Pastor David B. Curtis


Christ's Three Appearings

Hebrews 9:23-28

Delivered 07/15/2001

In these verses we see three appearings of Jesus Christ. Christ has appeared - this is a reference to Calvary; Christ is appearing - this is a reference to his ministry in heaven of intercession; Christ shall appear (from a first century perspective) - a reference to his second coming.

Why does the author reason like this at the end of chapter 9? Remember the background of Hebrews 9 is the Day of Atonement - where Aaron would enter the Holy of Holies to atone for the sin of the people. Aaron also made three appearings. He first appeared at the brazen alter of sacrifice. Secondly he appeared in God's presence in the Holy of Holies to offer the blood and to intercede for the people. Then he made his third appearance to the people telling them that God had accepted their sacrifice. Our author is again contrasting Christ to Aaron to demonstrate the superiority of the appearing of Christ, and the salvation he brings, to that of Aaron. Again our author is demonstrating the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ to all that went before.

Let's look at these appearings which are not listed here in chronological order. The first appearing that the author speaks of would actually be his Second Appearing - his appearing in heaven as our intercessor.

Hebrews 9:23 (NKJV) Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

"Therefore" - is referring back to verses 19-20 where the book of the covenant and the people's bodies and the tabernacle and the vessels were sprinkled with blood. For 1,400 years or so, God willed that the death of his Son, Jesus Christ, be foreshadowed and anticipated in history among the Jewish people through their animal sacrifices and their tabernacle and temple worship. The writer says in verse 23 that these things (the tabernacle and vessels and relics) were all "copies" of an even greater reality in heaven. As copies, they could be ceremonially cleansed by blood from the sacrifices of calves and goats. That's the way God ordained it.

This is a problem passage! The copies of the heavenly things are contrasted with the heavenly things themselves. The copies of the heavenly things are, as in Hebrews 8:5, the wilderness tabernacle and its various furnishings; and "with these" refers to the various sacrifices alluded to in verse 22. This much is plain. But what does the author mean when he says, "The heavenly things themselves" must also be purified? There is great differences of opinion here, as you can imagine.

The "better sacrifice" is the unique and fully adequate self-offering of the incarnate Son of God at Calvary. The question is, "Why did heaven need cleansing?"

Some have said that heaven needed cleansing in the sense that it had been darkened as the light of God's love had been replaced by the cloud of his wrath against sin. This is a serious misconception to imagine that the wrath of God is opposed to the love of God. God's wrath, no less than his love, is one of His attributes. He doesn't set aside wrath in order to display love. His love is most demonstrated in his wrath:

Romans 5:8 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The cross is the supreme manifestation of God's wrath against sin and his love for us. It was at Calvary that the love of God absorbed the wrath of God.

Others say that the reason heaven needed cleansing was because that is where the rebellion of Satan took place. And when Christ performed his atoning work, he disarmed the power of darkness:

Colossians 2:15 (NKJV) Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
Colossians 1:20 (NKJV) and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

But I think the most important thing to see is what verse 24 focuses on. Why did Christ enter "that heavenly" holy place with his better sacrifice, the sacrifice of himself? It was "now to appear in the presence of God for us." The words "for us" give the key to why there has to be cleansing in heaven. We are going to be there. We are what needs cleansing. And to the degree that we might defile heaven, Christ, in that sense, cleanses heaven. Jesus said:

Luke 5:32 (NKJV) "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

There are many views on what it means to purify heaven, but let's not miss our author's main intention. What he is stressing is that where atonement really matters - in the heavenly sphere - better sacrifices are needed than were provided under the old system.

Hebrews 9:24 (NKJV) For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.

Notice the contrast here - the earthly tabernacle verses heaven itself. "Now" - points to a present activity. Let's keep in mind here the hermeneutical principle of audience relevance. This "now" was written to the first century Hebrew saints. At that present time Christ appeared in heaven, before the presence of God, "for us". The "us" is applicable for all believers. During the first century, Christ appeared in heaven for believers, and he is still there. What is Jesus Christ doing in heaven for believers?

Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV) Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

He is praying for us.

Hebrews 2:18 (NKJV) For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

He comes to the aid of those who are tempted.

Our Lord ascended into heaven, and he is standing before the throne of grace for us. There is no sorrow, no tragedy, no need that you can experience that he is not aware of, and he is praying for you. He prays for our victory and strength when we come to him in faith:

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV) Seeing then that 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 cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

"Coming to the throne of grace" symbolizes our dependence upon God. As we live in dependence upon Him, he provides the grace we need to live. Look with me at an Old Testament story that illustrates how we should live the Christian life:

2 Chronicles 20:1 (NKJV) It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat.
2 Chronicles 20:3-4 (NKJV) And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.
2 Chronicles 20:9 (NKJV) 'If disaster comes upon us; sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine; we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.'
2 Chronicles 20:12 (NKJV) "O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You."
2 Chronicles 20:20 (NKJV) So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper."
2 Chronicles 20:24 (NKJV) So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped.

