“As It Is Appointed Unto Men…
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many: and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).
What a familiar text — but how often its chief meaning has escaped notice through sheer familiarity! You live once, die once and are judged once. That is the author’s first statement, and it is very important. But it is not his chief point in this passage. And if that primary point is not given first importance, the general fact that man lives, dies and is judged loses its real significance in this text as well. But let us start at the beginning, then move to the gospel climax of the passage.
Because of the sin of Adam, the first head of the human race, sin and death entered the world as ruthless (though invited) invaders.1 Since then, sin rules in the fleshly nature of all Adam’s descendants.2 Human life on this earth is destined to end in death, for in Adam mankind is thoroughly fallen.3 But if man has fallen, God remains absolute, in His character and in His standards, and beyond death awaits judgment. This is a sobering thought, and for those who take seriously their own sinfulness, it is completely without hope. Salvation must come from outside sinful man, if man is to be saved at all.
Human life is not only sinful — it is also short. Like Jacob of old, each of us can say that our days are “few and evil.” Long ago David prayed:
Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee. Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. Surely every man walketh in a vain show: surely they are disquieted in vain; he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.4
The New Testament writer James reminds us as well: “Ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”5
Following death will be judgment… with respect to the words, thoughts and actions of every person alike. “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”6 Paul told the Athenians that the true God has “appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.”7
It is “once around” for each of us. We live once. We die once. We will each be judged once, and give account of all our deeds.
Did you notice the pair of two-letter words in the text? “As it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment, so Christ…” Do not neglect those words as and so! It is appointed for sinful man to die once and be judged. That is Law. “As” man, “so” Christ. That is Gospel. The first statement is bad news for sinners. The second statement is good news for sinners. The first solemnly warns; it declares condemnation. The second gives hope and affirms salvation. The first belongs to Mount Sinai. The second belongs to Mount Zion. Look carefully, therefore, at these two words.
Just as mankind in general lives once, dies once, and is called into judgment, so Christ as man comes under the same appointments. He did not take on the nature of angels, but of man. He became full sharer in flesh and blood. He was made like unto His brethren. This is the great theme of Hebrews chapter two,8and it is behind what our author says in this text.
As do all His brothers and sisters in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, the God-Man, lived once, died once, and was judged once on the basis of His earthly life. This means that He will never again live in the mortal flesh. He will never again experience death. His earthly life will never again pass before the Almighty Father to be scrutinized. As with all others of the category “man,” these things happened also to Jesus — once, and only once. They will never be repeated.
We must not forget the as/so, for this speaks to us of Immanuel — God with us in Jesus of Nazareth. Yet it goes without saying that one who would be Savior of sinners must be like them, and different from them at the same time. If He is to be “merciful” to man, He must experience true humanity. But if He is to be “faithful” to God, He must be completely free from sin.9 This is what we see in Jesus of Nazareth.
As the divine Word who became flesh without human father in the womb of the virgin Mary, Jesus participated in everything that is “human”… except sin. As the second Adam, He began at the starting line with the first, a totally free moral agent, with every true temptation to sin but without any bondage to it.10 He is just the God sinners need, and He is precisely the Man God can approve. Jesus is man, our author says first, but now He shows how Jesus is different. For there are great and significant differences between our life, death and judgment, and Jesus’. And in these differences lies our only hope and everlasting encouragement.
In His Life
Like us, Jesus of Nazareth lived life one time. Unlike us, He lived that life entirely for others. Not in the benevolent sense of a modern philanthropist. His life was for others in a much more radical way. It was lived in the flesh for absolutely no reason except for others, and unless it had served that purpose it would not have happened at all. It was for others in a most fundamental sense, for His was the representative, substitutionary life of the Second Adam. He was the divine-human Proxy, carrying on His shoulders the destiny of all His people. If He stumbled, all hope for sinners was gone. As the levitical high priest, inscribed with the names of the tribes of Israel, came before God in the name of the people, standing as their divinely-appointed representative, to be dealt with according to God’s verdict concerning them,11 so Jesus, the great High Priest, first entered the earth and then heaven itself, in the name of His people. In Him personally was bound their destiny: first their nature, then their sins… finally their justification and glory.
Jesus came as man, to do for man what man had failed to do — to give God the perfect obedience of a faithful, loving human life. He was born of a woman (true Man) and born under the Law (true Israel).12 But where Adam and Israel both fell, Jesus fulfilled. God gave Him a human body for this purpose — to do the will of God. This is the author’s primary concern in Hebrews 10:5ff, as He turns from speaking of the blood of Christ to explain its value in His obedient life.
Animal sacrifices had always been God’s second choice, not His first choice. That had always been for man to obey.13 But because God is gracious and full of mercy — and in view of His plan concerning Jesus who was to come — He had allowed the sinner in Israel to bring a substitute life as an offering for his sin, in the place of the sinner’s own unworthy life. This was the true meaning of blood in the sacrificial system.14
But now Jesus had given God His first choice — a life of perfect obedience — and this made the second choice of animal sacrifices forever unnecessary. By that will, the will of God perfectly kept in Jesus’ human body, we have been sanctified who come to God through Him.15 Paul can therefore say that “by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”16 Christ is therefore called “The Lord our Righteousness” and we may be named “The Lord Is Our Righteousness.”17 Jesus lived but once, but He lived for us. That life will never be repeated. Its course is forever settled.
