At the end of the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, there are brought before us three appearings of Christ. In verse 24 it is a present appearing - "Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands… but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." In verse 26 it is a past appearing - "now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself," and in verse 28 it is a future appearing - "unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation."
This great epistle was written to Jewish Christians to deliver them from a system of ordinances and ritual appealing to sight and sense but, nevertheless, in which God dwelt in thick darkness; and to bring them, though still on earth, into the privileges and enjoyment of a new heavenly relationship brought in by Christ, in whom God has been fully made known.
Thus the old system, whilst full of wonderful typology, has been superseded by a new order, a heavenly order brought in through Christ. "He taketh away the first that He may establish the second." A characteristic word of the epistle is "better" - we have a better hope; better covenant; better promises; better sacrifices etc., and all is centered in Christ who has seated himself at the right hand of God. Four times in the epistle this is stated - in chapter 1 it is the greatness of the PERSON who has sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, having made purification for sin; in chapter 8 it is the greatness of such a high PRIEST who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; in chapter 10 it is in the greatness of the PROPITIATION which He has made by the sacrifice of Himself that He has sat down in perpetuity on the right hand of God; and in chapter 12 it is the greatness of the PATHWAY of faith delineated by Jesus who endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
First then, a present appearing. It is this great and glorious PERSON who now appears in heaven in the presence of God for us. He appears before God on our behalf as stated in chapter 7 verse 25 - "He ever liveth to make intercession for them"; and in the great prayer of John chapter 17 He says, verse 19, "for their sakes I sanctify Myself." He has set Himself apart in the Glory, ever living to make intercession for us. He is our great High Priest (the only high priest designated "great") able to succor, able to save to the uttermost.
Not only does He now appear in the presence of God on our behalf, but also as our representative as stated in chapter 6 verse 20 He has entered as the "forerunner," one who goes in advance, and we are exhorted as "after runners," followers, to look unto Him and to consider Him Who has delineated the whole PATHWAY of faith which leads to the glory.
A present appearing - He now appears in the presence of God for us. This is connected with His present service of love and we may say He lives for us.
Secondly - a past appearing. He has appeared once in the end of the world to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. All the blessing and glory that is made known by His present appearing in the presence of God for us, rests absolutely and eternally on what was accomplished in this past appearing. It was "in the end of the world" or "the consummation of the ages." At the appearing in this world, in the fullness of time, of the Son of God incarnate, the dealings of God with men reached their climax, and the whole question of good and evil was resolved, settled once and forever. He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. What a touching expression this is, the sacrifice of Himself. He is the PROPITIATION for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2). Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29).
If His present appearing in heaven is for us, and is connected with His service, we may think that His past appearing was especially for God and is connected with His sacrifice, and we may say with adoring hearts He died for us.
Finally - a future appearing. Unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation. Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many - not the thought of propitiation - the value of the sacrifice to God - but the thought of substitution - the many being those who by faith in Him obtain the blessings of salvation. So whether it be the church on earth or the nation of Israel, or the earnest looking out of the creation, all awaits His second coming (apart from the question of sin which was settled absolutely, perfectly and eternally at His first coming when He gave Himself a sacrifice for sin), to bring in salvation.
Christians now in the good of salvation from the penalty of sin, the judgment having been borne by Christ, and enjoying present salvation along the pilgrim pathway from the power of indwelling sin, will experience at His second coming the salvation from the actual presence of sin when their bodies of humiliation will be changed, and they will have bodies of glory like unto His own. Then Israel will be saved from all her enemies and the Lord will reign in righteousness as King over all the earth. The church glorified, Israel gathered and the nations governed.
The hymn writer has so beautifully put it -
"He’ll give these bodies vile a fashion like His own:
He’ll bid the whole creation smile, and hush its grown."
The word for "appear" in verse 28 in the original Greek is not one of the great words used elsewhere for His appearing, His coming, his manifestation in Glory, but a word which means He will be seen. So this future appearing is connected with salvation and we may say He is coming for us.
The One who died to save us, lives to keep us, and soon is coming for us. Hallelujah.