Who will go first? That’s probably a question that’s been asked countless times on the playground or in the backyard. While most of those occasions create a feeling of excitement or thrill, there are some that can cause a sense of trepidation or even dread. No one wants to be first into the principal’s office after a scrum on the ballfield. That’s where believers can find comfort though. We have one who went before us, who crossed the threshold and entered the sanctuary on our behalf. Let’s look at how the great Puritan John Owen explains Jesus as our forerunner and the anchor of our hope.

We adapted this content from John Owen’s commentary on Hebrews in the Crossway Classic Commentaries series. This series includes commentaries from the Puritans, Reformers, pastors, and theologians from church history.

Hebrews 6:19

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”

Hope as an Anchor Behind the Curtain

The commonly held idea about hope, that it is seen as being something that is dubious and uncertain, is quite wrong. Hope springs from faith as it places all its expectation on the good things in the promise. The essence of hope is that it trusts in God.

Faith is compared with an anchor. It is an anchor for the soul; for the souls of believers, it seems, need anchors.

This anchor is firm and secure. This anchor is secure and will not fail. It can be trusted. It is so firm that no wind can break or move it. Such is hope for the soul. In its nature it is secure and it is not a deception of the imagination. Paul says, “Hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:5). Hope, built on faith, is infallible and will not deceive. Hope is secure against all opposition. It is not secure in itself, but in the ground in which it is fixed, namely, Christ in the promise.

It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. This is how the spiritual anchor secures the soul. And this is where the illustration breaks down. For an anchor is thrown downward, and it latches itself onto the bottom of the sea, but hope ascends upward and fixes itself in heaven, or on what is there.

Our Anchor in the Most Holy Place

The curtain separated the Most Holy Place from the sanctuary or body of the temple. This is called the “second curtain” in 9:3: “Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place.” For the body of the temple, where only the priests entered to offer incense, was separated from the people by the first curtain, as the Most Holy Place was from that by the second curtain. The ordinary priest passed through the first curtain every day to offer incense; through the second curtain the high priest passed through just once a year. Christ as priest passed through the heavens in his ascension into the glorious presence of God.

This hope enters or passes through. The heavens are like a curtain to human senses that limit our reasoning. We cannot discern anything beyond the curtain. But faith, with hope, pierces through the curtain – no created thing can keep them at arm’s length from God himself.

What is beyond the curtain? Not an ark and mercy-seat, not tables of stone and cherubim, the work of human hands; but the things signified by them – God himself on a throne of grace, and the Lord Jesus Christ, as the high priest of the church at his right hand; God the Father as the author of the promise of grace, Christ as the purchaser of all mercy, the counsel of peace being between them both. Here hope fixes itself, to hold the soul steadfast in all the storms that may come.

As a forerunner, Christ entered into heaven itself, the place of the glorious presence of God.

Hebrews 6:20

Where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Jesus as the Priest Who Went Before Us

The apostle gives new assurance to the efficacy of hope fixed on the promise, as it enters beyond the curtain, because Christ, our high priest, is there. Even heaven would be no safe place for us to fix the anchor of our trust and hope in if Christ were not there.

He has become a high priest. The apostle brings us to the point he has been heading for all this time, to Christ’s priesthood as represented in that of Melchizedek, which he had asserted in 5:10.

The apostle now focuses on the Lord Christ. He says who he is through his name, Jesus. Jesus means Savior, for he was called Jesus because he was to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). So the one about whom all these things are affirmed is to be considered as our Savior, who had the name of a Savior given him by God himself, for the work which he was to do (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Jesus is still “able to save completely” (7:25).

Jesus is our forerunner, a title that is only here given to Jesus. The high priest of old, when he made his annual entry into the Most Holy Place, was not our forerunner. He entered there himself, but he did not then allow the people to follow. Here is another example of Christ’s superior high priesthood. When Christ entered the Most Holy Place, he did not do so just for himself, but he went before us so he could lead the whole church into the same glory.

He entered on our behalf, that is, for all believers, for the whole church, in all times, ages, and places.

Read More from the Crossway Classic Commentary Series

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