In His Death
Like His brothers after the flesh, Jesus also died once, for so it is appointed unto man in general. But unlike the rest of mankind, Jesus died for others. Our text says that He died “to bear the sins of many,” a specific allusion to the Old Testament sacrificial animals by which He was foreshadowed. He entered into the Most Holy Place of heaven itself on the merit and satisfaction of His own shed blood, for by His own “manly” doing and dying He had acquired eternal redemption.18
Because Jesus Christ offered Himself without blemish to God, His blood is fully able to purify our consciences from dead works to serve the Living God.19 His death would have been vain if not for His sinless20 life. But for His righteous life to be efficient for salvation, it had to be offered, presented to God21 — and so He died, the spotless Lamb of God, foreordained before the foundation of the world.22 He is therefore both priest and sacrifice.
Jesus is also mediator of the new covenant, and His one-time death assures His beneficiaries of their inheritance. He is both benefactor, who by His own performance in life single-handedly acquired the estate He bestows, and at the same time mediator or executor of the will, who lives forever to insure the inheritance!23
By the sacrifice of Himself, Jesus has “put away having appeared once “in the end of the world” for sin, that very purpose.24 He successfully “made purification for sins” by His single offering, and then He took His royal-priestly seat at God’s right hand.25 God had publicly identified Jesus at His baptism as the chosen Servant of Isaiah 42:1,2 and the Son of Psalm 2. All that His baptism in water had signified and promised was finally accomplished in His baptism of blood on the cross. When He had “poured out His soul” for sin, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 took His place as the Son and Heir of the psalmist’s prophecy, waiting only to judge His enemies26 and deliver His people.
As it is appointed for man to die once, so Jesus died. But, unlike us, He died as an offering for sin, as a spotless and perfect offering, and as an offering for us, in a place we could never fill for ourselves.
In His Judgment
Yet there is more to the story! For, as unlikely as it may seem at first glance, Jesus was also judged once — and that, too, for our sake. This is the forthright statement of our text: “As it is appointed unto man to die, and after death the judgment, so also Christ
Under the Old Testament economy, only the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place, and he on but one day of the year. On that great Day of Atonement (Yam Kippur) he entered two times, first for his own sins, then for those of the people. But he entered in simple linen garments, a man for men. He entered only with blood — of a substitute that was ceremonially spotless. And he brought the blood only behind a great smoke of incense, for the Holy God could not stand face to face with this sinful man even then.27
But Jesus entered heaven itself, into the very presence of God, for us.28 No cloud of incense hid Him from the Sovereign gaze. Every detail of His presented life was in full view of the Father’s holy scrutiny. And on this verdict, this single verdict, rested all the hopes of fallen man. With the judgment of the Son — for a while made lower than the angels — rode the eternal destiny of all His people. For if this life had not been acceptable, if it had any spot or blemish, no human life would ever have been acceptable to the Father, and no descendant of Adam could ever have been rescued from moral guilt and deserved punishment. Jesus appeared in the presence of God for us. And in Him — praise God! — the Father found no fault!
The seriousness of the priest’s appearance before God, even in the daily ritual, is reflected in the incident of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. When he delayed coming out from his service in the Temple, the people waiting outside took note of the delay and were concerned.29 According to the great medieval Jewish scholar Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides), the ritual of the Day of Atonement ended with a celebration by all the people, because once again the High Priest had come safely out of the sanctuary.30
The great event of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus’ ascension, was the descent of the Holy Spirit. This was important for many reasons, among the most important being that it signified to His disciples the complete acceptability of Jesus’ offering.31 That occasion, therefore, heralded the beginning of the End Time and marked the release of all the blessings of salvation to the messianic community which was that day aborning. The work which procured salvation was finished. Because it was finished, it was unrepeatable, and because it was unrepeatable, it was secure.32
Because the crucial work has been completed once for all time, no opponent can ever rise to gainsay salvation’s basis. Paul borrows words of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 50:4-9 to affirm the assurance of the Servant’s people:
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect [the Righteous Servant, who represented all His people]? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.33
Because salvation rests on the perfect, finished work of Jesus, Paul can express personal confidence regarding the Day of Judgment, even though he admits in the same passage that he personally falls short of perfection. “I count all things but loss,” he says, “that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”34
“Them That Look For Him…
If the Last Days began with the High Priest’s perfect offering, His resurrection and ascension into heaven, and the announcement of these things on Pentecost, they will conclude when the High Priest comes out of the heavenly sanctuary to receive His waiting people. Our text continues: “and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” His people are waiting, assured by the gospel announcement that Jesus has been made Lord (Kyrios) and Christ (Messiah).35 When He does return, it will not be to offer sacrifices for sin; that has been done. His people wait rather for the consummation of salvation: the redemption of their bodies, in the resurrection unto immortality, to live forever in perfect fellowship with God and His people in new heavens and a new earth.36 This salvation is reserved for them now in heaven, and it will be revealed visibly in the last day.37 It has been procured already by the perfect doing and dying of Jesus; it is assured by the faithfulness of the Father, who raised Him from the dead and seated Him in glory at His own right hand!
