Atonement and investigative judgement in Adventism- a response to Evangelical thought process

We saw a video titled “When was the atonement made? A Response to the SDA Doctrines”. It is good that the presenter is sharing what she believes, and we trust that just as well, she is willing to consider the correct Adventist position on this matter of atonement and investigative judgment.

In the video, the presenter explains based on Hebrews 9:12, that the atonement was finished at the cross. That is of course a popular evangelical viewpoint. The main argument she presents at the beginning of her discourse is that according to Hebrews 9:12, by the time Paul wrote the book of Hebrews, Christ had already entered the Most Holy Place, therefore the atonement was already secured. That, according to her, is because Paul wrote that “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”

According to her, both the words ‘entered’ and ‘obtained’ (also translated as secured in other versions) a perfect past tense in Greek, thus the atonement was done at the cross and finished there.

Now here are some points for the presenter to consider.

Many Adventists would know that Adventist biblical interpretation differs from the Evangelical one quite substantially. Many will recall that Adventists have experienced challenges from those of an Evangelical persuasion since a long time ago. One such a challenge was when way back in the 1950s Evangelicals Donald Barnhouse and Walter Martin challenged Adventist theologians to prove that the SDA church is not a sect. That challenge involved many of the Adventist doctrines including atonement and investigative judgment.

If one studies both Adventist and Evangelical biblical interpretation carefully, some patterns of difference will emerge. We share the key pattern of the differences in this short write-up.

The bottom line is that Adventists, unlike all the other major denominations that profess belief in the Bible, rely heavily on the templates explained in the OT as a guide to understanding the exposition of truth that is in the NT. More specifically, Adventist interpretation recognises the role of the OT in placing barriers to the misinterpretation of the NT as will be demonstrated here. In other words, the system of types and anti-types sustains Adventist interpretation of atonement and investigative judgement among other Adventist doctrines.

The OT patterns

As we read the NT, especially the four gospels (esp. Matthew), we often encounter words like “that it might be fulfilled”. In a nutshell, Christ himself says this:

Matthew 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

Please note that the word ‘scriptures’ in this verse refers exclusively to the OT since the NT did not exist by that time. So, it was the OT that Christ came not to destroy but to fulfil. It was and is in the OT that people have eternal life, and it was the OT which testified of Christ long before the NT was compiled

After that, Luke records that Christ explained about himself from Moses and the prophets.

Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

And according to Paul, “it was necessary” that the patterns be purified.

Hebrews 9:23 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

So, we see that Christ’s ministry was meticulously planned and prefigured in the types of the OT sacrificial and feasts system. That compels us to look closely at how the system worked. Now when we look closely at this fulfilling, and how he did it we see that Christ meticulously fulfilled down to the last detail every element of the law and prophets, step by step. The NT has the examples.

  1. In the type, Israel went from Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, then into the wilderness and then temptation just as Israel walked. In the anti-type, Christ also went to Egypt, was baptised, then went into the wilderness, and was tempted, except that Christ unlike Israel, was successful. As Israel had to do this before entering into their ministry of representing God to the Gentiles, so did Christ before starting his ministry to the peoples.
  2. We see also Christ fulfilling the Pass Over process. First as it was in the OT type, on the 10th day of Abib, a family took a lamb and tied it to the home. Similarly, in the anti-type, on the 10th day Christ made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem and never left until crucifixion. In the Pass Over type, the lamb was slain in the evening and so Christ was on the cross in the evening. After that, on Sunday morning, i.e., on the 16th was the day of the Feast of the First Fruits. In the anti-type, Christ rose on Sunday morning and with him were seen many other people arisen from the dead (the first fruits).
  3. We then see the next feast, i.e., the Feast of Weeks fulfilled 50 days later at the day of Pentecost, just as it was in the OT.

So, it is clear in Adventist interpretation that Christ would walk very meticulously through the ceremonial law provisions of the sacrificial and feasts system in the OT.