Believer, live your life in dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will meet your every need. As a man, he understands our needs, and as God, he is able to meet them all. Come to the throne of grace. Jesus Christ is appearing now in the presence of God on our behalf.

The second appearing of which our author speaks is actually the First Appearing of Christ - a reference to Calvary is found in verses 25-26:

Hebrews 9:25 (NKJV) not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another;

Again, the background is the Day of Atonement. Our author "contrasts" the repetitiveness of the Levitical sacrifices to the once for all singular sacrifice of Christ. Christ's sacrifice was a real sacrifice, not a token one. It is perpetually effective and therefore calls for no repetition:

Hebrews 9:26 (NKJV) He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

If his sacrifice did call for repetition, then he would have to endure suffering and death over and over throughout the ages of world history, which is impossible according to verse 27.

"But now, once" - the word "once" is from the Greek word hapax, [hap'-ax] which means: "once for all." Notice carefully when it was that Christ appeared, "at the end of the ages". The King James Bible has really confused the issue by translating this: "but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."

Is the world going to someday come to an end? The great majority of people, both Christian and non-Christian, think it will. The end of the world is the theme of many books and movies, and there are endless predictions as to when and how it will end. We are constantly told that the world will get worse until God destroys it. Is this idea that the world will someday end taught in the Bible? I'm sure that many would say that it is, but does the Bible really teach this? Let's look at some verses that seem to indicate that the world will not end:

Genesis 8:21-22 (NKJV) And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, "I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. 22 "While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease."

Now, folks will say that the Lord destroyed the earth by water one time, and He'll destroy it by fire the next time. Is God's promise here to just change his method of destroying everything? Is there comfort in being destroyed by fire instead of water? Or is He promising not to destroy the earth again? God said that he would never again destroy every living thing. God can be trusted, He keeps his word.

Ecclesiastes 1:4 (NKJV) One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever.

This verse is a very strong argument against the world ending. It sure sounds like this verse teaches that the earth will last forever.

The problem here is the translation of the Greek word aion. Aion does not mean "world" but "age, dispensation, era, or a period of time." We can understand that an age can end, and yet the world can still go on. The Bible talks about the end of the age but never the end of the world.

The writer of Hebrews said earlier that Christ came in the "last days":

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NKJV) God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

What exactly are the "last days" or "the end of the ages"? When did they start? When did they end? These are very important questions that must be answered if we are going to interpret the Bible correctly. Most Christians today would probably say that we(twentieth century American Christians) are living in the last days of the end times.

But the "end" talked about in the Bible is the end of the Jewish age, the end of the old covenant. It would end with the destruction of the Jewish temple and the city Jerusalem. It was not the "last days" of planet earth or the "end" of the world, it is the "last days" or "end" of the age of Judaism.

The New Testament writers believed that they were in the "last days" of the Jewish age. Paul believed they were living in the end of the Jewish age:

1 Corinthians 10:11 (NKJV) Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Paul said that the end of the ages was coming upon them (first century saints). The first-century believers, and particularly the apostles, believed that they were in the end of the Jewish age or the "last days" of the Jewish age.

So, when the writer of Hebrews says, "but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself", he is referring to the end of the Jewish age, the end of the Old Covenant age.

Jesus Christ came "To put away sin by the sacrifice of himself". The words "put away" are from the Greek word athetesis, which means: "to cancel or annul". It is a strong word signifying the total annulment of sin. Its consequences are absorbed by him and thereby removed from us.

"By the sacrifice of himself" - the absolute perfection of the one offering of Christ arises from the dignity of his person. Look at how Luke puts it in:

Acts 20:28 (NKJV) "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

"Which He" refers to God "purchased with His own blood" - it was the God-man who obeyed, suffered, and died for us at Calvary.

This cancellation of sin is comprehensive, it covers sin in its totality, without qualification, in every form and degree and also in every age of human history, retrospectively as well as prospectively. The single sacrifice of Christ annulled sin past as well as present and future.

This verse speaks directly against the Roman Catholic doctrine of the perpetual offering of Christ. Ludwig Ott, a leading Catholic theologian says, "Inasmuch as the priesthood of Christ is perpetual and sacrifice is an essential part of the priesthood, therefore, the sacrificial offering of Christ must also be perpetual."

The New York catechism says, "Jesus Christ gave us the sacrifice of the mass, to leave to his church a visible sacrifice which continues his sacrifice on the cross until the end of time. The mass is the same sacrifice as the cross."

