But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, (Hebrews 10:12)
The book of Hebrews is a wonderful study to help us to understand the concept of eternity, and the place of Christ – and the cross – within eternity. Too often, eternity is a vague concept, one we’re aware of but don’t really take hold of because it’s difficult for our human minds to comprehend the magnitude of it. It is eternity that God refers to when He states that He is the Alpha and Omega – the Beginning and the End. Eternity does not simply mean ‘lasting forever.’ It means that, on a spiritual level, time as we know it does not exist. The spiritual things are not restricted by temporal time, the time that governs the physical realm and which defines our temporal lives on earth.
The cross and the death of Christ was a physical event. It happened. It’s a historical fact, but it is also a spiritual fact. The physical event is a ‘see-able’ representation of a spiritual, or eternal, event. To understand the difference, consider this: There were three people crucified on the same day at the same time and in the same place. Christ was crucified between two thieves. This, too, is a historical fact. Yet neither of these two men are reported to have risen from the dead three days later, or to have ascended into Heaven. Only the death of Jesus sparked a physical phenomena that changed the course of the world. That is because His death had a relevance in eternity, which impacted the world as we know it.
This spiritual significance lies largely in the realm of substitution – a phenomenon initiated by God for the cleansing of sin by the substitution of an animal in place of the sinner. The moment the sacrifice was placed on the alter, it ‘became the man’ in a spiritual sense, and carried man’s sin. Physically, it was an animal. Spiritually, through contact with the altar, God transformed it into the actual person. Substitution does not mean ‘one thing instead of another.’ It means, spiritually, that one thing becomes another. That is the grace of God in action.
That is the power of the cross. We must never lose ourselves in the physical-ness of it. Jesus went to the cross as a man, because only a man could take the place of man. The sacrifice had to contain that essential thing – blood – and God, being Spirit, does not contain blood. But on the cross He became, spiritually, all men. He became the eternal sacrifice. His suffering was not simply physical, and we do not say that to diminish what He endured. His ultimate suffering was spiritual, because it became the sacrifice for the entire human race. It was complete because, in the moment of His dying and separation from God, He assumed the nature, sins and punishment of every single human being that ever existed, or would exist in the future.
Eternity exists as both beginning, middle and end, but also as a single moment in God’s eyes. We should never forget this. That is why Christ was able to be the perfect complete sacrifice. It is also why He was able, at the same time, to be the once and forever high priest. I often hear Christians say that Christ remains our high priest for eternity. This is incorrect. He officiated once. Once His sacrifice was done, He sat down at the right hand of God.
Perhaps the confusion originates with the concept that the priests would need to continually offer sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. It was a daily, ongoing thing. The sacrifice was temporary and needed to be continually repeated. These high priests were never able to ‘sit down,’ i.e. to consider their work done. Jesus, on the other hand, did it and sat. His high priest work is finished. The spiritual results of His priesthood remain in force forever, but He no longer needs to act as high priest. He is now our intercessor, a very different role – the mediator of the new covenant.
That is the eternal power of God at work. Our physical domain and limitations are temporal and temporary. We essentially exist as ‘eternity temporarily restrained.. What happens in the physical realm is a reflection of what happens in the spiritual realm – remember Christ talking about what is bound or loosed in Heaven will be bound or loosed on earth? This is the relevance behind it. Everything we see, do and experience needs, like the cross, to be viewed as a physical event within the context of eternity.
This applies to every single aspect of our Christian lives. Do we long for greater fellowship with God? God is Spirit, and we need to relate to Him as spiritual, not physical. Do we need miracle provision? Nothing is impossible with God, because His spiritual existence is eternal, not physical. We live in temporary restraint within a physical world, but are spirits are united with Him. We embody the very paradox of the cross, because we become, at the point of salvation, members of a spiritual kingdom that transcends time and place.
The challenge is to take hold of this in a sensible and Spirit-led, Word-based way. It is possible to live our physical lives in the Spirit because we have the Spirit in us. That is God’s way of transforming us, little by little, so that the spiritual ramifications of His Kingdom may be revealed in and through us according to His purpose. To ‘live Christ’ means to have the courage to climb out the physical box, to stretch ourselves and to become the living sacrifices that are witness to His eternal sacrifice. He was willing. Are we? That is the question we ask ourselves daily.