The Cleansing of the Sanctuary

This unsolicited article from a veteran Bible teacher will provoke thought on a subject of interest to our readers. We print it in the interest of objective study in an area that is at once both vital and, in the hands of the immature student, dangerous. It is therefore to be studied with care and reverence.

Bible Department, Newbold Missionary College, England

[This unsolicited article from a veteran Bible teacher will provoke thought on a subject of interest to our readers. We print it in the interest of objective study in an area that is at once both vital and, in the hands of the immature student, dangerous. It is therefore to be studied with care and reverence.—Eds.]

THE sanctuary was God's dwelling, place (Ex. 25:8), God's palace, the center of His activities and government. It was a marvelous revelation of God. There was to be seen His power, His glory, and His beauty (Ps. 63:2; 27:4). There God came, and there He received all who would come to Him (Ex. 29:42).

The sanctuary comprised three apart­ments—the court, the tent of meeting, and the Most Holy Place (Exodus 25-27)—in each of which a special service was per­formed for the purpose of separating sin­ners from sin (Lev. 16:30, 33), and healing the disease of the world (Ps. 103:3).

The sanctuary comprised three apart-instructions was a miniature, a type and representation, of God's actual palace in heaven (Heb. 8:5), as He said to Moses, "Look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount" (Ex. 25:40), and through Isai'ah He calls the court where the sacrifices were made "my courts" (Isa. 1:11-13). The very existence of this typical palace of God on earth was a standing invitation and appeal to all men to come to God for reconcilia­tion and healing, and an assurance that their object would be achieved (Isa. 27:5). There was nothing that God desired more.

The services performed in the court, at the altar, were for the forgiveness of sins already committed, for the removal of the cause of separation between God and men (Isa. 59:2). It was the blood on the altar that made atonement for the soul, because of the life (Lev. 17:11), and God had al­ready promised that He would Himself provide a lamb. The seeking for forgive­ness was a necessary first step (Ter. 3:13), and until this was taken no further prog­ress could be made.

When reconciliation had thus been ac­complished, there followed the second part of the ministration in the tent of meeting, the second step in separating the sinner from his sin. The candlestick burned con­tinually (Lev. 24:2-4), representing the impartation of the illumination of the Holy Spirit (Rev. 4:5); the incense was burned continually (Ex. 30:8), illustrating how the prayers for help were made doubly acceptable through the merits of Jesus, and the requests granted; and the shewbread (Ex. 25:30), typifying the presence of Jesus, by whose ministration alone can the Word of God become the bread of life (John 6:48, 63), was ministered daily. With this threefold continuous help the sinner could be kept from falling back into sin (Rom. 3:10), enabled to perfect a righteous character (Heb. 7:25), and be presented faultless before the throne of God with joy (Jude 24).

This second step must follow the first, and must be experienced before the re­pentant sinner can benefit from the third step taken by God on his behalf in the Most Holy Place, which was the satisfying of justice, or the cleansing of the sanctuary.

During all this time the altar and the tent of meeting have accepted the respon­sibility for the sinner's sin. The sanctuary (God's government) substituted for the sinner, and his sin was forgiven. The work of transformation, the cleansing of the sinner from his sinful nature (Rom. 7:18, 22, 23), of making him a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), had begun. If the forgiven sinner now availed him­self of all the ministration in the tent of meeting, that is, if he walked in the light as God is in the light, the blood of the Victim would cleanse him from all sin (1 John 1:5-7). If he ate of the living Bread (John 6:58), and presented his requests to God in the name of Jesus (John 14:14),! he would live triumphantly. Then by the blood of Jesus, and because of the real re­pentance and reformation of the sinner, the record of his sin would be blotted out —the sanctuary would be cleansed and jus­tified.

This third step, taken by God on our behalf, and on His own behalf, completes the work begun by the first step of repent­ance and forgiveness, and it has all been made possible by the blood of Jesus.

Having accepted the responsibility for the sinner's guilt, and having expiated it by the death of Jesus on Calvary, and hav­ing transformed the sinner by the services of the priest in the holy place, re-creating him in the very image of God, God does not continue to bear the guilt of sinners. It was not His in the first place, but was voluntarily assumed, and the penalty borne by Jesus. The death of Jesus not only ex­piated the guilt of humanity, it also estab­lished the righteousness of God and the culpability of Satan. Through the blood of Jesus, God is both just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus (Rom. 3:25, 26). It is demonstrated before the universe that Satan alone is responsible for sin, and "the prince of this world is judged" (John 16:11).

This justification of the sanctuary of God and the consequent condemnation of Satan was illustrated on the Day of Atone­ment, when the high priest placed the guilt, from which the sanctuary was cleansed, on the head of the goat for Azazel. The sanctuary was cleansed, God's ac­tions were vindicated, and as concomitant Satan was condemned, the prince of this world was cast out.

The word "cleansed," as applied to the sanctuary, suggests defilement—that the sanctuary was defiled by the sins of forr given sinners (Lev. 16:19); and "justifica­tion," in the forensic sense, implies some action on God's part that needed to be vindicated. What this action was is defi­nitely stated in Romans 3:25, 26. God for­gave the sins of sinners, even before Cal­vary. He took men that were sinners and restored in them the image of God. The blood of Jesus was God's justification in doing this, and by the death of Jesus he will be justified, and will "overcome when" he is "judged" (Rom. 3:4). The cleansing of the sanctuary is the vindication of God in the judgment.