The Council of Trent written in the mid 16th century said, "The sacrifice in the mass is identical with the sacrifice of the cross the only difference lies in the manner of the offering which was bloody upon the cross and bloodless upon the alter."

1 Corinthians 11:24 (NKJV) and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."

The Roman Catholic church says the bread actually becomes the body of Christ and the wine actually becomes the blood of Christ. This is the Roman doctrine of Transsubstancation. The Roman Catholic church says when the Priest pronounces the words of consecration, the bread and wine are converted into the substance of the very flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. At the council of Trent, a curse was pronounced upon all who do not receive this teaching, and also, there is no salvation outside of the church which teaches this.

1 Corinthians 11:24 (NKJV) and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."

The Roman Catholic church says the "is" means identity and not representation. Look at the next verse:

1 Corinthians 11:25 (NKJV) In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."

Here it says that the "cup is the new covenant". We know that the "cup" is not the New Covenant, but that it symbolizes or pictures the new covenant. Thus the "is" in verse 24 equals: "represents or pictures". This is how we often use the word "is". I could show you a picture of my granddaughter and say, "This is my granddaughter". It's not really my granddaughter, it's only a piece of paper.

When Jesus said, "This is my body", He was saying it signifies my body. It is a picture, it represents my body and blood, The Lord's Supper is a memorial of the one sacrifice which he made, it is a memorial of his death. Communion is not re-sacrificing Jesus Christ, it is simply remembering that he did a perfect job the one time that he did it.

The theory of the perpetual offering of Jesus Christ is in absolute and direct opposition to Scripture:

Hebrews 9:26 (NKJV) He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

This Roman Catholic doctrine destroys the whole concept of the single, perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It says Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross was not sufficient to cover sins - we must continue to sacrifice, and we end up wit the inferior Levitical sacrifice of the Old Testament.

In verses 27 and 28 we have the Third Appearing of Jesus Christ:

Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV) And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,

This reinforces the point just made, Jesus Christ is a man, and he can only die once.

We can draw several points from this verse: One is that all of us have an appointment with death - "It is appointed for men to die." Who made this appointment with death? I surely didn't. I make some appointments that I don't like to make, like with the dentist or with the doctor. But I would never make this appointment if it were up to me. Who made it for me? God did!

God plans our birthday and our death day:

Psalms 139:16 (NKJV) Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.

A certain number of days are ordained for me by God. God sets this appointment, not

Satan and not my enemy and not cancer and not me. But not only that, God sees to it that we keep the appointment. He plans it, and he brings it to pass. You recall how Job said, when his children were killed by the collapse of their home, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). So the Lord makes the appointment. And the Lord sees to it that we keep the appointment.

There is no absurd, meaningless fatalism here. All is governed by an all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God, no matter what it looks like to us. God makes our appointment with death in his sovereign planning of all things. Do you remember what Jesus said to Peter in:

John 21:19 (NKJV) This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me."

The day was coming (the appointment was made) when he would be crucified like Jesus. And a few minutes later Jesus spoke to Peter about the apostle John and said, "If I want him to remain [alive] until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" (John 21:22). In other words, Christ himself decides when and how his servants will die. "If I want him to remain, he will remain. If I want to take him, I will take him. You are all in my hands."

So Henry Martyn, the young missionary to Persia, was right to say, "If Christ has work for me to do, I cannot die." (Journal and Letters, New York: Protestant Episcopal Society for the promotion of Evangelical Knowledge, 1851, p. 460).

Secondly, we see from this verse that "It is appointed for men to die once." There is another key word here besides the word "appointed," it is the word "once." This means that you can stop dreaming right now about reincarnation. We are not coming back to die again. We are not coming back in any form at all. This is again the Greek word hapax, [hap'-ax] which means: "once for all." The point of the word "once" here is to stress the finality of death. We die once. And that is the end of our experience of earthly dying.

Now, all of this should have a profound effect on us. Samuel Johnson said, in 1777, "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully" (Boswell's Life of Johnson, Sept. 19, 1777). Moses put it like this in:

Psalms 90:12 (NKJV) So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Surely the writer of Hebrews wants us to hear this word of the Lord in verse 27 and be awakened from the usual numbness and sleepiness of our lives. Most people think very little about what matters most and think very much about what matters little. The Bible is God's gift to us to keep us from that foolishness and to make us wise. Wise people are people who have proportion in their lives. What matters most they are most concerned with, and what matters least they are least concerned with. Death is huge and death is sure. And so God is calling us here to think about it and get serious about

it in a way that fits with how momentous death is.

