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.

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

  1. Barry Curtis

    I appreciate your description of the three versions of the Sanctuary doctrine, but as a pastor in the field, the neutral position on feast celebration makes me cringe. In my experience feast keeping has served more as a diversion away from rather than a way to follow Christ. I understand the educational aspects of studying Jewish/OT tradition, but from a NT perspective don’t we find Jesus is the reality to which all these feasts point? “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” Given the Adventist imperative to steer clear of anything that takes the place of Christ, doesn’t it make sense to steer clear of dabbling in the symbols and shadow that all along served the sole purpose of describing the Messiah’s ministry before he came? Once the Source of the “shadow” has been found, why hug the “shadow?” ‘Why not hug the Source? I once used the illustration of a scale match box car to illustrate how the earthly sanctuary serveds as a cryptic “model” of heavenly realities. When I asked the class which they would rather have, a matchbox Ferrari or a real Ferrari they all answered “The real Ferrari!” I asked, “Why?” One student raised his hand and answered, “Because the real Ferrari can peel out!” I think this is a great modern expression of what the author of Hebrews meant when speaking of “better sacrifices,” and “a better sanctuary.”

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Your points are well taken. The reality is, however, that the NT church allowed Jews and circumcized Gentiles to continue the feasts but never required them of Jews or anyone else. It seems to me the safe position is to leave it neutral until someone seeks to coerce on the issue. The people that go crazy with it are those to take an unbiblical “must do” position. Those we will both oppose with all our might!

  2. Barry Curtis

    Let me add, my experience is a bit limited to a unique demographic, but any time I have encountered feast keeping in the field, it has smacked of a type of gnostic secret knowledge ritual. It dioesn’t help that most individuals I have known have drifted out of Adventism into Messianic movements and some into full blown Judaism. Yes, my research has a “small sample size,” but I haven’t found it beneficial. Sooner or later a roasted lamb (yes, one group did…), butter herbs, an egg, or even heavy consumption of unleavened bread, have replaced Christ rather than symbolizing Him. People have a hunger for sacred ritual, I get that. But when did prayer and communion with our risen Mediator become “not enough?”

  3. 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?

      1. Ranald McLeish

        Respectfully, does anyone expect any of these men would oppose the vote?

        Furthermore, as it is acknowledged these teachings are “alternative interpretations,” of FB 24, is it any wonder the membership is confused.

        Thus the question are teachings, such as the following, presented in recent SS Quarterlies, at any stretch of the imagination, consistent with the voted wordage of the belief.

        “The Little Horn – Part 1 (Dan. 8:9, 10, 23-25). — After a discussion on how this little horn would oppose truth, it is revealed that it would be allowed to do so for “two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” (Dan. 8:14).” Teachers SS Quarterly, April-June, 2002, p. 44-45. What happens to the 1844 date!!

        — only one power in history fits the description of the little horn – the Roman Catholic Church. Pfandl, Daniel, p. 63.
        He (Martin Probstle) concluded that in Daniel 8 not only is Babylon missing but also pagan Rome. He sees the little horn in both chapters describing only the papacy; BRI, email, 23/08/2011.

        Is it possible Dan.8:9-11 applies to the actions of a papal host in heaven? cf below.

        “The tāmîd, “the continual,” designates the daily work of the priest in the holy place. Since the “Prince of hosts” is a heavenly being (cf. Joshua 5:14) the sanctuary in Daniel 8:9–14 must be the heavenly one.
        The main concern of this vision is the attitude of the little horn toward the sanctuary and the priestly work of the Prince (verses 11, 12). It attacks the host of heaven, defeats them (verse 10), and goes after the Prince and the sanctuary. — Then, in a spirit of rebellion/transgression (verse 12), the little horn sets up its own force to control the tāmîd.
        12BC 394-395, see also 2002 Teachers SS Quarterly, p. 41, 44, 48: Stefanovic, Wisdom to the wise, p. 306-307, 310-311; 319-320.

        Can Rome be missing in chapter 8 if 9:24-27 is a partial explanation of the mar’eh vision of 8:16 and 26?

        If the LH of 8:9 represents Rome pagan and papal, and pagan Rome is missing, it is obvious the papal phase must be missing as well. Thus the question, why not consider the obvious, the only remaining position, that the LH of 8:9 represents the Roman Empire only, and verses 10, 11, and 25 apply to the actions of Rome?

        1. Jon Paulien Post author

          Seems to me you over-read the intent of other authors sometimes. The same editor oversaw all those quarterlies and he has strong opinions like you, so I’m not sure everything you are seeing would be obvious to most others.

  4. Vance

    Recommended Resources on the Current Seventh-day Adventist Understanding of the Investigative Jugment See our page of blog posts tagged Investigative Judgment Also see our page on Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary – Fundamental Belief 24.

  5. Ranald McLeish

    Hi Dr Paulien,

    It appears the church is in the closing stages of adopting a new interpretation of Fundamental Belief 24, based on the current identification and application of the little horn of Daniel 8:9 and the application of verses 9-11 in particular.

    The generally accepted Church position regarding Dan.8:9-11 pre 1980 was:
    Daniel 8:9-11 applied to Rome, an earthly host, Christ, and the earthly sanctuary, cf. 4BC 841.

    The progressing Church position post 1980 is:
    Daniel 8:9-11 applies to the Papacy, a heavenly host, Christ, and the heavenly sanctuary, cf. 12BC 394-395, SS Lessons 2002 on wards, and various leading Adventist scholars.

    Thus the question

    1. Does Daniel 8:9-11 apply to Rome and what Rome did on earth?
    2. Does Daniel 8:9-11 apply to the Papacy and what the Papacy did in heaven?

    It appears the current church teachings reflect the current attempt to resolve basic issues associated with the current church position that “the daily” represents “Christ’s ministry.”

    So what.

    Nearly 2000 years ago the Jews, via the hand of Rome, crucified Christ because they did not believe/ understand the prophecy of Daniel 8:9-11 or 9:26-27. Today, as history is being repeated, and as Adventist’s appear to have crucified Christ spiritually, it is crucial for the church to understand the prophecies, especially in the light of the following counsel.

    “It is true that there are prophecies yet to be fulfilled. But very erroneous work has been done again and again, and will continue to be done by those who seek to find new light in the prophecies, and who begin by turning away from the light that God has already given.—” Manuscript 32, 1896 (Manuscript Releases, vol. 17, pp. 12-15). {CTr 342.5}

    As it appears a full understanding of Daniel 8:9-14 requires the application of the light that God has given, before additional light will be revealed, it appears the correct answer to the questions above is essential.

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      The church’s theology shifted considerably during Ellen White’s lifetime. A plant that does not grow dies. That doesn’t mean that every change is a good one.

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