The Problem of EVIL and The Judgments of GOD
THAT Christ appeared to "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" will seldom be denied. It is in the Bible, and, in a diluted form, is not infrequently met with in religious literature. The obvious teaching of the words, which is fully supported by the context, is that the sacrifice of Christ is of such surpassing efficacy that sin, the fact, the principle, not the mere act, is to be "put away" or repudiated. It is our purpose to inquire more accurately as to the significance of this expression by studying its principal terms and by harmonizing its scope with the context in which it is found.
Such a satisfactory thought, so stupendous an assertion, is too much for the human heart, so the main occupation of expositors has not been to expound it, but to impound it within the narrow confines of their creed. We shall merely mention the main methods used to limit the scope of this passage, lest its glorious light should illuminate our hearts. It is usually referred to the believer and his sins. It is supposed to be the effect of the sacrifice of Christ on sin at the present time. Others, seeing how unsatisfactory such explanations are, prefer to refer it to the sin offering, as superseded by Christ's death.
A careful study of the word "sin" in the later Greek scriptures will show that it is not used of the sin offering, as is the case in Hebrew. Not only is this evident from many of the passages, but it is put beyond question if we consider those places where the sin offering really is referred to. Then it is either a sacrifice (Heb.5:7) or offering (Heb.10:18) for sin, or a special phrase "concerning sin" is used (Heb.10:6,8). In these cases, the Authorized Version has felt justified in supplying the word "sacrifices" or "offering." It was necessary to make this distinction clear to the Hebrews, though they were well aware of the fact that "sin" was used of the offering in their scriptures. Since this is done in every other passage, we have no ground for giving "sin" a special meaning here.
The doctrine of the repudiation of sin at the conclusion of the eons is the scriptural solution of one of the grave problems which perplex many when pondering God's connection with sin. Not knowing that sin is essentially error due to the operation of death, and that God could introduce it without Himself making a mistake, and can justify it and will repudiate it when its mission has been accomplished, men seek to rescue Him from any connection with its advent, even robbing Him of His deity and sovereignty and foreknowledge in order to do so. Indeed, they supplant Him by a more powerful anti-god, not of His creation, nor subject to His throne.
Reconciliation calls for more than the mere cessation of sin. Sin has wrought such terrible havoc in the hearts of some of God's creatures that its mere absence will not suffice to win their affection. The relief will be great, but the remembrance of its distress will rankle, unless it is both repudiated and justified. At that time God will show how essential sin was in the past and how non-essential it is for the future. It will be justified by its results. It will be repudiated because it will not only be unnecessary for any further revelation of God's heart, but positively subversive of God's glory and His creatures' good.
Even those who have the most superstitious reverence for the Authorized Version will hardly excuse the rendering of Hebrews 9:26. "But now once in the end of the world hath He appeared..." cannot be explained on any rational grounds. Christ has appeared, but it certainly was not at the end of the world. The American Revisers change this to "the end of the age," which is very much better, so far as the word eon is concerned. But it is open to the same objection. The eons have not by any means ended even yet. Christ did not appear at either "the end of the world" or "the end of the ages." And, we may add, sin has not been "put away" in any plain, intelligible sense. Even in the believer the principle of sin is present. We cannot say that it has been "put away," unless we limit it to faith's apprehension of our position before God, and this is a Pauline doctrine, quite foreign to the teaching of Hebrews.
