“…He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Hebrews 9:26 – ESV)
The Greek word hapax, translated in our Bibles as ‘once for all’ is a favourite word in the letter to the Hebrews, especially in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. In Hebrews, Jesus our great High Priest, is said to have “appeared ‘once for all” (Incarnation – 9:26), “offered Himself once for all” (Atonement – 7:27; 10:10) and “entered the holy place (i.e. heaven itself) once for all” (Resurrection and Ascension – 9:12 cf 9:24). And in this way He and He alone has secured full salvation (forgiveness, redemption and sanctification) for all who come to God through Him.
In Hebrews 9:26, the verse quoted above, the focus is upon both Incarnation and Atonement. It reminds us that Christmas and Easter should never be divided in our thinking. For Jesus came into our world in order to die for our sins and Jesus could not have died for our sins if He had not been willing to share our humanity and enter our world. We find exactly the same idea in Hebrews 2:17 where we read:
“ Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Hebrews 9:26 however also reminds us of three important theological truths: First, it reminds us that with the coming of Jesus into our world, God acted in a decisive and indeed in a final way. This emphasis is there right at the beginning of Hebrews where the writer speaks of Jesus as God’s authoritative and final Word to the world (1:1) and then goes on to speak about Jesus’ finished work upon the cross where He made purification for sins (1:3). The point that the writer makes at the beginning of the letter and continues to stress throughout is simple and vitally important for us to hear, especially in our relativistic, pluralistic culture. Now that Jesus has come, there is no other way by which God can truly be known. He is God’s ‘once for all’ way back to God! The gospel message about Jesus is thus a message not just for Christians but for the world!
Secondly, Hebrews 9:26 reminds us that time is running out. It is striking that what we would often refer to as the first coming of Jesus is described as having taken place at ‘the end of the ages’. The point is that Jesus’ death on the cross changes everything including the course of history and final destiny of this world. History is controlled by God and is centred around His great purpose in His Son Jesus. But the fact that Jesus’ came and died at the ‘end of the ages’ means more than that. It means that the death of Jesus determines the final destiny of every single human being, no matter who they are. It is for this reason that the next verses, Hebrews 9:27-28, remind us that “it is appointed for man to die once and after that comes judgement” and that “…Christ will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” Once Jesus appears there will be no opportunity to deal with the guilt of our sin. We either deal with it now, through the death of Jesus, or we will have to face the judgement due for our sin when He returns.
Thirdly, Hebrews 9:26 reminds us that no-one has to stand before Jesus unforgiven on the day of judgement. From beginning to end, Hebrews announces the glorious truth that is seen in 9:29. Jesus appeared once for all at the end of the ages so that sin may completely and irreversibly ‘put away’ i.e. put away by God so that sin is no longer held against those who trust in Christ. The great transaction is this: Jesus sacrificed Himself as a substitute in the place of sinners, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that we who trust in Him as our great High Priest and perfect sacrifice, may escape God’s just judgement and know God’s glorious salvation. Just before His death upon the cross, Jesus cried out “it is finished” (John 19:30), a victorious declaration that sin had been paid for, once for all. All that remains is for each of us to put our trust in Him and to keep trusting in Him alone. This is the other major theme of the letter to the Hebrews – a reminder to each believer to keep on persevering in the faith, to keep on encouraging one another to persevere and, wonderfully, to keep on drawing near to God in Jesus name and in full assurance of faith so that we may find help and strength for our daily walk with Him.