The book of Revelation is written in sign language or symbolic language to show what must shortly take place (Revelation 1:1). “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring [also translated the remnant of her seed], who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17.
The dragon is a symbol of an angel that once was one of the leading angels of heaven who fell and has become what we call the Devil, or Satan, a fallen angel. Verse 9 says, “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” So, “the dragon was angry with the woman” means Satan is angry with the church.
In the Bible, whole chapters have been written using a woman as a symbol; for example, Ezekiel 16 and 23. Jeremiah 6:2 says, “I have likened the daughter of Zion to a lovely and delicate woman.” Isaiah 51:16 tells us who Zion is: “And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, that I may plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘you are My people.’ ” Zion is God’s people and is represented by a lovely and delicate woman.
Paul uses the same terminology addressing the church of God in Corinth: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste [pure] virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” II Corinthians 11:2, 3.
In both the Old and New Testaments the church is likened to a woman. If the woman is pure, she represents a pure church, but if the woman becomes a prostitute or harlot, that woman is used to represent a corrupt church that is in apostasy. Revelation 17 and 18 describe a great prostitute that, in the last days, affects the whole world.
The woman of Revelation 12 is a pure woman; she is clothed with the sun, and she brings forth a male child that is to rule all nations (verse 5). This is a pure woman, a pure church, and refers to God’s people. “The dragon was enraged with the woman [God’s people in the last days], and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring [the last church], who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10.
In everyday English a translation of the symbols would read: “And the devil, or Satan, was enraged with the church, or with God’s people, and he went to make war, or try, to destroy the last church, God’s people, who keep the commandments of God and have the spirit of prophecy.”
Years ago, evangelists always said that to find God’s people in the last days, you would need to find a church that keeps all ten of the commandments. And secondly, it must have the gift of prophecy. These qualifications narrow down the choice. Many churches worship on a day different than what has been commanded, and people bow before representations of the virgin Mary holding baby Jesus and images of Jesus hanging on the cross. The commandments prohibit this action and eliminate those churches from being pure. (See Exodus 20:8–11.)
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not the only church that advocates keeping all of the commandments, and there are also several other churches that claim to have the gift of prophecy.
Paul told the Thessalonian church to “prove all things.” I Thessalonians 5:21. This admonition should be applied in the search for the true church. There is one doctrine found in Daniel 8:14 that, as far as I know, is unique to Adventism. It says, “And he said to me, ‘For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.’ ”
Point #1 – Adventists have believed that this text refers to the time of the end, something that is going to happen in the last epochal period of earth’s history, because of what the angel told Daniel: “Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end” and “for at the appointed time, the end shall be.” Verses 17 and 19.
Point #2 – The sanctuary is going to be cleansed after this period of time and in the time of the end.
Point #3 – The earthly sanctuary was a type of the real sanctuary in heaven. (See Hebrews 8.) Daniel 8:14 would have to be referring to the heavenly sanctuary, because there is no earthly sanctuary in the time of the end.
Point #4 – This verse would then mean, that in the time of the end the heavenly sanctuary is going to be cleansed. This seems incredible for some people to believe—that there would be something in heaven needing cleansing, but the Bible says that there is—the heavenly sanctuary.
Paul says, “Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens [the earthly sanctuary] should be purified [or cleansed] with these.” Hebrews 9:23. To what do “these” refer?
In chapters 8 and 9 we see that the earthly sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices. Again, in chapter 10:1–4, Paul says that the blood of bulls and goats that was offered every year could not take away sins. The earthly sanctuary was cleansed with these animal sacrifices, “but the heavenly things themselves [the sanctuary in heaven, of which the earthly sanctuary was a type] with better sacrifices than these.” Hebrews 9:23. The “better” sacrifice refers to the sacrifice Christ made when He died on the cross. It says, in verse 24, “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies [that is, the earthly sanctuary] of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” Paul is saying that the heavenly sanctuary has to be cleansed. But in order for something to be cleansed, it first had to have been defiled, for you don’t purify or cleanse something that is already clean. How is it there is defilement in heaven?
