Christ’s Heavenly Ministry Hebrews 9:23–28
Under the Levitical system, animal blood could only cover sin, never remove it. However, Christ’s blood was sufficient and efficacious to redeem mankind and remove sin. The remaining verses of Hebrews 9 show the vast superiority of Christ’s New Covenant ministry in heaven over the Levitical priest’s ministry on Earth.
Christ Purified Heaven
Christ’s ministry reached its culmination in heaven itself: “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” (v. 23).
The cleansing of the earthly sanctuary is contrasted to cleansing heaven. It was not arbitrary but “necessary” that heavenly things be cleansed by “better sacrifices than these,” meaning better than the animals used in the earthly Tabernacle.
The word copies refers to the earthly Tabernacle with all its furnishings and ministry. The earthly Tabernacle was only a “copy and shadow” (8:5) of spiritually divine realities in heaven.
The only sacrifice that could cleanse heaven was the one-time sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, on the cross. Although the Greek word sacrifice is plural, Jesus did not offer many “sacrifices,” as mentioned in the text, but only one. Yet His was efficacious enough to fulfill and do away with all the animal sacrifices in the Levitical system.
At this point an issue needs to be addressed. God’s sanctuary in heaven is not defiled. He is holy, as is everything that dwells in His presence. So why did the heavenly Tabernacle need to be purified, since all things in heaven are holy?
Scripture gives a number of reasons. First, Satan had access to heaven before and after his rebellion against God (Job 1:6; Isa. 14:12–14; Ezek. 28:11–19; Rev. 12:9–10). Once Satan sinned, he defiled his own sanctuary in heaven (Ezek. 28:18). Thus heaven had to be purified because of his presence. Second, Jesus’ shed blood brought reconciliation to all things, even things in heaven (Col. 1:20). Third, the works of the unsaved are recorded in books kept in heaven (Rev. 20:12). Thus it is necessary for heaven to be cleansed of all things that speak of sin.
Christ’s Presence in Heaven
Hebrews 9:24 describes Jesus’ presence in heaven: “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.”
The Tabernacle on Earth was merely a copy of the true Tabernacle in heaven. The Levitical high priest entered the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle once a year only, on the Day of Atonement, to offer animal blood to atone for Israel’s sins. When he did so, he also carried with him hot coals from the altar of incense. The coals produced smoke that filled the room, protecting him from viewing the Shekinah presence of God’s glory.
In contrast, Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary to appear before the very presence of God the Father (face to face) on our behalf. The word appear (Greek, emphanisthemai; v. 24) means “to be manifested.” It connotes something manifested or brought about as a result of something new and better. Thus Christ now appears in God’s presence with a new and better ministry as our Advocate in heaven.
Scripture further says, “Not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—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” (vv. 25–26).
The Aaronic high priest entered, not with his own blood, but with the blood of a sacrificed animal. (He could not offer his own blood because it was tainted by sin. And if he had, it would never have been sufficient to cover or take away sin.) The high priest then sprinkled the animal’s blood in the Holy of Holies to atone for (cover) his own sins and those of Israel. He repeated this ritual annually because animal blood only covered sins for one year; it was unable to remove either his or Israel’s sins.
In contrast, Christ did not enter the Holy of Holies of an earthly Tabernacle or Temple but that of heaven itself. There He did not need to offer sacrifices continually, as did the Levitical high priest; He offered Himself only once. For Christ to offer Himself repeatedly as a sacrifice every year (from the foundation of the world) would have been impossible.
The text clearly states, “But now, once [once for all] at the end [consummation] of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (v. 26). Christ came to Earth as a sacrifice for sin when the past ages of Old Testament history had reached their fulfillment in God’s program. Calvary was the one event in history where all the features of God’s salvation plan were fulfilled: “But when the fullness of the time had come [the exact historical moment appointed by the Father], God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4–5).
The phrase to put away sin means to “abolish,” or “remove” it. That is, Christ’s sacrifice was eternally sufficient and efficacious to remove sin forever. However, though Christ’s blood sacrifice has abolished sin forever, it is only applicable for those who repent and trust in Him for salvation.
Christ’s Promise From Heaven
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat for the sins of Israel. During the ceremony, the Israelites waited outside the Tabernacle for the high priest to return from the Holy of Holies. His departure from the Holy of Holies signified to all Israel that his work was finished, his mission was successful, the blood satisfied God, and Israel’s sins were covered for another year.
In like manner, after offering Himself as a sacrifice for sin and being resurrected from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:11) and remains there as our Advocate before God’s throne. At the appointed time, determined by God the Father, He will return to Earth as He promised (Jn. 14:3). His return will signify to all believers the success of His atoning ministry on their behalf in heaven.
Hebrews 9:27–28 then states a well-known principle: after death follows judgment. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.”
After a person dies, neither he nor anyone else can present an offering for that individual’s sin that could alter his destiny. Death ends a person’s opportunity to change his or her position in life; there are no second chances. Nor does anyone die over and over, as taught in reincarnation. A person’s earthly life is closed at death, and everyone’s eternal destiny is determined and fixed during his or her life here on Earth. From this thought springs a sobering reminder: death irreversibly places people in either heaven or hell based on their acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ.
Death is an appointment. Everyone dies. Scripture records only a few exceptions. First are Enoch and Elijah. They did not die but were taken directly to heaven (11:5; 2 Ki. 2:11). Second, there will be a generation of believers who will not experience death but will be taken directly to heaven at the Rapture of the church (1 Cor. 15:51–52; 1 Th. 4:17). Scripture also mentions people who died twice: Lazarus, who was resurrected and died a second time (Jn. 11:43–44), and the people who were resurrected at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt. 27:52–53).
Hebrews 9:27–28 teaches that Christ was sacrificed one time and died once for the sins of mankind (7:27; 9:12; 10:10). His was a final act that cannot be repeated or reversed. This was a major consideration for the Jewish believers being addressed in Hebrews, as they compared Christ’s sacrificial death with the teachings of the Levitical system.
The argument concludes with, “To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (9:28). The word appear (Greek, opaw) means to “behold” and has the idea of Christ revealing Himself to the world at His Second Coming, at which time His promise to return will be fulfilled. At His First Coming, He settled the sin issue once and for all by sacrificing Himself. When He returns He will consummate the believer’s redemption and provide all believers with their eternal inheritance as He inaugurates His Kingdom on Earth (v. 15).
Christ’s appearance for believers is mentioned three times in 9:24–28. His first appearance was on Earth to become a once-for-all sacrifice by bearing mankind’s sin on the cross (v. 26). His second appearance was to minister as our Advocate in heaven (v. 24). His third appearance will be at His Second Coming (v. 28).
As believers, we have much for which to be thankful. Jesus Christ purchased our redemption, removed our sin forever, restored us to fellowship with God the Father, advocates for us in heaven, and has promised us an eternal inheritance at His Second Coming. Hallelujah, what a Savior!