Then Shall the Sanctuary Be Cleansed

Chapter Three


The Seventh-day Adventist conscience knows that history has waited too long for the work in the sanctuary to be finished. If Christ could have come before now, evidently something serious has detained Him. Since the work in the sanctuary is being carried on by Christ Himself, the question must be raised as to why He cannot arise and proclaim, "It is done." If well over a century is not enough time, then how long will it take? In order to sustain a claim to our sacred heritage an answer must be found.

Although Bibical scholars and exegetes may scoff, the Millerites and the early Adventists saw chapter ten of Revelation as an outline of their travail. The "little book" provided by the angel was "sweet as honey" as they ate it and joyfully lived their experience of love and high anticipation of the Lord's return on the tenth day of the seventh month. But when their hopes were shattered, the matter was then "bitter" indeed. That they should go "before many peoples, and nations, and tongues" to proclaim a further message was more than they had ever considered, but they accepted the call as from God.

According to what the angel said, "there should be time no longer" (Revelation 10:6). Thus at any time since 1844, the end could have come because the time span of the 2300 years was finished. In the context of eternity, "time" is the result of sin. It is but a little interruption in eternity and would never have come into being except because of sin. It had a "beginning" and it has an "end." It is the sin era between infinite past and infinite future. Mortal man is painfully aware that the grave awaits all. "Time" colors and predominates every move made by a human being. This accounts for the obsession to travel at ever greater speeds. This seems to forestall death in the framework of time. But this is foreign to the heavenly government. It cannot exist in the presence of the Eternal God, the Great "I AM." Heaven can only operate in the environment of eternity which is outside of sin.*

For those who may be perplexed as to how a Sabbath in heaven fits into this concept, it must be noted that the Sabbath was "made" at the end of the sixth rotation of the earth. On the seventh rotation "God ended His work which He had made and He rested on the seventh day." Each rotation was and is identical. It was and is only the word of the Lord that said every seventh rotation will be "blessed" and "sanctified." This was not dependent upon a "time" factor as such. It depended then and still depends solely upon the word of the Lord. The Word and the word of the Lord are eternal.

This means that ever since the year 1844, it has been the plan of heaven that sin should come to an end. Heaven was ready. All contingencies had been met. The "little book" was unsealed, "the mystery of God should be finished." Such a condition could not have existed previous to 1844 because it was necessary for the longest time prophecy to be fulfilled. No previous generation could enter into the requisite understanding since the full truth of the sanctuary was yet unknown. The 2300-day prophecy of Daniel is a vital part in making plain the controversy between truth and error now pending before the cosmos.

In this divine plan, 2300 years would be sufficient time for the outworking of sin. The whole universe would be able to see its terrible results. Sin would have reigned long enough. From the time of the cross at Calvary to the year 1844, millions of people would have had a chance to hear something of the life and work of Christ while He was on earth. The known world of the apostles' day was privileged to witness firsthand or to hear of the inauguration of the gospel and the power of God. To help those of little faith, miracles were wrought. Heaven planned to make it as easy as possible for the whole world to understand salvation from sin.

During all the years the church labored from Calvary to 1844, the problem remained the same. Sin prevailed. Thus as long as sin remained, the "prince of this world," Satan himself, held man in his domain. The heart continued to be "desperately wicked." While it is true Christ did "bruise" the head of the serpent, yet the serpent was not dead by any means. In practice he still reigned. The righteousness of the law remained to be fulfilled in us.

Such a situation calls in question the power of the gospel. Before Jesus came in His first advent, heaven's plan was clearly stated: "Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Following Calvary, heaven was to tolerate the reign of sin for a given period, only until 1844, the end of the 2300 days. After 1844 a new kind of work was to take place. The sins of God's people were now to be blotted out. There was to be developed a whole generation of people with a Christ-like character such as the universe had not seen to that time. The sanctuary was to be cleansed.

How Clean Is "Cleansed"?

