24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
I have said on many occasions that there is not many jobs that are more fascinating than to study scripture and then to be able to talk about what I have learned. There are not many waking days where I am not in awe over something that I have learned while reading and contemplating on the words that God inspired humanity to write. It may not be something new but nearly every day God will show me something fresh, something that previously I was overlooking and by reading the words from a different perspective it is as if I traveled over the rainbow leaving behind the grays of the past and am thrusted into a world of vibrant color.
For several weeks we have walked through the book of Hebrews together focusing on the technical aspects of the priestly office that Jesus fulfilled. I pointed out that there is not really any contemporary office that actually hold a similar role. Even among the ceremonially rich churches of the Eastern and Roman orders the priest do not fully hold the same function. In the ancient sacrificial system the priest carried the blood of the sacrifice into the holy place, where the priest of today only say, “Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Even though the priest announces pardon for sin they only speak for the ones that have already carried out the purification for us.
But this is not what has gotten me excited this week. I feel the writer of Hebrews has fully explained the office and function of the priest and how Christ has not only fulfilled but eradicated the necessity of that office. What has me excited is the last half of this passage. “[He] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” I am sure you are sitting there wondering why this is so amazing to me but Friends this is what theologians would call eschatology, or the study of the end. You see what the writer of Hebrews is proclaiming is that the age of the priesthood, the age of the temple, and all the things that once were known have come to completion and everything from this moment on is a new age. Many that reject the Messiahship of Jesus, hold their defense on the premise on theology that was not from ancient times but ideas that largely became mainstream in the past century. The idea that Jesus has yet to usher in the end of days after two thousand years. They will then say that we should not accept Christ because by his own words he would have done this within a generation of those that lived during that time, or approximately 70 years.
What gets me excited is that the writer of Hebrews most likely wrote this letter around the year 64 of the Common Era. Scholars have dated it to this because the descriptive language uses the tabernacle, the tent used prior to the construction of the temple, and an illustration instead of using the temple. They claim that this descriptive language was used because a tent has less permanence than a building constructed of stone, a building that people perceived to be indestructible. This lack of permanence was a greater illustration of the permanence of Christ’s sacrifice, so scholars conclude that the letter was written prior to the destruction of the Temple in the 70th year of the Common Era. Christ did this at the end of the age, and within a generation and shortly after the letter to the Hebrews was written the entire expression of faith among Christian and Jews alike radically changed. The era or the age of the temple no longer exists, sacrifice no longer occurs, so both branches of faith must now explain how sin is absolved. For the Christian a more perfect and complete sacrifice has been presented before the mercy seat of God through the very blood of Jesus, but what covers the sin of those that do not claim Christ?
When we consider the timing of the letter the pages of scripture open up in a different light, Christ came at the end of the age. He actually did fulfill the prophesied words that he spoke and within a generation all people of faith had to face the very grim reality that everything they once held as being important within their faith no longer mattered. Without sacrifice there is no priest without a priest where does our salvation come, who will stand before God for us? Did God turn his back on the nation or is something else happening?
There was a brief glimpse into this emerging era while the people lived in exile. While in exile when the first temple was destroyed the people began to wonder how faith could continue without a temple. It was during this time frame that the budding branches of what we see today began to emerge upon the pages of history, but a problem remained during that brief time. The people of faith, though faithful, were still in their sin. This lead the great heroes of the faith Ezra and Nehemiah come onto the scenes of history to rebuild the city and the temple so that the people could once again have the assurance that they were acceptable before God. Then the abomination that causes desolation happened, they had a temple but it was unclean and unable to be used. Which prompted the uprising that lead to the reemergence of the nation of Israel. The temple was again reestablished but there was this constant threat from outside that gentile forces might again be able to separate God from the people. For 70 years they lived without assurance and for approximately 400 they lived with the knowledge that their salvation was not secure. They lived on the cusp of the end, and the writer of Hebrews announces that through Christ our justification eternally secure. Through the perfect sacrifice from the highest of priests with the offering of his very own blood, Jesus enters into the most holy of holy places far greater than the sanctuary constructed by the hands of mankind and presents himself before the throne of God to intercede for us.
