Christ Was Sacrificed Once
Key Verse 26b
“But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
When Jesus sat down at the last supper and had the very first communion service with his followers, he was about to put the new covenant God makes with us into effect. So he said: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) And that’s what the author is talking about here in verses 16-22. The word covenant also carries with it the idea of “a last will and testament”. The new covenant itself is Jesus’ own last will and testament to all who believe in him and follow him. His will was about to go into effect, but not until Jesus died, because no last will and testament can become official until the death of the person who makes it. If you want to inherit your children with your house and assets, they will not be able to collect the inheritance until you die. Only then will it become legal and official to transfer the deed to your house and your assets to your living children. And that’s what this is all about. The death of the will maker, Jesus, and the blood he shed to seal the new covenant and to put into effect all the benefits, privileges and blessings that come with it.
The author explains something else as well in these verses. He explains that that’s how covenants work. The death of the will maker is necessary, but also blood is involved as well. That’s how the old covenant was put into effect. Blood was sprinkled on the sanctuary to seal the covenant. But also to purify the people whom God made a covenant with. In the same way, at the death of the Lord Jesus, his will to extend all the benefits and blessings of the new covenant to us came into effect through his death as well as through the blood he shed which needed to be sprinkled on the heavenly sanctuary. But why was it necessary to shed his blood? Look at verse 22. Because the law of God requires it; because blood must be shed to atone for sin; because we need cleansing on the inside, cleansing of heart and mind and conscience and soul; because it was Jesus’ last will and testament that we be cleansed and purified so that we may become presentable to the holy God.
The blood of Jesus is the most precious thing in heaven and on earth. We know that the new covenant is a covenant of eternal life and eternal blessing for anyone who is bound to Christ Jesus in this new covenant. It was our Lord’s will that we have these things— eternal life— forgiveness of sin— inner cleansing— righteousness, holiness and more— and all this in abundance. For that, he needed to sacrifice himself and shed his blood so that we might inherit them. But a person needs to claim them in faith. When Jesus offers his blood for your cleansing, unless you claim that blood in an act of repentance and faith, you cannot inherit anything promised by the covenant. Those who don’t know the value of Jesus blood, who have never asked him for the sprinkling of his blood on their hearts for the cleansing from sin, don’t know what grace, mercy and privilege it is! They don’t know that only his blood received by faith can offer them forgiveness and cleansing from the sins that pollute our lives, sins that unless washed in his blood will cause untold sorrow on the day we all stand before the judgment seat of God to be judged for the lives we’ve lived!
One last thing about the power of Jesus’ blood and its significance in our lives, now and always. Listen to what the apostle John tells us in his revelation about the source of true victory. “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.’” (Revelation 12:10-12) Truly the only victory that’s worth anything in our lives is that the blood of Jesus shields us from the devil and his fury, and the word of our testimony that Christ in whom we trust is Lord and Savior. Lord we claim your holy blood on our hearts and souls. Lead us in repentance and faith to inner cleansing from sin and to deeper commitment to you. Lord let your blood be the source of our daily triumph and the testimony of our lips and joy of our lives. Amen.
There’s a phrase here in these verses that’s worth repeating again and again. And the phrase is “Once for all”. In a sense it is almost synonymous with Jesus’ last words from the cross “It is finished”. (John 19:30) When Jesus spoke these words, they were the most beautiful and most anticipated words of all time. Heavens and earth had waited for these words of Jesus to be said. And when he said them, something happened not only in our world, but in the whole universe. Something changed in the universe that day. Neither heavens nor earth were the same the moment Jesus said “it is finished”. We know that’s true because here on earth the curtain in the temple forbidding human beings from coming to God was torn in two. Even nature rumbled and the skies turned dark. Not only here on earth, but also in heaven things we cannot see happened, things changed! Nothing was the same. Nothing would ever be the same again, all because of Jesus’ words “it is finished”. Something finished! And certainly enough something new began. The apostle here reflects Jesus’ words differently, he says, “Once for all”. What exactly happened that the author echoes the finality of Jesus’ words like this: “Once for all”? What happened was that the tabernacle and sanctuary in heaven was finally able to be purified! And it was purified with Jesus’ own holy blood. That changed everything in the universe. The heavenly sanctuary was now purified.
For those who might wonder why the heavenly sanctuary needed purification or why the altar in heaven needed to be purified when heaven itself is the holy abode of God? And why did it require only the blood of the Son of God to purify it? For the most part, we don’t have the grace to explain the mysteries of God’s wisdom. But we do know that sin and rebellion originated in heaven by the devil and his angels, and was passed on to our ancestor Adam in the Garden. And we do know that the heavenly sanctuary needed purification with the blood of the Lamb the Lord Jesus, and we know this by faith in God and his wisdom.
There’s a reason the author describes Christ’s sacrifice with the phrase “Once for all”. And he gives us reason in verses 23-28. The death of our Lord Jesus on the cross is surely the most amazing event in human history. It happened only once! But the effect of it is timeless transcending space and time and judgment. Let’s see how the author reflects this in his teaching.
Christ’s sacrifice transcends space. Read verses 23-24. “It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” It was necessary for the earthly tabernacle to be purified with the blood of animals. The earthly sanctuary was constantly being purified with the blood of sacrificed animals. It was the only way for his people to have any dealings with the holy God. But that was temporary and insufficient and imperfect. Why? Because the earthly sanctuary was only a copy (a reflection) of the sanctuary in heaven. The heavenly sanctuary, as the author tells us, required a better sacrifice. So our high priest Lord Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary and presented himself as the better offering and sacrifice on our behalf. In other words he entered a better place by a better sacrifice. Now why is this of such great significance? Because it has everything to do with space. The earthly sanctuary where God met with the high priest occupied a certain space. God would not meet with them anywhere else except in that most holy space. It was a place and space God himself had chosen for meeting. In the desert, they had to move the place of the sanctuary every time God required them to move. God helped them through this to follow him as a sheep follows the shepherd. Finally when the temple was built in Jerusalem they settled the sanctuary within it and it stayed there for generations. Whenever someone wanted to offer sacrifices and inquire of God they had to travel to the place of the sanctuary, to Jerusalem.