The Pattern in the Prophets

Just as much as we see with respect to Christ fulfilling the ceremonial law, we also see him fulfilling specific points made by various prophets, all the way from birth of virgin (Micah 5:2), to the giving of vinegar (Luke 23:36) on the cross to the parting of his garments (John 19:24). All these were specific waymarks of the ministry that he had to run.

What makes Christ the only Christ is that he only fulfilled all these waymarks both from the law and from the prophets. His ministry was not haphazard. This is the well-considered point on which Adventist understanding of the gospel has always depended on, i.e., the gospel is as much in the OT as it is in the NT. Thus, by a close study and careful understanding of the OT patterns, we understand the NT better, especially the broader meaning of the events and times that were fulfilled in the NT and after.

Hebrews 4:2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

Points to consider

Based on the forgoing, we can clearly see that Christ must fulfil every element of the ceremonial law and the prophets. That raises the following questions.

  1. If the atonement process was all completed at the cross, then where and when were the following patterns in the OT fulfilled before or during the cross?

Feast of the First Fruits, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, and, Day of Atonement.

Other related points

  • According to Hebrews 8:4

“For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law”

The point is Christ on earth was not a high priest. We can give further evidence for this. The feast of Passover was given to Israel before the high priest was ordained. It did not need a priest or high priest for the Pass over to be performed. So, as it was given, the Passover process was independent of the direct service of the priest. The Passover service was a home-based service. We say this noting that at the cross, Christ was our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), he was the lamb, not the high priest.

Please note, that reading Psalms 133, Christ was ordain high priest at Pentecost, at which point the blessing of which he was blessed by the Father was the giving of the Spirit of Promise to the believers in Christ, according to the template of the anointing of Aaron. Let us explain this point.

At the beginning of Aaron’s ministry (read Exodus 28:41; 30:30; 40:13), Aaron representing Christ was anointed (including receiving a garment) and sanctified/ordained a high priest to God in God’s sanctuary. After him, then his sons (representing the believers (the upper room group Acts 1:13)). Please note the emphasis of the sanctification by receiving a garment for ministry. It was only after this and the setting up of the entire tabernacle and its systems, and after performing various sacrifices for sins, that both Moses and Aaron then blessed the people.

Leviticus 9:23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the people.

Thus, we expect Christ to fulfil this too, i.e., the process of sanctification by the Father which is what Christ did at Pentecost (which is what Hebrews 9:12 is talking about). Yet, according to the types, this happens long before the high priest has to do the Day of Atonement process.

So please note the points.

  1. Christ was not a high priest on earth nor on the cross.
  2. The sanctification of Christ into high priesthood had to fulfil the process of the sanctification of Aaron (i.e., the type in Exodus 28, 30 and 40) the anti-type of which is Acts 2 the day of Pentecost.

WITH THAT, IF THE ATONEMENT WAS MADE BY A HIGH PRIEST, THEN HOW COULD IT BE DONE AT THE CROSS WHEN CHRIST WAS NOT YET A HIGH PRIEST THEN?

  • Azazel in the Day of Atonement Process

Now, according to the Day of Atonement, the High Priest had to deal with two goats one of which was Azazel. Thus, if the cross fulfilled the atonement process, one would need to demonstrate that Azazel was there in the hands of the High Priest.

The challenge

If the presenter considers these points, she has a simple task to demonstrate that the investigative judgement and the Adventist understanding of the process of atonement are wrong. All she has to do is one of the following. Either,

  1. Show from the Bible that it is not necessary for Christ to meticulously fulfil the sacrificial feasts templates as given in the OT.

OR

  • Demonstrate from the Bible that Christ did not need to fulfil the remainder of the sacrificial/feasts system after the Passover.

