A distinctive feature of Seventh-day Adventist teaching is the “heavenly sanctuary” doctrine. On the day after “the great disappointment” in 1844, Hiram Edson assertedly experienced a vision of heaven in which he saw Christ, the High Priest, entering the most holy place in heaven to cleanse it. Here then, of course, lay the readiest explanation for the failure of Christ to return to earth as had been expected by the Adventists.

What was the purpose of this supposed cleansing of the sanctuary in 1844? To learn this, the Adventists turned to the biblical account of the yearly day of Atonement, and found there, presumably in type, the explanation of this new phase of the ministry of Christ in behalf of sinners.

A passage from Mrs. White’s writings, reprinted by the Seventh-day Adventists in 1947, summarizes the meaning of this doctrine:

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 to be accomplished by the removal, or blotting out of the sins which are there recorded. This necessitates an examination of the books of record to determine who, through repentance of sin and faith in Christ, are entitled to the benefits of his atonement. The cleansing of the sanctuary, therefore, involves a work of investigative judgment. This work must be performed prior to the coming of Christ to redeem his people, for when he comes, his reward is with him to give to every man according to his works.

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