(Thanks to Stephen Jones for his shared insights on this subject)
“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes the judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews 9: 24-28)
Unfortunate for most students of the scriptures, many well meaning bible teachers short on spiritual insight have used this last verse above as a tool to teach man’s traditional concept of a “second coming of Christ.” In order to rightly divide this verse, it must be looked at it within the context in which it is used. Let’s do that …
Even a cursory glance at this chapter ought to make it clear that the writer is painting contrasting pictures, one of the symbolic divine regulations of worship performed on the Day of Atonement (those performed in an earthly sanctuary by men – old covenant), and the other of the spiritual fulfillment of those things (the atoning works of Christ performed in a HEAVENLY tabernacle not built with human hands). The writer then also contrasts these “atoning works” or “heavenly appearances” with one another. One is then looked at as the “first” work or appearance, and the other is then looked at as the “second.” Verse 24 describes the “first” of these …
“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”
Beloved, this does not describe Christ’s appearance as a babe in a manger in Bethlehem, just as the “second” appearance does not describe what is traditionally taught as “the second coming of Christ.” Let’s look at it this way: In the types of the Old Testament the atonement for sin was not accomplished with the killing of the animal and the sprinkling of blood on the altar, the people, and the tabernacle, it was accomplished when the High Priest presented himself in the Most Holy Place in the presence of God with the blood sacrifice. Thus, in the first part of the spiritual fulfillment of this Day of Atonement ritual, Christ had to “appear” in the Most Holy Place in heaven (“in the presence of God for us”), and by His own blood then make atonement for our sins (forgiveness). This is PART ONE of a two-part work. There are TWO works or “appearances.” Verse 28 of Hebrews chapter 9 then speaks of THE SECOND work (or appearing) which leads to our (FULL) salvation.
Time does not allow for a real in-depth study of this here and now, but I will share with you here a few points that you can look into further on your own. In order to better understand the two appearances that are described here, I suggest that you study the patterns for this which are found in Leviticus chapter 14 and chapter 16. These are the two birds used in cleansing the leper, and the two goats of the Day of Atonement. These two passages of scripture embody the laws regarding the two works of Christ’s Atonement.
In brief; the two birds depict for us the two stages by which we are cleansed of our MORTALITY. The first bird was killed to provide a blood covering for the second bird. In this it is shown that Christ’s death IMPUTED life to us until the time when we can be infused with inherent IMMORTALITY and LIFE. The goats of Leviticus 16 reveal something very similar, but they deal not with the DEATH question but the SIN question. Again, as revealed in Hebrews chapter 9, there are TWO stages by which our sin is eradicated. The first goat covered our sin and the second goat will then remove it. This is saying that Christ’s first “appearance” (for us in heaven) covered our sin, and His second “appearance” (an intercessoral work) will then remove it (the sinful adamic nature) altogether! This is that “salvation without reference to sin” that shall come to those who eagerly await (are following hard after) the Lord.
Beloved, even though we are yet sinners saved by God’s grace and covered by the blood of Jesus whereby we have been imputed righteousness, God has made provision by His first work for a second work that leads to actual HOLINESS and RIGHTEOUSNESS. This second work is a work wherein Christ “appears” again for us in the Most Holy Place in heaven for the purpose of removing sin from us completely. This will be the spiritual fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, and also of the prophetic law where the second goat was led into the wilderness to remove ALL sin.
In closing this, let me say here that the two birds and the two goats can also represent the PASSOVER and the TABERNACLES work of Christ. When Jesus said “It is finished” from the cross on Calvary, He did not mean that there was no longer any work to be done to establish the Kingdom of God upon the earth. No, Jesus meant that the Passover work was finished, for He was crucified on Passover and this was the purpose of His first “appearing.” The divine laws show that the “finished work of Christ” (as that relates to the Atonement) is actually in two stages though. I have done my best to describe for you these “two works” or “two appearings” here.
May God bless you in your understanding of these things …