Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Growing in Christ
Lesson 12: "Last Things: Jesus and the Saved"
The topic of this week's lesson could not have had better "timing," as the lesson's author asks us to "look at our world," then ask ourselves, "how well have we, as humans, done in making it a better place?" With current events showing us atrocities occurring all over the world, an event in a little school in the United States has gripped the corporate heart of the world, which is described in our lesson as "a place of sin, suffering, misery, disappointment, and death" (please see the lesson for Tuesday, December 18). Such events often fade into memory once the "media" moves on to the next crisis, but as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, should these events help "wake us up" to see that Christ's Second Coming is imminent?
Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary is designated as one of the "special events" within the general period of "last things," that is, before His Second Coming. The sanctuary truth is the foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist message, and a few striking statements by Ellen G. White in Evangelism make this clear:
The correct understanding of the ministration in the heavenly sanctuary is the foundation of our faith (p. 221). The subject of the sanctuary was the key which unlocked the mystery of the disappointment of 1844. It opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious, showing that God's hand had directed the great advent movement, and revealing present duty as it brought to light the position and work of His people (p. 222). God's people are now to have their eyes fixed on the heavenly sanctuary, where the final ministration of our great High Priest in the work of the judgment is going forward--where He is interceding for His people (p. 223).
However, the question continues to be asked, "What is Jesus doing now?"
The common idea is that He is a Construction Contractor building palaces or "mansions" for those who arrive in heaven (a childish reading of John 14:2). But "preparing a place for you" is a far bigger idea than a celestial construction activity. Hebrews 9 and 10 describe His High Priestly ministry as cleansing the hearts of His people, "putting away sin," "purging the conscience," preparing a people to "receive the promise of eternal inheritance," "purifying" hearts and minds and lips, to "make the comers thereunto perfect," to render obsolete any "conscience" or "remembrance of sins," to "take away sins," to "perfect forever them that are sanctified," to write His "laws into their hearts ... [which are] sprinkled from an evil conscience," to "provoke [motivate] unto love and good works," to "believe to the saving of the soul." Big job! First, He naturally wants His people to understand why what He is doing is so incomparably important, and second, He would appreciate our cooperation because He can accomplish nothing without it. Cooperation means you stop interposing a rebellious will to counteract what He is seeking constantly to do for you!
In other words, through the Holy Spirit, Christ as High Priest is constantly pressing upon His people the conviction of sin buried deeper than they had imagined it to be; and when the conviction is welcomed and the sin is gladly surrendered and put away, the heart is more closely reconciled to Him. This process is called "atonement," or becoming at-one-with God. In Romans 5:11 it is "receiving the atonement" or "reconciliation." Thus the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary is a "final atonement."
Another common question is, "He promised to come back; why doesn't He?"
The only answer that can possibly make sense is that His people are not yet ready for Him to come. The harvest is not yet ripe (see Mark 4:26-29). And what special ministry can make a people to be ready? Only the ministry of Christ as High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 8-10). There was an earthly high priest in the ancient sanctuary, so there is a divine High Priest in the heavenly; there was an earthly lamb offered in the ancient sanctuary, Christ is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). As there was an annual day of atonement in the earthly sanctuary, so there is a cosmic Day of Atonement in the heavenly when the High Priest ministers in the Most Holy Apartment, the second apartment, of the heavenly sanctuary.
The specific purpose of that ministry is to prepare a people for the second coming of Jesus. Daniel understood there is a heavenly sanctuary--all the Israelites who were true to God understood it; it is natural then that when the angel in Daniel 8:14 answered the question "how long ...?" by saying "unto 2300 days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed," it's natural that Daniel understood it was the heavenly sanctuary. That great Day of Atonement ministry is the most important activity going on today in the heavenly universe.
The 1888 message revived interest in this closing ministry of our great High Priest. It restored "its presiding power in the hearts of believers." Ellen White caught this significance. Having experienced personally the thrill of waiting for the coming of Christ in the 1844 movement, she never lost that first love.
When she heard the 1888 message for the first time, something clicked in her memory. She almost intuitively recognized the Good News in the message that announced to the waiting heart, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh!" She heard the welcome tread of divine footsteps that but few of her contemporaries wanted to have ears to hear.
That new development was the joining of the Adventist truth of the cleansing of the sanctuary with a more complete revelation of justification by faith. It was like the confluence of two rivers that had flowed separately but now joined to produce a tide that could bear the grounded ship on its way to port. She saw in the message the glorious means of divine grace provided to make a people ready for the coming of the Lord. She was excited. She recognized that "union with Christ" meant union with Him in His closing work of atonement, in clear distinction from His work in the first apartment, where the door was now shut (cf. Early Writings, pp. 55, 56, 260, 261).
The good news that Jesus gives us isn't only that "our redemption draweth nigh," as though we deserve more reward than anyone else. When Jesus says "your redemption" He means ours together with His in the triumph of His great cosmic controversy. What at first sight may look like an egocentric motivation (the popular one), on closer thought is a fellowship with Christ in His sufferings, a fellowship in bearing His cross (no crown is possible otherwise).
What we're coming to is the growing up of God's people, another name for the great "Day of Atonement," the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, getting to know the Savior intimately. It's not a time for craven fear, as the world now experiences. "Perfect love [agape] casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), so the final time of trouble will be a close, fearless walking with the Savior even through the valley of the shadows.
Yes, let's "lift up [our] heads." With Him by our side, there's nothing to fear.
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland
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