The Sanctuary Doctrine: Cultic or Biblical?
Part 3

by Pr. Kevin D. Paulson


Our last article reviewed evidence from the book of Daniel for the Adventist sanctuary doctrine, in response to arguments raised by one Dale Ratzlaff in his recent book, The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists.1 The present article will examine Ratzlaff’s arguments against the sanctuary doctrine which claim to be based on certain New Testament passages, particuarly from the book of Hebrews.

Again we state for the record that our purpose in reviewing these issues is not to persuade hardened critics, whose contempt for our faith won’t likely change apart from a Damascus Road experience. We simply wish to provide answers for those with honest questions about the Biblical faithfulness of Adventist beliefs.

The Atonement

We need to review once more the methods of Bible study taught by the Bible itself, which constitute the basic tools of Adventist theology:

All Scripture is inspired by God, profitable for doctrine, and able to make us “wise unto salvation” (Matthew 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:15-16).

Scripture consists of the words of God’s holy men, inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20, 21).

What the Holy Spirit inspires is to be spiritually discerned, by “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:12-14; see also Isaiah 28:9, 10; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

The need to consider all of Scripture before reaching a doctrinal conclusion becomes especially critical as we study the Bible doctrine of the atonement. Like any other doctrine, the atonement can only be understood in the light of the whole Bible. If any one portion of Scripture is used to the neglect of another, or if one portion is mistakenly viewed as theologically superior to another, confusion and falsehood will be the sure results.

Ratzlaff, like other evangelicals, condemns Adventism for teaching that Christ’s atonement for sin was not complete at the cross.2 He declares that “the incomplete atonement has been a thorn in SDA’s flesh for many years,”3 and condemns Ellen White because—on account of her denial of a finished atonement—she “pictures Christ as now having a standing, pleading ministry before the Father.”4 This teaching of Ellen White’s, of course, comes straight out of the New Testament:

Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).5

The book of Daniel identifies Christ as Michael, “the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people” (Daniel 12:1). While many evangelicals deny that Michael refers to Christ, the Messiah is the only heavenly being identified in Daniel as a Prince (Daniel 9:25; see also 8:25). No heavenly angel, which many evangelicals believe Michael to be, is ever identified in Scripture as a prince. The New Testament declares that at His second coming, “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Here the voice of Jesus is identified as the voice of the archangel—or rather, the ruler of the angels (see also Jude 9). Moreover, Michael is the only heavenly being described in Scripture as an archangel. Paul likewise states that “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). If Paul is right, only One could be standing for God’s people at the end of time or any time, and that is Christ.

A mediator is the same as an intercessor. The work of such a one is to plead, so that reconciliation might be accomplished. Hebrews 7:25 is clear, in contrast with Ratzlaff’s view, that Christ is doing exactly this just now. God doesn’t need to be reconciled to man, but man needs to be reconciled to God because of the sins that have separated man from God (Isaiah 59:2). This reconciliation is in fact the process of atonement, as our discussion will demonstrate.

The Bible is clear about what the word atonement means. In Leviticus 4 and 5, we read that the process of atonement required three phases:

Confession of sin over the sacrificial victim.

The slaying of the victim.

The mediation of the blood by the priest in the sanctuary.

Only after these three phases occured do we read that an atonement had been made, with forgiveness for the sinner taking place (see Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:9, 10).

This three-phase atonement is the same in the New Testament as in the Old. The apostle John declares what is necessary for the sinner to receive God’s forgiveness:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 1:9; 2:1).

Paul teaches the same thing when he writes: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13). Elsewhere the Bible reinforces what the ancient sanctuary service illustrates:

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

God’s forgiveness, or justification, is not merely the judicial removal of our sins. It also involves the removal of sin from our hearts and lives. David understood this principle after his sin with Bathsheba, when he prayed: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:7, 10). In Paul’s words:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7).

The reason God’s forgiveness—or atonement—cannot occur until sin has been confessed and forsaken is because God can’t remove sin from our hearts unless we want Him to. And because God’s judicial forgiveness involves the actual cleansing of the heart and life (which is what the “renewing of the Holy Ghost” in Titus 3:5 is all about), judicial forgiveness cannot take place unless sin has been willingly given up (Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 55:7). God’s reverence for liberty demands that sin not be removed unless it is voluntarily relinquished. The Bible declares, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15). “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

The word atonement, or at-one-ment, is another word for reconciliation, bringing estranged parties back together. Romans 5:11 in the King James Version reads:

And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

Most modern translations use the word reconciliation in this verse, but the two really mean the same thing. Does the Bible teach that this reconciliation process took place at the cross? Or did the cross simply make the process possible?

