Ellen White herself predicted that as the end drew near there would be a concerted attempt to discredit her writings as communications from God (see Selected Messages, book 1, p. 48). Part of the current effort to weaken and discredit her prophetic ministry is the criticism of her interpretations of Scripture. Some are arguing that she was an inspired pastoral counselor, but not a Bible expositor. Refusing to be limited by Ellen White's under standings of scriptural passages, some reserve the right to reject a Spirit of Prophecy interpretation that they feel is in conflict with Bible teaching. After all, they argue, the Spirit of God is quite capable of explaining Scripture to them personally as they bring to bear upon it the scholarly tools that they have assembled.
None of us would deny that the Holy Spirit guides "into all truth" (John 16:13). Nor would anyone wish to stifle the individual effort to grasp the meaning of Scripture. Yet if Ellen White was indeed inspired of God, it should be relatively obvious that the same Holy Spirit who revealed truth to her in visions and dreams is not at all likely to provide contradictory interpretations for the present-day student of Scripture. In the light of her claims it is just not possible to argue that she was both inspired and Scripturally unsound. What were her claims in this respect? "The testimonies God has given His people are in harmony with His word." Testimonies to Ministers, p. 402.
Ellen White does not claim that every time she quotes a Bible verse, or a part thereof, she intends to provide a strict contextual application of the passage. But she does claim that the teaching of her writings is thoroughly consistent with that of Scripture. What attitude do we adopt, then, if we discover that our interpretation of a Scripture passage contradicts Ellen White's?
One option is to realize that even though our interpretation of a passage may be correct, Ellen White's different interpretation may also be correct. Some passages of Scripture are subject to more than a single application. A classic example is Hebrews 6:19, 20: "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (N. A. S. B.). *
The phrase "within the veil" is the key element. Does it refer to the veil that separated the court from the holy place, or the "second veil" (Heb. 9:3), which hung between the holy place and Most Holy Place of the sanctuary? The question, as usually asked, seeks to determine whether Christ began His holy place, or His Most Holy Place, ministry after His ascension in A.D. 31. Some have felt this passage destroys the understanding Seventh-day Adventists have had regarding the ministry of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary and the concept of a special work of judgment beginning in 1844- Let's look first at the passage Biblically and then examine Ellen White's use of it.
The message of Hebrews, chapters 6-10, is that Christ's death and resurrection rendered the earthly sanctuary and ministry obsolete, replacing it by His high-priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary "which is set up not by man but by the Lord" (chap. 8:2, R.S.V.).f Christ's sacrifice replaced all earthly animal sacrifices (chap. 9:9-14), whether offered in the daily services (see Leviticus 4), or upon the Day of Atonement (see chapter 16). This one sacrifice of Christ made possible His being "seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven" (Heb. 8:1, R.S.V.). Such access to the presence of the Father, followed by the application of the benefits of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, results in the "conscience" or "consciousness" of the repentant sinner being purified "from dead works to serve the living God" (chap. 9:14). The message of these chapters, then, is one of forgiveness for sin in view of Christ's death for us and His heavenly ministry on our behalf.
In the earthly sanctuary, both the daily service and the annual Day of Atonement ritual provided forgiveness or cleansing from sin for confessing sinners. Regarding the daily ministry, Leviticus 4:26 says, "So the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin, and he shall be forgiven" (R.S. V.). Thus the daily service rendered the sinner a forgiven individual through atonement, or cleansing from sin, of which confession, sacrifice, and sprinkling of blood were integral aspects. Compare the work of the Day of Atonement: "For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord" (Lev. 16:30, R.S.V.). This cleansing resulted from a work of atonement. "And he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly" (verse 33, R.S.V.).
Hence, when the book of Hebrews speaks of Christ ministering for us the merits of His sacrifice "within the veil," using as the major analogy the ministry of earthly priests, we are surely justified in assuming that the heavenly "atonement" or priestly ministry of Christ, includes both daily mediation and Day of Atonement cleansing. "Within the veil" may, therefore, have reference to (1) the exclusively mediatorial holy place ministry of Christ between A.D. 31 and 1844, and (2) the Most Holy Place judgment ministry, including mediation, which began in 1844 (cf. Dan. 7:9-14; 8:14; Rev. 4; 5; 6:9-11; 19:7-8; et cetera).
