Even though, in the Millerite movement of 1844, there was a spirit of love that we have never seen since, Ellen White said that they were not yet ready for the Lord to come. They had unreserved consecration. They had received the Holy Spirit and were born-again Christians. They were ready to die and to come up again in the first resurrection. They sought the Saviour’s approval every day and they were serving Jesus with an undivided heart. They were without question the saints of God in their generation. They were perfect in the same sense that Noah and the other Bible characters were described in the Bible as being perfect. Yet, they were not ready for Christ’s return.
To answer the question, “What was it they lacked and needed to be ready?” we need to first study the atonement. Even though the investigative judgment and the atonement take place at the same time in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, they are not the same thing. Ellen White wrote, “Attended by heavenly angels, our great High Priest enters the holy of holies [in 1844] and there appears in the presence of God to engage in the last acts of His ministration in behalf of man—to perform the work of investigative judgment and to make an atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to its benefits.” The Great Controversy, 480.
In 1977 an Anglican clergyman by the name of Geoffrey Paxton wrote a book called The Shaking of Adventism. In his book he states that we are in a life and death struggle as to the nature of the gospel. A friend of mine said, “Laodicea has been a long time in a life and death struggle as to the nature of the gospel and she has lost.” The reason he said that is because of what we have in recent years published in our official writings concerning the atonement.
The atonement is an exceedingly important subject. Ellen White wrote in 1906: “The sanctuary question is the foundation of our faith.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, 248. She also said, “We are in the great day of atonement, and the sacred work of Christ for the people of God that is going on at the present time in the heavenly sanctuary should be our constant study.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 520.
The word atonement has more than one meaning in Inspired writings and the failure to distinguish between the different ways this word is used is one of the reasons for the confusion of voices in Adventism today about this subject. The three meanings of the word atonement I have found in the Inspired writings are as follows:
- A sacrifice, or an attainment of a penalty, or reparation, or compensation, or payment of a debt, or paying a price, or giving a ransom.
If you are a Christian, then you know that Jesus accomplished all of these things on the cross. When we use the word atonement in that sense we understand that Jesus made a full, complete and perfect atonement on the cross. So the first meaning of atonement is connected with the cross and the death of Jesus.
Several statements about this are as follows:
“Christ made a full and complete sacrifice, a sacrifice sufficient to save every son and daughter of Adam who should show repentance toward God for having transgressed His law, and manifest faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 664.
“On the cross of Christ, the Saviour made an atonement for the fallen race.” The Signs of the Times, December 17, 1902.
“He planted the cross between heaven and earth, and when the Father beheld the sacrifice of His Son, He bowed before it in recognition of its perfection. ‘It is enough,’ He said. ‘The atonement is complete.’ ” The Review and Herald, September 24, 1901.
“Type met antitype in the death of Christ, the Lamb slain for the sins of the world. Our great High Priest has made the only sacrifice that is of any value in our salvation. When He offered Himself on the cross, a perfect atonement was made for the sins of the people.” Lift Him Up, 319.
That is the first meaning of atonement: a sacrifice, a ransom to pay a debt and Jesus fully paid the debt on the cross of Calvary.
However, in Inspired writings, that is not the only meaning or the main meaning of the word atonement.
- A second meaning of the word atonement: mainly to receive forgiveness of sins. Very clearly in Bible and Spirit of Prophecy writings, atonement refers to receiving forgiveness of sins or pardon. In Leviticus 4:27–31: “If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally by doing something against any of the commandments of the Lord in anything which ought not to be done and is guilty, or if his sin which he has sinned comes to his knowledge, then he shall bring as his offering a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has sinned. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and kill the sin offering at the place of the burnt offering. Then the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and pour all the remaining blood at the base of the altar. He shall remove all its fat, as fat is removed from the sacrifice of the peace offering; and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a sweet aroma to the Lord. So the priest shall make atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him.”
Notice that once the sacrifice has been made, a priest is involved who, with the blood or flesh of the sacrifice, makes an atonement for you and then you are forgiven. However, before this forgiveness could be given there was an important step. “And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing.” Leviticus 5:5.
A person had to make specific confession, and then it says, “He shall offer the second as a burnt offering according to the prescribed manner. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin which he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him.” Leviticus 5:10.
Over and over again the Bible says that the priest will make atonement, and when the priest makes atonement you will be pardoned or forgiven. Once forgiven there is no more guilt. Many people in our world suffer various damaging sicknesses as a result of their guilt. It was not God’s will for the Israelites to wait until the end of the year. The people could come any day to confess their sins and receive atonement, but they had to have the services of a priest in order to have forgiveness.
- A more profound meaning of the word atonement, a third meaning, is found in Leviticus 16:29, 30. “This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.”
