Return of The High Priest

By David Embury

The Cross and the Coming of Christ are indelibly linked together, being as it were the two bookends of the ONE end-time [eschaton] event of God's working in humanity's midst. The Cross WAS the DECISIVE redemptive event i.e., it was the linchpin of God's love demonstrated toward humanity. There was, however, an outworking of this in and on behalf of Israel in that age, which when brought to its fullness [Rom 11:26] demonstrated the cleansing and acceptance of Israel, unilaterally to and by God. Israel's acceptance by God would be the fulfilment of "the promise" i.e., her resurrection – "life from the dead" [Rom 11:15b]. This, in turn, brought to fullness the restoration of mankind to God [Rom 11:15a] – the realization of redemptive history; thus Israel was a means to an end, and not an end in herself.

We have in the account of the High Priest as given in Hebrews 9 a picture of the realization of redemptive history in the fullness of forgiveness that Christ's Parousia brought.

It was customary for the High Priest once a year perpetually, to enter the Holy Place and offer sacrifices on behalf of himself, and then ALL the people – upon which he would then enter the Most Holy Place with "the blood of sacrifice" [Ex 30:1-10] for acceptance by God for the cleansing [forgiveness] of the people.

Ex 28:29-30 "So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the LORD continually. And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron's heart when he goes in before the LORD. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually.

This fleshly offered sacrifice though sanctioned and accepted by God was only a covering for sins, but not their removal – Christ's once for all sacrifice removed forever the offence of sin that stood against 'man', period. The high priest's "bearing the judgment" was a type of ceremonial or figurative dying – once a year, on the annual 'day of atonement' in the offering of sacrifices. Thus Israel's high priest prefigured our Great High Priest's substitutionary death.

Now an important event in this ministration of the high priestly role was the return of the High Priest – for his return was significant in that his returning from the heavenly sanctuary indicated that the sacrifice being duly offered was accordingly accepted – and a received offering signified and secured the forgiveness of sins, therefore: no return = no forgiveness. Outside the Tent of Meeting – Tabernacle – Temple the people eagerly awaited the High Priests return, and when he appeared a second time much were the celebrations, for they knew forgiveness was theirs to enjoy.

This is evidenced in the account of the High Priest Simon from the Apocrypha, as the noted NT scholar F. F. Bruce comments:

The Israelites who watched their high priest enter the sanctuary for them waited expectantly for his reappearance; that was a welcome sign that he and the sacrifice which he presented had been accepted by God. His reappearance from the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement was a specially welcome sight. Ben Sira celebrates the joy with which the people saw the high priest Simon the Just emerge from the "house of the veil" after completing this sacred ministry…

Sirach 50:1-7 Simon the high priest, the son of Onias, who in his life repaired the house again, and in his days fortified the temple: And by him was built from the foundation the double height, the high fortress of the wall about the temple: In his days the cistern to receive water, being in compass as the sea, was covered with plates of brass: He took care of the temple that it should not fall, and fortified the city against besieging: How was he honoured in the midst of the people in his coming out of the sanctuary! He was as the morning star in the midst of a cloud, and as the moon at the full: As the sun shining upon the temple of the most High, and as the rainbow giving light in the bright clouds

So our author thinks of Jesus as going into the heavenly holy of holies, to reappear one day in order to confirm finally to His people the salvation which His perfect offering has procured for them. Meanwhile they wait expectantly for His parousia.

F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, New London Commentaries, [Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1974], pp. 223-224 [bold emphasis mine]

Now outside of Catholicism, the Apocrypha holds no place in "inspiration", but few questions its historicity. Here in this account the people in jubilant expectation await and subsequently rejoice at the high priest's return, his parousia – described in apocalyptic and cosmic type language of "morning star" "moon" "sun" "rainbow" and last but not least "clouds". His coming or return from the heavenly sanctuary bringing forgiveness was as on clouds of glory [Mt 16:27a].

In a not dissimilar vein to Simon is the gospel account of Zacharias in Lk 1:8-10, 21-22.

Now let the writer of Hebrews speak:

Heb 9:23-28 Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another-- He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

Thus looking at Jesus through the pattern of the High Priest what do we find: if Jesus our High Priest has not returned but is still YET to appear, then we are still LEFT waiting, still LOST and floundering in unforgiveness.

Just a further note on querying translational bias in support of the thoughts already given: "Traditionally" verses 27-28 have been rendered as given above. Accordingly, this translation is mostly understood to assert a post-death individual judgment but is this what is really being said – the Pantelist view does not believe so. Read in the larger context of verses 23-28 the focus of this passage is in accordance with the perpetual sacrificial ministry of the high priests, typifying and in contradistinction to Jesus' once for all atoning death. The conventional reading does not reflect the true intent of the passage, nor the flavour of Hebrews as a whole i.e., the "better priesthood" or "better sacrifice", etc. Between the words "it is appointed for" and "men to die once" is the Greek definite article "the" and correctly parsed reads "those" [toisτοις]. This word is used again in the very next verse of "…those who eagerly wait for Him…" – so it should rightly read:

Heb 9:27-28 And as it is appointed for those men [the high priests] to die once [ceremonially], but after this the judgment [acceptance-acquittal], so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

Read in this fashion gives those two little words as and so their proper and essential contextual meaning and application. It was in this foreshadowing ministration of the Old Testament priesthood of those men that the pattern was laid for Israel's Messiah to come and perform the ultimate sacrifice, of Himself, "to put away sin" by His better and more perfect offering, that now sees all redemptive and prophetic history sealed – for the Great High Priest has returned.