The Bible contains several passages which speak of the death of Christ reconciling man to God:

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:10).

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation: to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the work of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead: be ye reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight, if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Colossians 1:20-23).

Notice that while Paul says in one place, “We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10), and in another that God “hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18), he invites his readers elsewhere, “Be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul’s earlier statement in 2 Corinthians 5 that “we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf” (verse 12), gives evidence that “we” in this context refers to himself and his fellow evangelists who had experienced God’s converting power, while “you” refers to his audience which doubtless included many who were not yet converted.

The verse in Romans which states that “we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10), must be placed alongside the verse in Colossians 1, which states that “you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled” (verse 21). These verses clearly speak of those who have relinquished their evil deeds by availing themselves of Calvary’s reconciling power. Without question this cannot—as many believe—refer to the whole world, only to those who have chosen through God’s grace to give up their sins.

We also notice that 2 Corinthians 5:19, which speaks of the world as the focus of reconciliation, uses the word reconciling, which is in the present, continuous tense. Never does Paul say that the world has been reconciled (past tense). The verse also says, “Not imputing their trespasses unto them.” In Romans Paul cites two Old Testament verses on this subject:

Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin (Romans 4:7, 8; see Psalm 32:1, 2).

Does Paul apply these statements to the whole world? Obviously not, since two chapters earlier he maintains that “the doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13). We have already seen how this teaching of Paul’s is based on the Old Testament teaching that confession and the forsaking of sin are necessary in order to receive God’s forgiveness (Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 55:7).

Ratzlaff declares: “Contrary to EGW, the Bible clearly states that the atonement was completed at the cross.”6 The following two verses are cited by Ratzlaff7 as proof for his position:

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost (John 19:30).

For by one offering He that perfected for ever them that are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).

The first passage says nothing about the atonement being finished; it simply says that Jesus cried, “It is finished,” without in context explaining what was finished. We need to look elsewhere in Scripture for an explanation. Ironically, Ratzlaff quotes the context of the above passage from Hebrews, which in fact explains just what was finished at Calvary:

Then said He, Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God. He taketh away the first (covenant), that He may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered once sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till HIs enemies He made His footstool. For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified (Hebrews 10:9-14).

The theme of this passage, of course, is that the many sacrifices of the Old Testament, which could not take away sin, have been replaced by the one Sacrifice of the New Testament which can (see also Hebrews 7:27). No Seventh-day Adventist has ever denied this truth. At no time in our history has anyone denied that Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary was complete and fully capable of saving every person who has ever lived, provided they avail themselves of this saving power. This is what Ellen White means in context when she speaks in several places of a finished atonement at the cross.8 But what Adventists have historically denied, because it is not Biblical, is the “finished atonement” theology which teaches the involuntary forgiveness and reconciliation of every human being to God at Calvary, whether they like it or not.

In short, what was finished when Jesus died was His sacrifice for sin. No more sacrifices need to be offered. All the power essential for man’s salvation has been provided by the cross. But atonement cannot be complete until man confesses and forsakes his sin, and the blood is mediated by our high priest Jesus in the sanctuary above (Hebrews 2:17; 7:25).

We find it interesting that neither the word atonement nor its synonym, reconciliation, can be found in the verses quoted earlier from Hebrews 10. We do find Christ’s work of making reconciliation described elsewhere in Hebrews, in the following verse:

Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).

In other words, Jesus’ work of reconciliation (atonement) is part of His high priestly ministry, which the book of Hebrews repeatedly identifies with His intercession in heaven (Hebrews 4:1-16; 6:19, 20; 7:24-26; 9:11, 12). What the book of Hebrews is telling us is that Christ is now making reconciliation for our sins in heaven as our high priest. No hint can be found anywhere in Hebrews, or elsewhere, that this work of reconciliation was complete at the cross.

