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Texts for the Week: Exod. 25:8, 9, 40; Heb. 8:1–6; Lev. 16:21, 29–34; Lev. 23:26–32; Heb. 9:23–28; Dan. 7:9, 10; Matt. 25:1–13; Rev. 11:19.

Opening Question: “What do you know about the services in the Old Testament Sanctuary?”

The primary text for this week is taken from Hebrews 8 and it has as its focus a high priest who is in heaven “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens…” Here is an immediate clue that the lesson this week will have links to the Old Testament tabernacle or temple with its various services, a subject that has had a lot of play in the SDA community from before the SDA Church was even formed. A recitation of some history will be helpful.

If we go back to the Millerite movement and bring to mind some of the various calculations and ideas that led them to the conclusion that Jesus was to return on Oct. 22, 1844, one of the things we will find is words that are tied the sanctuary telling of a time when the sanctuary will be cleansed. The Millerites understood this cleansing to be pointing to the Second Coming as the event that would cleanse the sanctuary. They contended that the sanctuary must be this world that would be cleansed at the second advent. How they arrived at this conclusion is not entirely clear, but this opinion played a significant role in producing the Great Disappointment. The fact that Jesus did not come on the day predicted forced them toward an understanding that they had not correctly understood this cleansing of the sanctuary thing. The subsequent disappointment caused many to give up on their beliefs. But there were some who remained persuaded that they had been on to something that was of great importance, so they kept on studying and praying. What emerged from their efforts was a new position on the cleansing of the sanctuary, that it did not have to do with Jesus returning to earth but with something that was going on in the heavenly sanctuary.

By their careful study, those believers noted that there are two sanctuaries spoken of in the Bible, an earthly one and then a heavenly one. They came also to understand that the earthly one was a representation of the heavenly one. They used the words “type” and “anti-type,” the latter being a sort of scale model of the original. They went on to contend that what took place in the earthly sanctuary represented or taught people about what happened in the heavenly one. Of course, the heavenly one was the primary element, the earthly secondary.

Even a cursory look at the services of the tabernacle in the desert will show that the whole system spoke to a process by which people could have their sins forgiven and a hope of redemption becoming real in their lives. At the center of this process was sacrifice, the substitution of one life for another. This aspect of the plan for saving humanity was played out every day by having a morning and evening sacrifice offered, and also by individual people coming to ask forgiveness of specific sins. In both cases, sin was figuratively transferred from the sinner to the sacrifice and hence to the temple itself, symbolized by a priest taking some of the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkling it at an altar in the tabernacle. This was known as the “daily” sacrifice for it took place from day to day.

But there was a second set of services that took place only once a year. That was known as the “Day of Atonement,” a day still observed in Jewish communities. As that day approached, the Israelites were to prepare for it by cleaning their homes and bathing themselves, and also by confessing their sins and making wrongs right. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest was involved. In addition to the daily sacrifice, another sacrifice was prepared. After the animal was sacrificed, some of its blood was taken in beyond the curtain that divided the tabernacle into two sections, and it was placed on the mercy seat of the ark located in the most holy place. The high priest then came out of the tabernacle and applied some blood to the horns of the golden altar and also the brazen altar, in symbol removing sin from the tabernacle. He then went to a goat that was also present, and he would place his hands on the goat and the goat would be led out into the wilderness and left there. The people were to understand by these rituals that on the Day of Atonement, the whole camp was now cleansed from sin.

The big question that immediately follows is this: If the earthly temple is a representation of the heavenly one, what is happening in heaven that is represented by the services on the Day of Atonement? The conclusion of the early Adventists was that the cleansing of the sanctuary indicated a transition of the work of Jesus from the forgiving of sins to beginning the process that will eradicate sin from the universe thereby making God’s creation pristine as it was in the beginning.
Based on their understandings of the great judgement scene in Daniel 7, and also another in Revelation 14, it was concluded that the process of bringing a conclusion to the great controversy between good and evil, involved a process of judgement. Early believers noted that the matter of judgment is many times spoken of in the Bible. As they studied this, they came to see that the final judgment has three phases, an investigative phase, an evaluative stage, and a stage where the verdict is executed. Their linking of judgment with the cleansing of the sanctuary caused them to believe that the investigative phase of judgment is what began in 1844.

There has been a lot of discussion about the idea of an investigative judgment. One strain of thought has tended toward perfectionism the argument being that the judgment must show that humans have become worthy of their salvation. It has been said that, “when your name comes up in the judgment, if you have even one unconfessed sin, you will be lost.” This idea has proven to be a very unsettling one for a lot of people. It also seems to fly in the face of Paul’s comment that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

A second line of thought about the Investigative Judgment has proposed a much broader focus than the individual sins of humans. Rather, it has been argued that this investigation is really intended to prove that God has acted righteously in his saving of sinners. If indeed God is a God of love, then volition plays a key role in bringing the great conflict to a conclusion. The way that God has carried out the plan of salvation then becomes an important consideration as using force would mean salvation was not responded to voluntarily and the whole point of love becomes a farce. This second understanding of the Investigative Judgement is much more in harmony with the gospel story.

The interceding work of Jesus, built on his sacrifice and resurrection, becomes the basis for Christ to provide humans salvation. His work in the heavenly sanctuary of atoning for our sins and interceding for us has a sound foundation and is the reason the writer of Hebrews could tell us to approach the throne with boldness. It can be said that those who are “in Christ,” who have professed faith in him and put themselves under his leadership, have already passed through judgment so that any final judgment event will only reveal that their sins are atoned for. In this transaction, the mercy and justice of God are both satisfied, and sinners can have a real hope of redemption.

It is helpful here to bring to mind that the plan of salvation is a process more than it is an event. Because of conversion and the justification and forgiveness that comes with it, we can say, “I have been saved.” And because of the process of sanctification, we can say, “I am being saved.” And because of the promise of the Second Coming and the transformation that will take place then, we can say, “I am going to be saved.” Notice that it is not until the whole process is complete that we will be able to say in a final sense, “I am saved.”

There is one final point to make. It is possible to argue endlessly about the various points under discussion, but let that not obscure the fact that the great controversy is going to end one day with the complete salvation of those who believe and an eradication of evil itself.

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