SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
With that basic Jewish theology in place, what Hebrews is saying in chapter 9 is that when Christ died, rose again, and then ascended into Heaven, the ascension into Heaven wasn’t just … it wasn’t just a vindication of Jesus. It certainly wasn’t just a departure of Jesus — you know, Him saying to the apostles, “I’ll see you later guys. I’ll see you at the end of time. I’ll be back.” That’s not the importance of the ascension for the author of the Hebrews.
For the author of the Hebrews, the ascension is a liturgical event, because just as the high priest would go up the steps into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he would ascend into the Holy of Holies, which was the most elevated — not just the most interior, but the
most elevated — part of the sanctuary, so too Jesus (the new high priest, according to the new covenant of Melchizedek) ascends into the heavenly sanctuary. It’s not made with hands. It’s not of this world, in order:
… to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
He’s going there as a high priest to intercede for us, just as Aaron would intercede for the Israelites on the Day of Atonement.
So for the author of the Hebrews, the ascension is the fulfillment of the Jewish Day of Atonement. So just as Jesus fulfills the Passover sacrifice on Earth — at the time of the Passover through His words and actions at the Last Supper and then His death on the cross — He also fulfills the Jewish Day of Atonement, not on Earth but in Heaven.
I have a course called The Bible and the Mass: The Jewish Roots of Christian Liturgy
. And in that lecture series, you can get it on CD or you can do downloads now, nobody listens to CDs anymore — well, nobody young. In that series, I show how Jesus fulfills the spring festivals of the Jewish liturgical calendar, like Passover and Pentecost. He fulfills those on Earth and in time when they were being celebrated by the Jews, but He fulfills the fall festivals, like the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles … He fulfills those in Heaven and eternity. So there’s a fascinating distinction between the fulfillment of the fall feasts and the fulfillment of the spring feasts in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. So you might take a look at that if you want to go into a little more depth.
For our purposes here, I just want to emphasize that according to the letter to the Hebrews, the ascension of Jesus is a fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, the annual day of atonement. And you can see this because he says:
Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own…
So what’s that annual sacrifice? That is the Day of Atonement. It only happened yearly. It happened once a year. The high priest would go in, he’d offer a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people from that year, but Jesus, if that were how He was doing it, Hebrews says:
...he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world.
He would have to be sacrificed over and over and over again every single year if He were going to continue to atone for sin. But, Hebrews says:
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
This is really, really crucial. So if you look at this text — forgive me, I’m going to have to do a little bit more Greek here. But in this case, when Hebrews says “once for all at the end of the age”, it’s not the exact same word that I used earlier. Whenever we were looking at Hebrews chapter 7, and it said that Christ died “once and for all” — epophax
, once and for all — here the expression is slightly different but it’s actually very revealing. So here, the expression is hapax synteleia tōn aiōnon
Now what does that mean? The word hapax
just means “once”. It’s a variant of that other expression, but I have to do this, because every graduate student in New Testament has to learn this expression. It’s called a hapax legomenon.
A hapax legomenon
is a word, a Greek word, that only occurs one time in the New Testament. So it’ll be a unique word.
So in this case, Hebrews is describing the death of Jesus and the appearance of Him here. He’s saying that He’s appeared once (hapax)
and for all at the end of the age. And the expression here in Greek is the consummation of the ages. It means end of the old creation — the end of the old creation and the beginning of the new creation. So it’s an eschatologial term.
And so what he’s describing here is that Christ, unlike the priests of the old covenant who belonged to the old creation who would die, they’d have to sacrifice over and over and over again, Christ is offering the sacrifice that is going to be once, but it’s going to endure until the end of the ages. It’s going to endure forever. And what’s the sacrifice He’s offering? Not the blood of bull, but the sacrifice of Himself.
Now… the reason that this is important is because where and when is He offering that sacrifice? We know that He offers it on Calvary. We know that He offers it on Calvary, and that seems to be the principle meaning of the context when Hebrews talks in chapter 7 about Jesus offering Himself:
… once for all when he offered up himself.
But in this
context, when is Jesus making this offering of Himself? It’s not just on Calvary, because remember, the whole context here is of Jesus as the new high priest of the new Day of Atonement. So when is He offering Himself? It’s when He enters into the heavenly sanctuary to appear before God on our behalf, just like the high priests did in the Day of Atonement. But now He’s going to offer the sacrifice of Himself once and for the consummation of the ages, once and for all time. He’s going to offer an eternal sacrifice.
And if you have any doubts about His ability to do that, remember … go back to the Gospels. When Jesus rises from the dead — you either read this in Luke or John — He still bears the wounds. He bears the marks of the cross, and He’s going to make the offering of the sacrifice of Himself for all time. It’s an eternal offering of Himself to God in charity. And it’s that charity, that sacrifice, that atones for sin not just every year (like the Day of Atonement did on Earth) but for all time, for all eternity.
Now … I’ll come back to that in just a minute, because it’s going to be really important for understanding the theology, not just of the priesthood we talked about, but also the theology of the Mass as a sacrifice. So just hold on one second.
But before I say that, make those points about the Mass, notice here that as soon as he (the author of Hebrews) makes that point, he now pivots to the second coming of Christ. And he draws an analogy here in closing. He says:
And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, 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.
What’s he getting at here? Well, here the author to the Hebrews (or the author of
Hebrews) is presupposing the Jewish concept of what we would call the particular judgment. In other words, that when a person dies, that is the end of their struggle with sin, and that’s when they’re going to receive their particular judgment — whether they will be punished or whether they will be blessed, whether they’ll go to Hades or whether they’ll go to Abraham’s bosom, for example, like in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. And he’s saying, just as the judgment comes at the end of a man’s life in the particular way, so too Christ:
...having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time...
But He’s not coming back in the parousia
, in the second coming, to deal with sin again. He’s not going to come back to be crucified again in order to wipe away sin. Instead, He’s going to come back to save those who are waiting for Him.
So this is very important. It might not be an issue for us, but remember, for the first readers of Hebrews, they’re trying to wrap their brains around how it is Christ’s sacrifice — which happens once in time — can continue to be efficacious. Because what they’re used to are the annual sacrifices of the Day of Atonement, of the high priest, where a bull has to be killed every year in order to atone for the annual sins. And what the author of Hebrews is trying to show is Christ’s sacrifice is essentially
different than the old covenant sacrifices of Yom Kippur, because if it were like them, He would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world.
In other words, He would have to be killed over and over and over and over again. Or, He might have to die again when He comes back at the parousia
. But Hebrews is saying no, no, no — that’s not how the sacrifice of Christ works, because He didn’t enter into a sanctuary in time, He entered into the heavenly sanctuary of eternity. And it’s from there that He will return, not to put away sin once again, but to bring those who are waiting for Him with
Him in the parousia
, in His second coming into glory.
Alright, so there’s a lot we could say about that. I just bring that up, because I wanted to at least highlight that verse about the particular judgment, because this is one of the few verses in the New Testament that’s really clear about this, and this is where we get the Catholic doctrine — the Catholic teachings in the Catechism
and elsewhere — that our judgment is going to come at the moment of our death. There’s no second chance after death. We get one chance — this life, and with death, comes the judgement. And then, of course, there will be the general judgment at the end of time at the parousia
, but that’s a distinctive end.
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