In Daniel 7:9, 10 is a description of the judgment. “I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheel a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand [that is a hundred million] stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”
This portrays a judgment scene in heaven, with books. David gives insight into what is recorded in these books. “You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?” Psalm 56:8. God keeps account of all the events of our lives.
Malachi 3:16 says, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name.” When God’s people meet together and speak together, God doesn’t just hear it, but He has it recorded in a book.
In Matthew 12:35, 36, it says, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.”
God has a record of every word that we have ever spoken, the good words and also the idle words. God knows a lot more than just our words, though. The psalmist understood this very, very clearly. In Psalm 139:1–4, it says, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up [He knows what time you go to bed and what time you get up]; You understand my thought afar off. [God understands your thought before you even think it. He knows what you are going to think tomorrow, what you have not even thought yet, and understands.] You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.” God knows our thoughts!
The Lord says, in Isaiah 66:18, “For I know their works and their thoughts.” In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, He explained that sin started in the mind; it was possible to commit adultery with a woman in your mind. Murder also starts in the mind; to hate is recorded as murder.
Detailed records of each life, every thought and act, is kept in the throne room of the heavenly sanctuary. Because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), those records have defiled God’s sanctuary. But in the end of time, the sanctuary is going to be cleansed. This will happen in two distinct ways. “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come [the latter rain] from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ [the Second Coming], Who was preached to you before, Whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Acts 3:19–21.
Peter says that, in the time of the latter rain, there will be some people whose sins are going to be blotted out. The pollution of their record of sinful thoughts and actions will be gone forever.
The other way the sanctuary will be cleansed is to remove the names of those who remain unrepentant of their thoughts and actions; their names will be blotted out. Moses pled with the Lord for the children of Israel: “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin, but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.’ ” Exodus 32:32, 33. Moses understood that God had a book and that his name, as well as those of the children of Israel, was in there. He could not bear the thought that God would wipe out the nation because of their rebellion, and he consented to be lost, if he could not get the people saved.
The heavenly sanctuary is cleansed in two ways—either the sins are blotted out of the records, leaving the names of the repentant, or the whole record, including the names of the unrepentant, is removed. For 150 years, this is the way that Adventists have explained the cleansing of the sanctuary, but the teaching has not been made practical enough so people can understand it. All through the Bible, the sanctuary or God’s temple has always been a symbol and not just a building.
Ellen White describes the beginning of Christ’s ministry when He first cleansed the temple. She wrote that the sanctuary, the building that the Jews regarded with so much pride, was a symbol of what God wanted to do for every human being. (See The Desire of Ages, 161, 162.)
Paul said, “Do you not know that your body is the temple [sanctuary] of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price [and what a price!]; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” I Corinthians 6:19, 20. The Corinthian church had a problem with sexual immorality, and Paul wrote to them in this context. He said they could not do as they wished to please their bodies, for the body is supposed to be a temple for the Holy Spirit.
That being the case, and in the last days the temple is going to be cleansed, that would mean our body, our spirit and our mind is to be cleansed. Our thoughts, feelings, words and actions are all to be purified so the Holy Spirit can dwell in our mind. The Holy Spirit cannot dwell with sin, so a cleansing must take place. If we remain in sin we make our body and our mind a temple for the dwelling place for evil angels. “Satan takes the control of every mind that is not decidedly under the control of the Spirit of God.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 79.
Ellen White said that though it was manifested in a different way, the priests and the religious leaders in the time of Christ were just as much possessed of the devil as the demoniacs. The devil was in control. How is it in your life?
Paul told King Agrippa about his experience on the road to Damascus and the work the Lord told him to do, “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” Acts 26:18.
The Corinthians did not know that in worshiping their idols and sacrificing to them they were, in fact, worshiping devils. Today, though they may not be aware, those who are living in sin are under the control of the devil. I John 3:8 says that everyone “who sins is of the devil.”
The cleansing of the temple has an even broader meaning than how it applies to each individual Christian.
In I Corinthians 3:16, 17, Paul says, “Do you [plural word meaning the church] not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him.” This sentence has a parallel construction, which should be translated with the same verb. Either it should read, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will defile him” or “If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him.” I personally believe the second translation is the more correct one. This is one of the most powerful verses in the New Testament talking about health reform. “If you defile the temple of God, if you destroy it, God will destroy you.” Now he’s talking to the whole church. “If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”
The cleansing of the sanctuary does not just apply to individuals but it applies to the church as a whole. Some people think that the church is just going to get worse, and then, in some way, when Jesus comes, like pushing a magic button, it will all be cleansed and purified. I call that the “magic button theology,” but it is not found in the Bible.
