Salvation and the Cross

Salvation and the cross

Although many Christians believe salvation was obtained at the cross, that’s technically incorrect. Salvation was certainly obtained by the cross, but it was not obtained at the cross. We can be sure of this because Paul said in AD 58—almost three decades after the cross—“Our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:10). Likewise, Peter said in around AD 63 that “salvation is ready to be revealed” (1 Pet. 1:5). These kinds of passages show that salvation had not yet been fully obtained. The atonement was not yet complete. This is why the writer of Hebrews said in approximately AD 62-63 that Jesus would “appear a second time for salvation [to complete the atonement]” (Heb. 9:28, italics mine). And when would this happen? In a little while: “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry.” (Heb. 10:37). The year AD 70 fits this timing perfectly. This timing also “just happens” to fit perfectly with Jesus’ own statements about his second coming in which he said (in AD 33) he would come within the lifetimes of his audiences (Matt. 16:28, 10:23, 24:30-34, 26:64 and Rev. 22:12). Salvation came (in full) at Jesus’ second coming AD 70!

Keep in mind, there are passages that were uttered before AD 70 which talk about salvation in the present tense, as if it were already a reality (2 Tim. 1:9, Titus 3:5, 1 Cor. 6:11, etc.). However, unless there is an outright contradiction between these passages and the ones cited above, then we are forced to conclude that salvation had only come in part at this time (pre-AD 70); and salvation would come in full when Jesus “appeared a second time for salvation” (Heb. 9:28). Theologians have a name for this concept; it’s called the “already/not yet.” The New Testament is filled with such events that had already arrived in part (pre-AD 70), but had not yet arrived in full. See my article “The Already and Not Yet.”

Common Objections

Objection #1: Jesus said “It is finished” while hanging on the cross (John 19:29-30). This shows that salvation was fully obtained at the cross. In other words, the atonement was completed at the cross.

Response: First, if salvation was fully obtained at the cross (in AD 33), then why would the apostles say—decades after the cross—that salvation had still not been obtained (Rom. 13:10; 1 Pet. 1:5; Heb. 9:28)? And why would the writer of Hebrews say in AD 62/63, “The tabernacle [temple] is symbolic for the present time [in AD 62/63] in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience” (Heb. 9:9, italics mine). The reason people’s consciences were not perfect is because their sin was still present. In other words, salvation had still not come!

In light of these kinds of passages, it makes much more sense to conclude that Jesus’s comment “It is finished” refers to the sacrificial aspect of the atonement process (the sacrifice), not the entire atonement process. There was more that needed to be done after the cross.

Second, biblical scholar agrees that the Old Covenant atonement process was a type/shadow (foreshadow) of the New Covenant atonement process. Yet under the Old Covenant system, the atonement was not complete when the animal was sacrificed. There was more that needed to be done. The high priest still had to go into the Holy of Holies, sprinkle the animal’s blood on the Mercy Seat, and come out of the Most Holy Place and bless the eagerly awaiting congregation. Only then would the atonement process be complete (see Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9).

The New Covenant atonement process closely followed the Old Covenant pattern. Just as the Old Covenant system required a sacrifice, so did the New. Jesus, of course, was the New Covenant sacrifice. Under the Old Covenant system, the Levitical High Priest entered the Most Holy Place, which was a type/shadow of heaven. Under the New Covenant system, Jesus is the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17), and he ascended to heaven, the real Most Holy Place (Eph. 4:7-9, Acts 1:9).

Under the Old Covenant system, the congregation eagerly waited for the high priest to come out of (return from) the Holy of Holies because that signified that God had accepted the sacrifice and that the atonement process was compete. In fact, Jewish tradition says a rope was tied to the high priest’s leg before he entered the Holy of Holies so that if he died inside—because God did not accepted his service and sacrifice—he could be pulled out without anyone else having to enter. (Only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies.) There is a record of something like this happening in the tabernacle of Moses’ day. Aaron’s sons had offered “profane fire” before the Lord, so “a fire went out from the Lord and devoured them” (Lev. 10:1-2). Due to such risk, a rope was tied to the high priest’s leg before he entered the Most Holy Place so that he could be pulled out if needed. The time inside the Holy of Holies was a fearful time for Israel, and they eagerly waited for the high priest to come out (return) because that indicated God had accepted the sacrifice and the atonement was complete.

It was the same under the New Covenant system. Jesus ascended to heaven, the real Most Holy Place, and the disciples eagerly waited for him to return because that indicated God had accepted the sacrifice and the atonement was complete. “To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb. 9:28).

