Constructing a Christ-Centered Adventist Faith, Part 3: Jesus and the Sanctuary

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Constructing a Christ-Centered Adventist Faith, Part 3: Jesus and the Sanctuary

The Sanctuary and Judgment

 “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”[1]

 

Putting Christ in the center of the sanctuary services of the Old Testament is not a hard thing to do. John the Baptist made it pretty clear that Jesus was the antitypical Lamb to which all of the animal sacrifices in the temple pointed.

 

After Jesus became the Lamb of God by dying on the cross, the New Testament makes it clear that Christ would also fulfill the role of the priests that ministered in the earthly sanctuary, only that He would do it in heaven (Heb 8:1-2). These concepts of Jesus as the Lamb and Priest are simple to understand and are not unique to Adventists.

 

What is very unique to Adventists is the belief that we now live in the time when Jesus is conducting His final act as High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary, and that this is an act of investigative judgment. Or in other words, every believer is now being judged according to their works as to whether they are fit for heaven or not. This doctrine has probably made more people uneasy inside and outside of the Adventist church than any other of our fundamental teachings.

 

I believe that much of the fear that has become associated with this biblical doctrine can be alleviated by emphasizing Christ’s place in the judgment. There have already been many great articles written showing the validity and purpose of the end time investigative judgment. What we want to focus on in this article is the fact that everything about the judgment (even the part about works) is Christ-centered.

 

The Timing of the Judgment

“Fear God, and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come…”[2]

This text from Revelation chapter 14, more commonly known as the 3 Angels’ Messages, points us to a specific time in which the heavenly judgment of God would take place. In order to find out what time this verse is actually talking about we have to look at the Old Testament apocalyptic book that is closely associated with the book of Revelation, the book of Daniel.

 

The clearest depiction of a heavenly judgment is found in the seventh chapter of Daniel’s book. Here we see the Ancient of Days seated on His fiery throne with thousands of angels surrounding Him. Then verse 10 tells us, “The court (or judgment) was seated, and the books were opened.” In the very next chapter, Daniel is given the time of when this judgment would begin to take place, but he is not told how to properly calculate this timing. Then in chapter 9, it is finally explained to him where the huge time prophecy of the 2300 days should begin, and some pretty important landmarks in history are pointed out along the way.

 

Many people unfortunately feel bogged down by the history of nations when these chapters are studied, due to the fact there are many beasts and animals representing kingdoms in the visions of Daniel 7 and 8. On top of that, they then feel overwhelmed by trying to work out the math problems presented to them in Daniel 9 with the 70-week prophecy. To get sidetracked by these details to the point of missing the central focus of the 2300 days and the judgment/cleansing of the sanctuary is a tragedy because the main focus of Daniel’s writing is on the Messiah who would die for our sins.

 

The way in which God had Gabriel explain the 2300-day prophecy shows us that the death of Jesus on the cross is completely central to the idea of a future judgment. Daniel 9:25-27 are the verses in which we get a clear understanding of when the 2300 days begin. But God doesn’t just give us the answers to a complicated math problem here. He both explains the time prophecy, while also giving you the beautiful picture of the coming of the Messiah, and most importantly the death of the Messiah. In fact, scholars have found that these verses are written in a chiastic form (a common literary structure used in Semitic languages, including Hebrew) that places the cutting off of the Messiah (Jesus’ death) at the focal point of the chiasm.[3]

 

All of this is to emphasize our main point: Jesus is the center of everything that goes on in the sanctuary, including the final judgment. God’s explanation of the timing of the judgment actually gives us a summary of the entire sanctuary system. The Israelites of old would bring their lamb, goat, bull, etc. to the sanctuary to die the death that the sinner actually deserved. The priest would then take the blood and apply it to certain articles of furniture, and sprinkle it on the inner veil of the sanctuary. Then once a year the high priest would perform the special ceremony of cleansing the sanctuary and the people of all this spiritual defilement on the Day of Atonement. In the same way Jesus died the death predicted in Daniel 9, becoming the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He resurrected and ascended to the sanctuary in heaven as our heavenly priest to apply His sacrificial blood on our behalf. And now once, at the end of the age, He is performing the final cleansing/judgment before He returns to bring His faithful ones with Him to heaven.