The American Revision suggests the word "consummation" for "end" in its margin. The CONCORDANT VERSION has "conclusion." As this is an important point, we will give the evidence in full. "End" is the usual mistranslation of telos FINISH, which the CONCORDANT VERSION renders "consummation." But the word here used is enriched by the prefix TOGETHER. Literally, it is the TOGETHER-FINISH or conclusion of the eons. Only by studying all its occurrences will we be able to fix the full meaning of this term conclusively. It is used elsewhere only in Matthew's account, and always in the phrase "the conclusion of the eon." The passage before us differs only in the fact that, instead of the singular "eon," we have the plural "eons." If we can discover the relation which the "conclusion of the eon" bears to a single eon, we will be able to determine how the "conclusion of the eons" is related to all of the eons. The following are all of the occurrences:
We must clearly distinguish between the consummation and the conclusion, the FINISH and the TOGETHER-FINISH. The former is the final crisis, a mere point in time. The latter is a concluding period which closes at the consummation. The present eon will have a some-what protracted season at its close which is compared to a harvest. It will include the judgments of the end time, as detailed by our Lord in His parables of the darnel of the field and the dragnet (Matt.13:37-43,47-51). The next eon will also have a judgment season at its end. The character of these periods is not pertinent to our present study. All we wish to press is the fact that they are extended periods of time, not a sudden crisis, like the consummation.
In this light "the conclusion of the eons" becomes clear. It is not equivalent to that final, finishing, culminating, completing crisis called the consummation, which cannot come until the eons end. It is in the eons. It is their concluding portion. And is not this just what we would expect in such an epistle as Hebrews? Like all the Circumcision writings, it is strictly limited in its scope to the eons.
The epistle to the Hebrews deals only with the Circumcision aspect of the work of Christ. It does not concern the nations and the evangel for them today. Mixed with present truth it creates confusion. Kept separate it enlightens us as to the holy nation and God's dealings with them in other eras. In the ninth chapter, Christ is presented as the Antitype of Israel's chief priest and the sacrifices offered every year in order to keep the nation near.
THE TABERNACLE, A TYPE OF THE WORLDS OR EONS
The tabernacle and temples are types of future spiritual realities, and indicate the way of access into the presence of a holy God. The tabernacle typified the pentecostal era. Solomon's sanctuary prefigured the millennial day and Ezekiel's house points to the new earth. Yet their general arrangement does not change. Each has a court, a holy place, and a holiest of all. In their common system, we seem to have a type or illustration of the various worlds or systems and the corresponding eons or ages.
Indeed, the tabernacle is distinctly related to the cosmos or world when we read of a "worldly sanctuary" or holy place (Heb.9:1, AV). The same form of phrase is used of the two holy places as we find in connection with the eons. Both together are called "the holies of the holies" (Heb.9:25). The inner shrine is called "the holy of holies" (Heb.9:3). These correspond exactly with "the eons of the eons" and "the eon of the eons." They will serve not only to explain these phrases, but suggest a more intimate relation.
The tabernacle and temple system divides the world of space into divisions which correspond in number and character to the worlds and eons. There are five in each, and in the same order, which are marked with striking features of correspondence. Both give us the way to God, one for the individual sinner, the other for the race. All, of course, is confined to the terrestrial viewpoint, for no tabernacle or temple can possibly illustrate the immediate and unhindered access which characterizes the ministry of the conciliation for the present grace.
The five divisions essential to the tabernacle system are, (1) outside the camp, (2) within the camp, (3) the court, (4) the holy place, (5) the holy of holies. These readily divide into three, and two, for only the last two are in the tabernacle itself, and are called the "holies of the holies" just as the last two worlds or eons are distinguished by actual entrance into the sphere of God's presence, and are called "the eons of the eons."
Very little, indeed, is said about the world without the camp. The same is true of the first eon. Like the vast stretches of space which surrounded the encampment of the favored people lies the long vista of time which formed the first world or eon. Still, there are suggestive hints which link them together. We were chosen in Christ before the disruption, that is, in the first world or eon, for the disruption was at its close. And our place is outside the camp of Israel. In space as well as time we are dealt with on quite distinct lines.
The tabernacle and temple system never reaches back to the first eon. It is always from the disruption. So it had no jurisdiction beyond the confines of the camp. It is essentially, in both time and space, an eclectic, exclusive, limited arrangement, just as Israel's place in the eonian times.
