Limitations on Symbolism

On the illustrations of spiritual truth drawn from the sanctuary and its services.

W.P. Bradley, Associate Secretary, General Conference

In the New Testament we find numerous examples of illustrations of spiritual truth based upon the sanctuary and its serv­ice. These illuminating references must have had a particular appeal to the early Christians of Hebrew background, based as they were upon the structure that was at the center of their religious and com­munity life. The apostle Paul was especially inclined to use these illustrations in teach­ing spiritual truth so as to make the lesson understandable and impressive. Following are several of these New Testament illus­trations based on the sanctuary, and they are listed with the realization that the list may be only partial.

  1. Washing is used as a symbol of spirit­ual cleansing, as in Titus 3:5, 6, and this concept is doubtless carried over from the services of the tabernacle, where there were numerous washings of clothing, of the body, and of parts of the sacrifices.
  2. Sprinkling of the heart "from an evil conscience" (Heb. 10:22) carries the thought of making oneself clean and also of dedication, as in the ancient service when Moses set aside Aaron and his sons by sprinkling them and their garments with oil and blood (Lev. 8:30).
  3. In drawing out spiritual lessons from the nature of salt (Mark 9:49, 50), Jesus was speaking of a substance that was used to season the offerings at the tabernacle. In

Leviticus 2:13 it is called "the salt of the covenant of thy God."

        4. Those who overcome at last are lik­ened to a pillar in the innermost sanctuary of the heavenly temple, where they can con­stantly be in the presence of God (Rev. 3:12).

        5. A barrier held the Gentiles at a dis­tance in the precincts of the Temple; but in Christ the barrier that separated them from the provisions of the covenant is broken down and they enjoy the peace of the provisions of the gospel (Eph. 2:14).

        6. Christians are the sweet aroma of Christ to God, a reminder of the incense in the tabernacle service which was cast upon the live coals and ascended upward in a cloud (2 Cor. 2:15, 16).

        7. The lesson of the sacrifice of the sanc­tuary service is woven into various passages in a variety of settings (Phil. 2:17; 4:18; 1 Peter 2:5; Heb. 13:15). In the passage in Romans 12:1 Paul speaks of the dedi­cated Christian body as a holy and accept­able offering placed in loving devotion upon a spiritual altar as a living sacrifice to God.

       8. In the Hebrew nation the priestly of­fice was a supreme example of the appoint­ment of men for service of God, to be his ministers, to present offerings and sacri­fices for the purification of sinners. In the Christian era all the believers are said to share the blessedness of a priesthood in a royal kingdom whose king is Christ. They present offerings to God, their own prayer and praise, and they have direct access to Him without an earthly mediator (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). They also minister the things of salvation to all the nations (Isa. 61:6).

       9. The sanctuary in the desert, and later the Temple in Jerusalem, was to be the dwelling place of God among His people. Likewise God dwells within the life of the individual Christian, the body being His temple, through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). The body, His temple, should therefore be kept free from defile­ment.

      10. The church is the whole body of the saints, joined together, and collectively, as a temple, is the dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:21, 22; 1 Cor. 3: 16, 17).

Personality Cannot Be Fragmented

So much for a group of illustrations of spiritual truth drawn from the sanctuary and its services. In their application to Christian life they are appropriate and dy­namic. But like all illustrations they have their limitations—they are applied mainly to the teaching of one central truth. In the case of the last two, where the Temple is used as a symbol to teach that the Holy Spirit dwells within the believers individu­ally and collectively and that the dwelling should be kept holy, and undefiled, and entire, the application is very clear.

To use this simple illustration of the sanctuary so as to develop from it a new and strange concept of the plan of salva­tion is an uncertain procedure at best. To compare the human personality to the sanctuary so that the personality is frag­mented into several parts corresponding to the areas of the sanctuary and to parcel out the saving work of Christ so that the individual is saved by stages, does violence to the illustration of the apostle Paul. The human personality is one and will remain so. The whole man is saved by repentance and forgiveness through faith in Christ and by the appropriation of His right­eousness by faith.

To suggest as some have that the method or work of salvation in the human life has changed from one era to another, corresponding to the work of Christ in heaven before and after 1844, is not taught by Paul nor by anyone else in the Scrip­tures nor in the Spirit of Prophecy. Es­pecially unacceptable is the suggestion that in Daniel 8:14 the cleansing of the sanctuary describes the work of cleansing to be accomplished by faith in Christ in the human life.

What Is Going On Now?

What is going on in the heavenly sanc­tuary now? Cases are being reviewed in the judgment. The faithful are justified as re­gards God's broken law. Names are re­tained in the book of life. At the end comes the sealing of those who are saved, the blotting out of their sins from the rec­ord. Christ comes out of the Most Holy Place and last of all, lays the blame for sin upon the head of Satan. These are the great juridical acts of God taking place in the heavenly sanctuary, not in the soul temple. Ellen G. White pointedly said: "I believe the Sanctuary, to be cleansed at the end of the 2300 days, is the New Jeru­salem Temple, of which Christ is a min­ister."—A Word to the Little Flock, p. 12.

What is going on at the same time in the life of the believer? Repentance for sin, confession, acceptance of the perfect sacrifice of Christ, living by faith, growth in Christian experience, refreshing of the Holy Spirit, labor for others. These acts take place in human experience by God's power.

The Lord's messenger, Ellen G. White, received her first vision late in 1844 and was continually bringing instruction and guidance received through visions as late as March 3, 1915, a period stretching more than seventy years. If the nature of the work of salvation in the life of the believer was to change in 1844, corresponding to the change in Christ's ministry when He entered the Most Holy Place of the heav­enly sanctuary, Mrs. White failed to make it clear. The means of salvation and the result of salvation before 1844, after 1844, and always have ever been the same: "When we surrender ourselves wholly to God, and fully believe, the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. The conscience can be freed from condemnation. Through faith in His blood, all may be made per­fect in Jesus Christ."—Selected Messages, book 2, p. 32.

No clearer, no more ancient, and no more modern statement of the way of salvation is needed than that.


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W.P. Bradley, Associate Secretary, General Conference

October 1968

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