What is most significant about the earlier passage from Hebrews 10 is that only the sanctified are depicted as saved because of Calvary. Never is the whole world described as being involuntarily saved because of Calvary. Again we note the words of Hebrews 10:14: “By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (emphasis supplied). Verse 10 speaks of how “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” We noted earlier the passage from Colossians which speaks of making peace through the blood of the cross by the relinquishing of evil deeds (Colossians 1:20-23). Elsewhere Paul speaks of how the ordinance of baptism symbolizes the believer’s participation in Christ’s death (Romans 6:3-5). This obviously doesn’t apply to the whole world, though the whole world is offered the chance to claim the grace and power thus provided.

Ratzlaff claims that while Ellen White portrays Jesus as standing in His high priestly ministry, the Bible pictures Him as seated, supposedly implying a finished atonement at the cross.9 But the Bible is quite clear that Jesus’ physical posture in heaven is not at all the issue. We have already seen the verse from Daniel which depicts Michael (Christ), as “the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people” (Daniel 12:1). Moreover, the symbolic nature of this posture (much like the “seating” of delegates at a convention) is obvious in this verse, since Michael is said to “stand up, the great prince which standeth.” In other words, He is standing in either case. Obviously this is symbolic. Whether seated or standing, Jesus’ work as Mediator is essential to the completion of the atonement process.

In short, there is no possible way for the atonement—the reconciliation of man to God—to be complete at the cross. According to Scripture, man has been separated from God by sin (Isaiah 59:2). Therefore, the only way we can come back to God is to get rid of sin. But since none can accomplish this in their own strength (John 15:5), Jesus came to earth to provide power whereby we can be saved from our sins (Matthew 1:21). But this salvation cannot be ours unless we want it. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). “And being made perfect He (Christ) became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9).

The Bible texts quoted by Ratzlaff in no way teach a finished atonement on the cross. They do teach a complete sacrifice, which Adventism has always believed in. But neither they nor Adventism teach a finished atonement, which can only occur when human beings respond affirmatively to the apostle’s invitation: “Be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Hebrews 9 and the Most Holy Place

Like Ford, Ratzlaff fervently maintains that according to the book of Hebrews (9:8, 12; 10:19, 20), Christ entered the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary at His ascension.10 This view finds support in the erroneous rendering of the Greek expression ta hagia (holy places) by a number of modern translations, such as the New International Version.

But the Most Holy Place is explicitly named only once in the New Testament, and that is in Hebrews 9, verse 3:

And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all (Hagia Hagion, or ‘Holy of Holies’).

This term was obviously available to Paul in this chapter, and is very distinct and unambiguous. Why then, if he intended to convey Christ’s entrance into the heavenly Most Holy Place at His ascension, would He not use this term in subsequent verses?

The answer becomes clear as we read the rest of the chapter. No special emphasis is attached to the Most Holy Place as the focus of Jesus’ heavenly ministry in this context. Rather, the focus is on the replacing of the spiritually inadequate earthly sanctuary with the spiritually adequate heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 9:8-11). Neither of the sanctuary’s apartments is seen as spiritually superior to the other, a point which seriously damages the notion that the Holy Place in this chapter symbolizes the Jewish era while the Most Holy Place symbolizes the Christian era. In fact, the inadequacy of the second apartment is seen in this chapter as far greater than that of the first, since no one but the high priest could enter the second, and then only once a year and not without blood (Hebrews 9:7).

In short, the earthly sanctuary (both apartments) offered only limited access to God, through mortal priests and animal sacrifices (Hebrews 7:23; 9:6-9, 13). By contrast, the heavenly sanctuary offers unlimited access through an immortal Priest who has Himself shed all the blood required (Hebrews 7:25; 9:14, 25, 26).

But the strongest argument against viewing the Most Holy Place as the focus of Jesus’ ministry in Hebrews 9 is to simply compare the key verse on this point—verse 12—with several other verses later in the chapter. Verse 12 reads:

Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in one into the holy place (literally, ‘holy places’), having obtained eternal redemption for us.

Robert Brinsmead, with views similar to Ford’s and Ratzlaff’s, declares concerning Hebrews 9 and 10: “Here Christ’s ascension to the heavenly sanctuary is compared and contrasted with Aaron’s entrance into the most holy place on the Day of Atonement.”11 But this is not at all the comparison made by these chapters. Rather, Jesus’ entrance into the heavenly sanctuary is compared to the inauguration of the wilderness tabernacle services by Moses and Aaron:

Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people. Saying, this is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry (Hebrews 9:18-21).

