The Great Controversy - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 2 Lesson 08 - Light From the Sanctuary

Teachers Comments
May 18 - May 24

Key Text: Hebrews 8:1, 2

Study Focus: Exod. 25:8, 9, 40; Heb. 8:1–6; Matt. 25:1–10; Dan. 7:9, 10; Heb. 8:1–5; Heb. 9:23–28; Rev. 11:19; Heb. 10:16; Lev. 16:21, 29–34; Lev. 23:26–32.

Introduction: So prominent is the theme of the sanctuary in both the Old and New Testaments that it is simply astonishing to consider that many Christians lost sight of the doctrine of the heavenly sanctuary for almost two millennia. Seventh-day Adventists realized that the doctrine of the heavenly sanctuary was not only an important biblical teaching but was the central tenet of a biblical theology that connected other doctrines. These teachings include:

• the doctrine of God, His character, creation, work, and government;

• the doctrine of the origin of evil and of the great controversy;

• the doctrine of Christ, His first coming to earth, His incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension;

• the doctrine of salvation in Christ;

• the doctrine of the last things, the second coming of Christ, the final judgment, and the restoration of all things; and

• the doctrine of the church, especially the teaching of the remnant church in the end time, before the second coming of Jesus.

The longest biblical prophecy—the 2,300 years of Daniel 8:14—concerns the heavenly sanctuary and the great controversy. This prophecy acquaints us with both the attack on the heavenly sanctuary and its cleansing in the day of God’s judgment and in the restoration of all things. However, Adventists do not think of this prophecy as a mere abstraction with no basis or fulfillment in reality. Rather, they understand that this prophecy was fulfilled in history, commencing in the mid-nineteenth century, in 1844. The fulfillment of this prophecy calls for all people living in these probationary times to accept Jesus’ atonement for their sins before the close of His intercessory ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.

The fulfillment of the 2,300-day prophecy is especially important to Adventists because they understand that God has called them as His remnant church to announce to the world the fulfillment of this prophecy, the return of Jesus, and the imminent consummation of the great controversy. Thus, the message of the 2,300-day prophecy is the very essence of “the eternal gospel” (Rev. 14:6, NASB). The good news in the context of the three angels’ messages is God’s final call of love to humanity. God bids sinners on earth to turn to Him so that they may be saved by the blood of Jesus and by His mediation in the heavenly sanctuary.

Lesson Themes: The study for this week highlights two major themes:

  1. The earthly sanctuary in the Old Testament was not just a part of the culture of Israel; it principally pointed to the heavenly sanctuary and the ministry of Jesus on behalf of humanity.
  2. As such, the heavenly sanctuary is central to the universal and eternal gospel, to the salvation of humanity, and to the mission of the church.

Part II: Commentary

The Sealing of the 2,300-Year Prophecy

The first and the second coming of Jesus are closely associated with the sanctuary, both the earthly and heavenly. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem, Simeon and Anna were there (Luke 2:25–38). They knew the Messiah would come to the temple. For this reason, Luke reports that, while waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of the first coming of the Messiah, Simeon “came by the Spirit into the temple” to meet Jesus (Luke 2:27), and the prophetess Anna “did not leave the temple grounds” (Luke 2:37, NASB).

The longest biblical prophecy, that of the 2,300 years (Dan. 8:14), was focused on the heavenly sanctuary (Dan. 8:10–12). This prophecy was “sealed,” or confirmed (Dan. 9:24), by the first coming of Jesus to the earthly sanctuary. After receiving the 2,300-year prophecy, Daniel “was astounded . . . and there was no one who could explain it” (Dan. 8:27, AMP). Left without an explanation for this vision for several years, Daniel focused on the data he had at hand: Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the 70 years of “the desolations of Jerusalem” (Dan. 9:2, NASB; compare with Jer. 25:11, 12).

Daniel prayed for God’s intervention to fulfill Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy, pleading with the Most High to redeem His people (Dan. 9:3–19), and to “let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary” (Dan. 9:17, NASB). To Daniel’s joy, God sent “the man Gabriel” to instruct him (Dan. 9:21, 22). However, Gabriel did not immediately focus on answering Daniel’s prayer about Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy. Instead, Gabriel began to exhort Daniel to “pay attention to the message and gain understanding of the vision” (Dan. 9:23, NASB). Obviously, the vision in question is the one described in Daniel 8:14 because Gabriel does not speak of 70 literal weeks but of 70 prophetic weeks (Dan. 9:24), or 490 years. The 490 years could be “determined” or deducted only from the 2,300 years in Daniel’s vision (Dan. 8:14)—not from the 70 years in Jeremiah’s prophecy. By this calculation, Gabriel also revealed the event that marked the beginning of the 70 prophetic weeks and, therefore, of the 2,300 years. This event was “the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Dan. 9:25, NASB), which took place in 457 b.c. Thus, the prophecy of the 70 prophetic weeks is a subset, or the first part, of the 2,300-years prophecy; the two periods constitute one great prophecy.

Here Gabriel finally answers Daniel’s question and prayer about the restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem (Dan. 9:25), God’s “holy mountain” (Dan. 9:20). However, Gabriel immediately explains that this fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years is only the beginning of a much longer prophecy. That is, it is the beginning of the 70 prophetic weeks, and then the beginning of an even longer prophecy—the 2,300 years. For this reason, keeping the focus on this bigger prophecy, Gabriel further explained to Daniel that these 70 prophetic weeks, or 490 literal years, would be “decreed” or “determined” for “your people and your holy city” (Dan. 9:24, NASB) for a special purpose: “until Messiah the Prince” (Dan. 9:25, NKJV).

