Questions From Readers
◼ Was it predetermined that Adam and Eve would have to die, since Hebrews 9:27 says that “it is reserved for men to die once for all time, but after this a judgment”?
No, this statement is not dealing with Adam and Eve, who were created with the prospect of endless life on earth. Had they obeyed God, they could have lived forever. Rather than their death being predetermined, it resulted from their willful sin. (Genesis 2:15-17) The context shows that the primary application of Hebrews 9:27 is to the high priest in ancient Israel, who on Atonement Day foreshadowed Jesus Christ.—Hebrews 4:14, 15.
In 1915 Charles T. Russell, then president of the Watch Tower Society, was asked about Hebrews 9:27. He referred to what had earlier been published, such as in Studies in the Scriptures and Tabernacle Shadows of the Better Sacrifices (1899). Hebrews 9:27 was explained contextually.
In Hebrews chapters 8 and 9, Paul showed that many details of the Mosaic Law were “a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things.” (Hebrews 8:5) This was particularly so regarding sacrificial procedures on the annual Day of Atonement. Only on that special day could the high priest enter the innermost compartment of the tabernacle. This room, the Most Holy, was screened off by a curtain, and the high priest had to prepare the way in by introducing special incense. Then he could enter with the sacrificial blood of a bull and a goat. Even when the priest carefully followed all the exacting requirements, the resulting covering of the Israelites’ sins was limited in time; the sacrifices had to be offered each year.
Continuing his argument, Paul said that “Christ came as a high priest,” but after his death and resurrection, he “entered, not into a holy place made with hands, . . . but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” (Hebrews 9:11, 12, 24) Would that sacrifice have to be repeated? No. Christ “manifested himself once for all time.” (Hebrews 9:25, 26; Romans 6:9) Paul then said: “And as it is reserved for men to die once for all time, but after this a judgment, so also the Christ was offered once for all time to bear the sins of many.”—Hebrews 9:27, 28.
With this review of the context we can appreciate the comments on Hebrews 9:27 in Tabernacle Shadows: “Each time a Priest went into the Most Holy on the Atonement Day he risked his life; for if his sacrifice had been imperfect he would have died as he passed the second veil [the curtain]. He would not have been accepted into the Most Holy himself, nor would his imperfect sacrifices have been acceptable as an atonement for the sins of the people. Hence any failure meant his death, and the condemnation of all for whose sins he attempted to make reconciliation. This was the judgment mentioned in this text, which was passed every year by the typical priests.”
Tabernacle Shadows then drew a contrast with Christ Jesus, who died a sacrificial death: “Had his sacrifice been in any manner or degree imperfect he would never have been raised out of death, the ‘judgment’ of justice would have gone against him. But his resurrection, on the third day, proved that his work was perfectly performed, that it stood the test of the divine judgment.”
So, viewed contextually, Hebrews 9:27 is an observation on the superiority of Christ’s priestly service.
It is also possible, however, to refer to Hebrews 9:27 in making a general expression on mankind’s experience. Though Adam and Eve had the possibility of endless life, that has not been true of their descendants. Adam and Eve had children only after they had sinned. Hence, all their imperfect descendants were born dying. (Romans 5:12; 6:23) Inherited death, therefore, comes to mankind only once. That will be true even in the future. If, after the application of the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice for mankind, and if during God’s judgment day of a thousand years, a resurrected person proves deserving of everlasting destruction, his death will result from his own wickedness, not from Adamic sin.—Revelation 20:13-15.
Contrariwise, those who previously had died from inherited sin, but who after resurrection prove faithful, will receive the favorable judgment of everlasting life.—Revelation 21:3-6.
Consequently, Hebrews 9:27 refers in context to Jesus’ service as high priest in contrast with the high priests in Israel. It also has been used to describe the general experience of humans having inherited Adamic death. But it does not support the unscriptural predestinarian view that even before they were created it was predetermined that Adam and Eve would die.