“For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figure of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
Nor yet that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with the blood of others:
For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
The writer of this epistle, whoever he was, was thoroughly acquainted with the spiritual economy of the Hebrews.
It is not necessary for us to identify the secondary author of this epistle, since the Holy Spirit, the Author of the Scriptures, has seen fit not to disclose his name.
What is of importance to us is the evidence of his complete enlightenment of Israel’s spiritual economy. Not only did he understand fully the economy in its typical apparatus, but also in its anti-typical significance.
The evidence of this last observation is clearly portrayed in respect to his conception of the priest office as set forth in this chapter. In the first part of the chapter he reviews the matter of the typical priesthood. He describes the tabernacle with its various compartments. And he dwells on the various sacrifices and their service. And, beginning with verse eleven, he reflects on the anti-typical character of it all. Christ, so he declares, is the High Priest concerning the good things to come. Christ, so he continues, entered the Holy Place once for all. Not the earthly holy place, made with hands, but the heavenly, and that with a sacrifice that brought to an end all sacrifices. It is this that we especially wish to call to your attention as we consider in this ascension meditation: Christ’s entry into the heavenly holy place.
What draws our attention, first of all, in the text, is the truth that the ascension of Christ into heaven is considered an historic fact.
In the Scriptures Christ’s birth, His death, and resurrection are considered undoubted historic facts. Established historic facts, they are, upon which rests the faith of the Christian church. So also Christ’s ascension into heaven belongs to the facts of history, though it is true that this fact never seems to receive the attention and the emphasis given to the above-mentioned facts. Surely the secular world does not know how to commercialize on this fact as it does with Christ’s birth and resurrection. But also the church fails miserably to perceive the importance of the fact of Christ’s ascension. Nevertheless, the ascension, as well as the nativity, death, and resurrection of Christ belongs to history.
Forty days after He arose from the grave He ascended into heaven before the eyes of the disciples. Of this they gave testimony. “And He led them forth as far as to Bethany, and as He lifted up His hands, He blessed them. And it came to pass in His blessing them, He was parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). “And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).
But history, beloved reader, is not realized factually only here on the earth, but also in heaven. Heaven, as well as earth, is affected by time and history. This is often forgotten in the waves of earthly historical events, when emphasis is placed on the events as they affect our earthly existence. But not to be forgotten is the fact that in time history also involves heaven. We need only to remind you that the fall in the angel world takes place within the brackets of time. Also the salvation of the saints who have lived and died is realized in heaven.
So Christ’s ascension affects also the history of heaven. Forget not that all through the old dispensation the accuser of the brethren had access to heaven. There he denied those who after death entered heaven their right to be there, beginning with righteous Abel and continuing with the long line of saints who followed. But with the ascension of Christ this all ceases. The accuser of the brethren is cast out, never more to return. Christ’s ascension signaled the complete justification of all the Old Testament saints.
Moreover, as the text makes abundantly clear, Christ’s ascension and His sitting at God’s right hand, finishes all His mediatorial work. Christ must enter the tabernacle not made with hands, to bring His sacrifice. But He must enter heaven itself to appear in the very presence of God. Such is the historic fact.
But notice, in the second place, the manner in which He enters into heaven.
It is not as an earthly high priest. The writer to the Hebrews draws a comparison to the earthly high priest. He tells us that the sons of Aaron entered the holy place made with hands. The reference is, of course, to the tabernacle constructed with human hands, first at Sinai, and later in the temple set by Solomon on Mount Zion. These constructions were composed of three main compartments: the outer court, wherein was the great altar of sacrifice; the holy place, wherein were the table of shewbread, altar of incense, and the candlestick; and the holy of holies, which was within the veil, in which was the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat. Into this humanly constructed edifice the sons of Aaron entered often. Daily there they received the sacrifices brought by the people to offer them, first for their own sins, and then for the sins of the people. And in the holy of holies the high priest alone entered once a year with the blood of bulls and goats to sprinkle it upon the mercy seat. But into that man-made structure Christ does not enter. He does not need to bring as the earthly priest many sacrifices, first for Himself and then for His people.
