In chapters eight through 10, the writer of Hebrews continues contrasting the old and new covenants, also discussing them as the first and second covenants.
The first covenant had continual sacrifice. Not only did the repeated sacrifices fail to remove sin, they actually reminded people of their sinfulness and kept their consciences from being clean. Jesus offered one sacrifice that removed sin and cleanses our consciences.
The daily ministry in the first chamber of the tabernacle (the holy place) symbolizes the first covenant in the earthly temple with its continual but ineffective ministry. The second chamber (the most holy place) symbolizes Christ’s one offering in the true temple, the heavenly sanctuary, not of this creation. Jesus’s one act of ministry perfected us and cleansed our consciences for all time—if we “hold onto the confession of our hope” (Heb. 10:23).
In light of these things, verse 9:28 requires more treatment: “…so also Christ, once having been offered to bear away the sins of many, will be seen, apart from sin, out from [a] second in those awaiting Him unto salvation.”
This is often understood as an eschatological statement: we are waiting for Christ to be seen a second time apart from sin to bring salvation. The addition of the word “time” lends itself to this: “Christ…will be seen a second time….” But “time” doesn’t appear in the Greek. If “second” doesn’t refer to time, it could refer to source. In other words, Christ will be seen, apart from sin, out from second covenant or new covenant realities.
The Old Testament backdrop for Christ’s ministry is the Day of Atonement. The author connects second covenant realities to the second chamber in the tabernacle—the most holy place. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the second chamber once to atone for all the sins of the year. Then he came out of the second chamber, through the veil, to present himself alive to the people who waited outside. When the people saw him, they knew God was pleased, and they were saved.
Hebrews 9:28 tells us Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. Then He entered the true sanctuary, not of this creation, to appear in God’s presence for us (Heb. 9:24). When the writer says Christ will be seen, apart from sin, out from a second in those awaiting Him unto salvation, he evokes the imagery of the high priest coming out of the most holy place to present Himself to the people waiting for him.
The author uses the term “awaiting” to draw on the imagery of the Day of Atonement, not to say we are waiting for Christ. “Awaiting” in this sense describes a posture of faith, of looking to Jesus. The future tense conveys the sense of a promise more than time: if we look to Jesus, He will be seen unto salvation.
“Awaiting” certainly encompasses the eschatological sense, but seeing Christ unto salvation isn’t limited to Christ’s future return. The whole thrust of Hebrews is that Jesus has finished the purification of sins. We aren’t waiting for anything. The writer is thinking more broadly than eschatology. When we believe, Christ is always seen out from second sanctuary realities. He is ever our High Priest emerging from the presence of God, whom He has fully and eternally pleased.
Understood this way, Christ is seen in us unto salvation as we believe in His one offering, the removal of sin, the cleansing of our consciences, the bringing of us to perfection and sanctification in Christ; as we live and move and have our being in the heavenly temple of Christ that is not of this creation.
It is significant that the writer says Christ is seen apart from sin out from a second *in* us. This is a statement of spiritual experience. It is the Spirit that enables us to see Christ apart from sin out from a second, and this occurs within us as individuals and as a community of believers. We can easily connect this with Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 3 about the veil over our minds. When the heart turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Christ is seen by the Spirit in the glory of second covenant realities as opposed to the fading glory of the first covenant (2 Cor. 3:7-18).