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Christ in the heavenly sanctuary

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Archives / 1980 / October

 

 

Christ in the heavenly sanctuary

 

 

The following statements on fundamental denominational teachings involving Christ and His High Priestly ministry and the role of the Ellen G. White writings in doctrinal matters were formulated and accepted by the Sanctuary Review Committee, at Glacier View Ranch, Colorado, August 10 to 15, 1980.

The doctrine of Christ our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary brings us assurance and hope. It invested the lives of the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with meaning; it still is a fruitful field for our contemplation and spiritual growth.

This distinctive teaching was reaffirmed in the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs adopted by the General Conference session at Dallas in April 1980. Our continuing conviction was there ex pressed as follows:

"There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom. This judgment vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the Second Ad vent."

The present paper is an elaboration of the Dallas statement. It sets forth the consensus of the Sanctuary Review Committee, which convened August 10- 15, 1980, at Glacier View, Colorado. The committee sought to make a serious and frank appraisal of our historic positions, evaluating them in the light of criticisms and alternative interpretations that have been suggested. Such suggestions are beneficial in that they drive us to study, force us to clarify our understanding, and thereby lead us to sharper insights and a deeper appreciation of the truths that have shaped the Advent Movement. Thus the doctrine of the sanctuary, which meant so much to early Adventists, shines on believers in our day. To see it more clearly is to see Christ more clearly; and this vision will revive Christian life and give power to our preaching and witness.

I. The significance of the doctrine

Although the sanctuary symbolism is prominent throughout Scripture, with Christ as High Priest being the dominant idea of the book of Hebrews, Christian thought has given relatively little attention to this subject. In the nineteenth century, however, there was a sudden flowering of interest in Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. Our pioneers brought together the ideas of Leviticus, Daniel, Hebrews, Revelation, and other scriptures in a unique theological syn thesis that combined the high-priesthood of Christ with the expectation of the end of history. Christ was not merely ministering in the sanctuary above; He had entered upon the final phase of that ministry, corresponding to the Day of Atonement of Leviticus 16.

For the earliest Seventh-day Adventists this new doctrine was "the key which unlocked the mystery of the dis appointment of 1844" (The Great Controversy, p. 423). It was the means by which these firm believers in the imminent return of Jesus could come to terms with their unfulfilled expectations. It gave them a new sense of religious identity; it filled their lives with meaning, for it "opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious, showing that God's hand had directed the great advent movement and revealing present duty as it brought to light the position and work of His people." —Ibid. Thus they could see that although they had been mistaken, they had not been utterly deluded; they still had a mission and a message.

The belief that Christ is our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary is not a relic from our Adventist past; it illumines all other doctrines; it brings God and His salvation "near" to us in a way that gives us "full assurance" (Heb. 10:22); it shows us that God is on our side.

In heaven above there is One who "always lives to make intercession" for us (Heb. 7:25, R.S.V.). He is Jesus, our High Priest, who "in the days of his flesh" (chap. 5:7) suffered, endured the test, and died for us. He is able to "sympathize with our weaknesses" (chap. 4:15, R.S.V.) and sends forth timely help from the throne of grace (chaps. 2:18; 4:16). So we may come boldly into the presence of God, knowing that we are accepted through the merits of our Mediator.

The doctrine of the sanctuary gives us a new view of ourselves. Humanity, despite its frailties and rebellion, is important to God and is loved supremely by Him. God has shown His regard for us by taking human nature upon Himself, and bearing it forever in the person of Christ, our heavenly High Priest. We are the people of the Priest, the community of God that lives to worship Him and to bring forth fruit to His glory.

This doctrine also opens a new perspective on the world. We see it as part of a cosmic struggle, the "great controversy" between good and evil. The heavenly sanctuary is the divine head quarters in this warfare; it guarantees that eventually evil will be no more, and God will be all and in all (1 Cor. 15:28). His work of judgment that issues from the sanctuary results in a redeemed people and a re-created world.

II. The sources of our understanding

While the sanctuary theme runs throughout Scripture, it is seen most clearly in Leviticus, Daniel, Hebrews, and Revelation. These four books, which attracted the attention of the first Adventists, remain the focus of our on going study of the sanctuary in heaven.