His People, and How They Wait
In strong hope and with a clear conscience, Christ’s trusting people may eagerly await His personal return.38 They are heirs of salvation,39 Christ’s own brethren — children whom the Father has given Him.40 Their hearts have been sprinkled from an evil conscience and their bodies washed with pure water; that gospel baptism visibly marked them as trusting Christ for their full salvation.41
They are God’s household, and they can rejoice in hope while they hold fast their confidence unto the end. In this they have the encouragement of the corporate body of Christ, exhorting one another to hear Jesus’ voice gladly and never to harden their hearts in unbelief.42 Theirs is a pilgrimage of faith from first to last. Through the journey they have as food the living and searching Word of God, but it must be digested continually in trust and then metabolized in labor.43 The great Sabbath rest of eternity is waiting at the journey’s end.44
If in this zealous and righteous pursuit they find themselves to be ignorant or out of the way, they need not despair. It was for just such sinful mortals that their High Priest has been appointed.45 Nor can they be content to remain willfully ignorant, for God calls them to pass on from elementary principles to full maturity. With spiritual food and exercise will come experience — and the moral discernment which is acquired only by practice.46
They are seeking even now the things which “accompany salvation,” and so they work and labor in love, ministering to the saints in the name of God.47 There is no room here for slothfulness; enduring faith inherits the promises.48 Their blessings demand diligence, not neglect.49
Jesus is their Forerunner or Scout, and so they follow Him. He who obeyed God perfectly is the sole source of their salvation, so they seek heartily to obey Him.50 Through Him they draw near to God, for He has opened the highway to heaven.51
These are the people of the new covenant. God’s laws are in their hearts and minds. They are His people and He is their God. They know Him, and He is merciful to forget their sins and iniquities.52 Now purged from dead works, they serve the living God.53
With boldness to approach God by their High Priest, they confidently draw near in Jesus’ name, assured that God will be faithful. And they consider each other, to stir up to love and good works — not by leaving off assembling together, but by exhorting one another constantly.54 They must not go on sinning willfully; looking to the past for encouragement, they press into the future. This is the faith by which the righteous man has always found life and saved his soul.55
Theirs is a race begun long ago. With faithful saints of ages past they follow God’s sure promises — sometimes suffering, sometimes conquering, sometimes dying — but always under God’s watchful care and having His divine approval through faith.56 Around them as spectators are the faithful from long ago. Before them is Jesus at God’s right hand in glory. He is the same Jesus who knew human flesh, and suffering, and death, who once was crucified in weakness and shame, but trusted in God still. In Him, personally, faith is forever proved to be victorious! Fixing their eyes on Him, the author and perfector of their own faith, His people may know assuredly that His victory will also be theirs.57
Christ’s people have received the immovable Kingdom. In gratitude, therefore, they serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.58 Loving one another, they practice holy hospitality. Knowing God’s judgment, they are admonished to live pure lives.59 Trusting God’s promises, they need fear neither poverty nor enemies.60 Their hope is not moved by the changing times, for it is grounded in Him who never changes!61
Following Christ costs them the comforts of Carnal Religion. It means bearing His reproach. But being with Him is worth all that and more, for the City they seek will become visible only when the citadels of Carnal Religion lie in heaps of ruins.62 The Father has already brought Jesus up from the dead, even as He once brought Moses up from the Red Sea,63 and He is able to work in His people now His righteous will.64
A Personal Appeal
God, who is infinitely holy, cannot be pleased apart from a sinless life. Adam our forefather brought sin, death and ruin into the world. By our own sins we have proved ourselves his true children. You can never please God or find peace by your own performance, for He demands perfect obedience, without spot or blemish.65 Your sins forever stand in the way of finding life on your own record or works.66
God has appointed that man live once, die once, and then be judged. But He has taken pity on the human race. He has sent His only Son as your Representative, your substitute and proxy, the Second Adam, to do for you, in your name, what you cannot do for yourself. As a man, Jesus has lived once — without sin.67 As a man, He has died — the just for the unjust — the Righteous One for sinners.68 As a man, He was judged once — and in Him the Father found no fault. The work which earned salvation is finished, forever sealed in heaven. Do not seek to add to it. Do not lean, even partially, on your own performance and record.
See yourself as God sees you, in terms of His demand for perfection as measured by His law. Genuinely repent of your sins.69Look to Jesus in faith — throw yourself completely upon Him — trust Him as your sinless Substitute and Savior! Respond to this salvation, already accomplished on the earth, in the obedience which faith will prompt.70 Be buried with Jesus in baptism, calling on His name.71 Constantly rely on Him alone, for every blessing of salvation now, and for God’s ultimate verdict of acquittal on the Last Day.
Praise God for His grace in Jesus! One life. One death. One judgment.