38 – Hebrews 9:23-28: Atonement

Hebrews 9:23-28

“It was essential that the earthly copies of heavenly things be purified by ritual sacrifices, but the celestial realities require more costly sacrifices. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary, which was only a copy of what is actually in heaven, but went there to appear before God on our behalf. Nor does He need to offer Himself often, as the high priest entered into the Holiest of All annually with animal blood. If that were the case, Christ would need to suffer death repeatedly ever since the world was founded. Instead, He was manifested at the completion of the ages to abolish sin once and for all by sacrificing Himself. Just as men are destined to die only once (and afterwards to face judgment), so Christ was offered once and for all to take away the sins of many. To those who eagerly anticipate His arrival He will appear again – not to deal with sin – but to make the salvation of the saints complete.”

Chapter nine can be summarized as follows:

<> The earthly tabernacle was only a type (vv. 1-5).
<> The Aaronic priesthood was temporal (vv. 6-10).
<> The New Covenant is the antitype (vv. 11-15).
<> Covenants are sealed with blood (vv. 16-22).
<> Christ’s sacrifice was unique and efficacious (vv. 23-28).

The following things are contrasted in this final section of chapter nine:

<> the purification of the tabernacle and the purification of heaven (v. 23)
<> earthly patterns and heavenly realities (v. 24)
<> the high priest entering into the Holiest of All and Christ entering into the presence of God (v. 24)
<> offerings of animal blood and Christ offering His own blood (v. 25)
<> sin beginning in Eden and sin ending on Calvary (v. 26)
<> repetitive sacrifices and Jesus’ singular sacrifice (v. 26)
<> men dying to face judgment and Christ dying to bring salvation (v.27)

v. 23
The writer continues to use innovative rhetoric to reiterate his foundational theme: comparing earthly shadows with heavenly realities. Having shown how Christ’s death releases our inheritance, he now addresses the necessity of universal purification. Although it may seem preposterous to imagine anything in heaven would need cleansing, the writer strives to emphasize the universal power of the blood of Christ. This passage proves Christ’s blood has affected every part of God’s created order.

Because the entire Tabernacle complex was designed to emphasize atonement, it is logical to assume even the Holiest of All was defiled by human sin. Somehow the heavenly things they represented also stood in need of purification, but the writer provides us with no details regarding this. The only possible reason heaven must be purified is because it is defiled by sinners who are judged there (v. 27). Paul refers to the reconciliatory power of Christ’s blood – in earth as well as in heaven (Col. 1:20). The sanitizing of heavenly things demands superior cleansing: Christ’s blood is as effectual in heaven as it is on earth.

v. 24
As our High Priest, Jesus has entered into God’s presence on behalf of His people. “Figures” is translated “antitype” (antitupon). After the Lord showed Moses the spiritual, heavenly tabernacle (the antitype), its earthly counterpart (the type) was later constructed. On the Day of Atonement in the Holiest of All, the cloud of incense shrouded the high priest from the glory of God (Lev. 16:13). Our High Priest has appeared before God on our behalf and cleared the way for all Believers to enter into His presence. “Appear” in this verse means “to present, exhibit, or manifest one’s self.” The goal achieved by the new covenant was Christ becoming our Representative before God.

vv. 25-26
The writer now presents a hypothetical situation. He reasons if Christ was an ordinary sacrificial victim, He must offer Himself continuously, just as Levitical priests offered perpetual sacrifices. Had Christ’s sacrificial blood been impotent, it would have been no more effective than animal blood. If this were the case, Christ would have needed to sacrifice Himself repeatedly ever since Adam sinned. The writer is well aware this is a self-evident impossibility. 

As the epistle opens, our current era is referred to as “these last days” (1:2). The dispensation that commenced with Christ’s incarnation is seen as the final era also known as “the consummation of the ages” (Gal. 4:4). His appearance “the second time” will mark the end of that time period (v. 28). Prior to His incarnation Christ was “hidden” in heaven. He came to earth to abolish sin by His self-sacrifice. “Appeared” (phanerro) is translated “manifested.” Both Paul and John use this term when referring to Christ as manifesting in the flesh to take away our sins (I Tim. 3:16 & I Jn. 3:5). Jesus incarnated to abolish the power of sin and fulfill God’s prophetic plans. But He also came to prove the inadequacy of all religious ritualism. The graphic ceremonialism and regalia of tabernacle activities were but a faint reflection of the indescribable blessings that await the children of God. 

