A Partial Atonement — A Failed High Priest?

The tradition goes that before the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to offer the yearly sacrifice for the people on the Day of Atonement, the people would tie a rope around the High Priest’s ankle in case the sacrifice was rejected by God, God could strike dead the high priest and nobody could go in after him. So the rope facilitated the removal of the priest’s dead body. This is not a scriptural practice, but in Jewish writings it was a contingency it is not specified in the scripture and has dubious origins but it is widely preached from pulpits.

Whether or not the tradition is true what we must focus on is the activities of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. He does 4 things:

1. Offers an intercessory prayer on behalf of those for whom he is to offer the blood sacrifice (atonement).

2. Sacrifices the offering outside the Holy of Holies

3. Carries the blood of the sacrifice to the Holy of Holies and offers it to God.

4. Emerges from the Holy of Holies confirming that God has accepted the blood of the sacrifice and the sins have been atoned for, for the next year.

Keeping in mind that the model of Biblical events is “first the copy (representation) then the reality” – “first the natural then the spiritual” 1 Corinthians 15:46, and seeing how the O.T. High Priests’ carried out the Atonement – how are we to understand Jesus activity before during and after the cross? Did he fulfill this old covenant picture of the High Priest in the Feast of Atonement?

1. Jesus offered an intercessory prayer on behalf of those for whom he was to offer his blood sacrifice. (See John chap. 17)

2. Jesus was offered outside the city, on the hill called Calvary.

3. Jesus carried his blood into the Holy of Holies not made with hands in the heavenly.

4. Jesus emerged from the Holy of Holies, confirming that God has accepted the sacrifice of His Son, and salvation is assured.

We can see the parallels in these four stages of the typological sacrifice and the anti-type (or fulfillment that was done by Christ). Some may wonder about the third and fourth items on the list. Where did Jesus do these things?

“Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God . But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Hebrews 9:619

Here the writer of Hebrews reminds his readers of the protocol of the Old Covenant High Priest. Once a year, he went into the Holy of Holies with blood, not his own. And as long as that old temple had any standing, which is what was expected. I believe that the writer in this text is setting this up directly for the next passage that shows Jesus fulfilling these things.

“But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us . For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:11-14

In these next few verses the writer uses the context of the activities of the Old Covenant High Priest to show how Jesus has become a better High Priest, and serves in a more perfect tabernacle than that which the old High Priest ministered in. It also points out that in Jesus activities there was no need for the blood of bulls and goats for he entered into this more perfect tabernacle with his own blood. The result of which was eternal redemption for those whom he represented.

A few verses later he becomes even more specific as to the location of Christ’s offering of his own blood; answering item 3 above.

“It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:” Hebrews 9:23-24

Here we have the declaration that Jesus by way of his crucifixion has provided a “Better Sacrifice” than could have been had under the Old Covenant and its priesthood. Then he declares that Christ has gone NOT to the physical earthly temple, which was in the process of passing away, but he went into the heavenly tabernacle, recognizing that the heavenly was the superior one, the earthly was but a mere type. He appeared in the presence of God for us. WOW!!! Jesus priesthood was far superior than that of the High Priest, his sacrifice was superior, and the tabernacle in which he offered up his own blood directly in the presence of His heavenly father, was likewise superior. The High Priest did not have access to God but only that one time of year on the Day of Atonement. Jesus work opened the way for the heavenly Holy of Holies to be opened to us 24-7-365. Day and night forever and ever we now can come boldly to the throne of grace in heaven and find grace for our need.

Perhaps this is why he told his readers earlier in chapter four…

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

It is through this once for all sacrifice that we can come boldly.

But what of item number 4; The Emergence of the great high priest from the holy of holies. Did Jesus fulfill this as well?

Do we have a record of Jesus Coming back out of the holy of holies in the heavenlies? This is what the Old Covenant high priest did, and if Jesus is to fulfill the type, wouldn’t he need to do it as well. Many people have solved this issue by declaring that he has yet to do this but will do it at his second coming.

I agree that this was/is to occur at his second coming, but I see in this very same Hebrews passage an indication that it must of necessity have happened already.

“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 9:28

In this last verse of chapter nine of Hebrews the writer is clear to point out that this emerging was indeed to be fulfilled by Jesus. After offering himself for the sins of many, those in his first century audience were to “look for him”, for he was to “Appear the second time without sin unto salvation. So part of the finishing of the work was his re-emergence from the holy of holies to declare to all for whom he had made the sacrifice that it was done and that they now have salvation. No second coming (re-emergence) no salvation. The text is clear that it was at his second appearance (70 AD) that salvation was fully revealed.

If we take the liberty to push this off into the future, then we must conclude that nobody since the crucifixion and resurrection has had any assurance of salvation. And thus we would still be under the annual requirement of the atonement. If one objects and says, that yes we surely have full salvation and still insists on a future second coming; then what would be the salvation that is to be revealed at that second coming.

The salvation spoken of by the writer of Hebrews is a salvation where sin has been dealt with. If we do not have that kind of salvation today, then we surely are still lost. So, the only conclusion based on the text, is that Jesus fulfilled the type of the Old Covenant priest entirely and completely, to include his re-emergence (Second coming) in 70 AD.

The Old Covenant high priest emerging from the holy of holies was an indication to the nation of Israel that God had accepted the sacrifice of blood and sin was dealt with for one more year. Why would we not expect that that same acceptance by God be indicated to us by the fulfillment of that typological picture of re-emergence? I believe we have that surety in the second coming of Christ, fulfilled at the events that were prophesied in 70 AD. To put it off is to deny all in the New Covenant the salvation that was promised, and accomplished.