Now there is a profanation, a defilement, of the sanctuary that is done by the sinning of men who fail to obtain purification from their defilement (Num. 19:13, 20). In Leviticus 20:2, 3 it is stated that "who­soever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Moloch; he shall surely be put to death: . . . because he hath given of his seed unto Moloch, to de­file my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name." This is simplified in Ezekiel 23: 38, 39, which reads: "Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled ray sanctuary in the same day, and have pro­faned my sabbaths. For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house." This defile­ment was punishable by death with no atonement (Heb. 10:28, 29).

There is also a cleansing that does not imply previous defilement, but has the same sense as dedication, such as the cleansing of the newly erected altar (Ex. 29:36), and of Ezekiel's temple (Eze. 45: 18-20). We are not here speaking of this cleansing. Our subject is the cleansing, the justification, of the heavenly sanctuary, which involves the forgiveness of the sins of men. Satan had denied God's right to do this, but the blood of Jesus made it pos­sible.

"The sins of Israel being thus trans­ferred to the sanctuary, the holy places were denied."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 355. "As the typical cleansing of the earthly [sanctuary] was accomplished by the removal of the sins by which it had been polluted, so the actual cleansing of the heavenly is to be accomplished by the removal, or blotting out, of the sins which are there recorded."—The Great Contro­versy, pp. 421, 422-

This defilement of the sanctuary by the confessed sins of Israel was shared by the priest. "Thou and thy sons and thy father's house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priest­hood" (Num. 18:1).

This bearing of the iniquity of the con­gregation (Lev. 10:17), by the priest into the sanctuary, was substitutionary. There was no intrinsic defilement. Let us illus­trate:

But in laying His hand upon the leper, Jesus re­ceived no defilement. His touch imparted life-giv­ing power. The leprosy was cleansed. Thus it is with the leprosy of sin,—deep-rooted, deadly, and impossible to be cleansed by human power. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores." Isa. 1:5, 6. But Jesus, coming to dwell in humanity, receives no pollution. His presence has healing virtue for the sinner.—The Desire of Ages, p. 266.

He stands before the congregation of His re­deemed as their sin-burdened, sin-stained surety, but it is their sins He is bearing. All through His life of humiliation and suffering, from the time He was born an infant in Bethlehem till He hung on the cross of Calvary, and cried in a voice that shook the universe, "It is finished," the Saviour was pure and spotless.—Ellen G. White Manuscript 165, 1899. Quoted in Questions on Doctrine, p. 665.

So it is with the sanctuary of God. Though defiled by the record of the sins of the penitent, it is ever pure and spotless. Its cleansing by the blood of Jesus is the justification of the Godhead in having sub­stituted for sinners, in having willingly borne their sins and forgiven the guilty, with the natural corollary of the condem­nation and casting out of the prince of this world. All who have joined him in rebellion and have refused the free offer of pardon and cleansing from sin by the blood of Jesus will, by their own choice, share his fate.

In the type the work of cleansing the sanctuary was entirely separate from the daily ministration (Lev. 16:17); yet this daily ministration in the court and in the tent of the meeting, together with the special ceremonies of that day as a holy day and sabbath (Num. 29:7-11), was fully performed (Lev. 16:23-25).

So when Jesus entered the holy place, at the end of the 2300 days, "He still pleaded His blood before the Father in behalf of sinners," "and forgiveness of sins," the work of the court, "was offered to men through the intercession of Christ in the most holy." —The Great Controversy, pp. 429, 430.

The cleansing of the sanctuary, in the type, was not limited to the most holy place. It included the tent of meeting, and ended at the altar in the court: "And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the chil­dren of Israel, and because of their trans­gressions, even all their sins: and so shall he do for the tent of meeting. . . . And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the Lord, and make atonement for it. . . . And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it . . . and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleannesses of the children of Israel" (Lev. 16:16, 18, 19. R.V.).

The cleansing of the sanctuary therefore was the justification of all its three apart­ments and not only of the Most Holy Place. This work, being separate from the con­tinual ministration, should not be con­fused with the cleansing of the mind or of the soul temple of the worshipers. That was the work of the tent of meeting, the daily ministration, and has been carried forward by our High Priest ever since His priesthood began, and is still being accom­plished from His place in the Most Holy. It is a work that must be done for every in­dividual who has accepted salvation by faith before the cleansing of the sanctuary can take place, for the justification of the sanctuary is the justification of God in having done this very thing for them. Holi­ness has ever been the requirement and provision of God, for without it "no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).

The doctrine of the sanctuary is not just its cleansing. It illustrates complete justi­fication by faith, from the free forgiveness of every committed sin, through the com­pletion of a perfect character, to the blotting out of the record of sin—all through the death and mediation of our glorious God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. To empha­size the justification of the sanctuary to the exclusion of the work of the altar, and in the tent of meeting, could be just as wrong as to refuse to go beyond the altar, which so many Christians do in their ignorance of the requirements and provision of God. We must accept the whole work of God on our behalf and walk by His grace in the light of His countenance.


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Bible Department, Newbold Missionary College, England

January 1962

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