 

This is the way I like to think about the 2300-day prophecy and the idea of judgment. The judgment according to our works does not do away with justification by faith in the Lamb of God. To the contrary, it adds weight and solemnity to our need of exercising saving faith in Jesus every day.

 

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”[4]

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: ‘For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back My soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”[5]

 

Jesus as Judge

“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son.”[6]

Judgment has become such a negative term in today’s society. No one likes others to pass judgment upon them, especially when the judging party has not truly sought to understand the person or people they are choosing to judge. What made it easy for me to stay in church when I finally started attending at the age of 21 is that I never felt judged by any of the church members. For example, I can remember wearing regular clothing to church for a while before I started dressing in button-up shirts and ties and suits like most of the other men. No one ever expressed to me that I was condemned by God for not dressing up like everyone else traditionally did.

 

I am thankful for how I was treated in my early Christian experience, but I’ve noticed that this is not how many others have been treated, unfortunately. When people feel judged concerning seemingly small things such as this, it can really hurt. And it also has the effect of turning people off from the idea of God judging the world by Jesus Christ. But we need not associate the judgment of Jesus with the faulty judgments that are thrown around by sinful people on this earth.

 

In John chapter 5, which is where the scripture from above is taken, Jesus goes on to talk about two different resurrections and how His judgment will cause us to end up in one of the two. He says, “…those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”[7] Jesus’ idea of good and evil was never about the traditions of people, no matter how old and “sacred” they may have become. He told the Pharisees things such as this, “Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.”[8] Jesus’ standard was always the Law of God, the 10 Commandments. As it says in the book of James, “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.”[9]

 

Jesus’ understanding of the Law could be simply summed up by the famous words He speaks in Matthew 22:37-40:

 

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

 

When Jesus judges us based upon our good and evil deeds, or our works, it will be based upon how He understands the Law. And the really good news is that it is not up to us to produce the good works the Law requires. At the end of John chapter 5 Jesus goes on to tell the Pharisees, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”[10] The way to life is not trying to fulfill the requirements of the Law by yourself. The only way to eternal life is through a relationship with the Son of God. Jesus hammers this point again in the very next chapter when the people ask Him what they have to do to work the works of God. He tells them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”[11]

 

To summarize all of this, a truly loving relationship with Jesus Christ is what matters in the judgment. What we wear, what we eat, and how we talk are not the things we need to be making of primary importance when we think of the end-time judgment. A true relationship with Jesus will help us to sort all of those things out in our personal lives. Abraham, the father of faith, was called the friend of God. Jesus tells His disciples in John chapter 15 that they are friends for whom He is laying down His life. This loving friendship that Abraham, the disciples, and so many others enjoyed with God led them to completely changed lives, not the other way around. When we focus on this loving relationship day in and day out we will be able to say with John, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.”[12]

Read the rest of this series!

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Notes.

[1] John 1:29 All scriptures are taken from the New King James Version

[2] Rev 14:7

[3] Zdravko Stefanovic, Daniel: Wisdom to the Wise (Nampa, ID; Oshawa; Ontario; Canada: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2007) 362, 368

[4] Hebrews 10:19-23

[5] Hebrews 10:35-39

[6] John 5:22

[7] John 5:29

[8] Matthew 15:6

[9] James 2:12

[10] John 5:40

[11] John 6:29

[12] 1 John 4:17

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About the author

Tony Dennis

Tony Dennis is from Sacramento, California, and spent most of his life as an atheist. His big dream, when he was young, was to become a professional poker player. He was converted to Seventh-day Adventism when he was 21 years old by reading the book Steps to Christ. He went on to graduate from the Pacific Union Conference’s school of evangelism, SOULS West. He has been a teacher now at SOULS West for the past three years, teaching classes on Daniel, Revelation, and the Sanctuary. He has also recently started a YouTube channel entitled By Every Word to help young people understand and apply the Bible to their lives.