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The Sanctuary Lesson 8: “Christ, Our Priest”

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Many people wonder, What is Christ, our High Priest, doing now in the heavenly sanctuary? Is He on vacation, or absorbed in work in some other corner of His great universe? Is He serious that “the tabernacle of God is [to be] with men” (Rev. 21:3)? The 1888 message idea of the cleansing of the sanctuary relieves minds of this perplexity.

 

The initial, rock-bottom, foundational idea that permeates “1888” simply put, is something that never crossed the minds of Luther, Calvin, or the Wesleys, or any Sunday-keeping Evangelicals of the 1888 era, or it seems, has yet to penetrate the consciousness of our Sunday-keeping brethren and sisters of today. Maybe we haven’t told it in a way that grips their interest. It’s the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, the ministry of our great High Priest in the second or Most Holy Apartment. The context of “1888” is the cosmic Day of Atonement. We’ve been living in it since 1844. Time at last to understand justification by faith!

 

Ellen G. White wrote: “The sanctuary in heaven is the very center of Christ’s work in behalf of men [justification by faith]. It concerns every soul living upon the earth. It opens to view the plan of redemption, bringing us down to the very close of time and revealing the triumphant issue of the contest between righteousness and sin. The correct understanding of the ministration in the heavenly sanctuary is the foundation of our faith” (Evangelism, p. 222, 221).

 

She continued, “The subject of the sanctuary was the key which unlocked the mystery of the disappointment of 1844. It opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious, showing that God’s hand had directed the great advent movement, and revealing present duty as it brought to light the position and work of His people” (ibid., p. 222).

 

From 1844 on, Christ’s main work was no longer to prepare believing people to die and go in the grave to await the first resurrection (a preparation wonderful enough if you have to die!). But now in this great Day of Atonement our High Priest must prepare a people to be ready for translation without tasting death.

 

But how is justification by faith more fully grasped in these last days, than it was by Luther and Calvin in the 16th century? Didn’t they proclaim it clearly? Yes, they did–for their day. But they lived before “the time of the end” when “knowledge shall be increased” (Dan. 12:4). Their work, which the Lord gave them, was to prepare a people to die and come up in the first resurrection (see Luke 20:35; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17), and they were faithful to the light they saw.

 

Now, in this “time of the end,” we are living in the great cosmic, antitypical “Day of Atonement.” God is preparing a people to be “accounted worthy … to stand before the Son of man,” to be translated at His second coming (Luke 21:36). And there is no power in heaven or earth that can accomplish that objective except “the gospel of Christ.” It alone “is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). It’s what Peter says is “the present truth” (2 Peter 1:12). That clearer understanding of “the everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6) will teach God’s people to sing “a new song” that “no man” can “learn but the 144,000, which [are] redeemed from the earth,” in whose “mouth [is] found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God” (vss. 3-5). There is not a progression of truth involved, but there is a progression in the comprehension of truth. “Knowledge shall be increased.”

 

A change in character is involved. The legally imputed righteousness of Christ becomes His practically imparted righteousness, when the Bride of Christ “has made herself ready” for the long-delayed “marriage of the Lamb.” For the first time in the long ages of the great controversy, she is “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the [imparted] righteousness of saints” (Rev. 19:7, 8; Greek). Now the Bride is more concerned for His honor and glory than even for her own salvation; that’s biblical justification by faith. She overcomes “even as [He] also overcame” (3:21); self at last is crucified with Him. That will be the fruitage of Christ’s work as the world’s great High Priest in His closing work in the Most Holy Apartment of His heavenly sanctuary (see Heb. 4:14-16; 7:25; 9:23-28; 10:18-25; 11:39, 40; 13:20, 21).

 

But the 1888 idea of the cleansing of the sanctuary is not that God’s people do the work. The High Priest does it; His people cease resisting Him “in His office work” (to borrow Ellen White’s expression). They let Him do it. Never does the Bible say that the ancient Israelites had to cleanse the sanctuary on their annual days of atonement. Their high priest always did it!

 

But some ask why Jesus as our High Priest has to “make intercession” for us before the Father (Heb. 7:25). The word “intercession” implies that somebody is not happy and has to be interceded with on our behalf. Christ “is at the right hand of God,” Paul says, “who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). John adds his insight when he compares Christ to “an advocate with the Father,” the word “advocate” being parakletos in the Greek (1 John 2:1). Vine says the word “was used in a court of justice to denote a legal assistant, counsel for the defense, who pleads another’s cause.”

 

In other words, Jesus is a defense lawyer pleading a case “with the Father,” John says. It seems that the Father is the Judge and that we are on trial before Him, and that we would lose our case if it weren’t for Jesus being there in our behalf. This is 100 percent true; we would indeed lose out if it were not for our divine Lawyer working on our side.

 

The Father, as well as the Son, hate sin. But in accordance with the agreement between them Both, Christ became the representative Adam for the human race and paid the penalty as the sinner’s Substitute and Surety, having tasted death for every man (Heb. 2:9). Thus God’s wrath against sin was experienced by Christ on His cross. He suffered the curse of God which was the condemnation of the second death. His shed blood qualifies Him as mankind’s Advocate with the Father. It makes it possible for the Father to shower his blessings of life equally on both the just and the unjust.

 

But who is He “pleading,” “interceding” with? Who needs to be “persuaded” to accept us? Does it make sense to say it’s the Father? Wasn’t it He who took the initiative to “so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son” for us? How could He be against us, needing Jesus to “intercede” for us? Does the Father have a club behind His back, about to let us have it, and then Jesus steps up and says, “Look, Father, at the wounds in My hands, etc. Please be nice to these people!”? No, that doesn’t make sense. The Father loves us just as much as the Son loves us! Then who is Jesus interceding with?

 

Is He interceding with the devil? Will he or his angels ever be persuaded to be nice to us? Hardly! Then who has to be persuaded to “accept” us, to stop condemning us? The good angels? No, they are “all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for” us, not against us (Heb. 1:14).

 

Then who is left who needs to be “persuaded,” interceded with to “accept” us, except we ourselves? We are the ones who need to hold our heads high, to join Paul in being “persuaded” that nothing will ever “separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:38, 39).

 

Prominent in the 1888 message is the idea of ceasing to resist our Lord. Not until after the 1888 Conference did Ellen White state it clearly: “The sinner may resist this love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist he will be drawn to Jesus … in repentance for his sins” (Steps to Christ, p. 27). Therein is the essence of this cleansing of the sanctuary!

 

The great Day of Atonement ministry is the most important activity going on today in the heavenly universe. Keep in tune with it.

 

–From the writings of Robert J. Wieland