Question: "What does it mean to come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16)?"
Answer: The author of Hebrews writes to inform readers of the superiority of Jesus and to urge them to follow Him closely. In Hebrews 4:16 the author explains that we can come boldly to the throne of grace: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” So, following Jesus is about confidence, not timidity. The author explains how: because of Jesus, our High Priest.
Jesus is described as a merciful and faithful high priest in Hebrews 2:17, and He accomplished propitiation for sin (or the satisfaction of God’s wrath because of sin). In the Mosaic Law, the high priest would intercede on behalf of the people and was at least a symbolic head of the current priestly administration (Numbers 25, 28). The priest would bring sacrifices to God on behalf of the people of Israel and would do so repeatedly, as the law prescribed. While ordinarily the high priest would bring the sacrifice, Jesus Himself was the sacrifice. His personal sacrifice was an incredible act of mercy, and He could be the sacrifice because He had become like those for whom He was giving Himself up (Hebrews 2:17). Because of Jesus the High Priest, we can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Elsewhere in the epistle, Jesus is the “High Priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1). Jesus is a trustworthy high priest, as God the Father counted Him faithful (Hebrews 3:2). If the Father counts Him as faithful, then we can, too.
In the Mosaic Law, that which was sacrificed died, and so new sacrifices were necessary to (temporarily) cover sin. But Jesus as high priest brought a different kind of sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed Himself, and He was resurrected and ascended into heaven (Hebrews 4:14)—another evidence that He is faithful and had the ability to accomplish salvation for all who would believe in Him. Because of Him we can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). He is a high priest who sympathizes with our weakness (He knows our weaknesses because He became like us when He became a man)—He even has been tempted in all things as we have, yet He remained sinless (Hebrews 4:15).
Because Jesus was a man, He could be our substitution—He could stand in our place to pay the price for sin: death. None of us can finish paying the price because our debt is so great and we have nothing left with which to pay it. He could pay the price in our place as a man. Because Jesus was God, He had no sin of His own and He could arise from the grave showing that He conquered sin and death. His one-time sacrifice was enough (Hebrews 9:26). Because of Him we can now come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16)—not on our own merits, bringing our own sacrifice—but on His merit and His sacrifice. Now that He has made it possible for us to come to God, we come to Him by faith—for “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Because of what Jesus has done for us, we can come boldly and with confidence to the throne of grace—it is no longer a throne of judgment for us; rather, it is where we have received forgiveness in mercy and righteousness in grace.
Jesus, our High Priest, intercedes on our behalf even today (Romans 8:34). Not only can we come boldly to the throne of grace for forgiveness and salvation (Hebrews 4:16), but we can also come to that same throne in prayer knowing that we are no longer enemies of God but beloved children who can call Him “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15).