The one distinctive, separative, structural truth—the sole doctrinal teaching that identifies and sets Seventh-day Adventists apart from all other Christian bodies past and present—is what we have always designated the "sanctuary truth." This has been so from the very first, for the sanctuary truth was the earliest post-Dis appointment position to be discerned and taught. And it has never lost that pivotal position.
All other major doctrines that we hold and teach—seventh-day Sabbath, conditional immortality, Second Advent, Spirit of Prophecy, prophetic interpretation, premillennialism, righteousness by faith, immersion, tithing, et cetera—have all been held by others, one group or more, in whole or in part, either in the past or the present.
But neither the early church (when and while the apostolic teachings were still intact), nor in the Reformation church (when a large portion of the apostolic positions had been recovered and restored), was the heavenly sanctuary truth taught, with its ministering priest officiating in two distinct phases of that mediatorial service, with the second phase comprising God's great present judgment-hour activities.
This silence of the past was for the simple reason that the sanctuary truth was not due for discernment and emphasis until the prophesied hour of God's judgment should actually come in its allotted time sequence in the divine plan of the ages. The judgment was looked forward to in apostolic and post-apostolic times for future last-day emphasis—and not considered by Reformation Leader Luther as due for some three hundred years. We recognize and proclaim it not only as due for promulgation today but now as a present actuality, mandatory in today's heralding of the everlasting gospel in its last-day setting and emphasis. We rightly consider it a tremendous present-truth imperative.
It consequently behooves us not only truly to believe and teach the sanctuary truth today but to give it central place in our distinctive, identifying emphasis for this time. It is consequently incumbent upon us clearly to understand and then to proclaim it in and through our message to men. And for this very simple reason: It is the all-encompassing essence of Adventism.
Indeed, if there is no actual sanctuary in heaven, and no ministering great High Priest serving therein; and if there is no judgment-hour message to herald from God to mankind at this time, then we have no justifiable place in the religious world, no distinctive denominational mission and message, no excuse for functioning as a separate church entity today.
Consequently any weakening or denial or submerging of the sanctuary truth is not only a serious but a crucial matter. Any deviation or dereliction therefrom strikes at the heart of Adventism, and challenges its very integrity.
We were raised up by God—and came into being in direct historical response—to emphasize this one all-embracing present truth, that in itself involves and constitutes "a complete system of truth" (The Great Controversy, p. 423). All other essential truths are actually embraced within it—the moral law, Sabbath, sacrificial atonement, high-priestly mediation, judgment, justification and sanctification, righteousness by faith, final rewards and punishments, Second Advent, and total destruction of the incorrigibly wicked.
Consequently, the sanctuary truth is not a strange, peculiar, abnormal, distorted, indefensible doctrine—or simply an expedient to explain away the Disappointment episode of 1844, as some antagonists have contended. It is not a departure from the historic Christian faith. It is, instead, the logical completion and inevitable consummation of that faith. It is simply the last-day appearance and fulfillment of the prophesied emphasis characterizing the everlasting gospel by the church of the remnant in the closing segment of its witness to the world. It testifies to earth concerning tremendous transactions in heaven, intensely fascinating in scope and vital in portent.
Because of its crucial nature and significance, the sanctuary truth is bound to be subject to challenge, attack, innuendo, and derision. And this both from within and from without. We must anticipate this and be prepared to meet it. We must be jealous for the integrity of the sanctuary truth, and alert and unyielding in its effective championship. We cannot be silent here, for this is not a mere optional tenet of faith.
Satan hates the sanctuary truth. He knows it is Heaven's paramount truth for today. It directly involves him—his destiny and doom, his coming restraint and ultimate extinction. He is seeking to buy time. He wants desperately to draw as many down to destruction with him as he can. He will consequently initiate and encourage every attempt to modify, reconstruct, distort, or alter the emphasis, and change the concept of the sanctuary truth. And to blunt its witness, stifle its teaching, and vitiate its integrity.
We are bound to have revisionists, reconstructors, deviators—and out-and-out subverters. That is unwitting evidence of its crucial character and importance. Such maneuvers never concentrate on a minor matter. We must be prepared to maintain and defend sound sanctuary positions against all manipulators and perverters.
We press the point: There will be those who will deride its validity, question its Biblical basis, and sidestep its Spirit of Prophecy confirmations. The sanctuary truth, more than any other basic Adventist teaching, has—quite apart from non- Adventist opposition—been subject to attack from within all through our denominational existence. From the very first, individuals have periodically arisen who have derided or denied first one feature and then another.
But these underminers have all finally left us, and have usually fought us. They have, however, all ultimately come to naught—without exception. Their unhappy wreckage is scattered across the years. Once so committed, they were lost to the faith, and never made any constructive contribution to the mission and work of the church.
God's divinely commissioned sanctuary truth is destined to prevail, for those who fight it are fighting against God and His designated message to man. He has always had loyal and able defenders, and has such today. There must be, of course—as with all truth—constant perfecting, strengthening, enlargement, and increased clarity and breadth of concept. But no genuine betterments ever invalidate the attested fundamentals of the past. Genuine strengtheners of truth never subvert. God never later denies or abandons what He once aided and confirmed.