In terms of emphasis, these books fall into pairs. Whereas Leviticus and He brews are concerned primarily with the priestly functions associated with the sanctuary, Daniel and Revelation relate the divine activity in the sanctuary to the end of the world. Thus we may say that a major thrust of the first pair is intercession, while a major thrust of the second is judgment.

The book of Leviticus describes the various services of the Old Testament sanctuary. We read of the continual sacrifices, presented every morning and evening, for the people of Israel (Lev. 6:8-13). We read also of several types of individual offerings to express confession, thanksgiving, and consecration (chapters 1-7). And the climax of the whole system of sacrifices, the Day of Atonement, is described in detail (chapter 16).

The book of Hebrews compares and contrasts these services with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary (chap. 9:1-10:22). It argues that by His once-for-all death Jesus accomplished what Israel's repeated offerings could never achieve. He is the reality symbolized by the Day of Atonement sacrifices, as by all the ancient services. Although it has been suggested that these references in Hebrews show that the eschatological Day of Atonement began at the cross, Hebrews is not in fact concerned with the question of time; it concentrates rather on the all-sufficiency of Calvary. For answers to our questions regarding the timing of events in the heavenly sanctuary, we look to the books of Daniel and Revelation. In particular the "time prophecies" of Daniel 7 to 9 re main crucial for the Adventist under standing of the sanctuary. They point beyond the first advent of Christ to God's final work of judgment from the heavenly sanctuary.

The precise meaning of the Old Testament prophecies is a matter that calls for ongoing study. This investigation must seek to be true to the varied nature of the individual prophecies, to take account of the differing perspectives of the readers (in Old Testament, New Testament, and modern times), to discern the divine in tent in the prophecies, and to maintain the tension between divine sovereignty and human freedom. Furthermore, his study must give due weight to the strong and widespread sense of the imminent Second Advent that we find in the New Testament (e.g., Rom. 13:11-12; 1 Cor. 7:29-31; Rev. 22:20).

The writings of Ellen White also contain much material dealing with Christ in the heavenly sanctuary (e.g., The Great Controversy, pp. 409-432, 479-491, 582- 678). They highlight the significance of the events of 1844 in the divine plan, and the final events that proceed from the throne of God. These writings, however, were not the source of our pioneers' doctrine of the sanctuary, rather, they confirmed and supplemented the ideas that the early Adventists were finding in the Bible itself. Today we recognize the same relationship: the writings of Ellen White provide confirmation of our doctrine of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary and supplement our understanding of it.

In the remainder of this paper, we offer a brief explanation of this doctrine. The Biblical material on which the doctrine is based falls into two related phases. We turn to the first of these: intercession.

III. The intercessory ministry of Christ

The Old Testament sacrificial system was given by God. It was the way of salvation by faith for those times, educating the people of God to the dreadful character of sin and pointing forward to God's way of bringing sin to an end.

But there was no efficacy in these multiplied sacrifices as such. Sin is a moral offense, not to be resolved by the slaughter of animals. "It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (Heb. 10:4, R.S.V.). In Jesus Christ alone can sin be removed. Not only is He our High Priest, He also is our Sacrifice. He is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, R.S.V.), the Pass over Lamb sacrificed for us (1 Cor. 5:7), God's appointed One whose blood is an expiation for the sins of all humanity (Rom. 3:21-25).

In the light of Jesus Christ all the services of the Old Testament sanctuary find their true meaning. Now we know that the Hebrew sanctuary itself was but a figure, a symbol of the true sanctuary "which is set up not by man but by the Lord" (Heb. 8:2, R.S.V.; 9:24), a far more glorious reality than our minds can comprehend (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 357). Now we know that all the Levitical priests and Aaronic high priests were but prefigurations of the One who is the great High Priest because He is in Himself both God and man (chap. 5:1- 10). Now we know that the blood of animals carefully selected so as to be without blemish or spot (e.g., Lev. 1:3, 10), was a symbol of the blood of the Son of God, who would, by dying for us, purify us of sin (1 Peter 1:18-19).

This first phase of the heavenly ministry of Christ is not a passive one. As our Mediator, Jesus continually applies the benefits of His sacrifice for us. He directs the affairs of the church (Rev. 1:12-20). He sends forth the Spirit (John 16:7). He is the leader of the forces of right in the great conflict with Satan (Rev. 19:11-16). He receives the worship of heaven (chap. 5:11-14). He upholds the universe (Heb. 1:3; Rev. 3:21).

