“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” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The inspired author of Hebrews indicates that Jesus makes it possible for listeners to “approach the throne of grace.” This is a metaphor. A metaphor speaks of one thing in terms of another, which creates incongruity at one level, while disclosing new meaning on another level. It is incongruous to think that readers could physically enter the heavenly throne room (Heb. 8:1; 12:2). The metaphor invites the readers to encounter God through worship in a manner as genuine as that of a priest entering a sanctuary. This “entering” or “drawing near” is done consciously and spiritually (“in the spirit”).
Drawing near to God involves physical actions (things like prayer and praise) but is more than physical actions. Drawing near to God takes place in the unseen realities through faith (Heb. 11:1, 6). Drawing near to God means going to the “throne of grace,” which is not a physical or geographical location. The “throne of God” is “in heaven” (Heb. 8:1). The “throne of grace” is where the people of God “go” by faith as we confidently “draw near” to God (Heb. 4:16).
Under God’s covenant with Israel, worshipers could approach the outer limits of the sanctuary (Lev. 9:5) and ordinary priests could approach the altar (Lev. 9:7–8; 21:17, 21; Num 4:19), but only the high priest could approach the mercy seat (Exod. 30:10; Lev. 16:34). Those who enter into a new covenant relationship with God are enabled by the blood of Christ to enter spiritually and directly into the presence of God (Heb. 4:16; 7:19; 10:19-22).
In contrast to literal Mt. Sinai, the new covenant people of God draw near to God at “Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:22-24). We go to God’s throne in the heavenly Jerusalem with angels and the spirits of the righteous when we worship.
This sounds like what John wrote in Revelation 7:9-12 “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’”