This was not the same atonement that they received during the year. On this Day of Atonement they would be cleansed and their sins would be removed and they would no longer be sinners.
“In the typical system, which was a shadow of the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ, the cleansing of the sanctuary was the last service performed by the high priest in the yearly round of ministration. It was the closing work of the atonement—a removal or putting away of sin from Israel. It prefigured the closing work in the ministration of our High Priest in heaven, in the removal or blotting out of the sins of His people, which are registered in the heavenly records.” The Great Controversy, 352.
Ellen White wrote in 1846: “I believe the Sanctuary to be cleansed at the end of the 2300 days is the New Jerusalem Temple, of which Christ is a minister. The Lord shew me in vision, more than one year ago, that Brother Crosier had the true light, on the cleansing of the Sanctuary.” A Word to the Little Flock, 12.
In 1846 the other churches were saying to Crosier that the atonement was all done at the cross. He says, “But again, they say that the atonement was made and finished on Calvary, when the Lamb of God expired. So men have taught us, and so the churches and world believe; but it is none the more true or sacred on that account, if unsupported by Divine authority. Perhaps few or none who hold that opinion have ever tested the foundation on which it rests.” The Law of Moses, 41.
All of the Adventist pioneers understood the same thing. James White described it in about 1872 or 1874. He said concerning Jesus, “He dwelt among men full of grace and truth, lived our example, died our sacrifice, was raised for our justification, ascended on high to be our only Mediator in the sanctuary in Heaven where, with His own blood, He makes atonement for our sins, which atonement so far from being made on the cross, which was but the offering of the sacrifice, is the very last portion of His work as priest, according to the example of the Levitical priesthood.” Fundamental Principles of Seventh-day Adventists, 4. Crosier, James White and all of the Adventist pioneers believed this.
In 1889 it was written this way: “Christ was raised for our justification and ascended on high to be our only mediator in the sanctuary in heaven where, through the merits of His shed blood He procures pardon and forgiveness.” It sounds just about the same but is not quite the same.” Adventist Year Book of Statistics, 1889, 147.
In 1894 we describe it like this: “Where, through the atoning merits of His shed blood He secures pardon and forgiveness.” Fundamental Principles of Seventh-day Adventists, 147. This does not sound too bad but it is not the same—we had changed it.
In the 1931 Seventh-day Adventist Year Book the definition was really changed. In fact neither the word atonement nor anything like it ever appears. It states: “He died for our sins on the cross, was raised from the dead, and ascended to the Father where He ever lives to make intercession for us.” Intercession does have to do with the investigative judgment but the intercession is not the atonement. Atonement is not even mentioned.
All four of these statements were unofficial, but the General Conference Committee in 1950 passed a resolution that no change be made in the 1931 statement except by the General Conference in session when adequate notice of such intention had been published. So to summarize this was how it was changed:
- In 1872 we said, With His own blood He makes atonement.
- In 1889 we said, Through the merit of His blood He secures pardon.
- In 1894 we said, Through the atoning merits of His blood He secures pardon.
- In 1931 we said, He ever lives to make intersession for us.
Things got worse. In 1957 a book was published called Questions on Doctrines, and on page 354 it stated: “When, therefore, one hears an Adventist say, or reads in Adventist literature—even in the writings of Ellen G. White—that Christ is making atonement now, it should be understood that we mean simply that Christ is now making application of the benefits of His sacrificial atonement He made on the cross.”
According to that, Christ is not even making atonement for us up in heaven anymore. It was all done at the cross and He is just applying benefits. This is a 180 degree turn from where our pioneers stood. Adventists were called a cult and one reason was because the other churches said that the atonement was all over at the cross and our pioneers said “No, it was not.” The atonement has not been completed yet. It is being conducted in the sanctuary in heaven right now. Some of our leaders thought we ought to make peace with these people; so they tried to state our beliefs in a way that would be acceptable to them.
The following is what appeared in Ministry Magazine, in February, 1957. You need to know before you read this statement that this is a lie. It said, “The sacrificial act on the cross is a complete and final atonement for man’s sin.” That is a lie!
What does God say about this? “The ministration of the priest throughout the year in the first apartment of the sanctuary, ‘within the veil’ (Hebrews 6:19) which formed the door and separated the holy place from the outer court, represents the work of ministration upon which Christ entered at His ascension. It was the work of the priest in the daily ministration to present before God the blood of the sin offering, also the incense which ascended with the prayers of Israel. So did Christ plead His blood before the Father in behalf of sinners, and present before Him also, with the precious fragrance of His own righteousness, the prayers of penitent believers. Such was the work of ministration in the first apartment of the sanctuary in heaven.” The Great Controversy, 420, 421.