We must consequently look with mistrust upon those who would undermine and overthrow what our forefathers labored faithfully and soundly to establish under God's manifest blessing, and what His Spirit has repeatedly attested.
Attacks will sometimes focus on the reality of the sanctuary in heaven—as to the actuality of the great original. This is not imaginary. We have been warned that "the enemy will bring in false theories, such as the doctrine that there is no sanctuary. This is one of the points on which there will be a departing from the faith."—Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, May 25, 1905.
Or they may concentrate on the chronology, timing, or integral relationships of Daniel 8 and 9. Or it may be over semantics—concerning technical aspects of the atonement, the scope and intent of the cleansing of the sanctuary, the perfecting of the saints, or the events and processes of the final transition hour.
The evil one likes nothing better than to divert us from the portrayal of positive truth, and to crowd us into spending time and effort on digressions, disputations, or the countering of deviations. He must not be given that satisfaction.
In the light of the foregoing factors, let us take this one basic challenge mentioned by Ellen White and examine it forthrightly: Is there actually a heavenly sanctuary? Or is the term merely a transcendental figure of speech, used to symbolize some abstract provision, purpose, and activity in the mind of God for the salvation of man?
The testimony of the Word is that the temple in heaven is a supernal reality, a divinely revealed actuality—as real as God Himself, or the New Jerusalem, or the Lamb of God who now, as heavenly Priest, ministers therein—and with all redemptive activities springing therefrom. It is the established command center from whence all these sublime undertakings originate and are conducted. All this, and vastly more, will become increasingly clear—and established—as we proceed.
Let us define our terms. Is the heavenly sanctuary actual and real, or just metaphorical—an abstraction rather than an actuality? In considering this we must not confuse heavenly actuality and reality with the grosser earthly elements and materials of our sin-cursed physical world (1 Cor. 15:48, 49). Such would, of course, include the composition of the earthly Mosaic tabernacle, made of earthly gold, silver, brass, wood, linen, stones, oil (Ex. 25:3- 7). We must not confound the two, for they stand in definite contrast.
In essence, actual stands for reality—as opposed to the merely figurative, rhetorical, metaphorical, hypothetical. Actual is true, factual, tangible, real. All this is as against unreal, mythical, imaginary, fanciful, chimerical, visionary, ethereal. The heavenly sanctuary is truly real—not an abstraction.
The everlasting gospel—unchanged and unchangeable—reaches its imposing con summation in the last-day "hour of [God's] judgment is come" message. This world wide first angel's proclamation, arising in the early nineteenth century, simply develops and reaches its consummation under the second and third messages of Revelation 14-They are in reality but one—simply threefold in broadening scope and expanding, cumulative emphasis.
The judgment is the final phase of the sanctuary provisions and procedures, both in type and in antitype. It is integrally tied into the provisions of the sanctuary (or tabernacle or temple, for the terms are used interchangeably).
Because of its basic character, let us now search in some depth into this fundamental truth, which is the recognized foundational platform of the Advent faith—for some, in their confusion, have gone so far as to deny the actuality of the heavenly sanctuary. In dealing with this question we will approach it primarily from the evidence set forth in the books of Revelation and Hebrews. However, it is the prior prophecy of Daniel that provides the Biblical setting, and the tie-in for all that follows. Scan it in epitome.
Daniel 7, 8, and 9 are so familiar to us as to require only allusion as to their cover age. First comes the judgment scene of chapter 7:10—the Ancient of days, with ten thousand times ten thousand ministering attendants. Then "the judgment was set, and the books were opened" (verse 10). But this occurs after the daring exploits of the papal little horn, yet before the setting up of God's everlasting kingdom (verse 14). That provides the time sequence and relationship.
This, of course, was the same little horn that took away the "daily" (or "continual," R.S.V.) * and "cast down" the "sanctuary" of the "prince of the host." And the "truth" of the Prince was boldly "cast down to the ground" (chap. 8:11, 12, R.S.V.).
Specifically, the Ten Commandments were altered. The Sabbath was displaced by Sunday as God's holy day. Innate immortality was substituted for life only in Christ. Sprinkling superseded immersion, and so on. The one and only sacrifice of Christ on Calvary was replaced by the sacrifice of the mass on ten thousand earthly altars. The sole priesthood of Christ—who is both God and man—was crowded out by a solely human priesthood at these same earthly altars. And the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper was supplemented by the wafer and transubstantiation. Every doctrine was affected.
Then, in chapter 8:14, at the appointed time comes the cleansing of the sanctuary. And next the antecedent tie-in with the seventy weeks of years of Daniel 9:24, leading up to the cutting off of "Messiah the Prince," to "make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness" (verses 24, 25). That was the luminous Old Testament prologue and setting. It is indispensable and foundational.
The centuries pass. At the time appointed, within the designated "time of the end," the Advent Movement arose precisely on time, primarily to lift up and restore the indispensable, multifold heavenly "truth" that had been cast down, the truth of God's sanctuary and its multiple involvements—lift it to its rightful, central place, and its transcendent final operations that are an integral part of it all.
