The Cleansing of the Sanctuary from Sin

In the book of Hebrews, we are shown that the cleansing of the Sanctuary from sin is an integral part of the New Covenant. “Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” Hebrews 9:23. This work of cleansing is the only work that remains between us and the Second Coming of Christ. As soon as Jesus has completed His work of atonement, He will take off His High Priestly robes, put on His kingly garments, and return to this world to take His people home. All other events, including the Sunday laws and the time of trouble, are peripheral events to that central focal point of the New Covenant.

In Revelation 11:1, we are told, “And the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.’” The question arises, Who are these worshippers in God’s Sanctuary in heaven? Turning to Hebrews 10:19, we read, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus.” Further, the apostle tells us that, “God, Who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we wee dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4–6.

According to Paul, by faith we are to enter into holy places of the Sanctuary in Heaven where we are to participate in the work that Jesus, as our High Priest, is doing for His people. While our body is down here, by faith we are to enter into the Sanctuary in Heaven. We are, therefore the worshippers. As we grasp this truth, we begin to understand that the Sanctuary in Heaven cannot be cleansed if the worshippers are still defiled by sin.

There are two ways that the Sanctuary can be cleansed. One way is for the sins of God’s people to be blotted out; the other is for their names to be removed from the books in Heaven. The defilement an only be ended by the complete removal of either the sin or the sinner. Paul describes the provision of the New Covenant in this way, “Now, once in the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Hebrews 9:16. Ellen White refers to it as the final atonement. “The blood of Christ, while it was to release the repentant sinner from the condemnation of the law, was not to cancel the sin; it would stand on record in the sanctuary until the final atonement. . . . As in the final atonement the sins of the truly penitent are to be blotted from the records of heaven. . . .” Patriarchs and Prophets, 357, 358.

The Day of Atonement

It is well to remember that in the daily service of the Sanctuary, the priest made atonement. That atonement, however, was not sufficient unless the person participated in the work that took place on the Day of Atonement. (See Leviticus 23:28–30.) This service was the typical service; but since October 22, 1844, we are living in the antitype, or the reality of that service.

In the daily Sanctuary service, the worshippers had a conditional pardon. It was conditional on their participation in the work that took place on the Day of Atonement. In the typical Day of Atonement, any person who did not afflict his soul, or who did any work, was to be cut off from the people. The apostle Paul talks about the provisions of the typical service in dealing with sin. “For the law [ceremonial law], having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year [Day of Atonement], make those who approach perfect. For them would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshippers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Hebrews 10:1–4.

If it was possible for those sacrifices to really take away sins, then after the Day of Atonement there would have been no sacrifices and no need of confession of sins because their sins would already have been taken away. They would have been perfect. The Old Covenant, however, could not really take away sins. It was merely a description, or type, to explain the work to be accomplished by the New Covenant. As a result, the same people who had come to the Day of Atonement returned to offer more sacrifices the next year.

Paul then goes on to show that what the Old Covenant could not do, really takes place under the New Covenant. God is not simply going to forgive our sins; He is actually going to take them away. God’s people will then be perfect in regard to the conscience; they will have no more consciousness of sins.

In Hebrews, the apostle Paul links the experience of Christ with the experience of the New Covenant. He also ties the experience of those who will be translated with Christ’s experience. As Jesus went through a time of trouble just before He left this world, the saints are going to have to experience a time of trouble just before they are translated. As we will see, this experience through which they pass is closely connected to the cleansing of the Sanctuary. It will also be shown that when we speak of the cleansing of the Sanctuary, we are talking of the cleansing of the worshippers and that this cleansing is intimately related to what takes place in the mind of the believer.

Final Removal of Sin

It was not God’s will, even in Old Testament times, for His people to continually sin and then bring sacrifices. (See Hebrews 10:5, 6.) The New Covenant provides just one sacrifice; and that Sacrifice delivers the believer not just from guilt, but from the power of sin. Speaking of the New Covenant, Paul continues, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them.” Then he adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Verses 16, 17. He is speaking of the removal of their sins, after which He will remember them no more.

Whenever you read the texts in the Bible that speak about casting our sins in the bottom of the sea, if you will notice the context, you will see that it is always referring to the results to be accomplished as a result of the completed work of the New Covenant. Sins are not cast into the depths of the sea and forgotten by the Lord until the New Covenant is consummated. Until that time they are kept on record, even thought you are forgiven. The apostle Peter, speaking of this, says, “Repent therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19. This is the time of refreshing, also foretold in Joel 2 and Zachariah 10, that is going to come just before Jesus returns to this earth. This spiritual refreshing is what we refer to as the Latter Rain.

“Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.” Hebrews 10:18. The significance of overcoming sin is found in the fact that the New Covenant cannot be put into effect in a person’s life until he has victory over sin because under the New Covenant, there is only one sacrifice and the sins are taken away only once and for all. While you can confess and receive forgiveness many times, your sins are only taken away once.

The Preparation

We are told, “I saw that none could share the refreshing unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action.” Early Writings, 71. And what does the Latter Rain accomplish? “While we cherish the blessing of the early rain, we must not, on the other hand, lose sight of the fact that without the Latter Rain, to fill out the ears and ripen the grain, the harvest will not be ready for the sickle, and the labor of the sower will have been in vain.” Testimonies to Ministers, 507.

The Latter Rain prepares God’s people to receive His seal. To receive the seal of God we must reflect the image of Jesus fully. And what does it man to reflect the image of Jesus fully? It is to have His Law written the heart. This final work takes place during the time that we refer to as the time of trouble.

God does not just arbitrarily say, “I am not going to take you to heaven unless you go through the time of trouble first.” The time of trouble has to do with the final purification or cleansing of the Sanctuary. It is a vital part of the purification of God’s people. “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.’ I Peter 4:1, 2.

Notice carefully that the apostle closely links the discipline of chastening with perfection of character. “If you endure chastening, God deal with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of Spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:7–11.

The Final Shaking

The final shaking and the presentation of an unshakable kingdom and a glorious church is what the time of trouble is all about. Ellen White says that the purification of God’s people can only be accomplished through suffering. “The purification of the people of God cannot be accomplished without their suffering. God permits the fires of affliction to consume the dross, to separate the worthless from the valuable, that the pure metal may shine forth.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 85.

God does not allow you to get into trouble because He enjoys seeing you suffer but because He knows that there is no other way that your character can be purified. We do not realize how much sin has degraded and affected our characters; and even for divine power, there is no way to accomplish our purification without suffering. One Saturday night, when my brother Marshall was alive, we were talking about persecution and the suffering of God’s saints. Marshall said that no matter how bad it becomes, it will only be temporary.

“The time of trouble is the crucible that is to bring out Christ-like characters. It is designed to lead the people of God to renounce Satan and his temptations. The last conflict will reveal Satan to them in his true character, that of a cruel tyrant, and it will do for them what nothing else could do, up-root him entirely form their affections. For to love and cherish sin is to love and cherish its author, that deadly foe of Christ. When they excuse sin and cling to perversity of character, they give Satan a place in their affections, and pay him homage.” Review and Herald, August 12, 1884. Whenever you are in trouble, always remember that it is all for a purpose and that it is only temporary.

It is interesting to note that the earthliness is going to be removed from those who have already gained the victory over sin. These are not people who are still smoking, drinking, carousing, and living like the world. This is all in the past in their lives, but the root of the sin problem has not yet been fully eradicated from their heart. We can never be ready for Jesus to come and to be translated, unless it comes out. That is what the time of trouble is all about.

Describing these scenes, Ellen White wrote, “It is an hour of fearful, terrible agony to the saints. Day and night they cried unto God for deliverance. To outward appearance, there was no possibility of their escape. The wicked had already begun to triumph, crying out, “Why doesn’t your God deliver you out of our hands? Why don’t you go up and save your lives?’ But the saints heeded them not. Like Jacob, they were wrestling with God. The angels longed to deliver them, but they must wait a little longer; the people of God must drink of the cup and be baptized with the baptism. The angels, faithful to their trust, continued their watch. God would not suffer His name to be reproached among the heathen. The time had nearly come when He was to manifest His mighty power and gloriously deliver His saints. For His name’s glory He would deliver every one of those who had patiently waited for Him and whose names were written in the book.” Early Writings, 283.

Are you praying and asking the Lord to help you to receive the maximum benefit out of every trial and trouble that He allows to come to you? The troubles that God’s people experience are not the result of happenstance or arbitrary in nature, but they are for a purpose. God is preparing a people to be ready to meet Him when He comes. As long as you abide in His will, every trial and trouble that you experience is a necessary preparation for that experience. “The fact that we are called upon to endure trial, proves that the Lord sees something in us very precious, which He desires to develop. If He saw nothing whereby He might glorify His name, He would not spend time in refining us. We do not take special pains in pruning brambles. Christ does not cast worthless stones into His furnace. It is valuable ore that He tests.” Signs of the Times, August 18, 1909.

The New Covenant provides for the removal of sin from God’s people. As soon as this work is accomplished, friends, Jesus is going to come; and we are going to go home. Always remember when you are in trouble that all of our troubles are temporary, but the consequences are eternal.

May God help each one of us to gain from our trials an experience that will prepare us to be ready to look up and meet Jesus with joy when He comes.