Notice that the same blood is described in these verses as in verse 12. Moses and Aaron dedicated the wilderness tabernacle with the blood of goats and calves (verses 18-21).

Jesus dedicated the heavenly sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood (verse 12). The parallel here is not with Aaron’s entrance into the earthly Most Holy Place on the ancient Day of Atonement, but with the inaugural ceremony of the wilderness sanctuary.

“Within the Veil“

Like other critics of the Adventist sanctuary doctrine, Ratzlaff insists that “the Biblical term, ‘within the veil’ always refers to the Most Holy Place.”12 It is true, as Ratzlaff claims, that many Old Testament verses do use this phrase to refer to the veil separating the Holy from the Most Holy apartment of the sanctuary (Exodus 26:33; Leviticus 16:2, 12, 15; see also Exodus 26:35; 27:20; 21; 40:22, 26; Leviticus 4:5, 6, 17; 24:1- 3).13 But each of these passages, in context, specifically describes the veil being referred to as the one between the Holy and Most Holy Places, thus making no assumption that the readers would automatically identify the phrase “within the veil” as referring to this particular veil.

The word for veil used in the book of Hebrews is the Greek word katapetasma, which in the Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint, can refer to either the veil at the door of the sanctuary courtyard, the veil between the courtyard and the Holy Place, or the veil separating the Holy from the Most Holy Place (Exodus 38:18; 39:40; Leviticus 16:2, 12, 15; 21:23; Numbers 3:26; 4:26; 18:7). It comes close to frivolity to assume that whenever prepositions such as “within” or “without” or “before” are attached to this very general word, that it must automatically refer to the veil between the first and second sanctuary apartments.

One of the Old Testament verses using this phrase, which Ratzlaff cites as referring to the Most Holy Place, refers in fact to both apartments of the sanctuary. Numbers 18, verse 7 reads as follows:

Therefore thou (Aaron) and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest’s office for every thing of the altar, and within the veil, and ye shall serve.

In context, the altar here described (see verse 3) clearly refers to the altar of burnt offering in the courtyard. “Within the veil” thus refers in the above verse to those portions of the sanctuary not in the courtyard, which would mean everything behind the veil to the Holy Place, which would include the Most Holy Place also.

Ellen White is thus not at all out of step with Scripture when she states that “within the veil” in Hebrews 6:19 refers to the veil to the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary.14

In a broader sense, the term “within the veil” in the book of Hebrews refers to the complete access to God which believers now enjoy as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice and priestly intercession. This is why “the veil” is used as a symbol of Jesus’ broken body in the following passage:

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest (again, the plural form, meaning the sanctuary as a whole) by the blood of Jesus, by a new and lving way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh (Hebrews 10:19, 20).

As we saw in Hebrews 9, the issue here is not the distinction between the veil to the first apartment and the veil to the second, but the replacement of the spiritually inadequate, inaccessible ministry of the Levites and the spiritually effacacious, accessible ministry of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary. This is what Ellen White refers to when she writes that “a new and living way, before which there hangs no veil, is offered to all.”15 This in no way contradicts her other statements where she describes physical partitions in the heavenly sanctuary.16 Her point in the previous statement is simmply that because of the cross, no barriers of any kind prevent our immediate access to God. The physical structure of the heavenly temple—clearly attested to by Scripture (Hebrews 8:5; 9:23)—is not the issue here at all. Veils in the heavenly sanctuary can no more impede our access to God than could the walls and gates of the New Jerusalem!

Ratzlaff follows the script of other sanctuary critics by alleging that belief in a literal heavenly sanctuary necessitates the physical confinement of Jesus, stating that according to Adventism, “Christ entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary for the first time” in 1844.17 Considerable time and attention has been given to this point through the years by critics of our sanctuary doctrine. One now-deceased Adventist historian, in a favorable review of Desmond Ford’s attack on the sanctuary, spoke of how Ford rejected “the confinement of Christ in the Holy Place for 1800 years.”18 Another has stated more recently that according to Adventism, “the Father and the Son have been separated by a curtain for 1800 years.”19

But the critics’ arguments arise from a failure to consider all the relevant Bible evidence. None need fear that Christ’s ministry in the heavenly Holy Place excluded Him from the Father’s immediate presence, which is where the book of Hebrews clearly places Him at His ascension (Hebrews 9:24). People get confused here because they think wherever God is would have to be Most Holy—so if Jesus is in the presence of God at His ascension, so they claim, He would have to be in the Most Holy Place.20 But the critics fail to consider that the only reason the imeediate presence of God was restricted to the Most Holy Place in the earthly sanctuary was due to the problem of sinful man. This problem doesn’t exist in heaven or the heavenly sanctuary; thus the immediate presence of God need not be confined there.