A further indication of the dual application of this phrase "within the veil" is provided by the fact that the earthly sanctuary depicted Christ in two main ways: by the Shekinah glory above the ark, or throne, and by the priest whose ministry was a type of His intercession. It was Christ who accompanied Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire (cf. Ex. 13:21, 22; 1 Cor. 10:1-4). And it was Christ whose Shekinah glory was manifested in the Most Holy Place above the mercy seat (cf. Ex. 25:22; 1 Cor. 10:4). While the earthly priest, who represented Him, was ministering daily in the holy place, Christ Himself was dwelling in the Most Holy Place.
Now consider the heavenly priest hood of Christ. Hebrews 8:1,2 says quite unequivocally that He is now "seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven" (R.S.V.; cf. chaps. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). The throne in the earthly sanctuary was always in the Most Holy Apartment. There is no passage of Scripture that locates a throne in the holy place. Therefore, Christ surely went into the Most Holy Apartment of the heavenly sanctuary at His ascension in A.D. 31 and was still occupying that position years later when the book of Hebrews was written.
Are we, then, to assume that Christ's antitypical Day of Atonement ministry began in A.D. 31 ? Not at all. Where was Christ, Himself, during the daily service of the earthly ministry? He was enthroned above the cherubim in the Most Holy Place (cf. Ex. 26:34; Num. 7:89; 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; Ps. 80:1; 99:1; 1 Cor. 10:1-4). The priest who represented Him ministered in the court and in the holy place. Most certainly it is not necessary to have Christ depicted in two ways in the heavenly sanctuary. Christ, as intercessory priest, does not have to be sheltered by a veil from Christ upon the heavenly throne.
What is the point? Simply that when Christ ascended from earth to heaven, He passed from the antitypical court (the earth), where the sacrifice was made, to the true heavenly sanctuary, where mediation immediately began. Metaphorically speaking, He passed through two veils: (1) the veil that represented the entrance to daily mediatorial ministry (cf. Num. 18:7) and (2) the veil that represented access to the very presence of the Father, enthroned in the Most Holy Place. "Within the veil," therefore, means within both first and second veils.
But the phrase does not have to mean that the Day of Atonement ministry has begun. Christ upon the heavenly throne in the Most Holy Place is the High Priest who conducts only holy place mediatorial ministry until the judgment begins in 1844 (cf. Dan. 7:9-14; 8:14). Just as the earthly high priest passed through the "second veil" on the Day of Atonement to conduct his ministry in the Most Holy Place, so Christ in 1844, passed "within the veil" in a symbolic, metaphoric sense to begin His investigative judgment work. "Within the veil" in Hebrews 6:19, 20 may refer to the commencement of Christ's mediatorial ministry in A.D. 31, or to the beginning of His day of atonement judgment ministry in 1844 (cf. Rev. 3:7, 8; 4:1).
By carefully examining the scriptural passages first, we have followed Ellen White's counsel. Now we turn to her writings to discover whether they agree with the conclusions of our Bible study.
Ellen White uses Hebrews 6:19, 20 to refer to Christ's passage through the first veil and the consequent commencement of His holy place ministry.
"The ministration of the priest throughout the year in the first apartment of the sanctuary, 'within the veil' which formed the door and separated the holy place from the outer court, represents the work of ministration upon which Christ entered at His ascension. It was the work of the priest in the daily ministration to present before God the blood of the sin offering, also the incense which ascended with the prayers of Israel. So did Christ plead His blood before the Father in behalf of sinners, and present before Him also, with the precious fragrance of His own righteousness, the prayers of penitent believers. Such was the work of ministration in the first apartment of the sanctuary in heaven.
"Thither the faith of Christ's disciples followed Him as He ascended from their sight. Here their hopes centered, 'which hope we have,' said Paul, 'as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest forever.' 'Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.' Hebrews 6:19, 20; 9:12." —The Great Controversy, pp. 420, 421; cf. p. 489.
Ellen White also uses the phrase "within the veil" as a reference to Christ's antitypical Day of Atonement ministry beginning in 1844 in the Most Holy Place.
