October 19, 2011


My wife and girls were eagerly awaiting my verdict.

I looked at the picture they had just pushed across the table, and wondered what these two round circles, with two short horizontal lines bordering the outer circle, meant. Since both circles shared a common center, the smaller one resided inside the bigger one. Four pairs of eyes looked at me enthusiastically, willing me to solve the mystery.

What was this funny construct? Part of an astronomical map showing the orbit of a star or a planet? A section of a landscape design? I tried a couple of options, but none hit the target. Giggling and laughing, one of my daughters finally blurted it out: “It’s a man wearing a huge sombrero and riding a bicycle—seen from above!”

I hadn’t thought of that. I had focused upon the details or one particular element of the drawing, but had not seen the big picture. I had had no context to help me understand this ingenious piece of art.

Many Tears
The biblical sanctuary plays an important role in Seventh-day Adventist theology. Books, articles, seminars, and sermons invite us to look at this crucial piece of the larger puzzle of biblical theology.

2011 1529 page18However, if we could go back to the 1840s and see the excitement with which the Millerites proclaimed the “present truth” of the soon coming of Jesus; if we could join them awaiting anxiously the return of the Master, counting down months and days and finally reaching October 22, 1844; if we could see their joy and anticipation turn to tears and many questions as the clock struck midnight on October 22, 1844, we would realize that the sanctuary was interpreted differently. For Millerites, in different parts of the world, the reference to the sanctuary in the crucial time prophecy of Daniel 8:14 did not mean articles or books. They believed the “cleansing of the sanctuary” meant the second coming of Jesus and His subsequent re-creation of Planet Earth. For them it was the most exciting and significant event ever.

Listen to Hiram Edson, a Millerite farmer of Port Gibson, New York, as he describes his feelings following that Tuesday, October 22, 1844, when Jesus did not return: “We confidently expected to see Jesus Christ and all the holy angels with Him, and that His voice would call up Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the ancient worthies, and near and dear friends which had been torn from us by death. . . . Our expectations were raised high, and thus we looked for our coming Lord until the clock tolled twelve at midnight. . . . Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. . . . We wept, and wept, till the day dawn.”1

As some of the Millerites (including Hiram Edson, O.R.L. Crosier, and F. B. Hahn) went back to Scripture, and particularly the book of Hebrews, over the following months they realized that the sanctuary of Daniel 8:14 did not refer to the earth, but rather pointed to the heavenly sanctuary, where a new phase of Jesus’ ministry as the high priest began.2 In other words: they had gotten the time right, but not the event.

Adventists and the Sanctuary
Nearly 170 years later we are still wrestling with the sanctuary—and often getting lost in the details. This particular belief has been at the center of many controversies among Adventists. Names such as D. M. Canwright, ?A. F. Ballenger, L. R. Conradi—or, more recently, R. F. Cottrell or D. Ford—come to mind when we review the who-is-who of Seventh-day Adventist detractors about the sanctuary.3

Since the days of the Glacier View meetings in 1980 Adventist scholars have written a significant number of dissertations and books that have dealt with important elements of the sanctuary doctrine. Exegetical, theological, and historical studies have clarified issues in Leviticus, Daniel, Hebrews, and Revelation.4 The question still remains: How important is the sanctuary for you? How relevant is it to your daily walk with Jesus?

Instead of dealing with a specialized aspect of the sanctuary (which may grab the attention of only a small group of scholars), why not join me in taking a Google maps satellite view of the sanctuary in Scripture.5

Back to Basics
Exodus 25:8 provides the first explicit hint as to the function and purpose of the earthly sanctuary. The Hebrew text translates: “Let them build me a sanctuary, so that I may tabernacle in their midst.” Right from the outset, divine presence is key to understanding the sanctuary. Most of the time, biblical interpreters (including also Adventist interpreters) read on to the following verse 9, which continues the divine command, detailing how this sanctuary is to be constructed: “According to all that I will show you, namely, [according to] the model/pattern of the tabernacle/tent and [according to] the model/pattern of all its utensils and thus they shall do” (my translation). Questions about the nature of this “model” or “pattern” have often dominated the discussion of this important portion of Scripture.

