Our Epistle for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost (Hebrews 9:24-28) is of tremendous importance in that it demonstrates Christ’s work to be the fulfillment of what was done in Old Testament worship. This worship, linked to the priestly work in the Tabernacle, pointed to Christ, His cross and His empty tomb.
A key statement is the second half of verse 26: He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Christ is here clearly described as the fulfillment of the sacrificial actions performed on the Old Testament Day of Atonement.
On that most holy day of Old Testament worship the sins of the entire nation of Israel were being “atoned” for. Several unique things happened on the yearly Day of Atonement: The high priest was the only one to perform the sacrifices. Unlike any other sacrifice, the sacrificial blood was sprinkled toward the Mercy Seat located in the Most Holy Place. The high priest alone could enter this Most Holy Place uniquely on this one day out of the year, and then he quickly had to exit. The Day of Atonement was also recognized as the conclusion and embodiment of all the sacrifices offered for sin during the previous year. The high priest was like a basket carrying the sins related to the various sin offerings from the previous year. Then, needing atonement also for his own sins, he emptied the basket of the sins of the nation on the Day of Atonement sacrifices. (Note: There were other solemn and special activities on that day as well.)
So then why did Christ have to die if these sacrifices were “taking care of” sin? These sacrifices were like credit cards paying a debt, and they only dealt with the sins of the people of Israel. As with every credit card debt the day of reckoning must come. In the fullness of time Christ comes, and by His once-for-all sacrifice He pays off the sin-debt incurred by the Old Testament people of Israel, the sin-debt that was forestalled by the “credit card” of the atonement sacrifices. But he doesn’t just pay off their sin-debt, He pays the sin-debt incurred by every human…past, present and future! No more sacrificial “credit cards” are needed after Christ offered himself as the once-for-all sacrifice.
Christ is the ultimate and final high priest who carries not just the sins of Israel but the sins of the entire world. He does not have to place any sins on an unwilling sacrificial beast, for he, unlike Aaron et al, is sinless and thus His body is a pure—yet empty—basket. And because He is God this empty basket is able to be filled with all the sins of mankind. He then “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” After entering the Holy Place of heaven, pleading our case with His blood at the heavenly mercy seat, He does not need to exit—and indeed He will not exit until Judgment Day. On that day He will exit and we will stand before Him justified by His sacrificial blood!