"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.
This text is usually misstated in this shape. "it is apointed unto all men once to die, and after death the judgment." But the reader of the context will perceive that Paul was not speaking of the physical death of mankind, but of the sacrificial death of the high priest, and was contrasting with the death of Christ, the ceremonial death of the Aaronic priesthood. The language of the original shows this more clearly than does the language of our version. In the Greek, the definite article tois, (the or those) precedes the word translated men, (anthropois), and thus it reads, "it is appointed unto the (or those) men once to die." What men? The context shows:
"For Christ did not enter holy places made with hands, the antitypes of the true ones; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God in our behalf; not that he should offer himself often, even as the High Priset entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others: for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once for all in a completion of the ages hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Andas it is appointed unto those men (that is the high priests) once to die, but after this, judgment: so Christ once offered to bear the sins of the many; and unto them that look for him shall appear the second time without a sin-offering unto salvation.—Heb. 9:24-28.
This is a literal translation. The plain statement is: As the high priests, the antitypes, died a figurative death, annually, (se Ex. 28:29—30), so Christ was offered once for all in the sinner's behalf. The ordinary reference to the dying of all men leaves the "as" and "so" without meaning or application. But when we see that the apostle was showing the superiority of the mission of Christ over the annual sacrifices of the Jewish high priest. the meaning becomes plain. He employed "the men" as types of the superior sacrifice of Christ.
The reader cannot fail to see that it is not mankind, but certain men, "the men" who all the way through this chapter and the next are compared to Christ, who are said once to die. These men are the priests, or the successors of the high priests under the law. They died, figuratively, once a year, on the great day of atonement in the offering of sacrifices. Ex. 30:1-10 :
"And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon; and thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee. And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning; when he dresseth the lamps he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon. And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements; once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations; it is most holy unto the Lord."
Having performed this rite, having died by proxy, the high priest entered the holy of holies, and pronounced the sentence of absolution from the mercy seat. Ex. 25:22: Numb 7:89-
"And there will I meet with thee, and will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel. And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with him then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubims; and he spake unto him."
The priests represent Christ, and their death illustrates and prefigures the death of Christ; but man's death, and an after death judgment bears no relation to the death of Christ. The common use of this text is but little less than an outrage on the sense of the apostle. No one can carefully read this and the following chapter, and fail to see that the language is exclusively applicable to the Jewish high priests and the death of Christ, and has no reference to an after-death judgment.
Judgment begins with each soul on its arrival at the period of accountability, and continues, a severe, but disciplinary process until it converts and saves.
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