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Hebrews and the Day of Atonement

Abridged from Daniel 8:14 - Chapter 2 - By Desmond Ford, Ph.D.

We contend that the Book of Hebrews clearly affirms that in fulfillment of the Day of Atonement type, Christ by the cross/resurrection/ascension event entered upon the ministry prefigured by the sanctuary's second apartment. If this is so, the SDA sanctuary doctrine is erroneous.

Let us observe the testimony of Hebrews.

The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Heb. 1:3 NIV)
Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess... Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence... (Heb. 4:14,16 NIV)
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. (Heb. 6:19,20 NIV)
The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. (Heb. 8:1 NIV)
Only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing… He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood ... For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself now to appear for us in God's presence. (Heb. 9:7-25 NIV)
. . . we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood if Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body. (Heb. 10:20 NIV)
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate... (Heb. 13:11-12 NIV)

The important expressions are "the right hand of God," "the throne of grace," "within the veil," "through the veil," "the way into the holiest of all," "into the holiest…by a new and living way," "into the holy place," "minister of the sanctuary," "a high priest," "as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year," "blood is brought into the sanctuary."

A single expression from the Greek is variously translated "the holiest of all," "the holiest," "the holy place," "the sanctuary," "the most holy place." That expression is ta hagia. Thus, Hebrews affirms repeatedly that at the time of that letter Christ had already entered in ta hagia--He had already begun a ta hagia ministry. The NIV is correct in using "the Most Holy Place."

Practically every scholar of the Christian age has believed that ta hagia means the innermost sanctuary--the second apartment called "the holy place" in Lev. 16:2,3, 16,17,23,27. SDAs have questioned this on the basis of the plural form, claiming that the plural shows that what is meant is both apartments. But no competent SDA scholar of Greek maintains such a position today. We repeat, Hebrews clearly says that in Paul's day Christ was in ta hagia--a term corresponding to the earthly sanctuary's second or inner apartment.

Ta hagia is "within the veil." It is the place entered once a year. It is "the holiest of all" and is the equivalent of "the second." It holds God's throne. Anyone there is at "the right hand of God. "

Hebrews 6:19,20; 10:19,20 are emphatic that Christ at the time of the writing of Hebrews had already passed through the veil into "ta hagia." That new and living way into "ta hagia" was symbolized by the rending of the inner veil at the time of Calvary and it is to this that 10:19,20 refers. 9:7,8 tells us that "ta hagia" is the equivalent of "the second." Heb. 9:12,24,25 as well as 9:7,8 make this same point that it was the "ta hagia" into which the high priest alone went once every year on the Day of Atonement. The writer is saying repeatedly that what the high priest in type did once a year Christ has now already done.

There is no hint that Christ had gone into the first apartment--indeed a first apartment ministry is not mentioned in Hebrews at all. There is no hint that Christ entered upon one phase and in the future will enter a second phase. This would make nonsense of the clear testimonies of these chapters.

It must be emphasized that "within the veil" is now acknowledged by SDA scholars to apply to within the second veil. I know of no New Testament scholar within the SDA church--or without--who contends otherwise.

Hebrews is saying as clearly as words can say it that in the first century AD Christ was already engaged in the ministry equivalent to that which the ancient high priest performed in the second apartment.

Hebrews 9:6-8

Let us now look at these same truths from other angles.

The significance of the two apartments of the sanctuary, and the cleansing of the second is found in detail only in the Book of Hebrews, and especially in chapter 9.

Regarding the ministry of Christ, as already stated, Hebrews unequivocally asserts that at His ascension He entered "within the veil," and that believers in that day anticipated He would soon come out to bless the waiting congregation (9:28). It knows nothing of entering upon one ministry and later entering upon a second. Rather, the emphasis is upon atonement already made, redemption already acquired--a work already done, and done once for all, in contrast to the protracted Levitical services. By the time of this letter, sin had already been put away (9:26; 1:3; 10:11-14; 9:12), and our King-Priest had sat down at he right hand of God.