Moreover, in the earthly sanctuary, symbols of God’s presence were found in the Holy Place and courtyard as well as in the Most Holy Place (see John 6:48-51; 8:12). Without question Christ went to His Father’s immediate presence at His ascension (Hebrews 9:24). Adventism has enver denied this. But in no way does this imply that Jesus wasn’t as surely in His Father’s presence while ministering in the Holy Place for 1800 years as He has been since 1844.

In short, according to the book of Hebrews, the inefficient earthly sanctuary has been replaced by the efficient heavenly sanctuary. The rending of the Saviour’s flesh at Calvary was accompanied by the rending of the inner veil in the Temple at Jerusalem (Matthew 27:51). Nowhere does Scripture teach that this means Jesus immediately began a Most Holy Place, Day of Atonement ministry at His ascension. The rending of the inner veil simply meant that because of Jesus’ death, nothing in the earthly sanctuary was sacred anymore, even the Most Holy apartment. Only one sanctuary (in heaven), and only one Priest (Jesus Christ), matter now.

Those who insist that the cross has already fulfilled the Hebrew Day of Atonement, with no further fulfillment needed in 1844, should wonder why the New Testament—especially the book of Hebrews—says so little about the Day of Atonement and its services. While Christ may indeed have attended Day of Atonement ceremonies in His lifetime, no record exists in the Gospel accounts of His doing so, much less of His pointing to these services as the focus of His coming sacrifice. Perhaps most importantly of all, one should ask why Jesus didn’t die on the Day of Atonement instead of the Passover, if in fact He wished His followers to understand that the final judgment symbolized by Yom Kippur was to begin immediately with His ascension to heaven. From the perspective of evangelical theology, what a powerful statement Jesus’ death on the Day of Atonement would have made, signifying that no one need ever afflict his soul again, as required by the ancient ritual (Leviticus 16:29; 23:29)!

But the fact is that Christ’s fulfillment of Day of Atonement symbolism was not the burden of the New Testament, because aside from fulfilling the sacrificial requirements, the final antitype of Yom Kippur was yet future. No wonder the book of Hebrews declares, concerning the Most Holy Place: “of which we cannot now speak particularly” (Hebrews 9:5). But the fact that the heavenly sanctuary will eventually require cleansing is clearly stated in this very chapter, which speaks of the heavenly sanctuary being “purified (cleansed) with better sacrifices” (Hebrews 9:23). It is significant, as our last article noted, that the Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint, uses the same word for cleanse in Hebrews 9:23 as is found in Daniel 8:14 and Leviticus 16, the latter which explains in detail the Day of Atonement services.21

The Sanctuary, Blood, and Defilement

Ratzlaff, like Ford, disputes the Adventist assumption “that the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement was cleansed from defilement occasioned by the confession of sin and ministration of blood. (Though Numbers 19:13, etc, indicates that the sanctuary was defiled when a person sinned, regardless of whether confession was made. In most cases, blood never went into the sanctuary).”22

No one denies, of course, that the earthly sanctuary was defiled by forces other than the penitent confession of sin. One example, among many we could cite, was the occasion when Aaron’s sons offered strange fire in the sanctuary after its consecration (Leviticus 10:1, 2). But this in no way negates the sanctuary’s defilement by the record of confessed sins.

Ratzlaff misleads his readers by saying that “in most cases, blood never went into the sanctuary.”23 It is true that if a ruler or one of the common people sinned, the blood of the sin offering was not taken into the sanctuary, but was instead placed on the horns of the altar in the courtyard (Leviticus 4:22-30). By contrast, if a priest or the entire congregation sinned, the blood was indeed taken into the sanctuary (verses 3-17).

