After the Cross
Ministering from the nerve center of the universe
By Roy Adams
The sanctuary lay at the center of Israelite worship—in the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. But the New Testament makes abundantly clear, both symbolically and explicitly, that that ancient system has now been replaced by a heavenly reality.
The major symbolic evidence came as Jesus died. “At that moment,” Matthew says, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51).1 And the meaning was clear: the old order had just been changed by the One who ripped that massive veil from top to bottom, exposing to full view a place once deadly sacred, but now no longer so. Henceforth, the focus would shift from earth to heaven. The One proclaimed by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) had just been slain, Himself both priest and victim. And now, through His death, He had gained the right to enter “the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man” (Heb. 8:2).
Before he was stoned to death, Stephen in vision saw Jesus in that sacred place, and expressed the sublime revelation in words that made his accusers wild with anger. Stephen said: “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (see Acts 7:56).
The present work of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary does not detract from His finished work on the cross. When He died on Calvary, Jesus made a full atonement for us. When Adventists speak of Christ’s present work, “they imply no belittling of the centrality of the cross. Rather, they mean to suggest that the cross reaches beyond Calvary, beyond A.D. 31—into the heavenly sanctuary itself, the seat of God’s government, the nerve center of human salvation, where Jesus Christ has entered for us within the veil, having been made High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”2
These two concepts run parallel to each other, and are not in conflict.
1. As High Priest, what does Jesus actually do?
We cannot answer this question in a way that makes logical sense to the scientific mind. Ultimately, we simply have to let the Bible provide its own response. In chapters 1-7 of Hebrews, the writer weaves together an elaborate argument to emphasize the uniqueness of Jesus. Then coming to chapter 8, he summarizes the point he’d been making all along.
He says: “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Heb. 8:1, 2, NKJV).
In the rest of Hebrews 8 and in chapter 9, he argues that the ancient tabernacle system has been succeeded by a “better” (a superior) heavenly sanctuary ministry. Then in Hebrews 9:12 he clinches the argument: Christ “did not enter [the heavenly sanctuary] by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered … once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Two things the author wants his readers to grasp here. One is the theological meaning of these realities and the other is their practical dimension.
The theological meaning, already summarized in Hebrews 8:1, 2, is that we now have a superior high priest, the Son of the Living God. Like the ancient high priests, He is human; but unlike them, He is divine and faultless. On the basis of His humanity, He is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15); and on the basis of His divinity, He is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Heb. 7:25, NKJV).
The apostle’s practical point has to do with access. In the old system, the ordinary Israelite worshipper stood several barriers removed from the sanctuary’s innermost sanctum, barriers they could never cross. Only the high priest had full access—and even so, just once a year (on the Day of Atonement). But now, through Christ our heavenly Mediator, a door of unlimited access has been opened up for us, whoever we are—a door to the heavenly sanctuary itself, the throne room of the living God. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,” says the sacred writer, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
So in answer to the question of what Jesus is doing now, we may say that in His capacity as High Priest He is constantly providing help for “those who are being tempted,” having known from personal experience the peril of temptation (Heb. 2:17, 18). In addition, He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25); works to solidify our loyalty by inscribing His laws in our minds and hearts (Heb. 8:3-10); cleanses our “consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb. 9:13, 14); and works to bring an end to (what Adventists call) the great controversy (see Heb. 10:11-13).
We cannot know, of course, the exact form of Jesus’ intercession. But Scripture offers us several examples of the general idea—e.g., in the experience of Moses (Ex. 32:9-14, 30-32) and in the supplication of Daniel (Dan. 9). We see it also in Jesus’ great prayer before His passion (John 17). (As a way of understanding what Christ is doing now for us, John 17 is priceless.)
2. A second question: What’s the advantage of knowing Jesus as both Savior and High Priest?
Ultimately, it centers around the question of loyalty and faithfulness. As we follow Jesus by faith into the heavenly sanctuary, we experience His cleansing grace. But we also experience a new appreciation for the everlasting covenant, symbolized by God’s immutable Law nestled, so to speak, under the mercy seat. That holy law becomes an indelible part of our spiritual consciousness (see Heb. 8:10).
This defines part of the difference the sanctuary teaching makes for us. By faith we enter that sacred place where Jesus ministers. And there, against all odds, we cling to the One whose unchangeable promise is symbolized in the ark of the covenant. It was his respect for the sanctuary and what it represented that created and preserved Daniel’s unswerving loyalty and faithfulness to God in the face of deadly peril (see Dan. 6). And Daniel stands today as a symbol of a final remnant that will choose to honor God at the cost of life itself.
Unlike the rest of Christendom ready to jettison any portion of God’s Law they find inconvenient or uncomfortable, that remnant will remain firm in their loyalty to God, at whatever cost. Anchored to a hope that enters “within the veil,” they stand secure against every concept or philosophy (be it evolution, atheism, materialism, or whatever) that seeks to wrest the eternal God from His throne or belittle or downgrade the validity of His eternal law enshrined beneath the mercy seat.
The doctrine of the sanctuary thus becomes a protection for us against rebellion, and secures for God a faithful remnant in a revolted world.
1Unless otherwise indicated, Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version.
2Roy Adams, The Sanctuary: Understanding the Heart of Adventist Theology (Review and Herald, 1993), p. 142.
This article is adapted from chapter 12 of the author’s The Wonder of Jesus (Review and Herald, 2007).
Roy Adams is associate editor of Adventist World.