The Sanctuary – its meaning – Intercession
In the mid nineteenth century when the golden calf of the modern era (evolution) would be presented to the world, God raised up a people who would oppose this lie. While creation was under attack by this false god of evolution these people were given a knowledge of the Sabbath which upholds God as the creator. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy…. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Ex.20:8-11 NRSV This then necessitates a somewhat careful spiritual scrutiny for we need to remember that the Sabbath is an integral part of the ten commandments law. And as such it falls under the New Testament auspices of the law as outlined by the apostle Paul: For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” Gal.3:10
Please read this passage in context (vs. 6-13) and it becomes even more powerful. The reader is referred to the article on this website about the Sabbath.
Last day events wont be about an outward observance of the ‘right day’. Otherwise it would go contrary to the teachings of the New Testament. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Rom.14:5
Last day events will be about the work of the Holy Spirit as foreshadowed by the Sabbath which means ‘rest’. The Sabbath, while importantly reminding us of creation, speaks primarily about the rest that is the privilege and duty of every Christian. (see Exekiel.20:12 and Heb.4:9-11)
Moreover I gave them my sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, so that they might know that I the LORD sanctify them. Ezekiel 20:12 NRSV
So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest……Heb.4:9-11 “That rest” describes the inner workings of the Holy Spirit not the outward “keeping” of one day a week. We need to come out of the schoolroom. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith has come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. Gal.3:24,25 KJV [Incidentally, the author E G White makes it clear in her writings that the law being referred to here is not the 'ceremonial law' but the actual 'moral' law.]
That “rest”, the true Sabbath rest is still vitally important for this group of people. They have been given not only the Sabbath but a knowledge of the working of the Sanctuary.
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; for you once were NOT a people, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. 1 Pet.2:9,10
In the above verses there is a link between the old and the new testaments. What was given to ancient literal Israel becomes a spiritual fulfilment in the Christian era. If ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise. Gal.3:29
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On the way in to the sanctuary the priests would first pass the altar of burnt offering in the courtyard. Symbolically, this altar asks for complete surrender to the will of God. (the reader is referred to the study on the burnt offering) Within the walls of the sanctuary the presence of God was manifest behind the curtain and above the ark (wooden box) containing the law of God. This was the very presence of God whose rule was based on justice and mercy. The mercy seat covered (hid) the tablets of stone. What is transpiring in the first apartment is of great interest to God the Father. His presence is ‘hidden’ behind the curtain but He sees and listens intently to what is happening in the first apartment. We need to say at the outset, we can have no comprehension of the glory and omnipotence of God and what the heavenly sanctuary is really like. But God has represented it to us in a way that we can somewhat comprehend and appreciate.
In that first apartment there are three items of significance.
* The table of shewbread.
* The 7 branched candlestick.
* The altar of incense.
It is well to spend a little time looking at these three items.
They represent the three elements or the three essentials of salvation of all the redeemed.
(1) The table of shewbread represents Jesus and His sacrifice for all people. It is well to quote a few verses here to cement this idea into our minds.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry…… John 6:35 NRSV There is no qualification here. As Creator His invitation is for all mankind.
And He – that same Jesus Himself – is the propitiation (the atoning sacrifice) for our sins, and not for ours alone but also for [the sins of] the whole world. 1 John 2:2 Amplified
…..we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, 1 Tim.4:10 NRSV
For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us, because we are of the opinion and conviction that [if] One died for all, then all died; 2 Cor.5:14 Amplified
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 2 Cor.5:18-20 NRSV
…we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. Heb.2:9 NRSV
Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. Rom.5:18 NRSV
These statements from Scripture are conclusive. Christ’s atonement was for all mankind: all races, all cultures, all character types.
(2) The seven-branched candlestick represents the Holy Spirit and His all-embracing work for all mankind.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Gen.1:1,2 NAS
Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:31,32
‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Acts 2:17,21
The Holy Spirit is mentioned multitudinous times in Scripture. His work, though often cloaked in quietness and simplicity is so vast and comprehensive as to defy explanation or human comprehension. The work of the Holy Spirit is very real and absolutely essential in the life of every believer. Jesus was totally respectful toward the Spirit. His words ring down to us today with the certainty and brotherly, protective love that He had towards the Spirit. Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matt.12:31,32
(3) The altar of incense, which is closest to the curtain and to the very presence of God the Father represents the prayers of the saints as they pray for their loved ones, families and friends. These are the ones who have learned in their lives the lessons of the burnt offering. This then gives them the privilege of presenting their loved ones to the Father. These prayers and intercession ascend as sweet incense to the Father who is seated on the ‘mercy seat’.