One might guess that more sins were committed by individuals and rulers than by priests or the congregation as a whole. Yet Ratzlaff fails to consider that on those occasions when blood was not used to transfer sin to the sanctuary, this transfer took place through the eating of the flesh of the sacrifice. The following passage makes this clear:

And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it was burnt: and he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron which were left alive, saying, Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord? Behold, the blood of it was not brought in within the holy place: ye should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded (Leviticus 10:16-18).

The holy place, in this passage, clearly refers to the first apartment of the sanctuary, since we have already seen that the blood of those sin offerings which didn’t go into the first apartment was placed on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, in the courtyard. The blood of all sin offerings was brought within the courtyard, either through the victim’s initial slaying or the mediation of its blood on the horns of the altar of burnt offering. Thus the only sin offerings which the above verses could be talking about are those whose blood didn’t go into the first apartment of the sanctuary. In such cases, the flesh of the sacrifice was to be eaten in the first apartment.

In other words, when the blood of a sin offering was not taken into the sanctuary, the flesh was eaten there. In either case, the transfer of sin was effected. The fact that the eating of this flesh involved the transfer of sin is clear from the above passage, for two reasons: (1) Moses stated to Aaron’s sons the significance of this ritual, declaring that “God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation” (Leviticus 10:17); and (2) this eating of sacrificial flesh is stated to be required only for those sin offerings whose blood didn’t enter the holy place (verse 18). Clearly, this service signified, as surely as the ministry of blood, the transfer of sin to the sanctuary.

Ratzlaff again follows the script of other sanctuary critics by accusing Adventists of teaching that Jesus’ blood defiles the heavenly sanctuary. In his own words:

The Bible, contrary to the theology of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment, consistently teaches that blood cleanses rather than defiles.24

Earlier he quotes an Ellen White statement whose plain words he seems not to comprehend. Here is the entire statement, as quoted by Ratzlaff:

As the sins of the people were anciently transferred, in figure, to the earthly sanctuary by the blood of the sin-offering, so our sins are, in fact, transferred to the heavenly sanctuary by the blood of Christ. And as the typical cleansing of the earthly was accomplished by the removal of the sins by which it had been polluted, so the actual cleansing of the heavenly is accomplished by the removal, or blotting out, of the sins which are there recorded.25

Ratzlaff then goes on to say:

The Bible, however, states that it is not blood which defiles the sanctuary, but sin.26
Obviously he fails to read the Ellen White statement he just quoted, for she says precisely the same thing—namely, that it isn’t the blood which defiles, but the sin which the blood transfers. She speaks of how “the typical cleansing of the earthly (sanctuary) was accomplished by the removal of the sins by which it had been polluted.”27 The blood transfers the sin to the sanctuary, thus making it necessary for the sanctuary to be cleansed by removing the record of these sins.

Let me illustrate. Every day I take a shower as a means of physical cleanliness. The water transfers the filth from my body to the shower. But is it the water that makes the shower dirty? Of course not. It is the filth transferred by the water from my body to the shower. So, once every week or two, the shower needs to be cleaned. Not because the water made it dirty, but because the filth transferred to it from my body makes it dirty.

The same is true with the blood of Christ, our sins, and the heavenly sanctuary.

“That Your Sins May Be Blotted Out”

Ratzlaff attacks the Adventist belief that sins are forgiven but not blotted out until a person passes the test of the investigative judgment.28 He quotes a list of passages, mostly from the Old Testament, which either describe a sinner’s plea for God to blot out his sins or God’s promise to do so (Psalm 51:1, 2, 9; Isaiah 43:25; 44:22; Jer. 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; 1 John 1:9.29 Commenting on these verses, Ratzlaff states:

As was pointed out above, the terms ‘blot out,’ ‘wash,’ and ‘cleanse’ are used synonymously when referring to forgiveness. It is clear from these Bible references that this takes place at the point of repentance and forgiveness.30

But the fact is that none of these verses state exactly when sin is to be blotted out. They simply entreat God either to blot out sin or indicate His ability and desire to do so. We must remember that especially the Old Testament verses listed above were written in the context of the Hebrew sanctuary service, in which it was recognized that the final cleansing from sin each year took place on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:30). Even the verses from Isaiah, which speak of this blotting out either as something already done or about to be done (Isaiah 43:25; 44:22), must be understood in the sanctuary framework. Isaiah’s Jewish readers certainly understood when the yearly blotting out of sin took place. Moreover, God’s actions are often depicted in Scripture as presently occuring when in fact they simply describe His power to perform these acts, and His eventual plan to do so. Psalm 46:9 declares of God: “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth.” Obviously this hasn’t happened yet, though one day it will.