SDAs have avoided the force of the plain statements in Hebrews by various arguments.

  1. "Within the veil" means within the first veil.
  2. Ta hagia is a plural term, and therefore refers to Christ's entering a sanctuary with two apartments to perform two phases of ministry
  3. The fact that the early sanctuary was a shadow and type of heavenly things makes it essential that Christ's ministry consist of two phases.

The problems with these arguments are:

  1. It is impossible to support that "within the veil" means within the first veil.
  2. Hagia is acknowledged by all Greek scholars to be a plural form with a singular meaning. Ta hagia is said to be "within" or "through" the veil. Christ had to pass through the veil to enter ta hagia. Ta hagia is the place the high priest entered once a year. These truths, set forth clearly in 10:19,20 (cf 6:19,20); 9:7,8,12,24, makes it impossible to contend that the term embraces both apartments.

SDA arguments have ignored the plain meaning of Hebrews 9:6-8. These verses assert that the first apartment had significance only so long as there was a first apartment ministry (9:8). That is, a first apartment ministry was relevant only to the cross and never after.

It is said in 9:6-8 that the first tabernacle (i.e. the first apartment, see verses 2,6) into which the priests went daily, only had standing (status) until the reality arrived. Sec verses 9-14. Now "Christ being come," and having "by his own blood entered in" to ta hagia, the first apartment ministry in Paul's day no longer exists. The earthly first apartment ministry now had no meaning, for in heaven above there is only the ministry of ta hagia that holiest of all typified by the second apartment. The limited access to God, and the ever unfinished work of the priests taught by the first apartment, is in contrast with the boldness wherewith all believers may now enter into the second with the great High Priest because of His once for all completed atonement.

The reader should observe that "the second" in verse 7 is identical with ta hagia of verse 8. That is to say, the second apartment, the focus of the writer's attention, was "the holiest of all" (or "the holy place" in the sense of Lev. 16:2,3, 16,17, etc.), the ta hagia now made manifest (or "open") by Christ's act on the cross. 9:8 with its reference to "way" must be compared with the use of that same term in l0:20--where it is clearly stated to be a "way" "through the veil."

The comments on chronology should not be ignored. In verse 8 we have a "so long as" or "while," but in verse 10 we have the parallel "until." Thus (verse 8) "so long as the first apartment ministry had significance" is in meaning identical with "outward ordinances in force" (verse 10). Thereby we see that "the time of reformation" is the equivalent to what was represented by "the second," "the holiest of all," the ta hagia. This same thought is found in 10:1, where we are told that the typical offerings pointed forward to the good things yet to come. Thus the contrast is ever between the time before the cross, represented by the ministry of the blood of animals by earthly priests, and the time after the cross where Christ opens unrestricted access to the very throne of God.

What the first apartment was to the second, so was the first sanctuary of the Levitical age to the heavenly sanctuary. Never, after verse 6, does the apostle apply the first apartment, inasmuch as from now on his chief concern is with the heavenly sanctuary and it is always set forth as the ta hagia "within the veil."

The fact that the earthly high priest entered ta hagia yearly with blood (Lev. 16:25) makes it clear that ta hagia is that innermost sanctuary only open for entrance on the Day of Atonement. To make ta hagia in verse 8 and elsewhere mean holy places (plural) would make nonsense of most verses employing the term. It would make 9:25, for example, say that the high priest once a year entered the two apartments, whereas what he entered once a year was the inner room.

The chapter in which we find this crucial passage of 9:6-8 is the Day of Atonement chapter of the New Testament. Its emphasis is on the high priest, (ta hagia, once a year, the blood of bulls and goats, access within the veil--all of which are motifs of Yom Kippur. The entrance of our King-Priest through the veil to the throne of God is found throughout the letter. See 1:3; 2:17; 4:16; 6:19,20; 8:1; 9:8,12,24-25; 10:19; 13:11. This entrance fulfilled the Day of Atonement. The sprinkling of the warm uncoagulated blood on the mercy seat immediately after the slaying could not possibly point to 1844.