The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available – dynamic in its working. James 5:16 Amplified
We are not alone. Both the ‘Comforter’ and our Friend and Saviour are both with us always as we present to the Father our petitions on behalf of those not of our faith, be they neighbours, loved ones or those for whom the Holy Spirit has given us a burden.
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A cornerstone of Seventh-day Adventism was Dan.8:14 which appeared to reach down to a certain year. For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state. Dan.8:14 NRSV
What happened in 1844? Was it the beginning of an “investigative” judgement when the lives of all mankind were to be closely scrutinised? This option, popularly held by many, seeks to validate God’s judgement in the eyes of His creation.
Jesus all-atoning sacrifice is more than adequate for the dead as well as the living. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey…. Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.1 Peter 3:18-20,21,22 To have “faith in God” seems to be the most basic requirement for any believer. That means having faith in God to do all things decently and in order. God’s people are very much involved in the judgement far more than in any “investigative” sense. In fact that word is not even found in Scripture. As the above passage implies, when Jesus had earned the right to ‘judge’ the world his first thought was not of judgement but of salvation and restoration of those who had died without hope.
Was 1844 truly the start of an “investigative judgement”? This is the traditional Adventist belief. Or was it, as some theologians would have us believe, simply pointing back to Calvary and the all atoning sacrifice made then? This would preclude any great significance in what happened in 1844, known as “the great disappointment”. Try and tell that to those who went through the revival and great disappointment of that time. Unfortunately they are all passed on and cannot relate in person their experiences. They would be dismayed to learn that their spiritual descendants thought so little of their tremendous spiritual ordeal. What if their experience was the harbinger of something greater? Was there something that became possible at that point of time which previously, in the prophetic time clock, was not understood or comprehended? After all, modern scholarship seems to interpret Dan.8:14 simply as being “restored to its rightful state”. Putting it simply, ‘something that would be better understood or appreciated from that point on’.
To answer these questions we need to ask a question. What was the purpose of the sanctuary? It was a representation of God’s work of grace upon this world. As we have just discussed the first apartment contains the three elements of salvation which work in unison for the salvation of mankind.
- The table of shewbread representing Jesus, the Lamb of God, who gave His life for all mankind.
- The seven-branched candlestick representing the ceaseless work of the Holy Spirit.
- And the altar of incense representing the all important prayers of God’s people.
The sanctuary is not about judging people, it’s about saving people. The law is about judging: and it is hidden beneath the mercy seat.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions…. Gal.3:19 NRSV The law is only necessary when there is sin and rebellion. … law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious… 1 Tim.1:9 NAS
The law is hidden from view in the ark under the mercy seat because of the work of grace in the temple. If at the end of the 2300 day prophecy the sanctuary was to be “cleansed” or “restored to its rightful state” wouldn’t it be reasonable to understand that what is being referred to here is the purpose and significance of the sanctuary. This special significance of the sanctuary revealed at the end of time has everything to do with the special work of grace at that time. It is popularly reckoned that this final generation of Christians will exhibit a degree of faith not before seen. There is an element of truth in that but it means far more than a generation of Christians becoming ‘more holy’ than previously. They will become this way not because they feel different and isolated but like Jesus they identify with and have an intense burden for the struggling and lost around them. To put it another way their goal won’t be egocentric. It will be altruistic.
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Seventh-day Adventists are told, Revelation chapter 5 “….needs to be closely studied. It is of great importance to those who shall act out a part in the work of God for these last days.” (Test. vol.9 p.267) In this chapter mention is made of, “…golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Rev.5:8 In another part of Revelation these prayers are described as being thrown, “to the earth” followed by “peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” Rev.8:3-5 The prayers of God’s people are far more powerful than mere words.
If Christ left us an ‘example’ that we should be pleased to follow ‘in His steps’ 1 Pet.2:21, will we not find ourselves in a position where we have a burden for and intercede for those around us. This is strongly inferred in the following passages in a book that Ellen White says has particular significance for the people of God living in the last days.
“I saw that the Apocrypha was the hidden book, and that the wise of these last days should understand it.” 16 Manuscript Release Page 34
James White also wrote in the Review and Herald dated Feb. 2, 1869 page 48 “The Association will probably issue an edition of the Apocrypha with references soon, which, well bound, can be sold for about seventy-five cents a copy.” Also in the Review and Herald dated Aug. 5, 1858 page 96 in a response “To Correspondents” we read “Concerning the Apocrypha, we regard portions of it as containing much light and instruction. If we were asked to specify, we should mention 2 Esdras, Wisdom of Solomon, and 1 Maccabees.
These passages from the Apocrypha seem peculiarly relevant:
2 Esdras 7:46, 77, 103, 111, 112, 113, 115, NRSV
But what of those for whom I prayed? For who among the living is there that has not sinned, or who is there among mortals that has not transgressed your covenant?
