Question: "What does it mean that it is appointed unto men once to die (Hebrews 9:27)?"
Answer: Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (KJV). The Letter to the Hebrews focuses on the superiority of Jesus and the responsibility we have to pay attention to Him. Hebrews 9 emphasizes Jesus’ superiority in His role as the mediator of a new and eternally lasting covenant. Near the end of the context, the writer of Hebrews states that it is appointed unto men once to die (Hebrews 9:27). What the author means in saying this helps us understand another way in which Jesus is superior and worthy of our trust and our love.
First in this context, the writer explains that the first covenant—the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19:5–6)—had its own regulations for worship (Hebrews 9:1–2). He specifically cites the tabernacle and its furnishings (Hebrews 9:2–5). When the tabernacle was constructed and operational, the priest would enter the outer part of the tabernacle regularly to present sacrifices (Hebrews 9:6). But, more rarely, the high priest would enter to bring sacrifices for sins committed in ignorance (Hebrews 9:7). The writer explains that the tabernacle and the regulations for worship there—including the continual sacrifices—illustrate that these things did not resolve the sin problem once and for all; rather, they looked forward to Someone who would (Hebrews 9:8–10). This is important for several reasons—one being that it is appointed unto men once to die (Hebrews 9:27).
While the priests entered a physical tabernacle made with human hands and had to offer sacrifices many times, Jesus entered the holy place not made with human hands and offered one perfect sacrifice—Himself—to resolve sin, providing eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11–12). In this way Jesus resolved the problem of sin and death—a problem that destined people once to die. The sacrifices of the Mosaic Covenant were many and were temporary. They could not take away sin; they could only point to the need for that sin to be dealt with once and for all. Jesus, as the Perfect Sacrifice, was able to cleanse us from sin and free us from death (Hebrews 9:13–14).
When He did this, Jesus also became the mediator of a new covenant (predicted in Jeremiah 31). That covenant, for Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31), would provide for the people to have forgiveness and to be God’s people (Jeremiah 31:34). The new covenant would be God’s way of resolving sin and death for the people of Israel and Judah. Jesus’ sacrifice not only provided eternal redemption for all who would trust in Him, but also provided the means for the new covenant to be fulfilled for Israel and Judah one day in the future—they also were stricken with the sin problem, because “it is appointed unto men once to die.” The old covenant did not provide righteousness to the people of Israel; it only showed the need for redemption in Christ (Galatians 3:24). Thus the new covenant is superior to the old covenant, and Jesus as the mediator of the new covenant is superior to Moses (Hebrews 9:15–22; 3:1–6).
Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all, not like the oft-repeated sacrifices the priests brought. And His sacrifice was effective as an acceptable sacrifice to the Father. By His own sacrifice He “put away sin” (Hebrews 9:26), thus resolving the problem of death that results from sin. It is appointed unto men once to die and after that to be judged (Hebrews 9:27). Because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, we no longer need to fear death because we will be raised in new life (1 Corinthians 15:20–21). We no longer need to fear judgment because it is by grace through faith that we are delivered from sin (Ephesians 2:8–9). We will not be condemned for sin because we are forgiven and made righteous in Jesus. When He comes again, it will not be for judging the sin of those who have been redeemed (Hebrews 9:28).
It is appointed unto men once to die, but Jesus has conquered sin and death, and for this reason, we must pay close attention to Him and what He has done and said (Hebrews 2:1).