In John's paralleling New Testament prophecy this antagonism against God and "His tabernacle" is described as so great that this same power—here depicted under the symbolism of the first "beast" of Revelation 13, which rises out of the sea of nations during the same prophetic period of the 1260 year-days—"opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle [skenen], and them that dwell in heaven" (Rev. 13:6).
There is thus an unceasing enmity against God's temple-tabernacle. And this "tabernacle" of the Apocalypse is expressly defined in chapter 15:5 to be "the temple of the tabernacle [skenes] of the testimony in heaven." + It is this temple-tabernacle, filled with the "glory of God," from which the directives concerning the outpouring of the seven last plagues are issued (verse 8). Such is its pivotal place and identification.
Next look closely at the apostle John's multiple description—in the Apocalypse—of the heavenly "temple," the "throne," and the "altar," as well as the "ark of his testament" (chap. 11:19). This will enable us to get an overall view of the particulars that impressed the inspired seer. Likewise their interrelationship, which the apostle was directed to write out for our information and insight today.
John is here our descriptive and interpretative guide, our "seeing eye" and "hearing ear," as it were (chap. 1:1).
First of all, the majestic "temple" (naos), seen again and again by John in holy vision, is referred to some fifteen times. It is not only called "the temple" (seven times), but the "temple of God" (chap. 11:1, 19), "the temple of my God" (chap. 3:12), and "his temple" (chaps. 7:15; 11:19). Its location is given, and expressly designated as the "temple which is in heaven" (chap. 14:17). Even more explicitly it is defined as "the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven" (chap. 15:5)—with its simplified variant, the "temple of heaven" (chap. 16:17).
The "altar" is inseparably connected with it (chap. 11:1). And the seven-branched candlestick (chap. 1:12). There is no mistaking the intent of the apostle's descriptives, and the location. And the actuality—to him and for us—of the heavenly temple, or tabernacle, with its sacred appurtenances shown him in vision.
Then there is the "throne" to which John referred a total of thirty-nine times. It is, of course, the central, predominant feature of the temple, and is constantly presented before John throughout the entire series of his visions. It is not only "a throne" (chap. 4:2) and "the throne" (twenty-nine times), but is specifically the "throne of God" (three times—chaps. 7:15; 14:5; 22:1). And it is both "his [the Father's] throne" (chaps. 3:21; 12:5), and also "my [Christ's] throne" conjointly (chap. 3:21; cf. chap. 7:17). Moreover, John definitely declares that this throne is "in heaven" (chap. 4:2).
It is God who sits on this throne (chaps. 4:2, 9; 5:7; 6:16; 19:4; 21:5). This majestic throne is encircled by a glorious "rainbow" (chap. 4:3), and is surrounded by celestial assistants (chaps. 4:4, 6; 5:11)— including an innumerable company of angels. "Lamps of fire" burn before it (chap. 4:5), and a sea of glass spreads out before it. It is the scene and source of momentous sovereign directives—as when John twice heard a commanding voice come from the throne (chaps. 16:17; 19:5). Thus the temple and the throne are inseparably associated (chap. 16:17)—and always in heaven. There is a distinct sense and declaration of reality on the part of John.
As to the "altar," that was also to be specifically measured. It is mentioned eight times, and is twice called the "golden altar" (chaps. 8:3; 9:13). It is positioned "before the throne" (chap. 8:3), and "before God" (chap. 9:13). And it is to be noted that it is likewise in the temple (chap. 11:1). And there was fire on the altar (chap. 8:5).
The angel giving the "go" signal to the Son of man—sitting on the great "white cloud," and portrayed as waiting to return to earth—came from the altar (chap. 14:18). And a voice of command rang out a second time from the altar concerning the gathering of the grapes of wrath for the winepress of God. So the altar and the throne are intimately associated.
Such are some of the inspired minutiae of the temple—its throne and its altar and ark. And these are all located in the temple in heaven. The "Lamb" is constantly mentioned in conjunction with the "throne," standing thereby or sitting. And there is continual worship and service of God "in his temple" (chap. 7:15).
So there is today a throne in heaven, situated in the temple of God in heaven— with its appurtenances such as the golden altar and the ark—just as certainly as God is in His heaven. Our sole hope of redemption and triumph centers in that temple. Nothing is more real and actual— save God Himself, and the Lamb of God, who activate the plan of salvation.
The conclusion is inescapable: Truly we have a real Christ, who made a real sacrifice, through a real death. And after a real resurrection and ascension He became our real High Priest, ministering in a real sanctuary (tabernacle, or temple), in a real heaven, effectuating a real redemption. And He is coming to gather us unto Himself in a real Second Advent. There is nothing more real in the universe than this inexorable sequence—every phase of it, including the sanctuary.
* Scripture quotations marked R.S.V. are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952 © 1971, 1973.
+ The Greek skene (tabernacle) appears three times in Revelation (chaps. 13:6; 15:5; 21:3). It is this identical word (skene) that is eight times used so tellingly by Paul in Hebrews 8 and 9 (chaps. 8:2, 5; 9:2, 3, 6, 8, 11, 21)