Fundamental Belief Number 24 (Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary)

There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle that which the Lord set up and not humans 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. At His ascension, He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and (at the time of his ascension, He) began His intercessory ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the holy place of the earthly sanctuary 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, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary. 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 Advent. (Lev. 16; Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Heb. 1:3; 2:16, 17; 4:14-16; 8:1-5; 9:11-28; 10:19-22; Rev. 8:3-5; 11:19; 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:11, 12.) (Lev. 16; Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Heb. 1:3; 2:16, 17; 4:14-16; 8:1‑5; 9:11-28; 10:19- 22; Rev. 8:3-5; 11:19; 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:11, 12.)

As you can see, there were a number of changes made in 2015 (the San Antonio General Conference session) toward the beginning of this fundamental. “That” replaces “which” to improve English usage. “Humans” replaces “man” in the service of inclusive language. “At His ascension” is a shifting of position for the idea behind “at the time of His ascension.” Then two major clauses were added to the FB. The original statement mentions Christ’s work of intercession and judgment without tying those acts to the sanctuary typology, where the High Priest ministered in both the holy and most holy places of the earthly sanctuary. These connections are provided by the two lengthy clauses added above. Note that this fundamental does not settle the issue of whether there is a heavenly building (upon which the earthly sanctuaries were modeled) or whether the earthly typifies heavenly realities without requiring a geographical component in heaven. For more on this, see the comments below on the three main views of the sanctuary within Adventism.

Sanctuary/temple language is found all through the Bible. There are sanctuary allusions in the stories of Genesis. Besides Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, references can be found throughout the Psalms, the prophets, the gospels, Hebrews and the book of Revelation. It is one of the richest threads in all of the Scriptures. But while this fundamental focuses on a number of important things, it is critical not to lose the big picture for all the details. Here is the big picture. All religions recognize the darkness of life. Everyone is looking to heaven for a word that we are not alone, that God cares. That is the heart of the sanctuary message. You are not alone. When you hit absolute bottom, it’s not over. You can begin again, God has opened the way. The sanctuary is a huge theme in the Bible and it is experientially very powerful when handled in a biblical way. Until you have fully grasped the darkness of human existence, you cannot fully appreciate the power of the atonement. The cross is not the great exception to how God works, it is the very embodiment of how God works.

In the sanctuary model, intercession is one of the more difficult concepts to understand. It expresses that God somehow sent His Son to be the one in-between even though there was no need to have anyone in between (John 16:23-27). God offers an intercessor because we need it. In reality, however, the Father Himself loves us and delights us to come to him. If the Father Himself had come down and lived among us He would have been no different than Jesus (John 14:9). But God provides what we need even if it isn’t what we think we need. Intercession is one of the ways God assures us that we don’t need to believe lies about Him. We can trust Him because we have seen the trustworthiness of Jesus.

Adventists often struggle with issues of sanctuary and investigative judgment even though these very things were given to us for our encouragement and comfort. What was designed to encourage is often perceived as frightening. But let me summarize the positive side of the Adventist view of the sanctuary. The sanctuary helps us to view reconciliation in two important ways: 1) it helps us become reconciled to God, and 2) it illustrates the reconciliation of the entire universe. Thus the sanctuary is a window into the cosmic conflict and its implications for our daily lives.

Adventists have three main views of the sanctuary. The most traditional view is that the earthly sanctuary represents a literal heavenly building, with two apartments and services much like the earthly. While this is considered an acceptable view for Adventists to hold, it does face a major challenge. There are actually four sanctuaries in the OT (Mosaic tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, Zerubbabel’s temple and Ezekiel’s temple) and each of them is different. Which of these is the true model for the heavenly building? Because of the challenges that come with a literal view, most Adventist scholars see the earthly sanctuaries as representative of heavenly realities, the things that God is doing for our salvation in heavenly places. In this view “heavenly geography” is of lesser importance. What truly counts is the actual work God is doing in our behalf in heaven. This view is also acceptable for Adventists to hold and is the view most clearly implied in FB 24, particularly the new additions, which express this perspective without ruling out the possibility of a literal building in heaven. The third view was articulated by Kellogg, that the earthly sanctuaries represent what God is doing in our hearts. While that connection is clearly taught in the NT and by Ellen White, Kellogg’s view has fallen out of favor because of its presumed association with pantheism and Kellogg’s seeming denial of a heavenly sanctuary (although historical research has questioned whether or not these accusations are fair).