He lifted our sins and carried them to the cross and died there the death that I deserved to die. Now, what does this mean for my dying? "It is appointed [to me] once to die." It means that my physical death is not punitive. My death is not a punishment for sin. My sin has been borne away. My sin is "put away" by the death of Christ. Christ took the punishment. So, if physical death came as a result of sin, then believers should no longer die. But we do because death is the natural consequence of being human.

The death of God's children is not wrath against them. Paul cries out in:

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NKJV) "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In other words, the sting is removed because the death of Christ satisfied the law's demand and set us free from condemnation. Physical death is an entrance into the spirit realm.

Hebrews 9:28 (NKJV) so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

This is substitution for judgement. Jesus Christ, as our substitute, died "once" and paid our sin debt. Peter says this in:

1 Peter 2:24 (NKJV) who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed.

Paul said:

1 Corinthians 15:3 (NKJV) For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

The second half of verse 28 is confusing in the NKJV:

Hebrews 9:28 (NKJV) so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

The Translation God's Word gives us a much clearer picture:

Hebrews 9:28 (GWT) Likewise, Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of humanity, and after that he will appear a second time. This time he will not deal with sin, but he will save those who eagerly wait for him.

This is the only place in the New Testament where the return of Christ is called a second coming. In Young's Literal Translation it says, "a second time, apart from a sin-offering, shall appear"

Please notice carefully that at the second coming of Christ, he was to "save those who were eagerly waiting for him." Who was it that was eagerly waiting for Christ to return? Again, we must remember the hermeneutical principle of audience relevance. It was the first century Christians who eagerly awaited His return. This certainly could not be said of twenty first century American Christians.

The words "eagerly wait" are from the Greek word apekdechomai. This Greek word is made up of three words put together; the word "to receive," which speaks of a welcoming or appropriating reception such as is tendered to a friend who comes to visit; the word "off," speaking here of the withdrawal of one's attention from other objects; and the word "out," used here in a perfective sense, which intensifies the already existing meaning of the word. The composite word speaks of an attitude of intense yearning and eager waiting for the coming of the Lord.

This Greek word is only used seven times in the New Testament and every one of them is in reference to the Second Coming:

1 Corinthians 1:7 (NKJV) so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting (apekdechomai) for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Paul says here that the first century Christians at Corinth were "eagerly waiting" for Jesus Christ's second coming. It was the first century Christian who eagerly waited for Christ. And the author of Hebrews says that he was going to come to "them".

Our text says, "he will appear a second time. This time he will not deal with sin, but he will save those who eagerly wait for him." At his second coming he was to "save"those who eagerly waited for him. What does the text mean by "save"? "Save" is the Greek word soteria, which we know has a broad range of meanings. The context dealing with the Day of Atonement would tell us that he uses it here of redemption. Full and complete redemption came at the second coming:

Luke 21:27-28 (NKJV) "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."

The "these things" in the context of this verse is the destruction of Jerusalem. Redemption was complete when the Lord returned, destroying Jerusalem and ending the Old Covenant.

Redemption involves the imputation of Christ's righteousness. At the time of Paul's writing, righteousness was still a hope:

Galatians 5:5 (NKJV) For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

If righteousness was already a fulfilled or completed event, Paul made a big mistake in making "righteousness" by faith a matter of hope. You don't hope for what you have.

1 John 3:2 (NKJV) Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, WE SHALL BE LIKE HIM, for we shall see Him as He is.

When Christ returned, all believers were made like Him. To be like Him is to have His righteousness. Salvation was not a completed event in the lives of the first century believers, it was their hope, they looked forward to its soon arrival. Peter also states that their salvation was not yet complete:

1 Peter 1:5 (NKJV) who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Salvation was ready to be revealed, when? In the last time, which would happen at the return of Christ:

Hebrews 9:28 (NKJV) so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

For further detail on when believers received salvation and eternal life in its fullness, see "The Transition Period" Philippians 3:12-16.

So, we see the three types of appearances by Jesus Christ in Hebrews 9:23-28. First, He was "manifested" (vs 26). This is the first appearance of Christ, when He came to earth to pay the penalty for our sins.

Secondly, He appears "in the presence of God for us" (vs 24). This is His present ministry in heaven as our high priest in the presence of God the Father.

Finally, He "shall appear a second time" (vs 28). This was a future reference to the first century saints, but it is a past event to us. Christ came in judgement upon Israel, thus bringing the old covenant to an end and commutating the new covenant.

Remember, the background of Hebrews 9 is the Day of Atonement - where Aaron would enter the Holy of Holies to atone for the sin of the people. Our author is again contrasting Christ to Aaron to demonstrate the superiority of the appearing of Christ, and the salvation he brings, to that of Aaron. Again, our author is demonstrating the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ to all that went before.

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