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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A Fresh Look at Hebrews 9:27

I recently heard a somewhat disturbing message. There was nothing in the message that I have not heard a thousand times before, but the source was troubling. I found the recording at a site which has a similar theological understanding as I have. That is, they seek to "rightly divide the Word of Truth," and they take what has been described by some as an "Ultradispensational" (Post Acts) understanding of scripture. (I use that word in the description of this blog as that is what men have dubbed our understanding. I much prefer "Consistent Dispensationalism.")

I realize (as do any who regularly read this blog) that we each have our own individual theology. However, among those of us who have come to understand Paul's ministry in the Prison Epistles and in the Dispensation of the Mystery, there are usually a number of commonly held doctrines.

Obviously, Post Acts dispensationalists hold to the teaching that the present administration of God (dispensation) started at the end of the Book of Acts. We also propose that this age was first revealed in holy scripture in the epistle to the Ephesians (and hidden from before the overthrow of the ages). This post is not meant to lay out all those distinctives, but they can be found throughout this blog. Another commonly held understanding is that all who see death, believer or unbeliever, enter a state of silence. The dead know nothing (Ecclesiastes, etc).  The man I heard taught that dead men exist in some sort of bodiless state upon death and most are sent to fiery torture by God.

In light of my unpleasant surprise, I thought I'd quickly review the passage at the root of his error. That error was teaching that Hebrews 9:27 teaches that all men die and immediately face God's judgment of heaven or hell.

Dispensationalism (of any stripe) is the minority not only in greater Christendom (where it is in the extreme minority), but it is in the minority even among those labeled Evangelical or Fundamentalist believers. And among dispensationalists, "ultradispensationalism" is in the extreme minority. While Post Acts believers still have our minor disagreements, we almost all understand Hebrews 9:27 in its context. Unfortunately, this verse (like 2 Cor 5:8) is almost universally incorrectly applied throughout Christendom.

For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made with hands, which is a prefiguration of the true one, but into heaven itself to be exhibited now in the presence of God for our sakes. And not in order to offer himself repeatedly, as when the high priest enters into the sanctuary each year with blood which is not his, since then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the overthrow of the world. But now he has been manifested once for the consummation of the ages to annul sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is the destiny for men to die once, and after this the judgment, so too Christ, having been offered once in order to take upon himself the sins of many, will appear a second time without sin to those who eagerly await him for salvation.
-Hebrews 9:24-28

 Verse 27 (highlighted) is generally ripped from its context (like 2 Cor 5:8) and used to teach something which is not present. If you take the verse on its own, it can be used to teach the unbiblical doctrine of bodiless beings being judged immediately upon death. But that is not what this verse teaches at all.

Verse 28 is a comparative. The word translated "so" is from the Greek "hoútō," which means "in the same manner." Christ's final and eternal priesthood is being compared to the priesthood in Israel's Law. The Book of Hebrews (written to Hebrews) is about things that are pictured in the Law which point to Christ and how Christ fulfills the type "better." Christ is better than the Levitical priests. The Faithful sought a better resurrection. The Son is better than the angels. The New Covenant will be better than the Old Covenant, etc.

The men dying in verse 27 are human priests. When the high priest died, any who had fled to a City of Refuge were free. "In the same manner" or "so too," when Christ died, all were set free forever. The cycle ended. In the Law, the cycle began anew with each new high priest. 

So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.
-Numbers 35:25

If the death of a mortal high priest, who is replaced by another high priest, is sufficient to free from an avenger of death one who sought refuge, how much more the death of Israel's eternal high priest? Christ's priesthood is perfect. It has no successor. All men have freedom from death (the penalty for sin) in his sacrifice.

The passage as a whole is arguing that temporal priests had to continually offer sacrifices because their offerings could not take away sins forever. They also died and had to be replaced so the sacrifices could continue.

Christ, as the perfect, eternal high priest, offered the never-to-be-repeated sacrifice of his own blood (something the Levitical priests could not do). This is no "ongoing sacrifice" as the sacramentalist churches say they continue to offer daily on their altars. Christ's sacrifice is a finished work! There was no seat in the Holy of Holies for the priest to sit upon as the work was never finished. (Yes, the mercy seat is there, but he was forbidden to sit upon that.)

But what does the scripture say of Christ after he had offered the sacrifice of his blood?

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.
-Hebrews 10:11-13

Christ sat down because the sacrifice and the work are complete. When he offered the perfect sacrifice, and sat down, there is no more need of any "ongoing sacrifice." Such a teaching is blasphemy and denial of Christ. To teach that this sacrifice cannot free one from the penalty of sin (whether in man's traditional doctrine of "hell" or "purgatory") is to teach that the work was not completed. 

Let's look at the larger context in Numbers 35.

And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment… Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood  according to these judgments: and the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the DEATH of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil... after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession"

A man stands before the congregation of Israel and is declared not-guilty, however, he must still wait in the City of Refuge until the death of the anointed high priest. Israel was shown the sacrifice of Christ in type and shadow. But the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. The work of the high priest was never complete. He could never sit down.

Christ completed the sacrifice and he sat down.

Let's look at the results of the different deaths:

Death of the Temporal High Priest: and after this the judgment
Death of the Eternal High Priest: 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.

The repetition is over. The sacrifice is complete and eternal.