The end, or the aim, of these 490 years was the first advent of the Messiah. Gabriel explained that the purpose of the Messiah would be “ ‘to make an end of sin, to make atonement for guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness . . . and to anoint the Most Holy Place’ ” (Dan. 9:24, NASB). In the seventieth prophetic week, the Messiah would “ ‘confirm a covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering’ ” (Dan. 9:27, NASB). The only plausible fulfillment for all these events was in the sacrifice of Jesus, the “ ‘Messiah the Prince’ ” (Dan. 9:25, NASB) and “ ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ ” (John 1:29, NKJV), who “ ‘will be cut off and have nothing’ ” (Dan. 9:26, NASB).

Thus, the prophecy of the 70 weeks starts the prophecy of the 2,300 years. We can be sure that the 2,300-year prophecy about the cleansing of the sanctuary was fulfilled in 1844 because the prophecy of the 70 weeks (Dan. 9:24–27) was fulfilled with exactitude in the sacrificial death of the Messiah in the middle of the seventieth week, in a.d. 31. In addition, in the same way that the prophecy of the 70 weeks was fulfilled in the Messiah’s sacrificial death in relation to the earthly sanctuary, the prophecy of the 2,300 years would be fulfilled in the Messiah’s cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. Similarly, the two parts of the prophecy are related to the two comings of the Messiah: the end of the 70-week period relates to Christ’s first coming, while the end of the 2,300 years pertains to His second coming.

The Loss of the Doctrine of the Sanctuary

The sanctuary is one of the most prominent themes and teachings in Scripture. The Bible describes two sanctuaries, an earthly and a heavenly. Both sanctuaries reveal foundational aspects of God’s character, of the great controversy, and of salvation. Thus, the two sanctuaries serve as the place of God’s revelation to His people, His dwelling among them, and His reigning over them. At the sanctuary, God met with Israel, and they responded to Him in worship. In the same way, the heavenly sanctuary serves God’s kingdom on a cosmic level. In that central place, God established His throne. He revealed Himself to the inhabitants of the universe, exercising His sovereignty over them and providing for their needs.

When, however, sin entered the universe, the heavenly sanctuary adopted a salvific function, with its sacrificial and mediatorial ministries. Thus, the two sanctuaries are not separate in the sense that they are closely connected in a typological relationship: that is, the earthly sanctuary was built expressly to reveal, point to, and explain the meaning and the role of the heavenly one.

Keeping in mind this understanding of the foundational role of the sanctuary to God’s kingdom, we cannot help noting that its presence is impossible to miss in Scripture. How Christians, of all people, ignored the study and significance of the heavenly sanctuary for thousands of years is simply mystifying. How was such an oversight even possible?

Adventists point to two major factors that led to the exclusion of the doctrine of the sanctuary from Christian theology. First, given the significance of the heavenly sanctuary to salvation, it is obvious that the devil would do whatever possible to obscure, or even annihilate, the biblical teaching of the heavenly sanctuary. Thus, people would not know the truth about God, about Christ’s sacrifice, and about His continuous mediation in the heavenly sanctuary for our salvation.

Cosmic Dualism

How was this doctrine obscured in Christianity? The answer to this question neatly segues our discussion into the second major factor: the concept of dualism. During the first centuries of its history, Christianity assimilated Greek philosophy with its foundational concept of dualism. According to this concept, our entire reality is divided into two spheres: the earthy and the heavenly. However, these two spheres are radically and essentially different. While the earthly sphere is material, temporal, and spatial, the heavenly realm is immaterial, timeless, and aspatial. In other words, in the heavenly sphere, there is no physical existence or personal relationship. Because there is no communication or relationship between the two spheres, the only way humans could get into the heavenly sphere was by escaping any connection to their earthly existence, which amounts to ceasing to exist as integrated human beings and somehow surviving as disembodied souls or minds that do not experience time and space. Obviously, this worldview is possible only if one accepts the concept that humans have a physical body as well as an immortal, completely autonomous soul. When the early Christians adopted this worldview, it was impossible for them to think of a literal sanctuary in heaven. It was even difficult for them to imagine heaven as a literal space, let alone Jesus ascending in a human body into this space. For this reason, when the early Christians read in Scripture about the heavenly sanctuary, they simply allegorized or spiritualized it away and concluded that the Israelite sanctuary applied to the church. To talk about a literal sanctuary in a literal heaven did not seem “worthy” of an “elevated” theology.

True, the early and medieval Christians did make a connection between the sanctuary’s sacrificial system and the death of Christ. But because of the influence of Greek philosophy, these early Christians could not properly envision Christ’s mediatorial work for humanity in a literal heavenly sanctuary. For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church applied Christ’s mediatorial ministry to the church and its priesthood. Tragically, this usurpation of Christ’s mediatorial ministry in the heavenly sanctuary led the church to undermine even the sacrifice of Christ. However, God worked through the movements of the Protestant Reformation to return His people to a literal reading of the Bible and, through the Adventist movement, to rediscover the biblical teaching of the heavenly sanctuary in the prophecies and in the book of Hebrews.

Thus, our mission, as Seventh-day Adventists, is to guard against compromising the Word of God, and to call both Christians and the world to focus their attention on the sacrifice of Christ on earth and His mediation in the heavenly sanctuary. (For further discussion, see Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, “The Heavenly Sanctuary,” in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, pp. 381, 382, 403–406.)

Part III: Life Application

  1. Think of the concept of priesthood in your culture. How does this concept compare to the biblical concept? How could you use the local concept of priesthood to communicate to other people the priesthood of Jesus?
  2. Think of the concept of judgment in your culture or country. How does this concept of judgment compare or contrast with the biblical concept of judgment? How could you explain the biblical understanding of judgment to people from your own culture?