person, except by going through their flunky. Really important people have lots of flunkies. In fact their flunkies have flunkies. In order to talk to them, you have to go through ranks of flunkies, each more impressive than the last.
There is something of this about the scene in Revelation 5. The outer ring are myriad angels – millions of them. Each one of terrifying, glorious stature. Each one of awesome might. But they are the lesser angels. You then get to the 24 elders (probably senior angels), each with a throne and a crown denoting their authority. If you get past them you get to the seven spirits of God (not quite sure what they are) and if you get past them, you get to these four strange and powerful heavenly beings. The description of them uses cascading metaphors to give a sense of their might and importance – their different heads probably represent the different types of power – Ferocity, Strength, Wisdom and Speed. But even these great beings are not bold before the throne. They cover their lower parts in modesty and they cover their eyes to protect themselves from the unfiltered glory of God.
It is this throne which we are told we can approach with boldness. Why? Because sitting at the centre of the throne, is our saviour and representative, the Lord Jesus. His incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension, mean that one of us humans sits in the centre of the throne – that is why we can approach with confidence. Oh what a Saviour, what a friend, what a Lord.