As the disciples came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, they asked Jesus, “ ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.’ ” Matthew 17:10–12.
The Jewish people thought they could prove that Jesus could not be the Messiah, because the Scriptures taught that before the Messiah would come, Elijah the prophet had to come first. Jesus said Elijah has already come, and they didn’t know it. They were looking forward to something to happen in the future that had already been happening.
We are in the identical situation today. The average Adventist is looking forward to the purification of the church in the future, but it has already started and may be almost over. The Bible is very clear that God is going to have a church that has been cleansed and purified before He returns.
Look at Ephesians 5:25, 26. This passage refers literally to husbands and wives; however, Paul uses this relationship of husbands and wives simply as an illustration for the church. He says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.” Now notice that the cleansing of the church, the cleansing of the sanctuary and the purification of the church is all the same thing. It does not occur by a magic button when Jesus comes, but is a process like taking a bath, and it occurs through the word of God.
As the word of God is preached, and we find our life is not in harmony with it, we say, “Lord, change me so my life can be harmony with this book.” The Holy Spirit starts working on our mind and the cleansing process takes place. Verse 27 continues, “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”
In Early Writings, 118, Ellen White told us which angel will purify the church. In Revelation 14:9 it says, “A third angel follows them … .” An understanding of the third angel’s message cleanses and purifies the church.
When Jesus returns, He is coming to receive His church. Many will be resurrected who were led by the Holy Spirit and lived up to the light they had, though it may have never been part of the church in this world. But among the people who are alive when Jesus comes again, that live through the time of trouble and will go up with Him, are the people who are in the church that has been cleansed and purified. They will be without any blemish or spot; they will be without fault and holy.
If you have never felt defiled, you had better start praying, for when the Holy Spirit starts working on a person’s mind, they know immediately their condition. One ray of light from the Holy Spirit and the degradation and defilement of the human soul is manifest. You never need to tell somebody that they are defiled, because they already know it, for that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
These texts mean that God is going to take a defiled people and cleanse them till there is no defilement, until they are pure and holy without a single blemish. The people that are taken to heaven will not be going as pardoned criminals but as though they had never sinned. All of their sins will be gone forever and blotted out, for they will be thoroughly cleansed. What a promise, what a thought, to be made clean by Jesus!
Don’t be deceived by the magic button theology, the idea that you can just keep sinning and when Jesus comes, all of a sudden, everything will be turned around, because that is not the way it works. That is not the way you take a bath. Paul said that, “He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.” This is not something that is to happen in the future, but now. The Jews did not recognize the Messiah, expecting Elijah to come first, and they missed him. Many of us are looking for something to happen in the future, when it is happening right in front of us, and we don’t recognize what’s going on. The church is being purified right now. The sanctuary is being cleansed now, and many will not realize it until it is all over, and probation is closed, and the plagues are falling. Then they will wake up and say, “We didn’t realize this, but now it’s too late.” (See Early Writings, 71.)
“Now is the day of salvation.” II Corinthians 6:2. Don’t put it off, waiting for a national Sunday law to be passed and for the other events to take place. There is no time to delay. The signal to get ready has been given. Make peace with your Saviour and be cleansed today. Plead with Him to reveal your darling sins, the ones you intend to give up one day, so you can lay them on the altar and be saved. Let them go and be cleansed by the Word.
Jesus said to the Jews, “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” John 8:24. I have prayed about this verse many times; not that I will not have to die, but that by His grace I will never die in my sins. To die in sin is a risk that no one can afford to take.
Each person and every church is going through a purification process. Angels pass by any church that refuses to be purified and let that church go. They surround those who desire the cleansing and bring divine help, leaving those who refuse to be left to their own devises.
God is going to have a church. It will be without blemish and holy, a church where God’s love is manifest. We can all be a part of it if we will stop resisting the Holy Spirit and want to be clean.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Free Seventh-day Adventist Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.