Ratzlaff disputes Ellen White’s use of Peter’s appeal to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost regarding the blotting out of sin, saying it has nothing to do with a future investigative judgment.31 The verse Ellen White refers to is Acts 3:19:

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.

Some, like Desmond Ford, have tried to explain this verse as simply a repetition of Acts 2:38, in which Peter declared, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”32 But Acts 3:19 uses decidedly different language, giving clear evidence that the event being described will occur at the end of time, not immediately when Peter was talking. Let us look at Acts 3:19 in context:

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:19-21).

Notice that Acts 3:19 calls for repentance “that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (emphasis supplied). For Peter to speak of these “times of refreshing” in the future tense is significant, especially in view of the Pentecostal outpouring then in progress. If Peter had simply said “when the refreshing sahll come from the presence of the Lord,” one might be justified in thinking this just referred to individuals receiving the Holy Spirit, as in Acts 2:38. But instead Peter says, “when the times of refreshing shall come.” The time of Pentecostal refreshing had already come. Obviously Peter is talking about a future time.

Peter tells us when this time will come when he speaks of how, in the time frame of this future “refreshing,” God “shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things” (verses 20-21). This clearly is not referring to the presence of Christ imparted by the Holy Spirit after His ascension (John 14:18), but to the return of Christ to earth at “the times of restitution of all things” (verse 21), until which time heaven must receive Him.

The picture becomes even clearer with Peter’s statement that this future time of “restitution of all things” had been “spoken by the mouth of all (God’s) holy prophets since the world began” (verse 21). This undoubtedly refers, among other things, to Enoch’s prophecy of Jesus’ second coming, spoken nearly at the dawn of human history:

Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints (Jude 14).

Clearly, Acts 3:20, 21 is a description of the human Christ who ascended to heaven and will return to earth at the end of time. It is in this period when “the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (verse 19). Ellen White is thus in full harmony with the context of this verse when she equates this final “refreshing from the presence of the Lord” with the end-time latter rain,33 at which time the sins of the saints will be blotted out when the investigative judgment passes from the dead to the living.

“The Hour of His Judgment”

Ratzlaff strikes at the core of Adventist evangelistic proclamation—the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14—by challenging the Adventist belief “that Revelation 14:7 has to do with the same investigative judgment of the sins of the saints. (Though John never uses the word krisis other than in a negative sense—for unbelievers, and though the next verse tells us that it is Babylon which endures the judgment, as the later chapters of Revelation also testify).”34

Our discussion of issues in the book of Daniel demonstrated from both Scripture and history that the end- time Antichrist (the little horn in Daniel, Babylon in Revelation) is a professedly Christian power. Just as all Israelites, including the unfaithful (Leviticus 23:27-30), were judged on the ancient Day of Atonement, so all who have professed God’s name in the Christian era (including those who are in fact His enemies) will be judged in the end-time Day of Atonement. This is what the opening of books in Daniel 7 is all about (verses 9-10), and why Daniel is assured that at the end “thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1).

Ratzlaff’s statement that “it is Babylon (rather than God’s people) which endures the judgment, as the later chapters of Revelation also testify,”35 is especially hard to reconcile with Revelation 18:4, where we find the call, “Come out of her, My people,” directed at God’s people who until then have been part of Babylon. Revelation 18 goes on to say, as Babylon endures the seven last plagues, that “in one hour is thy judgment come” (verse 10). This, too, is part of the antitype of the ancient Day of Atonement, in which God’s professed people who failed to afflict their souls were cut off from Israel (Leviticus 23:29-30).

Moreover, Ratzlaff is just plain wrong when he says the Greek word krisis (at times translated either as “judgment” or “condemnation”) is always used by John in a negative sense, for unbelievers only.36 Several chapters prior to Revelation 14, we find this passage:

And the nations were angry, and Thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and Thou shouldest give Thy reward unto Thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear Thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth (Revelation 11:18).