Heb. 9:23 cannot legitimately be exegeted as applying to the future. All Adventist usage of this verse as applying to 1844 (what for Paul would be far in the future) is erroneous. The first word of verse 24 links the cleansing with what the high priest did yearly and affirms that Christ had now done that. See verses 26-28, which further elaborate that the cleansing of the sanctuary was Christ's putting away of sin by the sacrifice of Himself (identical with the significance of the blood-shedding of verse 22).

It is appropriate to ask what Hebrews should have said if the Adventist view of a two-phase heavenly ministry were correct. In that case, in a place such as verse 9:8 we would expect something like: "the Holy Spirit thus showing us that there would also be two phases of heavenly ministry just as on earth." Further, we would expect that later in the chapter we would find reference to a heavenly first apartment ministry, and then also the promise that ultimately Christ would, some time in the future, begin his final work "within the veil."

We would also expect a reference to Dan. 8:14 and a statement that this is an investigative judgment. None of these exist, and it is no wonder that SDA scholars have said not to look in Hebrews for support of the SDA sanctuary schema.

The most common objection to the foregoing thesis is the third one listed earlier--that inasmuch as the earthly sanctuary was a shadow and type of heavenly things, there has to be a heavenly equivalent to the first apartment ministry succeeded by a later "second apartment" ministry. But the author of Hebrews does apply the symbolism of a two-part ministry (a daily service in the first apartment, and a yearly service in the second): not, as the SDA view has it, to two phases carried out by Christ after the ascension, but rather the first ministry, (the daily one) representing the Mosaic animal-sacrifice system that ended at the cross, and the other (the once-a-year Day of Atonement) representing Christ at the cross, ascension, and sitting at the right hand of God.

Hebrews and SDAs

In explaining Dan. 8:14, early SDAs drew heavily on Hebrews 9. But as one reads Hebrews 9, certain things immediately stand out. There is no obvious allusion in it to the book of Daniel, and certainly none to Dan. 8:14. The cleansing of the sanctuary is applied, but always to what had already occurred before the epistle was written. For the writer of Hebrews, the cleansing is past, not future. The chapter repeatedly applies Lev. 16 to his day, and not to ours.

Evidence must be accepted or rejected not from sectarian prejudice but on sound Biblical grounds.

  1. Commentators are agreed that the references in Hebrews 9 are to the Day of Atonement. We know of no classical commentary on Hebrews which does not see in Heb. 9:8,12,24,25 the Day of Atonement.
  2. Again, we know of no exegete of note who does not recognize that these verses affirm that the Day of Atonement had already, in the writer's day, begun.
  3. Most who comment on the text allude to the fact that the plural form has here a singular meaning. Grammarians list hagia among those nouns in the New Testament plural in form but singular meaning. Heaven and world are others. The form conveys manifoldness or comprehensiveness.
  4. The expression "within the veil," or "through the veil," found before and after ch. 9, speak of the high priest's entrance into the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. The veil is therefore the one before the Most Holy Place.

The Setting of Hebrews 9

Jesus' ministry shown as better than Aaron's.

Aaron had to pass with the Day of Atonement blood through the veil year by year, but Christ entered to that within the veil immediately upon His own offering, once and for all. Now we in the outer court await His coming out from the holy of holies. "Yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry…"

Aaron could approach the divine presence only once a year, but Jesus has gone to God's right hand to dwell. Aaron went in tremblingly, Jesus as a conqueror. Aaron was but a priest, but Jesus is also a king. Aaron approached with incense lest he die, and his ministry ended with his death. Our "Aaron" needs no shield, and His ministry is endless.

