The sanctuary question is one of the cardinal doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is a subject of vital importance to every human being. It was into the sanctuary above that Christ entered when He returned to heaven after having made atonement for sin on the cross. It is there that He has functioned ever since as our advocate and great high priest. It is there that He has been "making an atoning sacrifice for us, pleading in our behalf the efficacy of His blood."—Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 370.
It is in the sanctuary in heaven that the investigative judgment has been in session since 1844. It is there before the judgment bar of God that we all have a case pending. It is there that our destiny for life or for death will soon be decided.
No wonder Satan tries to obscure the issues involved in this doctrine. In his efforts to confuse the minds of men and women in regard to this doctrine Satan uses many different plans and methods.
1. Some argue that there is no sanctuary in heaven. We have been forewarned of this: "The enemy will bring in false theories, such as the doctrine that there is no sanctuary [in heaven]. This is one of the points on which there will be a departing from the faith."—ELLEN G. WHITE in the Review and Herald, May 25, 1905. The psalmist of old declared: "For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth" (Ps. 102:19). And in the book of Hebrews we read: "Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man" (Heb. 8:1, 2). The New English Bible has "the real sanctuary" in Hebrews 8:2.
Commenting on this text, Sister White says:
Here is revealed the sanctuary of the new covenant. The sanctuary of the first covenant was pitched by man, built by Moses; this is pitched by the Lord, not by man. In that sanctuary the earthly priests performed their service; in this, Christ, our great high priest, ministers at God's right hand. One sanctuary was on earth, the other is in heaven.—The Great Controversy, p. 413.
The sanctuary on earth, we are told, was a shadow of the great original, which is in heaven. The shadow proves the existence of the object that casts it.
2. Others declare that the doctrine of Christ's ministration in the heavenly sanctuary is a myth.
We maintain that it is a gospel truth. When Jesus ascended after having shed His blood on the cross, He entered into the heavenly sanctuary, there to serve as our high priest, pleading His spilled blood in behalf of every repentant sinner. The text we have already quoted states plainly that He is "a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man" (Heb. 8:2). After speaking of the services of the Levitical priests, the writer of Hebrews continues: "But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, . . . established upon better promises" (verse 6).
The sanctuary in heaven is the very center of Christ's work in behalf of men. It concerns every soul living upon the earth. It opens to view the plan of redemption, bringing us down to the very close of time, and revealing the triumphant issue of the contest between righteousness and sin. It is of the utmost importance that all should thoroughly investigate these subjects, and be able to give an answer to everyone that asketh them a reason of the hope that is in them.
The intercession of Christ in man's behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross. By His death He began that work which after His resurrection He ascended to complete in heaven.—Ibid., pp. 488, 489.
3. Another class tends to obscure the sanctuary question in a different way. They claim to believe that there is a sanctuary in heaven where Christ is now ministering in behalf of mankind, but they inject certain fanciful, confusing, and misleading ideas and seductive errors into their sanctuary message:
(a) They are themselves confused and are confusing others regarding the important subject of Christ's marriage to His church. (See article in September issue.)
(b) They would have us believe that the .sanctuary to be cleansed at the expiration of the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14, is primarily the soul temple of each believer and of the temple of the church. This places the sanctuary to be cleansed here on earth. This view, we believe, is out of harmony with the teachings of the book of Hebrews and contrary to the statements in the Spirit of Prophecy writings. Speaking of the earthly sanctuary that was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, Sister White writes:
This is the only sanctuary that ever existed on the earth of which the Bible gives any information. This was declared by Paul to be the sanctuary of the first covenant.—Ibid., p. 412. (Italics supplied.)
The question, what is the sanctuary? is clearly answered in the Scriptures. The term "sanctuary," as used in the Bible, refers, first, to the tabernacle built by Moses, as a pattern of heavenly things; and, secondly, to the "true tabernacle," in heaven, to which the earthly sanctuary pointed. At the death of Christ the typical service ended. The "true tabernacle" in heaven is the sanctuary of the new covenant. And as the prophecy of Dan. 8:14 is fulfilled in this dispensation, the sanctuary to which it refers must be the sanctuary of the new covenant. At the termination of the 2300 days, in 1844, there had been no sanctuary on earth for many centuries. Thus the prophecy, "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed," unquestionably points to the sanctuary in heaven.—Ibid., p. 417. (Italics supplied.)
The above citations leave no room for doubt as to what sanctuary was to be cleansed at the expiration of the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14.
This is not to deny the necessity that every soul who wants to be saved turn to God in humble repentance for forgiveness and complete cleansing from sin Speaking of the destruction of all things earthly when Jesus comes, the apostle PE ter exclaims: "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of p, rsons ought ye to be in all holy conversion and godliness" (2 Peter 3:11). As our cases are soon to come up for review in the cvestigative judgment, what manner ot persons ought we to be? Now, while Jesus is still functioning as our high priest in the courts above, we must make sure that our sins are all confessed and that we are clad in the robes of Christ's righteousness.