But although God choose to meet with them only in that one place— the sanctuary— God himself was not limited by that space at all. In the end when they rejected God and embraced materialism and idolatry instead, the temple was destroyed. That holy place or space was gone! But by then the new covenant was in place and something glorious had happened. Jesus our Lord himself became the sanctuary and the temple itself— the place where anyone can meet with God and have fellowship with him. Now this is the main point! Christ’s sacrifice transcends space. No one need go anywhere specific to meet with God. Since Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary, he is our temple. It is to him that we now go. And in him we can find forgiveness of sins and worship God wherever we are. Therefore, once for all Christ opened the way to the heavenly sanctuary so that we might draw near to God from anywhere and at anytime.
Christ’s sacrifice also transcends time. Read verses 25-26. “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” This truth should be dear to the heart of Christian believers. When Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary, He offered Himself as the sacrifice. Now the truth is that Jesus didn’t need to offer himself again and again, the way the earthly priests do when they enter the earthly sanctuary bearing the blood of animals. Otherwise Jesus would have had to suffer again and again since the beginning of creation. But look at what it says. Verse 26b. “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” The words “at the end of the ages” or better yet as “at the culmination of the ages” are very significant. We’re talking about the main point and focus of all things in heaven and on earth, time and eternity. That’s the pinnacle of history, whether human or divine. And what is it? It’s the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross. And the purpose of his sacrifice was to do away with sin, that is, to save us from our sins. And this sacrifice was “once for all” meaning “never before and never again”. But since it’s the “end of the ages”, it transcends time. This means that it affects all who went before, all who are now and all who will be in the future until the coming of the Lord. It means that Jesus’ sacrifice is not subject to time when it comes to its power and efficacy. What God did in human history at the “end of the ages”, affected eternity. So it doesn’t matter if a person was born a 1000 years before Christ’s sacrifice or a hundred years from now— it’s that “Once for all” sacrifice and faith in it that saves those who believe from sin.
Jesus died once for all. His sacrifice is beyond time such that it covers the sins of all repentant sinners across the ages from the beginning of time till the end of time. We must believe this and not crucify the Lord of glory with our unbelief every time we feel weak or experience failure. We should know in our hearts that my sin has been taken care of by the Lord whose sacrifice has brought me forgiveness and cleansing and entrance into God’s presence now, always and forever. If you have any doubts about our Lord’s “Once for all sacrifice” for you, this is the time to bow your head in humble repentance and give thanks for the eternal sacrifice that will carry on to the kingdom of God!
Christ’s sacrifice also transcends judgment. Read verses 27-28. “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” What’s the apostle talking about here when he emphasizes the destiny of men to die once, and to face God’s judgment— and the one time appearing of Christ to take away sin? He is talking about the fruits of the two Men who represent the human race. Adam is our original representative. His action of rebellion against God’s command in the Garden affected us all down to the last person who ever lived or lives on this earth. The fruit of Adam’s sin against God had been death to all his descendants. Every human being who had ever lived inherited Adam’s sin as well as Adam’s consequence of sin, which is death, and God’s judgment. No human being would have been exempt from that destiny had it not been for the coming and actions of the second Adam, Christ Jesus who also has become the representative of all who believe. The one time action of Adam in the garden doomed us all to death and judgment. In the same way, the one time action of the Lord Jesus brought us deliverance from sin and perfect salvation. God is fair, he provided us with another representative who did everything the first one could not and did not, and in doing so, also provided us with a way out of our dismal destiny.
The words of verse 27 ring very hard on our ears, yet true, something that most people in this world don’t get. “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” We have to think about who will represent us on that day. Those who are still in Adam will be represented by Adam. And that’s the truth. All people are destined to die once. And if death were the end of things, that would be difficult to swallow but bearable. But death is not the end of things. Just as every man and woman must die they must also face God’s judgment. The Bible tells us that: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10) I don’t know any human being who can pass that test. And I don’t like to think about the kind of judgment that I would receive if God were to weigh the good and the evil that I have done in my life. I don’t want Adam to represent me! The evil far outweigh the good in that heritage, and I will not be able to stand.
But God did not leave us without hope. Just as we were destined to die once and face God’s judgment, so also Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many. As he said: “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) And that’s a glorious truth. That is our hope. That is our faith. In other words, we live by faith in him, knowing that we are now and ever past judgment. Even though we still live in the flesh and are weak to its sinful desires, in the sight of God, we have already crossed over from death to life, from judgment to glory. And at the second coming of the Lord salvation will be complete for those who are waiting for him. In this way, Christ’s sacrifice transcends judgment. In every way, we are assured of his saving grace in our lives.
When we think about this beautiful passage, we also notice a wonderful word that we should not miss, which also emphasizes the transcendence of Christ’s sacrifice beyond time, space and judgment. The apostle tells us that Christ Appeared (in the past tense) for our salvation. (26) He tells us that Christ is now Appearing (in the present tense) for our sanctification. (24) He also tells us that Chris will Appear (in the future tense) for our glorification. (28) Every which way we consider the precious sacrifice of our Lord it is to our benefit. And for that, we love him and commit our hearts and lives to him, and our souls to his care. Jesus says to those who love him: “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15) We need to live gospel centered lives which the Lord Jesus commands us to observe and follow. Amen.