Second Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28
Death and Hope
24 Christ did not enter a temple made by people, not a copy of heaven. No, he entered heaven itself. Now he stands before God for us. 25-26 He is not like the high priest who entered the Temple ever year to sacrifice an animal to God for the sins of the people. If he was like that high priest, he would have to offer himself to God over and over. And he would have started offering himself when God made everything!
But now, at the end, God clearly showed everyone his Son s sacrifice. This sacrifice will only happen once. And it will forgive the sins of everyone.
27 Just as everyone dies and then will be judged by God only once, 28 Christ offered himself to God like the animal that the high priest sacrificed to God for the people s sins. Since he died so God could forgive sins, Christ will be seen again by those who wait for him to save them.
24 For Christ did not enter into a (human) handmade sanctuary, a copy of the true (sanctuary), but into heaven itself, to be now seen before the face of God on our behalf; 25 not that he should (need to) offer himself over and over, just as the high priest entered the sanctuary year after year with blood (of a sacrifice) of another (being), 26 for then it would be necessary for him to suffer over and over from the foundation of the cosmos. But now, he has been clearly shown (only) once at the (complete) end of the age for the setting aside of sin by his sacrifice. 27 And by (this logic) as much as men are set aside to die once, but after that, judgement, 28 thus also, Christ (only once) having been offered up to bear the sins of many, will be seen a second time, by (those not for the forgiveness of) sin (but) awaiting him for salvation.
9:25-26a These verses have a unique "a-b-a" structure. The form can be seen as:
a. not that he should (need to) offer himself over and over
b. just as the high priest entered the sanctuary year after year with blood (of a sacrifice) of another (being)
a. for then it would be necessary for him to suffer over and over from the foundation of the cosmos.
Notice that 9:25a and 9:26a use different language to make the same point. This structure was meant to highlight 9:26b by contrast. The emphasis on the annual sacrifice by the high priest on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) contrasted with the rest of the passage: the one time sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
9:27-28 This single sentence has two chronological flows: 1) death and judgement of people and 2) death of Christ and his role as Savior. Both flows share the common thread of death. But what of the difference between judgement and salvation? Both will occur at the end of time. Those who reject God will face his judgement. But, those who await his coming have already been acquitted from judgement. Why? Because the judgement point was the cross. The question to be asked by Christ at the end will be: did you accept or reject what my death could do for you?
In these verses, the author of Hebrews focused on the heaven and the end times. The sacrifice of the cross extended itself into heaven where Jesus intercedes for us. Because his priesthood was eternal, he needed to only offer once. It was for all time. So, it did not need to be offered in yearly cycles, like the levitical celebration of Yom Kippur.
In his argument, the author wove the threads of sin and death tightly together. People may try to appease God over and over for their shortcomings, but they die only once. Their death, the author assumed, was the result of sin. In this sense, their appeasement fell short and their judgement after death would be negative. But the death of Christ was the forgiveness of sin. So it had the power to destroy the source of death. In doing so, the end of life became a way to look forward to salvation. Futility was replaced by hope. Death led to life.
Theses verses challenge us with the question found in the note on 9:27-28. Do we accept what the death of Christ can do for us? This is the pivotal question of life. For it can lead to hope. And life!
Have you ever been to a funeral that emphasized hope? How did that experience affect your faith?