The judgment is now passing in the sanctuary above. For many years this work has been in progress. Soon—none know how soon—it will pass to the cases of the living. In the awful presence of God our lives are to come up in review. At this time above all others it behooves every soul to heed the Saviour's admonition, "Watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is." "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee."—Ibid., p. 490.
It is a wonderful joy to know that Christ is not only our unerring judge but that He is also our advocate, our high priest, our loving Saviour. In tender love He pleads with us to come unto Him to be saved before the door of probation closes, never more to open.
(c) They maintain, as one writer states it, that—
while the ministry of Christ continued in the first apartment the believer could not appropriate the final atonement. That is to say, he was not completely and fully cleansed so that he had reached a perfect character. While Christ continued in the first apartment, God's people died without having obtained to the seal of the living God; yet they died in faith that He who had begun a good work in them would complete it.—The Third Angel's Message, p. 7.
In another document the same writer gives us an example of how this transformation is brought about after death. He declares:
The thief on the cross is a classic example to illustrate [what is done for the dead]. . . He is not raised from the grave with his faulty character, having the scars of a lifetime within his soul. He is raised with a fully perfected character.—The Australasian Division Committee's Report Reviewed, p. 13.
This to our mind is a new and strange doctrine. We have never known before that God will complete in a man after death the good work commenced in him while he was alive. We have never heard before that a man's character can be made perfect after death. To our understanding this is out of harmony with the teaching of the Bible and contrary to what the Lord has given us through the Spirit of Prophecy. Notice these lines from the inspired pen:
Death brings dissolution to the body, but makes no change in the character. The coming of Christ does not change our characters; it only fixes them forever beyond all change.—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 466.
Here the servant of the Lord tells us plainly that "death . . . makes no change in the character." In other words, there can be no improvement or perfecting of character after a man closes his eyes in death. This thought is further emphasized in the following words from the same inspired pen:
Life, with its marvelous privileges and opportunities, will soon be ended. The time for improvement in character will be past. Unless our sins are now repented of, and blotted out by the blood of the Lamb, they will stand in the ledger of heaven to confront us in the coming day.—ELLEN G. WHITE, Our High Calling, p. 187.
This is why in the Bible we are admonished not to put off the day of our salvation. "To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart" (Ps. 95:7, 8). Tomorrow may be too late.
It is not the work of the investigative judgment to perfect the character of the dead and to provide wedding garments for them. If a professed child of God goes down into the grave without having this precious essential garment he will never receive one and will never be permitted to participate in the marriage supper of the Lamb. The work of the investigative judgment is to examine the character of all whose names have been entered in the book of life, and to determine who have the required garment on and are prepared to enter in. This truth is clearly presented in The Great Controversy. After commenting on the parable of the Ten Virgins, Ellen G. White writes:
In the parable of Matthew 22 the same figure of the marriage is introduced, and the investigative judgment is clearly represented as taking place before the marriage. Previous to the wedding the king comes in to see the guests, to see if all are attired in the wedding garment, the spotless robe of character washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. He who is found wanting is cast out, but all who upon examination are seen to have the wedding garment on, are accepted of God, and accounted worthy of a share of His kingdom and a seat upon His throne. This work of examination of character, of determining who are prepared for the kingdom of God, is that of the investigative judgment, the closing work in the sanctuary above.—Page 428. (Italics supplied.)
It is evident then that for the dead there is no possibility for any improvement in character. For the living it is different. Through the Spirit of Prophecy we have been assured that the work which Christ carried on formerly as high priest in the first apartment He is now carrying on in the second apartment.
When Christ entered the holy of holies to perform the closing work of the atonement, He ceased His ministration in the first apartment. But when the ministration in the first apartment ended, the ministration in the second apartment began. When in the typical service the high priest left the holy on the day of atonement, he went in before God to present the blood of the sin-offering in behalf of all Israel who truly repented of their sins. So Christ had only completed one part of His work as our intercessor, to enter upon another portion of the work, and He still pleaded His blood before the Father in behalf of sinners.... But while it was true that that door of mercy by which men had for eighteen hundred years found access to God, was closed, another door was opened, and forgiveness of sins was offered to man through the intercession of Christ in the most holy. One part of His ministration had closed, only to give place to another. There was still an "open door" to the heavenly sanctuary, where Christ was ministering in the sinner's behalf."—/bid., pp. 428-430.
As long as Christ continues His high priestly service in the Most Holy Place while the judgment is in session, there is forgiveness, cleansing, and transformation for every repentant soul. So long there is also opportunity for character development, for growth in holiness. But when Christ lays off His priestly garments to don His royal robes His mediatorial work will be finished. Then the divine proclamation will be made: "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still" (Rev. 22:11).
That solemn hour is fast approaching. How vitally important then for us all that we be ready. For the ones who may have to go down into the tomb before that hour arrives it is absolutely necessary that they have on the wedding garment before they close their eyes in death. For the ones who will live till Jesus comes it is imperative that they have this robe on when probation closes. They must also have come into an experience with God that will enable them to stand without a mediator through all the hardships of the time of trouble.