The second world or eon, from the disruption to the flood, is the scene of sin, with no means of covering or cleansing. So the camp was peopled with sinners whose only recourse was to go through it into the sacred enclosure, if they wished to approach God or settle for their sins.
The third or central division is the court of the tabernacle, which is certainly most suggestive of the present world or eon. The brazen altar, that supreme type of the death of Christ, reminds us that this present world or eon has been hallowed by the great Sacrifice, which also makes it possible to enter into the holy places beyond. In this eon, wicked as it is, is the true Laver for the cleansing of all defilement. True, the full effect of the altar and laver have not yet been felt, but that is because we have not entered into the holy places. These figure the future eons.
The glory of God is not revealed in the court, but is hid behind a curtain and rough coverings. Neither has God revealed His glory to this world or eon. But in the millennial era, there will be at least a partial revelation of His magnificence. The furniture of the holy place, the lampstand, the table of show-bread and the golden altar are all beautifully typical of Christ Himself in that eon, and of the portion which will be enjoyed by the saints of that blessed day.
There will be light--divine light--quite the opposite of the present, when dense darkness covers the earth, and men know no light except that of the sun. The knowledge of God will fill the hearts of His people and cover the whole earth. Such is the suggestion of the seven-branched lampstand in the holy place.
The table with its twelve cakes or loaves of bread are also most unlike the present with all its divisions and lack of spiritual sustenance. A united nation will enjoy God's provision in His presence.
The golden altar of worship will waft its sweet incense aloft throughout that eon of blessing, such as never before had been known. The psalms of praise will find their full expression when David's greater Son rules and presides as the great Priest of His people.
But the holy place is not the holiest of all. There is still another curtain which hides such majesty as is reserved for the very highest manifestation of God in this system. The same is true of the corresponding eon. The millennium is by no means the last of the eons or the most glorious. That is true of the next eon, the day of God. And the most notable feature of that surpassing era is the presence of God Himself, just as it is the crowning glory of the holy of holies in the tabernacle and the temple.
The path into the presence of God is the common object of thought in the arrangement of the eons and the tabernacle type. The distinction between them is like the difference between the titles Elohim and Jehovah. One deals with the problem from the standpoint of time, the other sees it in space. Jehovah is the eonian God. He made the eons the highway of time leading the race into the presence of the Shekinah. Elohim arranges a perceptible, material system with the tabernacle structure at its center, to teach the same truth. No marvel that there is so notable a correspondence between them.
A very important lesson may be learned from the terms used to describe the holy places. When dealing with the eons we are often told that "the eons of the eons" is an effort to express infinity, "ages tumbling on ages," "ages on ages," etc. If we transfer these expressions from time to space, we may more readily see how little ground there is for such explanations. "The holies of the holies" is not to be understood as "holies tumbling on holies" but holy places made preeminently holy in relation to other holy places. All inside the court was holy. But the two places inside the building were "holies of holies"--the most holy of all.
"The holy of holies" is commonly and correctly understood as a single holy place. Why should not "the eon of the eons" be a single eon? The preeminence of the holy of holies lies in its relation to the other holy places. So the preeminence of the eon of the eons lies in its being the fruitage and harvest of the preceding eons. The confusing translations and expositions which hide the truth of the eons from us would never be tolerated if they were applied to such tangible objects as the tabernacle and temples.
We read that the chief priest entered into "the holies of holies" (Heb.9:25). Most of the manuscripts read simply "the holies," or holy places. Only the editor of Sinaiticus preserves this reading. So unusual and difficult a reading might easily be dropped, so that very little evidence is needed to establish it. When we compare this phrase with the parallel one of the eons--the eons of the eons--we cannot but be struck with its aptness. Just as the last two eons are "of the eons," so the two holy places are "of the holies." They are the most hallowed of all the holy places, among which we certainly must include the court, if not the camp, which had a measure of sanctity, certain sacrifices concerned with sin being burned outside its precincts.