The language here is very similar to that in Revelation 14, which commands men and women to “fear God, and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come” (verse 7). Revelation 11 likewise speaks of God rewarding “them that fear His name,” declaring also that “Thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged” (verse 18). It is obvious from this verse that wicked people aren’t the only ones being judged here, since it speaks of God giving his reward “unto (His) servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear His name.”

The word for judge in Revelation 11:18 is a form of the Greek word krisis, the same word used for judgment in Revelation 14:7. This word is also used in Revelation 20:12, 13, which speaks of the judgment of the dead following the millennium. It is obvious here too that this is not merely a judgment of the wicked, since the book of life is specifically listed as one of the books being opened (verse 12). Ratzlaff’s claim that this word is always used by John in a negative sense, with reference only to unbelievers, is simply not true.

The entire theme of Revelation is to challenge God’s professed people to pass the scrutiny of God’s judgment. Only the overcomers are rewarded in the messages to the seven churches (Revelation chs. 1-3); only the overcomers are assured that their names will not be blotted out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5; see also Exodus 32:32-33; Daniel 12:1). Put these verses together with the listed timing of the final judgment of God’s saints in Daniel (chapters 7-9), Revelation 11 and 14 on the hour of God’s judgment, the call in Revelation 18 for God’s people to leave Babylon and thus be judged with the righteous (Revelation 11:18), and it becomes clear that the message of Revelation 14:7 is exactly what Adventists hold it to be.GCO


1. Dale Ratzlaff, The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists: An Evangelical Resource,An Appeal to SDA Leadership (Sedona, AZ: Life Assurance Ministries, 1996).
2. Ibid., pp. 102 ,219, 220.
3. Ibid., p. 219.
4. Ibid., p. 221 (emphasis original).
5. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible texts are from the King James Version.
6. Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 220.
7. Ibid., pp. 220, 221.
8. See Ellen G. White statements quoted in SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7A, pp. 663, 664.
9. Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 223.
10. Ibid., pp. 179, 182, 210.
11. Robert D. Brinsmead, Judged by the Gospel: A Review of Adventism (Fallbrook, CA: Verdict Publications, 1980), p. 43.
12. Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 186.
13. Ibid., p. 174.
14. White, The Great Controversy, p. 421; Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, p. 159; Early Writings, p. 251.
15. ________, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1109.
16. ________, The Great Controversy, pp. 420-421; Early Writings, pp. 251, 252.
17. Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 159 (emphasis original).
18. Walter Utt, “Desmond Ford Raises the Sanctuary Question,” Spectrum, vol. 10, no. 4, p. 4.
19. Jack Sequeira, “Issues: The Heavenly Sanctuary,” quoted by Kevin Paulson, Those Who Do Not Remember the Past (Eatonville, WA: Hope International, 1995), p. 95.
20. Ibid., p. 96; see also Sanctuary (collection of transcribed sermons available from Pastor Jack Sequeira, 9220 Saint Andrew Place, College Park, MD 20740), p. 90.
21. See Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Little Horn, the Saints, and the Sanctuary in Daniel 8,” The Sanctuary and the Atonement (Washington, D.C: General Conference Biblical Research Institute, 1981), p. 227.
22. Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, pp. 179, 180.
23. Ibid., p. 180.
24. Ibid., p. 207 (emphasis original).
25. White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 266, quoted by Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 207 (emphasis Ratzlaff’s).
26. Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 207.
27. White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 266 (emphasis supplied).
28. Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, pp. 102, 114,208-210.
29. Ibid., p. 209.
30. Ibid.
31. Ibid., p. 208.
32. Desmond Ford, Good News for Adventists (Auburn, CA: Good News Unlimited, 1985), p. 52.
33. White, Early Writings, p. 271.
34. Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 180.
35. Ibid.
36. Ibid.

(Note: The above article was published on on December 5, 2004 and has been posted here with the permission of the author and Please click here to go to the original link.)

About the Author: Pastor Kevin D. Paulson serves on the pastoral staff of the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Through the years he has published articles in many publications. He is also editor of Quo Vadis, a truth-filled magazine predominantly featuring the work of SDA young people. Kevin is also the speaker for “Know Your Bible,” a radio program broadcast each Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on WMCA 570 AM, in Hasbrouk Heights, New Jersey. Pastor Paulson received his BA in Theology from Pacific Union College in 1982 and an MA in Systematic Theology from Loma Linda University in 1987.