"I saw the Father rise from the throne, and in a flaming chariot go into the holy of holies within the veil, and sit down. Then Jesus rose up from the throne, and the most of those who were bowed down arose with Him. I did not see one ray of light pass from Jesus to the careless multitude after He arose, and they were left in perfect darkness. Those who arose when Jesus did, kept their eyes fixed on Him as He left the throne and led them out a little way. Then He raised His right arm, and we heard His lovely voice saying, 'Wait here; I am going to My Father to receive the kingdom; keep your garments spotless, and in a little while I will return from the wedding and receive you to Myself.' Then a cloudy chariot, with wheels like flaming fire, surrounded by angels, came to where Jesus was. He stepped into the chariot and was borne to the holiest, where the Father sat. There I beheld Jesus, a great High Priest, standing before the Father. On the hem of His garment was a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate. Those who rose up with Jesus would send up their faith to Him in the holiest, and pray, 'My Father, give us Thy Spirit.' Then Jesus would breathe upon them the Holy Ghost. In that breath was light, power, and much love, joy, and peace." —Early Writings, p. 55; cf. p. 251; Spiritual Gifts, vol. l.pp. 158, 159.
Ellen White uses the phrase "within the veil" in a general sense, as well, to refer to the very presence of the Deity where Jesus our Advocate and Saviour now represents us. In fact, this contextually sound application is her most common use of the phrase.
"That which brings sickness of body and mind to nearly all is dissatisfied feelings and discontented repinings. They have not God, they have not the hope which reaches to that within the veil, which is as an anchor to the soul both sure and steadfast. All who possess this hope will purify themselves even as He is pure." —Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 566; cf. The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Heb. 6:19, p. 930; Messages to Young People, p. 89 ; Early Writings, p. 72; The Desire of Ages, pp. 756, 757.
Is there any indication in Ellen White's writings that Christ entered the Most Holy Place in heaven in A.D. 31 at His ascension? Yes.
"Christ was nailed to the cross between the third and sixth hour, that is, between nine and twelve o'clock. In the afternoon He died. This was the hour of the evening sacrifice. Then the veil of the temple, that which hid God's glory from the view of the congregation of Israel, was rent in twain from top to bottom.
"Through Christ the hidden glory of the holy of holies was to stand revealed. He had suffered death for every man, and by this offering the sons of men were to become the sons of God. With open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, believers in Christ were to be changed into the same image, from glory to glory. The mercy seat, upon which the glory of God rested in the holiest of all, is opened to all who accept Christ as the propitiation for sin, and through its medium, they are brought into fellow ship with God. The veil is rent, the partition walls broken down, the hand writing of ordinances canceled. By virtue of His blood the enmity is abolished. Through faith in Christ Jew and Gentile may partake of the living bread." The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Matt. 27:51, pp. 1108, 1109.
Ellen White even suggests that there is no veil between the two apartments in heaven.
"By the rending of the veil of the temple, God said, I can no longer reveal My presence in the most holy place. A new and living Way, before which there hangs no veil, is offered to all. No longer need sinful, sorrowing humanity await the coming of the high priest.
"Type had met antitype in the death of God's Son. The Lamb of God had been offered as a sacrifice. It was as if a voice had said to the worshipers, 'There is now an end to all sacrifices and offerings.'" —Ibid., p. 1109.
Why, then, was Ellen White shown the two apartments of the heavenly sanctuary with a veil separating them, and a throne in the holy place? The reference here is to the two chapters of Early Writings in which Ellen White describes the events of 1844. Although some have faulted her descriptions as incompatible with Scripture, a careful reading of both chapters—"End of the 2300 Days" (pp. 54-56) and "The Sanctuary" (pp. 250-253)—will reveal their highly symbolic nature. Just as John was shown things in heaven which were, in fact, symbols of realities (i.e., Revelation 4 and 5), so Ellen White was given visions designed to dramatize the change of ministry in heaven in 1844.
"Before the throne I saw the Advent people—the church and the world. I saw two companies, one bowed down before the throne, deeply interested, while the other stood uninterested and careless. Those who were bowed before the throne would offer up their prayers and look to Jesus; then He would look to His Father, and appear to be pleading with Him. A light would come from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the praying company. Then I saw an exceeding bright light come from the Father to the Son, and from the Son it waved over the people before the throne. But few would receive this great light. Many came out from under it and immediately resisted it; others were careless and did not cherish the light, and it moved off from them. Some cherished it, and went and bowed down with the little praying company. This company all received the light and rejoiced in it, and their countenances shone with its glory." —Early Writings, pp. 54, 55.
