"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." (Hebrews 9:28).
On Israel's ancient Day of Atonement, the high priest, after sacrificing for his own sins, did three things. First, he offered a sacrifice for the sins of the people. Second, he took the blood of the sacrifice and went into the innermost room of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, where the glory of God dwelt. Third, after interceding for the nation, he reappeared to the people. His return to the congregation was cause for great celebration. Their sins were covered!
So the ancient priests first appeared to offer a sacrifice for sins. Then they appeared before God's throne in the Holy of Holies. Finally, they reappeared to the people.
In the book of Hebrews, we learn that the ancient high priestly custom on the Day of Atonement foreshadowed Jesus. First, he came and offered the perfect sacrifice for sin. Second, he ascended to the Father's throne room, where he now lives to make intercession for us. Finally, he will return one day, "not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."
Let us consider.
1. Jesus Appeared to Put Away Sin
First, Jesus "appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26). This statement is a reference to the cross. Jesus came, appeared to humanity by becoming one of us. He did not, as Israel's high priests, offer a goat for sins of the people. He did not, as Israel's high priests, offer a way for sins to be covered. He did not, as Israel's high priests, offer a sin sacrifice every year. Instead, Jesus came and offered himself once for all for the permanent removal of our sins.
2. Jesus Appeared in Heaven to the Father
Second, Jesus went "into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Hebrews 9:24). This statement is a reference to Christ's ascension and dwelling in the heavenly realm today. Jesus returned to heaven after his death, burial, and resurrection on earth. He did not, as Israel's high priests, immediately leave the presence of the Father. He did not, as Israel's high priests, go to a mere representation of God's throne room, for that's all the tent of God was. No, he went into the real throne room of God. Now he lives to intercede for his people on earth.
3. Jesus Will Appear to Save Those Who Eagerly Wait for Him
Third, Jesus "will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Hebrews 9:28). This statement is a reference to Christ's return to earth to establish and receive his forever kingdom. Jesus is coming again! The people of Israel, on the day of Atonement, waited with rapt anticipation for the return of the high priest.
The author of Hebrews envisions a similar eagerness on the part of Jesus' people today. This eager anticipation is not a condition we must fulfill for Jesus to return, but the attitude the biblical author assumes every believer should have. When we interact with any manifestation of the fall, when we endure through trials and pains of life, when we are exposed to wickedness and evil, we ought to yearn for Christ's return to establish his forever rule and reign.
When Jesus returns, the author notes, it will not be his way of dealing with sin. He already dealt with it on his cross. Instead, he will return to save his people.
How about you? When you think of the congregation of Israel's worshippers on the Day of Atonement, do you have a similar sense of hope for the return of your High Priest? They looked forward to the return of their priest year after year. But we have a better High Priest. He has, by the veil of his own flesh, gone into the heavenlies on our behalf. He has brought, not the blood of bulls and goats, but himself. His sacrifice cleanses forever. And he will return.
When he does, it will be cause for great celebration, for his kingdom will have fully come. Gone will be the tears and evil and wars and trials which beset us today. The utopia our world craves will come, but not in the way our world often wants it. We are averse to kings, but when our King-Priest comes, we will finally be set free. His dominion will be good, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.
As the ancient prophet anticipated of Jesus, "And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." (Daniel 7:14 ESV).