All blessings flow from the continuing efficacy of Christ's sacrifice. The book of Hebrews highlights its two great achievements: it provides unhindered access to the presence of God, and it thoroughly removes sin.

Despite the importance of the Old Testament sanctuary, it represented limited access to God. Only those born to the priesthood could enter it (Heb. 9:1- 7). But in the heavenly sanctuary Christ has opened for us the door to the very presence of God; by faith we come boldly to the throne of grace (chap. 4:14-16; also 7:19; 10:19-22; 12:18-24). Thus the privileges of every Christian are greater even than those of the high priests of the Old Testament.

There is no intermediate step in our approach to God. Hebrews stresses the fact that our great High Priest is at the very right hand of God (chap. 1:3), in "heaven itself ... in the presence of God" (chap. 9:24). The symbolic language of the Most Holy Place, "within the veil," is used to assure us of our full, direct, and free access to God (chaps. 6:19-20; 9:24-28; 10:1-4).

And now there is no need for further offerings and sacrifices. The Old Testament sacrifices were "imperfect" that is, incomplete, unable to make a final end of sin (chap. 9:9). The very repetition of the sacrifices signified their inadequacy (chap. 10:1-4). In contrast, God's appointed Sacrifice accomplished what the old ones could not, and thus brought them to an end (chap. 9:13-14). "Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God" (chap. 10:11-12, R.S.V.).

So Calvary is of abiding consequence. Unlike any other event in history, it is unchanging in its power. It is eternally present, because Jesus Christ, who died for us, continues to make intercession for us in the heavenly sanctuary (chap. 7:25).

This is why the New Testament rings with confidence. With such a High Priest, with such a Sacrifice, with such intercession, we have "full assurance" (chap. 10:22). Our confidence is not in ourselves—in what we have done or what we can do—but in Him and what He has done and still does.

This assurance can never take lightly the Sacrifice that has provided it. As we by faith look to Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary—our sanctuary—and the services He there performs, we are em powered by the Spirit to live holy lives and provide an urgent witness to the world. We know that it is a fearful thing to despise the blood that has redeemed us (chaps. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 12:15-17).

The final phase of Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary is that of judgment, vindication, and cleansing. We should be clear, however, that while Christ is Judge, He is still our Intercessor. We look first at the time of the judgment and then at its nature.

IV. The time of the judgment

The prophetic period of 2300 days (Dan. 8:14) remains a cornerstone of the Adventist understanding of the final judgment. Although this part of our doctrine of the sanctuary is the one most frequently questioned, careful study of the criticisms in the light of the Scriptures confirms its importance and validity.

Three aspects of this prophecy, especially, have been called into question: the year-day relationship; the meaning of the word translated "cleansed" (Dan. 8:14, K.J.V.) and its connection with the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16); and the context of the prophecy.

The year-day relationship can be Biblically supported, although it is not explicitly identified as a principle of prophetic interpretation. It seems obvious, however, that certain prophetic time periods are not meant to be taken liter ally (e.g.. the short periods in Revelation 11:9, 11). Furthermore, the Old Testament provides illustrations of a year-day interchangeability in symbolism (Gen. 29:27; Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6; Dan. 9:24- 27). The year-day relationship also is recognizable in the interlocking of Daniel 8 and 9. Additional support is found from parallel prophecies of the 1260 days-years in Daniel and Revelation (Dan. 7:25; Rev. 12:14; 13:5). Since the prophecy of Daniel 8 is parallel to those of chapters 2, 7, and 11-12, all of which culminate in the kingdom of God at the end of history, it is proper to expect the period represented by the 2300 days to reach to the end time (Dan. 8:17). This is made possible for us by the exegetical application of the year-day relationship.

According to many older versions of the Bible, at the end of the 2300 days the sanctuary is to be "cleansed." The He brew word here is nisdaq, which has a broad range of possible meanings. Its basic idea is "make right," "justify," "vindicate," or "restore"; but "purify" and "cleanse" may be included within its conceptual range. In Daniel 8:14 it is evident that the word denotes the reversal of the evil caused by the power symbolized by the "little horn," and hence probably should be translated "restore." While there is, therefore, not a strong verbal link between this verse and the Day of Atonement ritual of Leviticus 16, the passages are, nevertheless, related by their parallel ideas of rectifying the sanctuary from the effects of sin.