OR

  • Demonstrate from the Bible that all the sacrificial/feasts system was fulfilled at the cross. In this case you will need to show the steps by which each one of them was fulfilled at the cross.
  • Hebrews 9:12

We have already alluded to what we believe Hebrews 9:12 is actually talking about, which is the fulfilment of the sanctification of Aaron as a high priest, not the fulfilment of the day of atonement process. But we want to address the points specifically in relation to what we see as an error in the presenter’s interpretation of Hebrews 9:12. The primary problem is that the presenter took the statement “entered in once into the most holy place, having secured redemption” to be a fulfilment of the day of atonement. However, as we have shown before, there is an inherent contradiction at the level of types and anti-types.

In addition to that our first point in this section is this. Let us look at the words translated “most holy place”. Here are different translations of Hebrews 9:12.

(ESV) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

(ISV) Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood he went into the Most Holy Place once for all and secured our eternal redemption.

(TPT) And he has entered once and forever into the Holiest Sanctuary of All, not with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the sacred blood of his own sacrifice. And he alone has made our salvation secure forever!

(Williams) and not with blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He once for all went into the real sanctuary and secured our eternal redemption.

(YLT) neither through blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, did enter in once into the holy places, age-during redemption having obtained.

We see here translations ranging from ‘holy place’, ‘holy places’, ‘real sanctuary’, ‘holiest of sanctuary of all’ to ‘most holy place’. That tells us that translators understood this word according to their different inclinations. That means your point, that Christ entered the MOST HOLY PLACE is only possible depending on which translation you are using. It does not necessarily mean that Paul when writing the book of Hebrews had the intention of showing that Christ entered the Most Holy Place as demanded by the Day of Atonement type.

But what is that word which is translated into all these different meanings?

NeitherG3761 byG1223 the bloodG129 of goatsG5131 andG2532 calves,G3448 butG1161 byG1223 his ownG2398 bloodG129 he entered inG1525 onceG2178 intoG1519 theG3588 holy place,G39 having obtainedG2147 eternalG166 redemptionG3085 for us.

The word we are looking for is the Greek word with code G39. The Strong’s Concordance gives the following information about the Greek word G39.

ἅγιον

hagion

hag’-ee-on

Neuter of G40; a sacred thing (that is, spot): – holiest (of all), holy place, sanctuary.

Total KJV occurrences: 11

Notice that the Greek word ‘hagion’ can be translated into any of the three meanings related to the sanctuary, which are the sanctuary in general, the holy place and the most holy place. We see the same point made clear in Hebrews 9:1 to 3 (KJV). In verse 1, ‘hagion’ is translated as sanctuary in general. In verse 2, hagion specifically refers to the ‘first’ of the tabernacle which is the holy place, i.e., where there is shewbread, candlestick and so on. However, notice that in the KJV, translators translated it as ‘sanctuary’ instead of holy place. In verse 3, Paul talks about “second” which is “after the veil” and again uses the exact same Greek word, ‘hagion’. Thus, the KJV translators, for example, according to their own understanding translate ‘hagion’ as sanctuary in verse 1, ‘hagion’ as sanctuary in verse 2 (even though the more correct rendering must be holy place), then ‘hagion’ as holiest of holies in verse 3.

So, there is therefore no basis to pin down ‘most holy place’ as the meaning of ‘hagion’ in Hebrews 9:12. Paul might as well having been talking about the sanctuary in general.

Notice verse 24 of Hebrews 9. By comparison of the “sanctuary made with hands” versus “heaven itself”, Paul shows that by the word ‘hagion’ he is talking of heaven in general just as much as he is about the parts of the heavenly sanctuary. In other words, Paul says Christ entered ‘heaven itself’ in the same context as that Christ entered the hagion (i.e., sanctuary, holy place or most holy place).

The second point is about the phrase “entered in once”? It depends on how you want to understand it. The phrase ‘entered in once’ can be understood in the context of the comparison that Paul is making. The comparison is that unlike earthly priest who did enter the sanctuary more than once for the same purpose, Christ entered only once for that purpose of his sanctification and his offering as a high priest. For it is by his offering that we receive the Spirit of Promise by which we are sealed unto salvation. That he entered in once for the purpose of presenting his blood which is his sacrifice, does not exclude him from entering to perform the day of atonement process as that is a different purpose and function in the sacrificial systems.

