The Perfect Purification
9:23-28 So, then, if it was necessary that the things which are copies of the heavenly realities should be cleansed by processes like these, it is necessary that the heavenly realities themselves should be cleansed by finer sacrifices than those of which we have been thinking. It is not into a man-made sanctuary that Christ has entered--that would be a mere symbol of the things which are real. It is into heaven itself that he entered, now to appear on our behalf before the presence of God. It is not that he has to offer himself repeatedly, as the High Priest year by year enters into the Holy Place with a blood that is not his own. Were that so he would have had to suffer again and again since the world was founded. But now, as things are, once and for all, at the end of the ages, he has appeared with his sacrifice of himself so that our sins should be cancelled. And just as it is laid down for men to die once and for kill and then to face the judgment, so Christ, after being once and for all sacrificed to bear the burden of the sins of many, will appear a second time, not this time to deal with sin, but for the salvation of those who are waiting for him.
The writer to the Hebrews, still thinking of the supreme efficacy of the sacrifice which Jesus made, begins with a flight of thought which, even for so adventurous a writer as he, is amazing. Let us remember again the letter's basic thought that the worship of this world is a pale copy of the real worship. The writer to the Hebrews says that in this world the Levitical sacrifices were designed to purify the means of worship. For instance, the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement purified the tabernacle and the altar and the Holy Place. Now he goes on to say that the work of Christ purifies not only earth but heaven. He has the tremendous thought of a kind of cosmic redemption that purified the whole universe, seen and unseen.
So he goes on to stress again the way in which the work and the sacrifice of Christ are supreme.
(i) Christ entered into no man-made Holy Place; he entered into the presence of God. We are to think of Christianity not in terms of Church membership but in terms of intimate fellowship with God.
(ii) Christ entered into the presence of God not only for his own sake but for ours. It was to open the way for us and plead our cause. In Christ there is the greatest paradox in the world, the paradox of the greatest glory and the greatest service, the paradox of one for whom the world exists and who exists for the world, the paradox of the eternal King and the eternal Servant.
(iii) The sacrifice of Christ never needs to be made again. Year after year the ritual of the Day of Atonement had to go on and the things that blocked the road to God had to be atoned for; but through Christ's sacrifice the road to God is for ever open. Men were always sinners and always will be but that does not mean that Christ must go on offering himself again and again. The road is open once and for all. We can have a faint analogy of that. For long a certain surgical operation may be impossible. Then some surgeon finds a way round the difficulties. From that day that same road is open to all surgeons. We may put it this way--nothing need ever be added to what Jesus Christ has done to keep open the way to God's love for sinning men.
Finally, the writer to the Hebrews draws a parallel between the life of man and the life of Christ.
(i) Man dies and then comes the judgment. That itself was a shock to the Greek for he tended to believe that death was final. "When earth once drinks the blood of a man," said Aeschylus, "there is death once and for all and there is no resurrection." Euripides says: "It cannot be the dead to light shall come." "For the one loss is this that never mortal maketh good again the life of man--though wealth may be re-won." Homer makes Achilles say when he reaches the shades: "Rather would I live upon the soil as the hireling of another, with a landless man whose livelihood was small, than bear sway among all the dead who are no more." Mimnermus writes with a kind of despair:
"O Golden love, what life, what joy but thine?
Come death, when thou art gone, and make an end!"
There is a simple Greek epitaph:
"Farewell, tomb of Melite; the best of women lies here, who loved
her loving husband, Onesimus; thou wert most excellent, wherefore
he longs for thee after thy death, for thou wert the best of
wives. Farewell thou too, dearest husband, only love my children."
As G. Lowes Dickinson points out, in the Greek, the first and the last word of that epitaph is "Farewell!" Death was the end. When Tacitus is writing the tribute of biography to the great Agricola all he can finish with is an "if."
"If there be any habitation for the spirits of just men, if, as the
sages will have it, great souls perish not with the body, mayest
thou rest in peace."
"If" is the only word. Marcus Aurelius can say that when a man dies and his spark goes back to be lost in God, all that is left is "dust, ashes, bones, and stench." The significant thing about this passage of Hebrews is its basic assumption that a man will rise again. That is part of the certainty of the Christian creed; and the basic warning is that he rises to judgment.
(ii) With Christ it is different--he dies and rises and comes again, and he comes not to be judged but to judge. The early Church never forgot the hope of the Second Coming. It throbbed through their belief. But for the unbeliever that was a day of terror. As Enoch had it of the Day of the Lord, before Christ came: "For all you who are sinners there is no salvation, but upon you all will come destruction and a curse." In some way the consummation must come. If in that day Christ comes as a friend, it can be only a day of glory; if he comes as a stranger or as one whom we have regarded as an enemy, it can be only a day of judgment. A man may look to the end of things with joyous expectation or with shuddering terror. What makes the difference is how his heart is with Christ.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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