The key text that urged the Millerites on in their study, uses a word for "cleansed" that is not used any other place in the Old Testament. Our own commentary gives Daniel 8:14 a significant meaning worthy of our closest attention:

From the Heb. sadaq, "to be just," "to be righteous." The verb occurs in the form here found (niphal) only this once in the OT, which may suggest that a specialized meaning of the term is indicated. Lexicographers and translators suggest various meanings, such as "be put right," or "be put in a rightful condition," "be righted," "be declared right," "be justified," "be vindicated." . . . Thus the Heb. sadaq  may convey the additional thought that God's character will be fully vindicated as the climax to "the hour of his judgment" (Rev. 14:7), which began in 1844.1

This prime word in a key text uses a form not found elsewhere in the Old Testament, although the word "cleansed" is used in many other texts. This "cleansed" as used puts a meaning on "clean" which should teach us how God works. It was the tenth day of the Levitical seventh month which riveted the attention of the Millerites, for "on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord" (Leviticus 16:30).

The significance of this word sadaq can be seen in other translations. Here are five different renderings: RSV, "Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state;" Luther's German, "Then shall the sanctuary be consecrated again;" Hungarian, "Then shall the sanctuary come into its own again;" Septuagint, "Then shall the sanctuary be purified;" Moffatt, "Then shall the sanctuary be restored." Plainly these renderings tell us that the sanctuary had come into disrepute, was contaminated and needed to "be put right," "consecrated again," and "to come into its own again." This can only mean "restored" to a condition that it had held at some previous time.

By definition the sanctuary is a consecrated place and it was this that  was to be rehabilitated as it was devoted to the keeping of sacred things. In this sense the Bible uses the word sanctuary interchangeably with the word "temple," and in each case we get the idea of a place where God would dwell. Originally the thought was, "Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them" ( Leviticus 25:8).

The evidence shows us that the cleansing of the sanctuary requires that it be put right, be restored, and this work must deal with the only thing that could contaminate it and that is sin. Miller was clear in his understanding that by "sanctuary we understand the church," and, of course, a church is a corporate body of people. But this idea has grown dim over the years and all too many Adventists are content to think of this "cleansing" as some far-off task in the heavens waiting to be finished. Such a view leaves the world and sin in a nebulous state with a Creator not too concerned. It implies that the continued woes of the human race are at least partly God's fault. Such a premise cannot stand before His justice and mercy. Our understanding needs to be "cleansed."

Muddled Thinking Has a Long History

God's declared purposes have been muddled since Eve's hope for her firstborn down to the present day. Frequently the participants in history have had their eyes blinded to that which later generations see with great clarity. The evidence for this is so plain that the present generation needs to  ponder wherein its discernment may be lacking.

The high office of prophet held no guarantee of 20/20 vision. "It was not given to the prophets to understand fully the things revealed to them,"2  even though they may have had great desire to know. The disciples in daily contact with Christ did not understand the message. When they were sent forth to preach, "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel," they could only see the Messiah as a temporal prince. The very message they bore was based on the ninth chapter of Daniel, but they failed to grasp that "after threescore and two weeks shall the Messiah be cut off"3 (Mark 1:15; Daniel 9:26). Their eyes were focused upon the glories of a worldly kingdom.

A similar kind of reasoning led John the Baptist into the same error. He did not understand the nature of Christ's work and looked for the Jewish nation to be delivered from her national foes.

However, the blindness of the disciples was not beyond healing. The day came when they saw their error and fathomed that the service in the temple, "the sacrifices and oblation," should cease. But there was a Gethsemane, a Golgotha, a tomb and a resurrection between their mental block and their heavenly comprehension. The members of the infant church must know the place of the cross in their lives. It was then only that Christ could with shocking words open their ears to hear what the scriptures were saying:

O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken; ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. . . . These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures (Luke 24:25-27, 44, 45).

The disciples were not alone in their ignorance for Paul likewise walked in darkness, totally committed to the wrong idea, until his mind was enlightened and his eyes opened. He too had studied the prophecies of the Old Testament but the truth they contained was outside his comprehension. After he received his vision, he was enabled to write the epistle to the Hebrews and set before the church the work of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. What a difference there might have been in early church history if he had been able to see  much sooner.