Consider the restricted access before the cross. Gentiles could enter their own distant court, Jewish women the court of the women, Jewish men theirs, Levites as far as the first veil, the ordinary priests as far as the second, and the high priest "within the veil," but only once a year and only for a few moments. In the first Biblical discussion of the division between the apartments, it is made clear that the veil represented limited access, with death as the penalty for those who presumed. (Lev. 16:2)

The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They arc only a matter of food and drink and ceremonial washings--external regulations applying until the time of the new order. When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood. (Heb. 9:8-12 NIB)

The sealed-off inner apartment taught the limitation of access during the time of the old covenant prior to Christ.

All the ministry of the earthly high priest and his assistants could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper. It dealt only with outward matters. When the high priest did enter the Most Holy, He did not secure any eternal redemption, but only a temporary reprieve. But Jesus ministers in a greater sanctuary, even the heavenly, and entered "once for all," not with animal sacrifices, but the merits of His own sacrifice, having secured by that death eternal redemption for all.

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they arc outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Heb.9:13-14 NIV)

All cleansing ceremonies, including the dedication of the sanctuary and the Day of Atonement, only had to do with samples of "copies," but Christ has fulfilled the reality.

For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself now to appear for us in God's presence. (Heb. 9:24 NIV)

Observe that by the time of the writing of Hebrews the cleansing of the sanctuary, and Christ's entrance there, has already taken place.

Aaron entered the kindergarten earthly type, but Christ the reality in heaven.

Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb. 9:25-26 NIV)

Aaron knew each time he would need to go through it all "once a year," again and again, but Christ's work was "once for all time."

So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who arc waiting for him. (Heb. 9:28 NIV)

The Day of Atonement in Hebrews 9

The Day of Atonement is referred to seven times: "once a year." "into the second [apartment]," "within the veil," "the blood of bulls and goats," "a remembrance of sins made again every year," "only the high priest," "through the curtain," "first for his own sins and then for those of the people." In addition the epistle refers to Christ nine times as high priest: its theme is Christ's high priestly work, and the only distinctive work of the high priest was that of the Day of Atonement.

To stress the "betterness" of the new arrangement, the writer first outlines the old, and emphasizes its limitations in quality and time. It consisted only of outward ordinances bringing ceremonial purification to a people without direct access to God, and it was imposed only until the coming of the Messiah. He tells us that as the first apartment was to the second, so the Mosaic tabernacle is to the heavenly sanctuary. Note his words carefully.

When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. (Heb. 9:6-9 NIV)

Other translations may here be helpful.

By this the Holy Spirit means that the way into the Holiest Presence was not disclosed so long as the first tent (which preshadowed the present age) was still standing... (Moffat)
In all this the Holy Spirit was seeking to show that there was no free access to the sanctuary while the outer tent was still standing. (Smith & Goottpeect)
By this the Holy Spirit shows that the way into the sanctuary was not revealed while the outer tent was in existence. (The Translator's NT)
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood. (Heb. 9:12 NIV)

"Once," ta hagia, and the blood of bulls and goats all allude to the Day of Atonement.

Observe the following parallels:

But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (Heb. 9:7 NIV)
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood. (Heb. 9:12 NIV)
For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itseIf now to appear for us in God's presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. (Heb. 9:24-25 NIV)
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus has entered on our behalf He has become a high priest forever. (Heb. 6:19-20 NIV)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus. by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body. (Heb. 10:19-20 NIV)
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in lull assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:22 NIV)

All these passages have to do with entrance into the presence of God: 9:7 says the earthly high priest made the entrance on the Day of Atonement. 9:12 says Christ fulfilled that type after shedding His blood. 9:24 repeats the essence of verse 12. (Note also the parallel between "the greater and more perfect tent" "not of this creation" in v.11 and "the true one" "heaven itself" of v. 24.) 10:19-22 admonished Christians to follow Christ by faith, and with boldness, inasmuch as they also are now king-priests, and need not like the typical high priest tremble as they approach the presence of God.

Hebrews is stressing that the blood of Christ had given access to the presence of God as typified by the High Priest's entrance into the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement.


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