Notice also that in verse 13 of Hebrews 9, Paul speaks of “sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh”. The sanctifying that purifies the flesh is exactly what the anointing of Aaron and his sons was all about, i.e., to sanctify them for ministry. That gives another point in favour of our position that Hebrews 9:12 is talking of the sanctification of the high priest not the fulfilment of the day of atonement process.

We want to point out that Hebrews 9 when read throughout and, in its context, continuously point to the beginning of Aaron and his sons’ ministry. In verses 1 to 5, Paul is talking about the rearing of the tabernacle and the establishment of the divine services. This is direct reference to the sanctification of Aaron and his sons, that’s Exodus 28; 30 and 40 (also Leviticus Ch 1 to 9 pertaining to divine services). After making his point in Hebrews 9, Paul returns to the same type, i.e., the sanctification of Aaron. This he begins in verse 19 to 21 where again he describes the setting up of the sacrificial system for the ministry of Aaron and his sons.

So, it is not possible that Hebrews 9:12 should only and necessarily refer to the day of atonement. The is no day of atonement pattern in Hebrews 9.

Just so we are clear. The sacrifice that Christ was on the cross was complete and adequate for our salvation. No doubt about that. But, according to the patterns, as Paul says in Hebrews 9, at the cross, Christ was just getting started. There were many more types still pending after the cross, including the day of atonement.

This point, that it was necessary for Christ to follow a due process after the cross in the form of being presented before the Father, the presenter alludes to herself. The presenter recognises that the entering of Christ before the Father was necessary to complete the atonement. And yet, Christ did not enter the holy place while he was at the cross. Thus, as of the time Christ was on the cross, the atonement process was not finished there, the atonement process itself was just getting started. As for the presentation of the Son of God before the Father, unfortunately Hebrews 9:12 does not say, though the presenter tries to make it say so.

As to when the Son was presented before the Father, the types of the OT are very clear. The wave offering of the feast of First Fruits which was done on the 16th of Abib, i.e., the Sunday morning of Christ resurrection, was the timing. The other timing was also the Feast of Weeks that was 50 days later, which is the Day of Pentecost. And yet the day of atonement was still yet future, and the atonement process was still to be completed.

In summary, we are saying this.

  1. In order to explain to SDAs their error pertaining to atonement and investigative judgment, one has to show that they understand where the SDAs are coming from. We did not see a clearly understanding of the bases of Adventist interpretation.
  2. Adventist interpretation relies on what the Bible teaches that the OT helps us to understand the NT in terms of types and antitypes. In other words, Christ is as much in the OT as he is in the NT.
  3. Christ had to fulfil all the types in detail.
  4. As at the cross, Christ was just beginning because he was at the Passover stage, with 6 more stages of the template still to be performed by him in the same meticulous fashion.
  5. Hebrews 9:12 in its context strongly aligns with the fulfilment of the sanctification of the High Priest for ministry as is depicted in the sanctification of Aaron. This again confirms that Christ was just beginning the ministry of atonement.

Thus, to teach the Adventists of their error, if they have any, the presenter needs to do one of the following with biblical evidence.

  1. Show from the Bible that it is not necessary for Christ to meticulously fulfil the sacrificial feasts templates as given in the OT.

OR

  • Demonstrate from the Bible that Christ did not need to fulfil the remainder of the sacrificial/feasts system after the Passover.

OR

  • Demonstrate from the Bible that all the sacrificial/feasts system was fulfilled at the cross. In this case you will need to show the steps by which each one of them was fulfilled at the cross by drawing the parallels between the types and antitypes.

For comments, please contact us at therockfortress@gmail.com.

From TRF Ministries.

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