One Adventist leader recently said, no doubt provocatively, “I love the sanctuary but, I hate the sanctuary doctrine.” In its traditional form it doesn’t seem to address the deepest needs of today. Intercession based on fear may encourage study and investigation, but it doesn’t often lead to the joy and celebration that the bigger biblical picture of the sanctuary supports (see Luke 15 as an example). The beauty of the sanctuary is that there are so many paths to God illustrated there. There are lots of mini-stories that all point toward the big story.

Many other religions struggle with the concept of redemption. If human need is all about law-breaking, then if God hadn’t given the Ten Commandments there would be no need of an atonement. But if the core issue addressed by the sanctuary is relationship, it changes how we look at the doctrine. The sanctuary is all about reconciliation with God (2 Cor 5), drawing us back to the One who gave the sanctuary for that very purpose.

One side note that should be mentioned here is the desire of some sincere and faithful Seventh-day Adventists to practice the feast days of the Jewish calendar (Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles, new moons). This FB makes no mention of this perspective at all, positive or negative. So the practice of the feast days is neither required nor forbidden by Adventist doctrine. How shall we relate to feast-keeping enthusiasm then? The lack of mention in this FB suggests that it is OK to practice these things and to even encourage others to follow them as a spiritual benefit. But when people seek to make these a requirement for all Adventists or all Christians, it tends to divide people and their churches. So “enthusiasts” should be cautioned to practice and share in such a way that it does not divide. Should they ignore that advice, churches and conferences may be tempted to discipline them on the grounds of schism (dividing the church) rather than theology.

The Loma Linda perspective recognizes that the sanctuary is one of the many and various ways (Heb 1:1) that God has tried to communicate with us (see also PP 364). So its significance should not be overplayed, especially since in its typical form it does not appeal to most people. At the same time, we should not be embarrassed about the sanctuary’s seeming irrelevance to most people today. This is our story. This is how the Adventist people found their way to God. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, either accept the tradition in every detail or throw it out entirely. Even if most people never figure out the depths of the sanctuary story (my own mother was an Adventist for seventy years when she confessed to me that she had no clue how to explain the doctrine to anyone else), it doesn’t have to be universal. It is one of many metaphors that Scripture provides for us to understand God and the way that He is reconciling us to Himself.

Seventh-day Adventists in FB 24, therefore, bear witness to one of the richest themes in all of Scripture. If we were to stop pointing to the sanctuary, it might be totally ignored by all readers of the Bible. So even if aspects of this doctrine don’t appeal to many or most people today, it is a witness worth preserving.

2 thoughts on “Fundamental Belief Number 24 (Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary)

  1. Ranald McLeish

    Thank you for your informative post, and the conclusion that “Adventists have three main views of the sanctuary.”

    However it appears a fourth position has evolved as a result of the Glacier View meetings in 1980. This position applies the LH of Dan.8:9 to the Papacy only, and verses 9-12 to the Papacy, and the taking away of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.
    Compare 4BC 841-843, that applies Daniel 8:9-11 to Rome, the crucifixion of Christ and the destruction of the earthly temple, with the position presented in 12BC 394-395, and various Sabbath School Lessons post 2002, that apply verses 9-12 to the Papacy, and the actions of a Papal host in heaven, and the heavenly sanctuary in particular.

    Thus the question: As the church remains divided regarding the identity of the LH of verse 9, and the application of verses 9 to 11, does the veracity, or otherwise, of FB 24, depend upon the identity of the LH of 8:9, and the application of verses 10 and 11?

    Reply

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