Sin has not only been forgiven through the cross, it has been “put away” (athetesis). This technical term means to cancel, annul, or render something completely nonfunctional. The effectual nature of Christ’s blood excludes any possibility of repetitive sacrifices. Additional atonement is unnecessary. Innumerable animal sacrifices are unworthy to be compared with the one that is all-sufficient. While ritual offerings dealt only with sins of individual Israelites, Jesus’ sacrifice handled sin on a global scale – decimating its dominate power.

v. 27
Every person has an appointed time to die. But when a life is terminated, judgment for sin remains. No exceptions are made based on beauty, age, rank, talent, education, or wealth. Death is the wages of sin – and everyone sins (Rom. 6:23). Those who die having neglected Christ’s great salvation lose their opportunity forever (Heb. 2:3). Reincarnation is a hoax. They can expect neither probation nor purgatory. All human beings are resurrected to stand before God. As men die only once to be judged for sin, it was fitting Christ die only once to atone for sin. Humans die and face judgment, but Christ died to bear sin’s judgment for us. Those who know Him as Savior have had their sins pardoned (Mt. 25:31-46). Whereas Believers look for Him in joyful expectation, unbelievers can only expect retribution.

v. 28
Once again, the term “once for all” (hapex) is used regarding Christ’s death (7:27 & 10:10). Christ was once offered to bear the sins (anenenkein) of many. Anenenkein pictures one bearing a burden or carrying something away, as did the scapegoat (Lev. 16:21). Isaiah informs us that God’s Righteous Servant will bear the grief, sorrows, and iniquities of many people – but not all people (Isa. 53:4, 11). Although Christ’s blood was effectual for every person, not everyone will accept Him as Savior and Lord.

Those who love Him wait with confidence, knowing their sins have been paid for. “Those who look for Him” (apekdechomenois) refers to those who wait in anticipation. It is the same phrase Paul uses when he writes of the vigilance of the saints concerning Christ’s return (Phil. 3:20). In this verse the word appear is translated “to be seen.” Every eye shall see the One they have pierced (Rev. 1:7 & Zech. 12:10).

The three appearances of Christ in this passage are as follows:

<> Historically: He appeared on earth to sacrifice Himself on Calvary (v. 26).
<> Currently: He now appears in God’s presence on our behalf (v. 24).
<> Futuristically: He will appear at the Rapture to bring us home (v. 28).

Our longing to see Him can be compared with the hope of the Israelites on the Day of Atonement. As they waited for the reappearance of their High Priest from the Holiest of All in order to bless them, so we eagerly await the appearance of our Great High Priest from heaven to bless us (Phil. 3:20 & I Thess. 1:9-10). 

Christ is described as being free from sin and its defilement (7:26). When He returns, it will not be to atone for sins. We “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Rom. 5:11). Believers should expect His return, long for Him to come, and prepare for His arrival. 


Hebrews 9:23-28

1. In Colossians 1:20, Paul writes concerning the power of Christ’s blood in both earth as well as heaven.  True or False?

2. After a person dies, he/she can expect:
A. purgatory
B. nirvana
C. a probation period
D. reincarnation
E. judgment

3. From the following verses, list some things called “better” in the book of Hebrews:

1:4     Better________________________
7:19   Better________________________
7:22   Better________________________
8:6     Better________________________
9:23   Better________________________
10:34   Better________________________
11:16   Better________________________
11:35   Better________________________
12:24   Better________________________

4. The writer goes into great detail concerning how heavenly things need purification.
True or False?

5. According to I John 3:5, Jesus manifested Himself for what specific reason?

6. In 9:26, the concept of Jesus “putting away” our sins means that the power of sin has been canceled, annulled, and rendered completely nonfunctional.  True or False?

7. List several reasons regarding the importance of Christ forgiving your sins.

8. Write a paragraph concerning the importance of forgiving a person for personal offenses.

9. How might forgiving another for wrongs committed against you be a witness for Christ to friends and relatives?


Maxim of the Moment

Rare is the one you can long hold dear.