The vision is clearly symbolic of the historical situation just prior to 1844- The "exceeding bright light" represents the truth presented to the world before the great Disappointment. The Advent people are represented to Ellen White as bowed before the throne. She explains, "Now this praying company was in this mortal state, on the earth, yet represented to me as bowed before the throne. I never had the idea that these individuals were actually in the New Jerusalem."—Ibid., p. 92. Thus by her own testimony the vision was symbolic.
Similarly, what follows is a symbolic dramatization of the change of ministry in 1844. Both Father and Son were taken in flaming chariots from the holy to the Most Holy Place (ibid., p. 55). Then note what follows:
"I turned to look at the company who were still bowed before the throne; they did not know that Jesus had left it. Satan appeared to be by the throne, trying to carry on the work of God. I saw them look up to the throne, and pray, "Father, give us Thy Spirit." Satan would then breathe upon them an unholy influence; in it there was light and much power, but no sweet love, joy, and peace. Satan's object was to keep them deceived and to draw back and deceive God's children."—Ibid., p. 56.
Satan, of course, is not physically in heaven, even though in the vision he was depicted as being there, Ellen White later explained (ibid., pp. 92, 93). In this same place Ellen White identifies the kind of vision given her with the highly symbolic, apocalyptic visions given to John the revelator. Obviously, she did not intend us to conclude (1) that the Father and the Son occupied the holy place, but not the Most Holy Place, until 1844, (2) that there is a throne in the heavenly holy place, (3) that a veil separates the two heavenly apartments, (4) that Satan is in the heavenly holy place receiving the homage of his earthly subjects.
On the other hand, we are apparently to conclude (1) that before 1844 some people accepted and others rejected the truth that God sent them, and that after the change of ministry in 1844 those who had rejected the light were left in darkness; (2) that both Father and Sort were involved in the change of heavenly ministry in 1844 (cf. Dan. 7:9-14); (3) that Christ is receiving His kingdom in the Most Holy Place ministry after 1844; (4) that believers who by faith appeal to Jesus in the Most Holy Place are given the Holy Spirit with much light, power, sweet love, joy, and peace; (5) that those who reject the truth of the change of ministry in 1844 and do not believe that Jesus is now ministering for them in the Most Holy Place are deceived by Satan.
The very close similarity of this vision with the one entitled "The Sanctuary" (ibid., pp. 250-253) is apparent. Both were symbolic in nature. In the latter vision she saw "figures wrought of gold to represent angels" (ibid., p. 252). She was shown "two lovely cherubs. . . . representing all the angelic host looking with interest at the law of God" (ibid). She describes Christ's intercession as "a cloud of fragrance" which "arose from the incense, looking like smoke of most beautiful colors" (ibid.).
In her overall teaching Ellen White, like Scripture, depicts a literal heavenly sanctuary, but one in which no veil hangs between the two apartments. The throne in the Most Holy Place is occupied by both Father and Son, from Christ's ascension to the end of time.
Yet, the ministry of Christ is exclusively holy place mediation until 1844, when it becomes Most Holy Place judgment ministry, incorporating, of course, a continuation of intercession or mediation.
When we interpret Ellen White's symbolic visions carefully and look at her overall message, it is possible to recognize a glorious harmony between her sanctuary teaching and that of the Scriptures. Confusion arises when people isolate one or two Spirit of Prophecy statements that seem to contradict Scripture, failing to take note of other evidence, and insisting upon a literal interpretation of visions which, in terms of genre, are to be identified with Biblical apocalyptic prophecy.
The one who respects Ellen White's interpretations finds his confidence in the Bible constantly increased. Acceptance of the lesser light results in a much deeper love for the greater light, and the message of Scripture becomes a blaze of glory "that shines brighter and brighter until the full day" (Prov. 4:18, N.A.S.B.).
*Scripture quotations marked N.A.S.B. are
from the New American Standard Bible, The
Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,
1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, and are used by permis
+ Bible texts marked R.S.V. are from the
Revised Standard Version of the Bible,
copyrighted 1946, 1952 1971, 1973.