The Three Appearings of Christ

May 3, 2019
Gary McBride

There are some people, and many corporations, that have an attorney on a retainer in case a need arises. This means that that in a time of need a lawyer is available to represent their client whether in court or in business dealings. This is what Job wished for in Job 9:33, “Nor is there any mediator between us”. For believers there is a Mediator between God and man, as Paul states, “the Man Christ Jesus”. He appears at the right hand of the throne in heaven for us. What a blessing, at no cost to us, the price paid in blood for One who “always lives to make intercession” for us.
Hebrews 9:23-28 identifies three distinct manifestations of Christ. He now appears in heaven for us, He did appear to put away sin, and He will appear a second time. These three verbs (translated as “appear”) are three different Greek words.

The Past: He appeared to redeem us (Heb. 9:26)

The word here has the thought of “to be manifested” which contains the idea of revelation. It is beyond just viewing and goes to full exposure. Therefore, in His incarnation, the Lord Jesus, revealed the invisible God. This is the thought in Hebrews 1:2 that the Son was not just the messenger, but as the “express image of His person”, He was also the message. There is a different verb in Titus 2:11 and 3:4 from the Greek word for “epiphany.” These verses illustrate the above truth. The grace of God, His kindness and love are personified in the person of the Christ. Paul says that those who saw the Lord Jesus saw in Him the manifestation of the grace. A more literal reading may be, “The grace of God that brings salvation to all men, has appeared.” The Psalmist could say of Him, “grace is poured upon your lips,” (Ps. 45:2). Those who heard Him, “bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.” (Lk. 4:22). Grace was made visible in human flesh.

The Lord Jesus came to earth in “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4 – or, in the NIV “when the time had fully come”). In Hebrews 9:26 it was at the climax of the ages .“He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Note, the word “sin” is singular. It is true He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 3:24), and in Heb. 9:28 it was “to bear the sins of many.” In verse 26, He annulled or destroyed sin’s power by the sacrifice of Himself. The O.T. sacrifices dealt with sins but they could never deal with the principle and power of sin. William MacDonald has a wonderful outline for this verse: Positive finality – He has appeared once for all; A propitious time – at the end of the ages; A perfect work – to put away sin; A personal sacrifice – by the sacrifice of Himself (Believer’s Bible Commentary).

The Present: He does appear to represent us (Heb. 9:24)

It is true that the penalty for sin and the work of redemption found completion at Calvary as indicated by Christ’s cry, “it is finished.” In His ascension, He sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high, seated because the work is complete. The immediate context suggests the finality of the work in that He is in heaven as opposed to the copies of the true. The word “appear” here means, “to shine” and is found in Matthew 27:53 when those resurrected individuals appeared to many. There is however, the unfinished ministry or ongoing work of Christ. He now appears in the presence of God for us. He is our Great High Priest, the Mediator of a better covenant, and our Advocate before the Father.

As Mediator He is the guarantor of the New Covenant and He ever lives to intercedes for us. His intercession is not a reference to activity but to His very presence in heaven. The thought here is that there is no need for Him to plead for us because our salvation is complete in Him. His presence in heaven is the guarantee of this fact. As our High Priest He is merciful and sympathetic in that He lived here on earth and experienced what we now experience. He is able to come to our aid and to dispense mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. He is also our Advocate on high. Job’s desire was that there would be a “daysman” or “umpire” to stand between him and God, one who might bring the two parties together. Here the thought is that He does indeed stand for us, He confesses our guilt and then enters a plea to say that He has paid the price for our sin.

The Prospect: He will appear to Rapture us – Heb. 9:28

The third time the word “appear” occurs is in verse 28; here the Greek word means, “to see” or “to be seen” with the eye. The Lord Jesus will be visible to us at the rapture of the church. For believers, this gives the assurance that our salvation will be complete at the return of Christ. The words “salvation,” and “redemption” apply at times to the day we were saved from the penalty of sin, as well as looking to the day we will be saved from the presence of sin. This is true in Ephesians1:14 where we are sealed against the day of redemption and 1 Peter 1:9, “receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your soul.” This is true also in Hebrews 9:28, which speaks of the second coming of Christ and our salvation. The writer states that Christ will come again, not to deal with the sin issue, accomplished when “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.” He will come a second time for us “who eagerly wait for Him” for the completion of our salvation. This is not teaching a partial rapture; the N.T. pictures all believers as living in expectancy of His return. This verse refers to His return for the Church at the Rapture. This will be a further appearance of the Lord Jesus.
The word “appearing” occurs in Titus 2:13 as a noun. This is from the Greek word for “epiphany,” meaning “shining forth.” In Titus 2:13 we learn that glory is personified in the Person of Christ. In His first coming, He personified “grace” and at His second coming, He will personify “glory”, as the NASB says, “the appearing of the glory.” The same word occurs in the Greek text of 2 Thessalonians 2:8, “And then the lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness (appearing = epiphany) of His coming.”


These appearances are visible in other aspects of the person and work of Christ. The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep. In heaven, He is the Great Shepherd and will return one day as the Chief Shepherd. He came to earth to reveal the invisible God thus in the role of a Prophet, He now functions as our Great High Priest above, and one day will come to earth as King.