April 6 – The Weight of Our Penalty

Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.

Hebrews 9:28


When the apostle Peter said that Christ “bore” our sins (1 Pet. 2:24), he used a term that means “to carry a massive, heavy weight.” That’s what sin is. It’s so heavy that Romans 8:22 says, “The whole creation groans and labors” under its weight. Only Jesus could remove such a weight from us.

When Christ “bore our sins,” He bore the penalty for our sins. He endured physical and spiritual death. When Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46), His was the cry of spiritual death. That was the penalty for bearing our sins.[1]

Judgment Demands a Substitute

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (9:27–28)

All men have to die, and our death is by divine appointment. It is one appointment everyone will keep. After death comes judgment, which is also appointed by God. And since men are not able to atone for their own sins, God’s judgment demands that they pay or have a substitute pay for them.

Like all men, Jesus Christ was divinely appointed to die once. But unlike all other men, He will never face judgment. Because He took our sins upon Himself, He took our judgment upon Himself. But the judgment was for our sins, not for His, for He had none. God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). He died the one death that judgment demanded.

As mentioned several times, the people always waited expectantly on the Day of Atonement for the high priest to come out from the Holy of Holies. If he did anything wrong, if he failed to follow God’s precise instructions, he would die. So there was always a sigh of relief, for their own sakes as well as for his, when he reappeared.

That is the situation being alluded to in Hebrews 9:28. If the people were so eager to see the former high priests reappear from the earthly Holy of Holies, how much more should Christians look eagerly for their great High Priest to reappear from the heavenly Holy of Holies? This will occur at the Second Coming (Rev. 19:11–16).

When the high priest walked out of the old sanctuary, the people knew that his sacrifice had been accepted. He had done everything right. Jesus Christ’s reappearing will be one more confirmation that He did everything right, that His Father is satisfied with Him. And because the Father is satisfied with Him, He is satisfied with us, for we are in Him. When He comes back, our salvation will be full. When He appears a second time to those who expect Him, it will not be to deal with sin. Sin only needs to be dealt with once, and this He did on the cross. When He comes again, it will be without reference to sin.

Three appearings of Christ are mentioned in this passage. Verse 26 speaks of His appearing, or being manifested, at the consummation of the ages, that is, when He came to be crucified. Verse 24 speaks of His appearing back in heaven, before the presence of God. Verse 28 speaks of His appearing on earth again. It is His third appearing, but only the second time on earth.

At the end of that eventful Passover week when Jesus was finishing His ministry, the Romans had prepared three crosses for three criminals. On two of the crosses, thieves were to hang. The third cross was for an insurrectionist named Barabbas, who had been found guilty of treason against the empire. But Barabbas never made it to the cross. He was guilty and condemned, but he was not executed—because someone took his place. On the middle cross that day hung not a violent, profane rebel, but the sinless Son of God. Barabbas went free not because he was innocent, but because Jesus took his place. Jesus was crucified not because He was guilty, but so that He could take Barabbas’s place—and the place of every other sinner.[2]

28 “Many” is used to emphasize the contrast between the single sacrifice of the one and its plural effect (cf. 2:10). In the context, it is inappropriate to draw attention to the use of “many” rather than “all”; cf. Ro 5:15–19, where Paul alternates “many” and “all” in a similar context. In all such references to the effect of Christ’s death, the term “many” echoes Jesus’ own words in Mark 10:45; 14:24 with their background in the repeated “many” of Isaiah 53:11–12. The same OT background also accounts for the use here of ἀναφέρω, anapherō (GK 429), here translated “to take away” (elsewhere in Hebrews it means “to offer”), since this is the verb used twice in LXX Isaiah 53:11–12 for “bearing” sins. It might therefore be better translated here “to bear” (on himself), as in 1 Peter 2:24, though the purpose of such “bearing” of sins is, of course, to take them away.[3] 9:28 The New Covenant introduces the infinite sacrifice of Christ; He was offered once to bear the sins of many. It presents the blessed hope of His imminent Return; to those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time. But when He returns, it will not be to deal with the problem of sin: He finished that work at the cross. He will come to take His people home to heaven. This will be the culmination of their salvation; they will receive their glorified bodies and be forever beyond the reach of sin.

The expression, those who eagerly wait for Him, is a description of all true believers. All the Lord’s people look for Him to return, though they may not agree on the exact order of events connected with His Coming.

The Bible does not teach that only a certain group of especially spiritual Christians will be taken to heaven at the time of the Rapture. It describes the participants as “the dead in Christ” and “we who are alive and remain” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17); this means all true believers, dead or living. In 1 Corinthians 15:23 the participants are identified as “those who are Christ’s.”

It has often been pointed out that we have three appearances of Christ in verses 24–28. They may be summarized as follows:

Verse 26: He has appeared. This refers to His First Advent when He came to earth to save us from the penalty of sin (the past tense of salvation).

Verse 24: He now appears. This is a reference to His present ministry in the presence of God to save us from the power of sin (the present tense of salvation).

Verse 28: He will appear. This speaks of His imminent Return when He will save us from the presence of sin (the future tense of salvation).[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 111). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 242–243). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 125). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2188). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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