For you have a treasure of works stored up with the Most High, but it will not be shown to you until the last times.
On the day of judgment will the righteous be able to intercede for the ungodly or to entreat the Most High for them – fathers for sons or sons for parents, brothers for brothers, relatives for their kindred, or friends for those who are most dear.
When corruption has increased and unrighteousness has multiplied, the righteous have prayed for the ungodly…………….
Those who were strong prayed for the weak.
O do not look on the sins of your people, but on those who serve you in truth. It is because of us sinners that you are called merciful. For if you have desired to have pity on us, who have no works or righteousness, then you will be called merciful. For the righteous who have many good works laid up with you, shall receive their reward in consequence of their own deeds….For in truth there is no one among those who have been born who has not acted wickedly; among those who have existed there is no one who has not done wrong. For in this, O Lord, your righteousness and goodness will be declared, when you are merciful to those who have no store of good works. 2 Esdras 8:26,31,32,33,35,36
42 112 He answered me and said, “This present world is not the end; the full glory does not remain in it; therefore those who were strong prayed for the weak. 43 113 But the day of judgement will be the end of this age and the beginning of the immortal age to come, in which corruption has passed away, 44 114 sinful indulgence has come to an end, unbelief has been cut off, and righteousness has increased and truth has appeared. 45 115 Therefore no one will then be able to have mercy on someone who has been condemned in the judgment, or to harm someone who is victorious.” 2 Esdras 7 NRSV
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them….God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. Wisdom of Solomon 3:1,5,6 NRSV (emphasis supplied)
From these passages, which the ‘remnant’ have been counselled to take note of, it becomes clear that a very real part of their experience at the end of time will be intercession for others – for “the weak”, for those with “no store of good works”. Remember, Jesus died for all mankind.
The Presence of God in the most holy place ‘listens’ to what is happening in the holy place. The sanctuary is full of symbolism. The ark of the covenant which contains the law is said to support the mercy seat. Note the law is hidden and God keeps it hidden. He can do this because of what is transpiring in the holy place. The incense which represent the prayers of the saints are rising to God and it’s because of these prayers, and the righteousness of His Son represented by the bread, and the work of the Holy Spirit as represented by the seven-branched candlestick that God can have mercy and exhibit grace upon the inhabitants of this world. Of course, we can have no comprehension of the glory and omnipotence of God and what the heavenly sanctuary is really like. But God has represented it to us in a way that we can somewhat comprehend and appreciate.
God the Father hears our prayers on behalf of others. Shouldn’t that just fill us with joy and hope. What happens when we pray for others? We are putting ourselves in a position where we stand on behalf of those for whom we pray. Lest we think that this requires some giant spiritual experience or a degree of intensity heretofore unrealised, we should ponder the following. Jesus spoke of the little children and said “such is the kingdom of heaven”. The simple faith of a child is what’s required not some egocentric religious demonstration. What happens when we pray for someone? The act of praying is represented in sanctuary terminology in Rev.5:8. The result of these prayers is represented in Rev.8:5. These prayers and their answer are stated succinctly in this simple, easy to remember formula which shows the importance God invests in us having this knowledge.
Rev.5:8 …..golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Rev.8:3-5 ….. Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
There is more power vested in the saints than has been commonly realised.
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There is a principle mentioned in Scripture, without great fanfare but is nonetheless very real and integral to the finishing of God’s work upon this earth. It was practised by Moses who had a great love for his people. Therefore He said that He would destroy them, had not Moses His chosen one stood in the breach, before Him, to turn away His wrath from destroying them. Ps.106:23 NRSV It is reiterated by Ezekiel. And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it…Eze.22:30 KJV
It means to stand between Satan, the accuser, and the person or persons for whom we pray. This can sometimes involve direct harassment and oppression from the enemy. This can only put us in the most privileged position. As the psalmist says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers…..” Ps.34:19. This is walking in the footsteps of Jesus, for which we are called. (1Pet.2:21)
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake. Phil.1:29 To quote another author, “And of all the gifts that Heaven can bestow upon men, fellowship with Christ in His sufferings is the most weighty trust and the highest honour.” Desire of Ages p.225
After describing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, John the revelator describes the result of their endurance and intercession: there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb..see Rev.7:4-10 Is this the fruition of an army of intercessors?
The final work of God on this earth will centre around, not assiduously keeping one day above another, but the principle for which the two different days stand. Rest in Christ – the true Sabbath rest – will lead to a working comprehension of the three ultimate realities of the first apartment. Jesus Christ, the Comforter, and the intercession of the saints, all working together for the salvation of the redeemed and the finishing of God’s work upon this earth.
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