There is good reason why Christ began at Moses, went through the prophets, and brought the disciples to the rending of the temple veil. The whole Jewish economy had been built around the temple services. Yet when the true Lamb came He was not recognized. The sanctuary services had become a ritual, an end in themselves. The ceremonies were a refined kind of salvation by works. The participants failed to see the need of their own hearts and to understand the result of sin as revealed in each sacrifice—death.  But Christ took the disciples even beyond the rending of the veil and gave them a view of His future work. They caught a glimpse of His coming work in heaven at the "right hand of God."4

The 19th/20th Century Muddle

The record of history makes it plain that the Millerites saw in their experience the direct leading of God.   Many lives had been changed and characters remade, yet the same blindness that obscured God's purpose for Abraham's physical children now assails his spiritual offspring and confirms their lineage.  Note the parallel  drawn by Ellen White:

Like the first disciples, William Miller and his associates did not, themselves, fully comprehend the import of the message which they bore. Errors that had been long established in the church prevented them from arriving at a correct interpretation of an important point in the prophecy. Therefore, though they proclaimed the message which God committed to them to be given to the world, yet through a misapprehension of its meaning, they suffered disappointment. . . . Miller and his associates fulfilled prophecy, and gave a message which Inspiration had foretold should be given to the world, but which they could not have given had they fully understood the message to be preached to all nations before the Lord should come.5

The Millerites were in good company for they simply followed the disciples of Christ when they failed to understand their God-given call, and spiritual truths eluded them. Like the Jews they accepted and adhered to popular errors that blinded them. For us the inference in all this is very great. What guarantee do we have that our eyesight is any better than theirs?

It is abundantly clear that neither time, place, position, nor any other human criteria can assure God's people immunity from spiritual error and misunderstanding. Not even a direct call from heaven and divine credentials can guarantee freedom from wrong ideas. Seventh-day Adventists therefore must examine the great truth of the sanctuary with this in mind and remember our spiritual forefathers faltered because of popular errors which blinded them. This does not  imply in any way that heresy has been a part of what we have believed. That which was "present truth" one hundred years ago is still truth. Time never alters truth. But it is not "present" nor sufficient for this end-time hour in the sense of being a more mature and larger concept of God and the principles of His government.

Consequently it would be tragic if the remnant church should in the least consider that the delay of the second advent is due to the work of cleansing having faltered in heaven.  Equally disastrous would be the idea that the second coming of Christ is contingent upon a larger membership, more institutions,  better strategy and worldly acceptance.

Failures in sacred history have always been the result of spiritual poverty, never because of inadequate resources, imprudent strategy or a poor reputation. The seventh church, the last church, has not been indicted because she is resting and has no "works,"  for the True Witness says plainly that He knows the "works." The indictment is, "thou . . . knowest not" (Revelation 3:17). He points out a blindness at the very time when the sanctuary is to be cleansed.


*In this book reference is made frequently to "time." This will prove a problem to some but it should not be difficult to understand the fact of "death" which overtakes the entire human family, hence every act of life is made in the shadow of an impending "end." The plan of salvation is to destroy this "end," death itself, which means to destroy "time" and establish "eternity" without any further disruptions having a beginning or an end. The concept of time has been imposed by mortals, but there is no physical necessity for it in view of the "everlasting gospel" proclaimed by the Son and "author of eternal salvation," and who has obtained "eternal redemption for us" (Revelation 14:6; Hebrews 5:9; 9:12). For interesting insights made by an international physicist without benefit of theology, but who repeadedly makes reference to God, see: Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, (New York, 1988).

  1. The Seventh-day Adventist Commentary, vol. 4, pp. 844, 845, (orig. ed. 1955).
  2. Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p. 344.
  3. Ellen White, Ibid., p. 345.
  4. Mark 16:19; Acts 2:32, 33; 7:55, 56; Hebrews 8:1.
  5. Ellen White, The Great Controversy, pp. 351, 352, 405.

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