The author identified neither himself nor the people to whom he was writing. However, the content of the book, including the frequent references to the Hebrew Scriptures, makes it clear that he was writing to Jewish Christians who were sorely tempted to leave the Christian church and revert to Jewish worship.
The author spends the first ten and a half chapters of this thirteen chapter book (1:1 – 10:18) emphasizing the superiority of Christ and the new covenant to Moses and the old covenant.
In Hebrews 4:14 – 5:14, the author emphasized the superiority of Jesus the high priest over the high priests of Aaronic descent. In 5:5-7, 10, he cited scripture to show that Jesus was God’s Son (in a sense that Aaron was not)––and that Jesus belonged, not to the order of Aaron but of Melchizedek––making Jesus “a priest forever” (5:6).
In chapter 6, the author warned of the peril of falling away (6:1-12) and the certainty of God’s promise (6:13-20).
In chapter 7, he returned to the theme of the priestly order of Melchizedek––how great Melchizedek was (7:4-10), and the significance of another priest like Melchizedek (Jesus) arising (7:11ff.).
In chapter 8, he emphasized Christ as the mediator of a better covenant.
In 9:11-14, he contrasted the limited effects of the Jewish high priest’s ministry with the unlimited effects of Christ’s high priestly ministry.
Now he contrasts the work of the Jewish high priest in a holy place made with hands with the work of Christ, who the work of Christ in a holy place not made with hands. He also highlights the work of Christ, whose once-for-all time-sacrifice makes it possible for him to offer to bear the sins of many. While unstated, this contrasts with the work of the high priest, who had to make sacrifices annually––first for himself and then for the people.
HEBREWS 9:24-26a. NO HOLY PLACE MADE WITH HANDS
24 For Christ hasn’t entered into holy places made with hands, which are representations of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest enters into the holy place year by year with blood not his own, 26a or else he must have suffered often since the foundation of the world.
“For Christ hasn’t entered into holy places (Greek: hagios) made with hands, which are representations (Greek: antitypos) of the true” (v. 24a). The Greek word hagios means holy, and is ambiguous in this context. The tabernacle was composed of two chambers, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. The Holy Place was open to the ministry ordinary priests, and was separated by a veil from the Holy of Holies––the dwelling place of God. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only on the Day of Atonement. In this verse, then, it seems likely that the author means the Holy of Holies when he uses the word hagios.
The word antitypos means something that resembles something else––a model or a copy. The author characterizes the tabernacle as a place constructed with human hands. It was an antitypos of the heavenly place where Jesus reigns and dispenses grace.
“but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (v. 24b). Christ hasn’t entered a Holy of Holies constructed by human hands, but has instead gone into heaven––into the presence of the Father “for us”––serving as an advocate (Greek: parakletos) in our behalf (1 John 2:1).
“nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest enters into the holy place year by year with blood not his own” (v. 25). Christ doesn’t have to make an annual sacrifice, as the high priest does.
A further distinction is that the earthly high priest sprinkled blood of a goat or a bull to redeem the people from their sins (9:13), but the blood used by Christ was his own––his blood shed on the cross.
“or else he must have suffered often since the foundation of the world” (v. 26a). If Christ had been required to make an annual sacrifice, he would have suffered something akin to the cross every year––”from the foundation of the world”––from the beginning of time.
HEBREWS 9:26b-28. HE PUT AWAY SIN BY SACRIFICING HIMSELF
26b But now once at the end of the ages, he has been revealed to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this, judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without sin, to those who are eagerly waiting for him for salvation.
“But now once at the end (Greek: sunteleia––culmination or completion) of the ages, (Christ) has been revealed to put away (Greek: athetesis) sin by the sacrifice of himself” (v. 26b). Instead of making annual sacrifices “since the foundation of the world,” Christ has made a singular sacrifice of himself “at the end of the ages”––at the culmination of time.
Christ’s coming ushered in a new era in which everything changed. No more were annual sacrifices required. No longer were people subject to Jewish law. No longer were the people of God restricted to the people of Israel. Now people from every nation under heaven worship Christ and know salvation from their sins.
The Greek word athetesis means to abolish or cancel or annul. Jesus’ mission was to sacrifice himself on the cross to abolish or to cancel the sin of the world.
“Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this, judgment” (v. 27). This has been the usual human condition. We live and die, and after death can expect to face judgment.
The classic judgment scene is found in Matthew 25:31-46, where the Son of Man will separate the sheep from the goats based on whether they have fed the hungry, given something to drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, taken care of the sick, and visited the prisoner.
“so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without sin, to those who are eagerly waiting for him for salvation” (v. 28). The idea of Christ’s Second Coming has its roots in the Old Testament understanding of “the Day of the Lord” (Isaiah 13:6, 9; 58:13; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:7-8, 14, 18; 2:2-3; Malachi 4:5).
It was to be a day when God would save the faithful and judge the wicked. In the New Testament, “the day of the Lord” came to mean the day when God would bring an end to the current age and institute the age to come (Ladd, 138-139).
The New Testament continues that emphasis:
- Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News” (Mark 1:15). He said, “But in those days, after that oppression, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Then he will send out his angels, and will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the sky” (Mark 13:24-27; see also Mark 13:32-37; Luke 21:25-28).
- Paul appealed to the Thessalonians to live in readiness for that day, saying, “For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. For when they are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ then sudden destruction will come on them, like birth pains on a pregnant woman; and they will in no way escape. But you, brothers, aren’t in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief. You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness, so then let’s not sleep, as the rest do, but let’s watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-6; see also Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 5:5; Philippians 1:6).
The purpose of these cataclysmic events will not be destruction, but purification. The fire will be that of a refiner––separating gold from dross (Malachi 3:3)––separating trees that have borne good fruit from those that have not (Matthew 7:17-19)––separating the fruit of good seed from that of bad (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)––separating the righteous from the unrighteous (Matthew 25:31-46)––so that, in the end, “the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).
Therefore, God’s people need not fear the coming of the Day of the Lord, but can look forward to it with joyful anticipation. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul used the Aramaic word marana’tha––”Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22; see also Philippians 4:5). When Jesus says, “Yes, I come quickly,” we should respond, “Yes, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2016, Richard Niell Donovan