Daniel 8 presents the contextual problem of how to relate exegetically the cleansing of the sanctuary at the end of the 2300 days with the activities of the "little horn" during the 2300 days. This wicked power casts down the place of the sanctuary (Dan. 8:11) and thus occasions the need for its restoration or purification. The "little horn," however, is on earth, whereas we understand the sanctuary to be in heaven. But a careful study of Daniel 8:9-26 points to a solution of this difficulty. It becomes clear that heaven and earth are interrelated, so that the attacks of the "little horn" have a cosmic, as well as historical, significance. In this way we may see how the restoration of the heavenly sanctuary corresponds to—and is a reversal of—the earthly activity of the "little horn." But while we believe that our historic interpretation of Daniel 8:14 is valid, we wish to encourage ongoing study of this important prophecy.

Our conviction that the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days in 1844 marks the beginning of a work of judgment in heaven is supported by the parallelism of Daniel 8 with Daniel 7, which explicitly describes such a work, and by the references to heavenly judgment in the book of Revelation (chaps. 6:10; 11:18; 14:7; 20:12-13).

Thus our study reinforces our belief that we have indeed come to the time of pre-Advent judgment, which historically we have termed the "investigative judgment." We hear again God's call to pro claim the everlasting gospel around the world because "the hour of his judgment is come" (chap. 14:6-7).

V. The nature of judgment

The teaching of "judgment to come" has a firm base in Scripture (Eccl. 12:14; John 16:8-11; Acts 24:25; Heb. 9:27; etc.). For the believer in Jesus Christ, the doctrine of judgment is solemn but reassuring, because the judgment is God's own intervention in the course of human history to make all things right. It is the unbeliever who finds the teaching a subject of terror.

The work of divine judgment that issues from the heavenly sanctuary has two aspects: One centers in God's people on earth; the other involves the whole universe as God brings to a successful conclusion the great struggle be tween good and evil.

Scripture tells us that we "must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor. 5:10), and that we are to give account for even the "idle word" (Matt. 12:36). This aspect of the end-time events reveals who are God's (see The Great Controversy, pp. 479-491). The overarching question concerns the decision we have made with respect to Jesus, the Saviour of the world. To have accepted His death on our behalf is to have passed already from death to life, from condemnation to salvation; to have rejected Him is to be self-condemned (John 3:17-18). So this end-time judgment at the close of the 2300-day period reveals our relationship to Christ, dis closed in the totality of our decisions. It indicates the outworking of grace in our lives as we have responded to His gift of salvation; it shows that we belong to Him.

The work of judging the saints is part of the final eradication of sin from the universe (Jer. 31:34; Dan. 12:1: Rev. 3:5; 21:27). At the close of probation, just before the final events in the history of our earth, the people of God will be confirmed in righteousness (Rev. 22:11). The divine activity from the heavenly sanctuary (chap. 15:1-8) will issue in the sequence of events that at length will purge the universe of all sin and Satan, its originator.

For the child of God, knowledge of Christ's intercession in the judgment brings assurance, not anxiety. He knows that One stands in his behalf, and that the work of judgment is in the hands of his Intercessor (John 5:22-27). In the righteousness of Christ the Christian is secure in the judgment (Rom. 8:1). Moreover, the judgment heralds the hour of transition from faith to sight, from earthly care and frustration to eternal joy and fulfillment in the presence of God.

God's judgment, however, is concerned with more than our personal salvation; it is cosmic in scope. It unmasks evil and all evil systems. It exposes hypocrisy and deceit. It restores the rule of right to the universe. Its final word is a new heaven and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13), one pure song of love from Creation to creation (ibid., pp. 662-678).

And in this act of divine judgment, God Himself is shown to be absolutely just. The universal response to His final acts from the heavenly sanctuary is, " 'Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are thy ways, O King of the ages!' " (Rev. 15:3, R.S.V.).

Conclusion

This doctrine of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, this unique teaching of Seventh-day Adventists, invites earnest study on the part of every believer. Our pioneers found it by diligent searching of the Word and became motivated by it. We too must find it for ourselves and make it our own. We must come to realize that "the sanctuary in heaven is the very center of Christ's work in behalf of men," and that His ministry there "is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross" (The Great Controversy, pp. 488, 489).

As we seek to know and understand Christ in the heavenly sanctuary as fervently as did the first Adventists, we shall experience the revival and reform, the assurance and hope, that come with a clearer view of our great High Priest.

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