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Theme: Atonement in Symbols – II (sanctuary, priests, annual Day of Atonement)

Leading Question: Why was a “place” of worship so important for God”s people?  Is it still?

The yearly Day of Atonement has a special place in Adventist thinking because of events connected with 1844.  While discussions of the Day of Atonement have usually involved issues of personal salvation, our interest in the “typical” Day of Atonement also allows us to address larger issues that involve our relationship with God.

  1. Place. In both Testaments God speaks about making a sanctuary according to the pattern:

    Exodus 25:8 “And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.  In accordance with all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle and of all its furniture, so you shall make it”

    Hebrews 8:5: “They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.””

    Question: In the Old Testament, the “place” of worship was very important. But Israel became so enamored with the temple that God finally decided to take them away from their “place” (cf. Jeremiah”s “temple” speech in Jeremiah 7:1-15).  Indeed, when Jeremiah was passing on God”s threat to take away the Jerusalem temple, he drew the comparison with Shiloh, an earlier place of worship that God had taken away from his people. In our modern world how important is “place” to our worship life? To what extent can a fixed place of worship be a blessing or a curse?

  2. Role of Priests.  In the Old Testament system, the Levites, a whole tribe of priests, served as mediators between heaven and earth. Indeed, there were several “layers” between God and the ordinary people. The introduction to the priestly blessing (Num 6:22-27) is revealing in this respect: God spoke to Moses, who was to speak to Aaron and his sons, who would then pass on the message to the people.
    1. From many mediators to One.  Most Protestants no longer see priests as intermediaries between God and humankind. Hebrews 4:12-13 makes it clear that Jesus is our high priest. But what is the potential loss with an invisible priest instead of one with whom we can talk “in the flesh.” Can pastors fill that more visible role? Family? Friends? Do Catholics have an experiential advantage by having human priests who can present the people to God?
    2. From one Mediator to none. One of the more haunting statements from the pen of Ellen White is her strong statement that God”s people must stand in God”s presence without a mediator. Here is the famous quote:

      “Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God”s people upon earth. – GC 425.1

      Note: This “fearful” quote can be transformed from a threat into a promise in the light of John 16:26-27. There Jesus simply says that the day will come when we will ask in Jesus” name but that he will not pray the Father for us. Why? Because we see the  Father”s love so clearly that we won”t need an intercessor. We will be at peace in his presence. We have a mediator as long as we need one. But Jesus has promised that one day perfect love will make a mediator unnecessary. Isaiah 33:14-15 is also suggestive in that connection. Isaiah tells us that those who are right with God will live at the very heart of God”s holy fire:

      “Who among us can live with the devouring fire?
      Who among us can live with everlasting flames?”
      Those who walk righteously and speak uprightly.

      For those who have struggled with discouragement or with other experiential difficulties in connection with the “investigative judgment,” Ellen White”s most helpful commentary on the subject is found in Prophets and Kings, in the chapter, “Joshua and the Angel” (pp. 582-92).  In that chapter, a striking quotation moderates the claim that God”s last generation must stand before him with a perfect character:

      But while the followers of Christ have sinned, they have not given themselves up to be controlled by the satanic agencies. They have repented of their sins and have sought the Lord in humility and contrition, and the divine Advocate pleads in their behalf. He who has been most abused by their ingratitude, who knows their sin and also their penitence, declares: “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan. I gave My life for these souls. They are graven upon the palms of My hands. They may have imperfections of character; they may have failed in their endeavors; but they have repented, and I have forgiven and accepted them.”  {PK 589.1}

  3. Annual Day of Atonement. One passage in the New Testament (1 Cor 5:7) identifies Jesus as the Passover lamb. Following that lead, Christians in general have developed the parallels between the “typical” Passover lamb and Jesus the “antitypical” Passover lamb. Adventists have added another type/antitype analogy: As a result of the events of 1844, Adventists have drawn parallels between the  “typical” Day of Atonement, an annual event, and the once-for-all antitypical day of atonement that marks the end of the controversy. The great antitypical Day of Atonement is part of God”s final “judgment” that restores order in the universe. In addition to the details of the Day of Atonement ritual, two significant questions deserve attention:
    1. Individual vs. corporate. The typical Day of Atonement was an event that involved the entire community. Is that corporate pattern a potential corrective to our concern for individual salvation? Ancient Israel was scarcely concerned about individual salvation in the way that modern Christians are. Can we learn from them the value of corporate repentance?
    2. Once a year vs. all the time. Those who follow a more liturgical worship pattern are accustomed to a certain rhythm throughout the liturgical year. Ancient Israel would have experienced a similar rhythm. Adventists don”t do a great deal with the annual calendar.  Furthermore, we are people who take sanctification and holiness very seriously. In that connection, it has sometimes been said that Adventists should be a very serious people because we are living in the time of the great antitypical Day of Atonement. In other words, for us the Day of Atonement is not just a day; it is a 24/7 event. In ancient Israel, however, the Day of Atonement was followed by the festive Feast of Booths. The people could rejoice in the cleansing that the Day of Atonement had symbolized and return to life with joy and enthusiasm.  If one believes, however, that all of life is as serious as the Day of Atonement, could the result be a morbid preoccupation with sin that undercuts the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit, i.e. love, joy, and peace? In short, how does one sigh and cry for the abominations in Israel (cf. Ezek 9:4) at the same time that one seeks to respond to Paul”s buoyant admonition: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice” (Phil 4:4)?

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