The New Testament regularly presents Christians as a People waiting for Jesus to reappear. For 2,000 years, in countries throughout the earth and under circumstances of every kind, Christians have waited and continue to wait. Why is this waiting necessary? It is necessary because the work through which God is accomplishing his redemptive purpose does not happen immediately or all at once, but in three separate stages. Each stage begins with an appearance by Jesus Christ. One is present; one is past; one is future (Heb. 9:24-28). Let us consider each of the three in turn.
Present (‘now to appear’). Some forty days after God raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus “entered . . . into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb. 9:24). In the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus made purification for sin, then sat down at God’s right hand (Heb. 1:3; 9:23). Jesus’ present appearance in heaven was anticipated in Psalm 110:1 (“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool”) and in Psalm 110:4 (“You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”). Jesus will continue to “appear in the presence of God on our behalf” until God has made all of Jesus’ enemies his footstool and the time has come to restore all things (Acts 3:21).
Past (‘has appeared’). Jesus’ present appearance in heaven is possible only because of his past appearance on earth. He “has appeared” in the past “to put away sin” once for all “by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). The form of the verb here translated “has appeared” indicates past action resulting in an ongoing historical reality. Never again will there be a time when Jesus will not have made that appearance in the past and by his self-offering dealt decisively with sin. As a result, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10).
Future (‘will appear’). At a time now future and known to God alone, Christ “will appear” for the second time to people on earth, not to deal with sin but unto salvation for those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28). The word translated “appear” in Hebrews 9:28 is different from the words used for his other appearances in verses 24 and 26, and it comes from a root word found in our English words “optics,” “optical,” and the like. This future appearance at the end of history will be heralded by trumpet sound and archangel’s shout. Every eye will see Jesus then. Salvation history will have reached its goal. The waiting will be over. Maranatha! Even so come, Lord Jesus!