“For eighteen centuries this work of ministration continued in the first apartment of the sanctuary. The blood of Christ, pleaded in behalf of penitent believers, secured their pardon and acceptance with the Father, yet their sins still remained upon the books of record. As in the typical service there was a work of atonement at the close of the year, so before Christ’s work for the redemption of men is completed there is a work of atonement for the removal of sin from the sanctuary. This is the service which began when the 2300 days ended.” Ibid., 421. (Emphasis added.)
Notice, the atonement involves not just applying benefits for something that was done 2000 years ago. It involves a continuing work of atonement, which is going on at this time to remove sin from God’s people.
Another statement on this: “As anciently the sins of the people were by faith placed upon the sin offering and through its blood transferred, in figure, to the earthly sanctuary, so in the new covenant the sins of the repentant are by faith placed upon Christ and transferred, in fact, to the heavenly sanctuary. 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 to be accomplished by the removal, or blotting out, of the sins which are there recorded.” Ibid., 421, 422. [Emphasis added.]
Why is it so important that we understand sanctuary truths? There is a story about an argument in which two young men got into about whether or not they needed to keep the Sabbath. One argued that it didn’t matter, but the other one said, “If you are right and I am wrong, it doesn’t matter because I will be able to go to heaven anyway. But if I am right and you are wrong you won’t be going to heaven.”
Some people say that it does not matter what we are studying here. Well, if we are wrong, it doesn’t matter. We will be able to go to heaven anyway. If the Adventist pioneers were right, the people who have rejected this teaching are not going to make it because this teaching involves understanding how you can be ready for Jesus to come. This is the reason that the people in 1844 were not ready for Jesus to come. They were ready to die and to be raised in the first resurrection but they were not ready to be translated. Why? Because they had not received the atonement. If they were not ready to be translated because they had not received the atonement, will you be ready to be translated if you have not received the atonement?
There are three meanings to the atonement. It is described sometimes in the Spirit of Prophecy for the ransom that is paid—which Jesus paid on the cross. It is used other times to describe forgiveness of sins, the work of the daily or the first apartment of the sanctuary. It is also used to describe the work of the Day of Atonement when you are cleansed from all of your sins. Many times Ellen White and the pioneers used the atonement in the context of the removal of sins.
We are told that the sanctuary was the very center of Christ’s work on behalf of men and it concerns every soul living upon the earth. (The Great Controversy, 488.) It is in the sanctuary in heaven where the cases of all people are going to be decided.
The investigative judgment will determine whether you will be part of the atonement in which your sins are removed or blotted out.
In Revelation 3:17, last part, in the message to the Laodicean church, Jesus revealed to us our real problem: “You do not know that you are wretched.” The Bible tells us what makes a person wretched. In Romans 7:24, it says, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul recognizes that he is wretched and wants to be delivered from that state. He has sin within that he has never overcome. He is in bondage to it. Read the whole chapter of Romans 7 that describes the problem with Laodicea—you do not know that you are wretched. You think that everything is okay. However, you can never meet the Lord in peace and go to heaven while in a wretched condition.
Ellen White wrote, “The sanctuary question is the foundation of our faith.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, 248. We are in the great Day of Atonement. This should be our constant study.
The final atonement removes your sins from you. When the final atonement is over, those who receive of that atonement are no longer forgiven sinners anymore—they are no longer sinners. This final atonement removes sin from every person who is saved. The final atonement is made for the dead first and finally for the living.
The problem today is that God’s professed people are not at all ready to receive the final atonement. Let’s suppose that it is time for the final atonement, but I have a sin in my life that I don’t want to overcome. Will it do any good for Jesus to remove all my sins if I sin again the next day? In order to be ready to receive the final atonement, a person has to have quit sinning. This is described in the Old as well as in the New Testament.
You will want the following Scripture fulfilled in your life. “Behold, the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving [inscription] thereof, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.” Zechariah 3:9 KJV. That is the final atonement. Your sins will be taken away and blotted out. You will no longer be a sinner.
The plan of salvation involves a complete restoration from everything that has been ruined and lost by sin. It will not be complete for you until your sins are removed.
Ellen Write wrote about the fact of our self-deception. Many are being preached into heaven. You cannot live for the devil all of your life and then the last two minutes of your life ask the Lord to save you. That is not how the plan of salvation works. It did not even work that way for the thief on the cross. The thief on the cross was sanctified before he died. Ellen White said, “What is it that constitutes the wretchedness, the nakedness, of those who feel rich and increased with goods? It is the want of the righteousness of Christ. In their own righteousness they are represented as clothed with filthy rags, and yet in this condition they flatter themselves that they are clothed upon with Christ’s righteousness. …” Our High Calling, 349. Could any deception be greater than this?
Do not deceive yourself. In order to be ready for the final atonement, you must be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. God is preparing a people today that will be translated. Those people have to be ready and willing to have all of their sins removed.
(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 Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.