The similarities between the Old Covenant atonement process and the New Covenant atonement process are undeniable. The Old served as a pattern for the New. The Old Covenant atonement was a type/shadow; the New Covenant atonement was the reality (antitype). 

Keep in mind, there are also significant differences between the two. Unlike the Old Covenant system, in which the sacrifice had to be repeated every year, Jesus only had to die once for all time (Heb. 10:16). Another big difference is that the blood of animals (the Old Covenant system) could not really take away sin (Heb. 10:4), whereas Jesus’s sacrifice did (Heb. 9:26). The animal sacrifices were types/shadows that looked forward to the real sacrifice, Jesus. If atonement had been possible under the Old Covenant system, then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross.

Such differences notwithstanding, the New Covenant atonement process closely followed the Old Covenant pattern, which means the atonement was not completed at the sacrifice (at the cross)! Jesus still had to rise from the dead, ascend to heaven (the Most Holy Place), and appear a second time for salvation to those eagerly waiting for him (Heb. 9:28).

Aside: if the second coming has still not happened, then the atonement is still incomplete! Thankfully, Jesus did come, in AD 70, just like he had promised—and the destruction of the temple was the “sign” or proof of this coming (Matt. 24:3).

Third, when Jesus said “It is finished” in approximately AD 33 (while hanging on the cross), the Old Covenant was still in effect. In fact, thirty years after the cross, the Old Covenant had still not passed away…although it was about to: “In that He [God] says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first [covenant] obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). Why is this significant? Because there was no salvation under the Old Oovenant. The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin (Heb. 10:4). The Law could not save; it could only condemn. That’s why the Law was called “the ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:7). Therefore, until the Old Covenant passed away and the New Covenant arrived—which still had not happened in AD 62/63, per Hebrews 8:13—then salvation had still not come. This is precisely why the apostles were still longing for salvation in the AD 50’s and 60’s (Rom. 13:10; 1 Pet. 1:5; Heb. 9:28). And when would the Old Covenant “ministry of death” finally pass away, and the New Covenant age of salvation finally arrive? When the temple, which was symbolic of the Old Covenant age, was destroyed (Heb. 9:8-9).

Objection #2: We know salvation was obtained at the cross is because the writer of Hebrews said in AD 62/63 that Christians could boldly enter the Most Holy Place: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus…” (Heb. 10:16-19).

Response: Notice what the writer of Hebrews had just said a few verses earlier: “The way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect” (Heb. 9:8-9, italics mine). In other words, as long as the temple stood, entrance into the Most Holy Place, aka: salvation, was not yet a completed reality.

Notice, also, what the writer of Hebrews says directly after the statement in question: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by [not “at”] the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19)…let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (v. 23)…exhorting one another all the more as you see the Day approaching (v. 25)…For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry” (v. 37).

These verses scream “not yet!” Consider four points: One, while entrance into the Most Holy Place was certainly made possible by the blood of Jesus, it did not happen at the blood of Jesus (v. 19). Two, entrance into the Most Holy Place was still “a hope” at this time in AD 60 (v. 23). In other words, it was not yet a reality. Three, entrance into the Most Holy Place would happen at the Day of the Lord, which was “approaching” (v. 25). Four, the Day of the Lord would happen “in a little while” (v. 37). The year AD 70 fits this timing perfectly. This would be when man could finally enter the Most Holy Place and obtain salvation (in full).

This also fits perfectly with what the writer of Hebrews had just said in the previous chapter, which is that Jesus would “appear a second time for salvation” (Heb. 9:28, italics mine). Salvation = entrance into the Most Holy Place = at the second coming = AD 70.

The book of Revelation confirms this, too, in its description of the second coming in chapter 11: “Then the seventh angel sounded [the trumpet]: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!’…Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple” (11:15, 19, italics mine).

The trumpet would sound at the second coming (Matt. 24:30–31). Then, the temple of God would be opened and the Ark of the Covenant would be seen (Rev. 11:19). The reason why the Ark is mentioned here is because it had traditionally been stored in the Holy of Holies of the temple—that is, up until the Babylonians destroyed the first temple in 586 BC. Since that time, the Ark had not been seen. So at the second coming, the Holy of Holies would be opened up and God’s people would “see” the Ark, spiritually speaking of course, since the new covenant temple is spiritual (1 Pet. 2:4-9).

And when would this happen? The angel of Revelation said (in AD 65) this prophecy would happen soon, for it is at hand (22:10). This timing matches perfectly with what the writer of Hebrews said (see discussion above).

Objection #3: The veil into the Holy of Holies was torn when Jesus died on the cross. “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:50-51). This is when access was granted to the Holy of Holies. In other words, this is when salvation was obtained.