As the anti-type He enters heaven itself as the perfect high Priest. The long line of the Aaronitic priesthood served only as faint pictures of the reality to come. The shadows, of course, were made possible by the reality that reflected them. But the shadows could not be the reality. Therefore temporal offices were filled by temporary men. But Christ is the reality, and in that sense the only High Priest. Apart from Him all other priests were of no significance. He is the fulfillment and the perfection of the priest’s office, His sacrifice alone could take away sin; His sacrifice alone has eternal and abiding value.
Moreover, the text stresses the truth concerning the place Christ entered. Though it was true that God dwelt in the shadows of the earthly tabernacle, He nevertheless dwelt in isolation. No one might enter into His presence except the high priest, while the people stood afar off in the outer court. Only the great high priest might enter the holy of holies once a year, but he could abide there only for a moment, and he must needs go out. But Christ enters into the very presence of God. The text says literally: before His face. And Christ abides there: and, wonder of wonders, we with Him. Here, very really, God and His people in Christ are one. Our High Priest enters heaven itself, into the very presence of God, and in our behalf.
Now, once for all! Upon the end of the ages! He appeared unto the abrogation of sin through His sacrifice! Such is the literal translation of the text.
And the meaning is clear. Not often did He appear, as had the shadow-priests in the humanly constructed tabernacle, with many sacrifices which could never take away sin. At the long end of the ages when repeatedly sacrifices were brought which could only remind the worshippers of the one sacrifice that would bring an end to all sacrifices, Christ brings the one sacrifice, the all-sufficient sacrifice of Himself, that forever satisfies the justice of God over against our sin, the sin of all His people—that efficacious sacrifice Christ brought for us into the very presence of God.
The Priest and the offering are all one in Him. His sacrifice is the perfect one because it alone takes away sins. This sin and the consequences of sin are forever abolished for God’s people.
Notice, in the third place, how the text stresses the purpose of Christ’s ascension.
He enters heaven itself and appears before the face of God in our behalf. He enters as the Mediator of His people. Always, in all that He does, He represents them. But His mediatorship was not by our appointment. He was not democratically chosen by the will of the people. He does not rise to His High-Priestly office out of the house and loins of Aaron. Rather, He comes out of the volume of the book, out of the eternal counsel of God to do His will. Thus He is the Servant of Jehovah; and all that He does is by divine appointment. His birth, His passion and death, His resurrection, but also His glorious ascension, is all of God. But all in our behalf. So now, at the end of the ages of the old dispensation, with the perfect sacrifice of Himself in our behalf, He presents Himself before Jehovah face, in the heavenlies.
With the sacrifice that brings an end to all sacrifices!
The sin problem of all His people is finished forever!
Indeed, with our sin and guilt He went to the cross, where the God of our salvation poured upon Him all the vials of His holy wrath to satisfy His justice with respect to our sin. There He Who knew no sin was made sin for us. There He was forsaken of God that we might be made righteous, and never be forsaken of Him. Because He was faithful unto death, God declared Him to be righteous and we in Him; and, therefore, raised Him from the dead. Yea, God raised Him unto the highest heavens, in order that He might receive the reward of merit. Into heaven itself, that is, the heaven of heavens, the highest pinnacle of glory and honor, at the right hand of God, into His very presence, He ascended. There Jehovah-God brings His Son, our Mediator, to report as it were on His commissioned work. There He presents Himself as the one Who has put away our sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
And the implication is that there the Father acknowledges the perfect sacrifice as sufficient to put away forever your sins and mine.
At the end of the ages!
Not the end of the world is it to which the text refers, but undoubtedly to the end of the ages of the old dispensation, at the end of the long line of earthly priests and sacrifices. At that point in time Christ appeared with the sacrifice that brought an end to all sacrifices, satisfying God’s justice and bringing also to an end God’s curse over our sin and guilt.
And therefore unto the end of the ages, that is, unto the day when Christ comes again on the clouds of heaven to take us also into the very presence of God, unto then we are accounted righteous before God. And that is forever.
Then, as God the Father undoubtedly said to His Son when He appeared in His ascension, “Come ye blessed One into My presence to receive the reward of your mediatorial work,” so shall He also say to us at the end of the world: “Come, ye blessed, enter into My blessed fellowship and communion forever; for ye are righteous through Him Whom I have highly exalted, because He so deeply humbled Himself for your sins, and the sins of all My people.”