Sometimes as Seventh-day Adventists, because of our interest in the larger reality behind the earthly sanctuary, we tend to overlook the key point that Exodus 25:8 makes, namely, that God wants to live with us—in the “midst” of Israel (and by extension, the “world”). This sense of divine presence is already palpable in the Garden of Eden, which actually links the sanctuary to Creation.6 The implications of the divine presence on earth (in the sanctuary) are mind-boggling. If God is present, then so is His holiness.

The Bible clarifies another key function of the sanctuary. The sanctuary was the only sanctioned place where sacrifices could be offered (Lev. 17:8, 9). Beginning with Israel’s desert wanderings and its mobile sanctuary structure (including also a portable altar), continuing to the later Solomonic Temple, and followed by the second Temple after the Exile, the altar of burnt offering, located in the courtyard, was the only place the process of at-one-ment could begin.

This is not to say that Israel always kept their part of the covenant. Scripture is full of references to Israel’s “high places” (Isa. 36:7; Jer. 7:31; 19:5; Eze. 6:6; Hosea 10:8, etc.), where deviant worship and sacrifice took place. However, the divinely established sacrificial system required that sin offerings (involving complex blood manipulation) could be offered only in the sanctuary. The Temple structure, the utensils, the offerings, the priesthood, the festivals, the associated rituals—they were all part of God’s plan of communicating the good news of salvation to His people, and through them to the entire world. It was all part of a Lego-type object lesson, linking the earthly sanctuary to the real sanctuary. At the end of the day it all pointed toward the mashiah, the anointed one, Jesus of Nazareth, the one who is both the Lamb and the High Priest (John 1:29; Rev. 5:6; Heb. 3:1; 4:14).

Rituals and the Sanctuary
Rituals are the sanctuary’s best communicators. They spoke to ancient Israel, and they can keep on speaking to us, even though we tend to avoid them in the biblical text (they appear just too boring, too repetitive, too strange and irrelevant).7 I remember a general religion class I taught on Christ and salvation at River Plate Adventist University in Argentina. Most of my students were physical education majors who had to take that class. They were far more interested in the current soccer results than in the class topic. When students walk into a classroom and try to sit as far back as possible, one does not need to be a communication genius to get the point. As I thought about ways of teaching the plan of salvation in a way that my students would find attractive and interesting I decided to go way out. I was going to act out the Day of Atonement ritual (Lev. 16) with my students. Now, that sounds like a great plan for a cradle roll or primary class, but university students?

2011 1529 page18When we hit that part of the course outline that looked at the Old Testament sacrificial system and linked it to Jesus’ sacrifice, I announced our special class. Chuckles and giggles greeted me as I entered the classroom the next morning. I did not wear my normal teaching attire—I looked like a priest of ancient Israel! (And no, I did not try to copy all the details—a long linen robe, a knife, a turban-like head covering, and some bowls did the trick.) Once we had moved the desks and chairs out of the way, our classroom became a replica of the dimensions of the earthly tabernacle sanctuary. Students were designated as different sacrificial animals (more laughter!)—and the journey began. One of my students read the biblical text of Leviticus 16 very slowly, and the rest of the class had become part of Israel and watched the drama of salvation unfold before their very eyes as we acted out the ritual. No, I did not really draw blood or use any other special effects. It suddenly became very quiet. I still remember some of the remarkable observations that my students wrote in their journals that day. They had gotten it. They understood. And the rituals of the sanctuary helped them along the way.

Ritual, Sanctuary, and Adventist Theology
In researching biblical ritual over the past two decades I have been continually reminded of an important truth: beware of majoring in minors. When it comes to the sanctuary, it seems that we see two attitudes: either we ignore it (“This is not the gospel” or “This is outdated” or “It doesn’t make sense to me” or “This smacks of salvation by works”) or we tend to overinterpret it (“Exactly how big is the heavenly sanctuary?”; “What did the exact shape of the menorah stand represent?”; “Is there a door/veil separating the heavenly holy from the Most Holy?”). Where is the high middle ground? Let me share three key intersections between ritual, the sanctuary, and Adventist theology that we need to keep in mind.