Response: First, this interpretation conflicts with Revelation 11:15, 19, which says the Holy of Holies was opened at the second coming, not the cross (see Objection #2 above).

            Second, it’s true that a temple veil was torn at the cross, but that was likely not the veil into the Holy of Holies. The temple had two veils, which separated three sections. There was a veil between the Outer Court and the Holy Place, and there was a second veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. These two veils are mentioned in both historical sources and Scripture.

For example, the Jewish Encyclopedia’s description of Herod’s Temple says: “At the entrance to the outer Temple hung a veil [first veil] embroidered in blue, white (byssus), scarlet, and purple; the outer Temple was separated from the Holy of Holies by a similar curtain [second veil].”[1] Two veils.

Likewise, in Wars of the Jews (chapter 5), Josephus mentions the two veils of the temple:

“But then this house [the temple], as it was divided into two parts, the inner part was lower than the appearance of the outer, and had golden doors of fifty-five cubits altitude, and sixteen in breadth; but before these doors there was a veil [first veil] of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful.”[2] Josephus then describes the second veil into the Holy of Holies: “But the inmost part of the temple of all was of twenty cubits. This was also separated from the outer part by a veil [second veil]. In this there was nothing at all. It was inaccessible and inviolable, and not to be seen by any; and was called the Holy of Holies.”[3]

The Bible, too, mentions two veils. Hebrews says: “For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All” (Heb.9:2-3, italics mine). Two veils!

Exodus 26:31-37, likewise, mentions “the veil” and “the screen” (second veil).

So there were two veils in the temple. The question is, Which of these two veils tore at Jesus’s death? Here’s a big clue: Matthew says the spectators saw it happen: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split…So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matt. 27:51-54). Since the crowds saw the veil tear, it must have been the outer veil, which separated the Outer Court and the Holy Place. The spectators would not have been able to see the inner veil (into the Most Holy Place) because the outer veil was blocking its view.

The layout of the surrounding area confirms this too:

“There is only one single place where those gathered would have had a close up view of the ripping of the temple curtain. And that would have been from the top of Golgotha, just outside the eastern wall of Jerusalem. The fact that it had to be the outer veil that was torn is confirmed by looking at an image of the reconstruction of Herod’s temple…If we hone in on the temple proper portion of the temple, it becomes apparent that the only veil that could have been seen at all from the mountain was the veil to the Holy Place [as opposed to the veil into the Most Holy Place].”[4]

Possible Objection #4: The book of Romans says salvation arrived at Jesus’ first coming, not his second coming:

“And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion,

And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;

For this is My covenant with them,

When I take away their sins’” (Rom. 11:26-27).

Response: Contrary to popular opinion, this passage does not refer to Jesus’ first coming; it refers to his second! In fact, the NIV (New International Version) study notes point out that Romans is quoting from Isaiah 27:9 and 59:20-21, which are passages about judgment.

For example, the context of Isaiah 27 describes the stones of the altar being made like chalkstone (Isa. 27:9), the city being desolated (Isa. 27:9), and the blood of the martyrs being avenged (Isa. 26:21). Sound familiar? Compare this to Jesus’s description of his second coming, in which “not one stone will be left upon another” (Luke 21:5), the city will be desolated (v. 20), and the blood of the martyrs will be avenged (Matt. 23:35-36). This is describing the judgment in AD 70 (Luke 21:32, Matt. 23:36).

Likewise, the context of Isaiah 59 describes the Lord “putting on garments of vengeance” (Isa. 59:17) and “repaying his enemies in full” (Isa. 59:18). These are things Jesus and the apostles said would happen at the second coming. For example, Jesus warned in AD 33: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near” (Luke 21:21)…“For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled (v. 22, italics mine)…And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations” (v. 25)…Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory (v. 27)…All these things will happen within this generation” (v. 32).

Likewise, Paul said (in around AD 50) that Jesus would come in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God (2 Thess. 1:6-8). 

Jesus came in judgment at his second coming, not his first coming. Jesus came the first time in humility (Phil. 2:7-8), but he came the second time in judgment (Luke 21:22). Since the passage under consideration (Rom.11:26-27) is quoting passages about judgment, then it must have been fulfilled at the judgment in AD 70. Therefore, this is when “sin was taken away” (v. 27) and salvation came.

Salvation came in full in AD 70—not the cross!

See The End Is Here, available summer 2024, for a detailed discussion of these and related topics.

Alex Polyak, The Bible Fulfilled 10/3/24


[1] George Barton, “Temple of Herod,” Jewish Encyclopedia.com (viewed March, 29, 2023).

[2] Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 5, chapter 5.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Alan Bondar, The Journey Between the Veils, 71-72.