This tells us something. The age of the temple, the age of the law, the age of constant sacrifices year after year has come to an end and in this end time Jesus stands firm. For two thousand years this new age that emerged through Jesus has continued. The kingdom that Jesus professed has moved beyond the borders of the nation we call Israel and it has stretched to the east and the west. The Kingdom of God has become the primary influence of nations, and continents. The influence of Christ has brought nations and empires to their knees and confessions have been made that He alone is Lord. We have lived in this eschatology for millennia. But He is not finished yet.
This theologically packed passage continues, “And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment.” This is a verse I wish many in the contemporary church would remember. We as mortal men and women have an appointment with death. It is our destiny to eventually move from what we know here and pass through the veil of life into the mystery of death. It is our destiny to make this journey, and we make it once. This word is used twenty-two times in scripture and is the very word that great theologians have constructed the concept of predestination around. Our destiny is to live and die and to face what lies beyond. Consider this for a moment. In the ancient days the faithful could face that day with assurance because the priest stood between them and God, the priest stood on their behalf with the blood of sacrifice that covered their sins. Those ancient days have come to an end the temple and the tabernacle are no more who will stand with us as we meet our appointment with destiny?
Again we can consider the implications of the theological concepts but if Christ does not stand for us we will meet that predestined time having to give a full account on our own. Jesus taught in his sermons that it was said do not commit adultery, but if we have ever looked upon another with eyes of lust we have sinned even if we have not physically engaged in the act. He also said that the law says do not commit murder but that if anyone has ever spoken a curse upon another they have participated in the essence of this sin. We can go line by line through his teachings, and find that not one of us has a chance to honestly stand without condemnation. Who will stand for us? Who will stand with us as we meet conclude our preordained journey of life?
”So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” This again refers back to the image of the tabernacle. As the priest enters the most holy place to stand before God, the people stand on the outside waiting. They wait with the knowledge that the sacrifice should cover their sins, but it cannot be fully experienced until the priest returns from the inner rooms. The priest stands as a representative of the nation before God and returns as God’s answer. The sin is removed or covered by the blood but will they be saved will they continue to be accepted as the people of God? Imagine for a moment that period of time. The priest dressed in his holy garments has performed the rites before you and the entire nation, and he turns to face the veil. He is fully aware of a number of sins that have been committed by the people he is to represent. Each of those sins are enough to send not only that individual but the entire nation out of the presence of the most high and only true God. He slowly approaches the curtain. The words are spoken with uncertain boldness, steps are taken deeper and deeper within. The figure is no longer able to be seen and we sit waiting in limbo. Sin is forgiven but will the covenant remain?
You see that is the central aspect of the priesthood. If the priest does not return the relationship, the covenant or marriage between the people and God is severed. So often we do not see the difference between the forgiveness of sin and salvation. We assume they are one in the same but they deal with two different things. One is legal and one is relational. The people of the nation must sit waiting as the priest is in the holy of holies, they wait to hear and see God’s response to their pleas of forgiveness and remain their God. Will he preserve them or will they be left alone to drift without His direction.
Christ carried the blood into that holy place and the people, us included waited as he lay in a tomb buried. For three days they wait unsure of what was going on. Wondering if maybe they were wrong about everything. Yet they waited. They waited and it was revealed to them, Jesus emerged from the grave removing the sting of our destiny with death allowing us to look at our bleak future with renewed hope. Nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus. He is our priest and life with Him is our destiny. Our sins are forgiven but do we eagerly wait for him? Do we embrace his life and his lifestyle as we eagerly wait for the transitions of time? Through Christ the old has passed away and all things are made new. The old systems of faith have passed away and a new era has emerged where there is no more bondage of sin. Through Christ we can change the world and through Christ and reflecting his lifestyle we can see his kingdom expand all around us.
So often we get trapped into thinking we stand on our own. We get trapped into thinking that we must be perfect that we must be pure in our own strength. The truth is all we have to do is eagerly wait on the Spirit of God that is our salvation that is our destiny. Christ is our hope, He is our salvation, but not just for us but for the whole world. He came to give us life, and life to the full. This does not remove our appointed meeting with our mortal end but it does change things, we can live today in his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We can today live at peace with God and work toward peace with mankind if we eagerly wait on him. As we enter into this time of Open worship and holy expectancy I encourage us all to contemplate on this: consider the destiny of Christ, and where we are with him, consider what salvation is and what it is for, and eagerly wait and experience the joy of our relationship with the one that brought about a new era and era of God with us.