Question: "What does it mean that Jesus' sacrifice was once for all (Hebrews 7:27)?"
Answer: Hebrews 7 illustrates that Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses and is superior to that Law. Because Jesus is greater, it only makes sense that we should follow Him. One of the ways that Jesus is greater is in that Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all (Hebrews 7:27).
The Law of Moses prescribed that there would be priests who would make regular, repeated sacrifices on behalf of the people and on behalf of themselves (e.g., Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 9:7). They were involved in all kinds of sacrifices—guilt offerings, sin offerings, offerings of atonement, and more—and making these offerings was such a full-time job that the Levitical priests (the priests were appointed from the tribe of Levi) would not have time to work the land as did people from other tribes. The sacrifices they offered only temporarily covered up the sins of the people.
In contrast to the sacrifices administered by the Levitical priests, Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all (Hebrews 7:27). Jesus also served as a high priest, but He wasn’t from the tribe of Levi (He was from the tribe of Judah), and His high priesthood was very different. Jesus was “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26, NASB). Because He was sinless, He didn’t have to offer sacrifices for His own guilt. He owed no debt for any sin and could offer Himself as a substitutionary sacrifice for those who did owe God a debt for their sin. The Levitical high priests had to offer sacrifices daily for their sins and those of the people. Jesus did not have to do that. He offered up Himself one time as a sacrifice and in so doing paid for all of the sins of all of the people—He did this “once for all when He offered Himself” (Hebrews 7:27).
The author of Hebrews goes so far as to say that the high priests were “weak” (Hebrews 7:28) because of their own sin, their personal need for sacrifices, and the temporality of the sacrifices they offered. In contrast, Jesus was “perfect,” as He had no sin and therefore no personal need for sacrifices, and the sacrifice He offered was offered only once on the cross. With that once-for-all sacrifice, Jesus paid for the sin of all humanity. As John puts it, Jesus is the propitiation (or satisfaction) for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). This means that the price Jesus paid was sufficient to satisfy the debt owed. Jesus’ death was a sufficient sacrifice to cover once and for all the sins of everyone. John also explains that Jesus’ sacrifice had to be applied to each individual—by believing in Jesus, each person would have life in His name (John 20:31).
Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all (Hebrews 7:27), and rather than go to a priest who would make a temporary sacrifice for our sin, we are told to simply believe (or trust) in Christ as the One who has resolved the sin issue on our behalf and provided for our forgiveness and new life.
Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:8–10 that we have been saved by grace through faith, and that salvation is not of our own works or efforts, but it is a gift of God. Because of this, no one can boast in themselves—instead, we should give Him thanks and exalt Him. In saving us He gave us new life and provided us a path to fulfill our design. This was all only made possible because Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all (Hebrews 7:27). Because of His sacrifice, we can have peace with God and are no longer subject to His wrath; instead, we are children who are beloved by our heavenly Father.