1 The sanctuary (and biblical ritual linked to the sanctuary) reminds us of the crucial link between heaven and earth. We are not just lonely, isolated beings on an estranged planet floating through an immense universe. Through the Word (with a capital W) that became flesh and “tabernacled” among us (John 1:14) we can peep behind the curtain. Matter of fact, Hebrews tells us that we have “an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil” (Heb. 6:19, NASB),8 based on the promise of Jesus’ ministry “within the veil,” at the right hand of the Father. When we remember the preamble of the divine prescription for the construction of the earthly sanctuary (i.e., that God wanted to be in the midst of His people [Ex. 25:8]), the sanctuary (both earthly and heavenly) becomes the vehicle to achieve this close link.

2 The sanctuary and its complex ritual requirements that were necessary to achieve purgation (or cleansing) should be understood within the larger context of the great controversy. Salvation needs to be objective, verifiable, public, and transparent. Biblical sacrifice is not a bribe or something done under the table. It is public and transparent and involves clearly defined participants. It has to be this way since it is an extension (or a dimension) of the great controversy, where a public challenge to God’s justice and love required a public divine answer. The investigative judgment is one important element of this public divine answer.

3 The sanctuary and its rituals tell us something about the character of the God of Scripture.9 Not only is God transparent, but His desire to be with His creation—us—moved Him to give the Son. This ultimate sacrifice not only underlines the seriousness and hideousness of sin but, even more, shows us the tender love and commitment that God has for us—lost and selfish human beings.

Often as I research and write about Scripture, I think of my girls’ drawing of a man with a sombrero riding a bicycle. It is a reminder to look at the big picture and be ready to be “surprised” by Scripture. We have to remember the prime purpose of the sanctuary doctrine: that God is not only willing but eager to be close to you and me—His creation.

1 C. Mervyn Maxwell, Tell It to the World, 2nd rev. ed. (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1982), p. 48.
2 Cf. Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf, Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, rev. and updated ed. (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2000), pp. 51-68, esp. 59-61.
3 When I refer to the “sanctuary,” I include the issue of the investigative judgment and the validity of 1844 (i.e., the prophetic time line) as part of this biblical concept. For a helpful review of the issues and outcomes of the Glacier View committee meetings, see the “Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary” report in the Adventist Review, Sept. 4, 1980, pp. 12-15.
4 See, for example, A. V. Wallenkampf and W. R. Lesher, eds., The Sanctuary and the Atonement: Biblical, Historical, and Theological Studies (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1981); the Daniel and Revelation Committee series (published by the Biblical Research Institute between 1986 and 1992); Samuel Núñez, “The Vision of Daniel 8: Interpretations From 1700-1900” (Th.D. diss., Andrews University, 1987); Fernando L. Canale, “Philosophical Foundations and the Biblical Sanctuary,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 36 (1998): 183-206; Roy E. Gane, Cult and Character. Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005); Elias Brasil de Souza, “The Heavenly Sanctuary/Temple Motif in the Hebrew Bible: Function and Relationship to the Earthly Counterparts” (Ph.D. diss., Andrews University, 2005); Martin Pröbstle, “Truth and Terror: A Text-oriented Analysis of Daniel 8:9-14” (Ph.D. diss., Andrews University, 2006); Fernando L. Canale, “From Vision to System: Finishing the Task of Adventist Theology: Part III Sanctuary and Hermeneutics,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 17, no. 2 (2006): 36-80; Félix Cortez, “‘The Anchor of the Soul That Enters Within the Veil’: The Ascension of the ‘Son’ in the Letter to the Hebrews” (Ph.D. diss., Andrews University, 2007); Marvin Moore, The Case for the Investigative Judgment: Its Biblical Foundation (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2010).
5 One of the most recent and intriguing contributions can be found in the works of Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Old Testament scholar Roberto Ouro, who suggests that based on Scripture itself, the sanctuary should be considered the center of biblical theology. Cf. Roberto Ouro, Old Testament Theology: The Canonical Key. Volume I: Pentateuch/Torah (Zaragoza, Spain: Lusar Reprograficas, 2008), pp. 30-36.
6 See Ouro, Old Testament Theology, pp. 38-57, and the numerous bibliographical references provided there.
7 See “Reading With Understanding: How to Read Stories, Rituals, Laws, and Poems in the Pentateuch,” Adventist Review, Oct. 14, 2010, pp. 24-26.
8 Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
9 See my “Gottesbild,” Adventist Review, Nov. 12, ?2009, p. 7.

Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of Adventist Review who now and again enjoys riding a bicycle—?without a sombrero. This article was published October 20, 2011.