Proper 27 • Hebrews 9:24–28 • November 8, 2015
By Tim Saleska
Text and Grammar Notes
9:24: εἰσῆλθεν: the aorist verb emphasizes the central point of this text that, unlike the OT sacrifices, Christ’s sacrifice was “once and for all.” ἅγια: The author of Hebrews commonly uses both the plural and the singular, ἅγιον, without distinction to refer to the sanctuary (BDAG). ἀντίτυπα τῶν ἀληθινῶν: The author continues to use the plural nouns to refer to the sanctuary. Here, ἀντίτυπος means “copy,” or “representation” (BDAG) and refers to the lesser of two counterparts. “The true” is heaven itself, which has its reflection in the earthly sanctuary with its sacrifices and rituals. εἰς αὐτὸν τὸν οὐρανόν: The verse appears to refer to Christ’s ascension, following his death and resurrection. νῦν ἐμφανισθῆναι τῷ προσώπῳ τοῦ θεοῦ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν: the author describes Christ’s intercessory function, which is part of his heavenly priesthood. The text makes clear that what Christ does not do is continue to offer himself as a sacrifice or continue to sprinkle his own blood. That sacrifice is finished. What he does do is “appear before God on our behalf.” The language reflects OT usage. Here τῷ προσώπῳ τοῦ θεοῦ refers to the personal presence of God (BDAG). Unlike the OT priests, Christ has true access to the presence of God.
9:25: εἰσέρχεται: the present tense describes habitual or customary action in the OT. (Contrast the aorist εἰσῆλθεν in v. 24). The author has in mind the yearly ritual of the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place (τὰ ἅγια) only after offering the proper sacrifices, undergoing the appropriate purification rituals and only by means of sprinkled blood of animals (Lv 16). κατ᾿ ἐνιαυτὸν has a distributive sense, “every year,” or “annually” (BDAG; BD 224).
9:26: ἐπεὶ ἔδει αὐτὸν πολλάκις παθεῖν: the phrase describes an unreal situation. ἐπεὶ can be translated “if that were so” (but it is not). The imperfect of the impersonal verb ἔδει with an accusative and infinitive indicates past obligation or necessity, “If that were so (but it is not) he would have needed to suffer often from the foundation of the world” (Smyth, 1776; BD 358). νυνὶ δὲ: “but in fact” contrasts with the previous unreal statement. ἅπαξ occurs here and again in vv. 27 and 28, to highlight the difference between Christ’s sacrifice and the sacrifices of the earthly sanctuary.
9:27: ἀπόκειται is another impersonal verb with an infinitive that functions as the subject (Smyth 1984‒1985). The phrase can be translated, “and just as it is certain for humans once to die (BDAG).”
In his explanation of Christ’s work in 9:24‒28, readers can see that the author of Hebrews is working with at least two critical assumptions. First, like the rest of the Bible, The author assumes that all of us live in a “two-tiered” or “two story” universe. As Psalm 2 pictures it, on the “lower track” we humans think we make our own plans and chart our own destiny. But the one who sits in the heavens above is the one who actually rules and controls all things (Ps 2:4). The two parallel tracks can be described as first diverging at the fall and finally converging again at the second coming of our Lord (Rv 21).¹
Another assumption that the author of Hebrews uses to interpret the work of Christ is the assumption that there are type-antitype (latent-patent) relationships between Christ and the people/institutions/events in the OT. Therefore, the one must be interpreted and understood in light of the other. In other words, he interprets the significance of the sanctuary and the sacrifices in the light of Christ and his work. And in turn he understands the deep significance of Christ’s redeeming work in light of the purpose and function of the OT sanctuary and sacrifices.
Both assumptions helped produce the author’s interpretation of Christ’s work that we read in 9:24‒28. On the horizontal plane (moving between OT sanctuary and Christ), the sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (10:1‒2). The author explains that Christ’s sacrifice is much superior to those offered by OT priests. Unlike them, he put away sin once and for all by the sacrifice of himself (vv. 25‒26). The OT sacrifices only hinted at the fullness of what was to come in Christ. The OT sacrifices or sanctuary are no longer needed. Christ has dealt with sin once and for all.
But the author also looks at the work of Christ along the vertical plane (moving between heaven and earth). First, he reminds us that the earthly sanctuary was to be built according to the pattern God showed Moses and later on, Solomon (Heb 8:5; cf., Ex 25:8‒9, 40; 1 Chron 28:19; Acts 7:44). More importantly, it was from the heavens themselves that Yhwh came down and was actually present in the earthly sanctuary. Yhwh’s Presence and promise made his sanctuary more than just another worship place or earthly dwelling. The ark was both the throne and the footstool of Yhwh (Ps 99:1‒5). Here is where Israel could find their gracious and forgiving God. God had come down and “allowed himself to be found” (Ps 46) here as in no other place. Throughout the pages of the OT, we read about many other occasions when God came down from the heavens and visited his people. This was all preparation for the coming of Christ, God himself, who “made his tent” (Jn 1:14) among us and who is the “high priest of a better covenant” as the author of Hebrews says (Heb 7‒8).
As the text reminds us, this high priest does not continually go in and out of the earthly sanctuary, but has entered into heaven itself to appear continually in the presence of God on our behalf (9:24). (The high priest who came down from heaven has returned to heaven and remains in that temple for us.)
Now, as the text says, we are waiting for Christ to come again and save us (9:28). Again, at that time, the parallel realities, the earthly and the heavenly, will merge as they were before that fall.
But what happens in the meantime, to those of us who live in the “end of the ages” (9:26), while we wait for the Son to appear again? Truly, God does not leave us alone, but in the means of Grace, for example, he is constantly “coming down” to minister to us. He is truly present in word and sacrament assuring us of his word of forgiveness and salvation. Before he went back to the one who sent him, Jesus promised to send his Spirit to guide us in the truth and bring forth his fruits in us (Jn 14:25‒26; 16:5‒15; Gal 5:22‒25). Paul says that our bodies are “members of Christ” and “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:15, 19), and the church is “the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12). This metaphor ought to be taken seriously in the meantime as we await Christ’s return.
¹ For the ideas on vertical typology summarized in this study, I am indebted to notes from a presentation given by my former teacher, Dr. Horace Hummel.