Just as the altar of sacrifice was the place at which sin was dealt with, so the sacrifice of Christ was the time when sin was repudiated. The brazen altar was in the court, and Golgotha was in the present eon. Had the sinner been able to enter the divine presence in those days, in his approach to God he would leave sin at the altar, and it would no longer be in view for the conclusion of his path to the tabernacle, and through the holy places. So it is that sin is repudiated for the conclusion of the eons. This conclusion commenced when Christ was made the Sin Offering. Had not the nation rejected the heralding of the kingdom, there would have been only a short time until the presence of Christ, just as there were only a few strides to the door of the tabernacle. When He is on the scene sin will be suppressed as it has never been before. His reign will banish it from the earth.
The rendering "put away" is sometimes stoutly defended. It is only necessary to give a list of all the varieties of renderings of this word, in its four forms, to convince anyone that it is neither exact nor full. This form of the word is a noun and is rendered disannulling (Heb.7:18) in its only other occurrence. The verb uses many terms, such as reject, despise, frustrate, bring to nothing, and cast off. Another noun is rendered wicked. The adjective is both unlawful thing and abominable. That all may study these for themselves, we give a complete concordance of the Authorized Version renderings of the verb and the noun here used.
Anyone who reads these passages with any attention will see that it is not a mere unemotional setting aside, or putting away, but includes a conflict of feeling. This we have tried to express by the renderings repudiate and repudiation. Substitute the proper form in each case and it will be evident that it is always more appropriate, besides fitting all of the passages. The point here is not merely the elimination of sin, but a manifestation of God's aversion for it. He deals with it in such a way that His detestation is displayed. In the terms used by the Authorized Version, He rejects, despises, frustrates, casts off sin.
This view of the repudiation of sin is in close accord with our discovery that it is due to the operation of death. The eons of the eons are the scenes of life. At their beginning all who are Christ's will be vivified. A large proportion of earth's population in the millennial era will be immortal. Hence they cannot sin. The abundant vitality of the last two eons is the basis of sin's repudiation.
In confirmation of the exposition here presented, the argument of Hebrews proceeds to set forth the two appearances of Christ, once bearing sin and then apart from sin, once as suffering and then as Saviour. The time of these is clear. One refers to the cross, the other to the kingdom. The salvation spoken of by the prophets, the national redemption of Israel, always includes the repudiation of sin. This is what leads to the political righteousness and worldwide peace of the millennial era. Sin, in all its forms, will be frowned upon, whether in principle or practice.
The repudiation of sin is but one of the lower notes in the chord which will ultimately fill all creation with its eternal harmony. Reconciliation could not be apart from righteousness, vivification without the cessation of sin. Sin, as we have seen, cleaves to those who are dying. Were no one dying there would be no sin. So, when all will be vivified, when death is abolished, sin must be utterly absent.
That glorious consummation will be based on a full vindication of God's connection with sin. The fact that He has used it to carry out His gracious purpose demands also that His attitude toward it be fully manifest, lest His creatures imagine that He approves of it and proposes to give it a permanent place in the universe. This is the charge which is brought against us now, when we acknowledge that all is of God. But such an impression will not be possible during the last two eons. Indeed, it is quite possible that we are on the very threshold of the great judgments which show God's attitude toward sin.
This has been aptly illustrated by means of a blackboard. It is desirable that the background for the use of white crayon be perfectly black. So long as it is only gray there is not sufficient contrast to display the white lettering. It will pay to apply coat after coat of paint to achieve this end. More than this, however, is a useless waste. Paint an inch in thickness is no blacker than a thin film. So God is painting a dark background for the display of His grace. This much is necessary. More than this is useless and repugnant. The two eons that are nearly past, suffice for the background. The greatest, display of grace has been accomplished. Judgment now impends, which will show that God does not delight in sin, whatever use He may make of it. The very necessity for the repudiation of sin shows that it was included in His procedure, and plays a part in His purpose.
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