Back to the Bible"
EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the text, as prepared for delivery, of the sermon preached by General Conference president Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson at the Third International Bible Conference in Jerusalem, Israel, on Sabbath, June 16, 2012.
It is a distinct privilege to speak to such a group of dedicated, committed spiritual educators and leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide. This Third International Bible Conference has been meticulously planned and presented. It has been, and will continue to be for the next few days, a wonderful blessing to each of us focusing on Biblical anthropology in its various settings.
What will you take from this Bible conference when you return? What inspiration and motivation will animate your teaching and your preaching? How will you encourage your students to understand the times in which we are living? How will the presentations and the fascinating on-site visits motivate you to challenge young people to be part of the greatest mission outreach this earth has ever known? How will the presentations focus your attention on the soon second coming of Jesus Christ? What spiritual insights from this Bible conference will convict you to unreservedly proclaim the beauty of Christ and His righteousness and show the magnificent portrayal of that with a renewed zeal and interest in the sanctuary service which demonstrates what Christ has and is doing for us right now? What heavenly convictions will grip your soul in helping young people and all others in your circle of influence to wholeheartedly return to the Seventh-day Adventist roots of strong, convicting Bible study under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
God has called you as spiritual leaders on Seventh-day Adventist college and university campuses for a special purpose at this time in earth’s history. He calls you to stand firm for God, Biblical authority, the Seventh-day Adventist Biblical message of a coming judgment and the wonderful provision of Christ and His righteousness. He calls you to turn people back to the true worship of God at a time when permissiveness and political correctness have become sad substitutes for the Word of God. This is really what the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 are all about and he calls you to proclaim those messages with great clarity and heavenly love. You have been endowed by God Himself with bright intellects. He calls for you to prepare students for the final cry that will go out to this world just before that climactic day of Christ’s soon coming!
Because of this, I call on you as spiritual leaders to lead a positive revolution on your campuses--a revolution back to the Bible with an historicist position and with an historical-biblical approach. Lead your students and campuses back to the Bible with a convicting “Thus saith the Lord” not only in the classroom but on a personal Bible study level. Lead your students to humble themselves before God and pray for revival and reformation which is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. Lead your students back to the Bible through all appropriate methods including the program, “Revived by His Word,” recently initiated at the 2012 Spring Meeting of the General Conference Executive Committee where world leaders committed themselves to personally study the Scriptures more intently and encourage all our church members to read at least one chapter of the Bible a day until the next General Conference session essentially reading the entire Bible through. Lead students to a Christ-centered, Biblical approach of understanding who we are as a unique people chosen by God to proclaim a last message of hope and salvation in Christ through Mission to the Cities as well as to the rural areas since judgment is near.
The judgment is coming and coming fast. The world around us is crumbling. World leaders are no longer able to control political events. The economies of this world are on a razor-edge precipice of ever-present, impending disaster. Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and ferocity. Social and moral decay are everywhere including the fast advancing societal pressure of unbiblical advocacy of same sex marriages and homosexuality. Love the sinner and hate the sin. Stand firm for the Biblical position on this subject. Ecumenical efforts towards ultimate compromise and reduction of religious liberty and freedom of conscience are increasing. Be leaders in defending religious liberty but avoiding any compromising ecumenical activity. You have been called to lift up Christ, His righteousness and salvation, His Holy Word, His three angels’ messages, His sanctuary service, His judgment and His soon coming. This is the time to plead with the Holy Spirit for the latter rain and the power to fulfill Romans 12:2 as God-fearing theology and religion professors who rely completely on God and His Word and to instill that in your students. That marvelous text the Phillips translation puts this way, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold…..” You have been called to proclaim on your campuses and elsewhere the message of hope and Holy Spirit power all centered in Christ and His plan of salvation, righteousness, judgment and heavenly deliverance.
The judgment is not something to fear if you know and completely rely on your Advocate and your Judge----Jesus Christ. In taking your students back to the Bible, let them see the magnificent plan of salvation interwoven throughout Scripture and most notably portrayed in the sanctuary service.
What must it have been like to be part of God’s people centuries ago in this very part of the world on the Day of Atonement? Actually, we don’t have to wonder. Today, we are part of God’s people and we are in the Day of Atonement. I invite you to look at the marvelous passage of Hebrews 4:14-16 which says, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The plan of salvation is so simple that a child can understand it and so profound we will be studying it throughout eternity. Christ, the ruler of the universe, came to this earth as a humble human, lived a perfect life in spite of all the temptations faced, bore our sins, died for us on the cruel cross that we may live, gave us His robe of righteousness, rose to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, intercedes for us as our High Priest in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, and will soon return to take us home.
One of the most graphic explanations of this eternal life-giving plan is the sanctuary service. Recently, I have grown under the conviction that we need to preach and explain much more about the sanctuary and its services. I hope you, as trained Biblical experts, will do so in the classroom. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a unique and full perspective of the sanctuary which is crucial to our theology and understanding of our uniqueness as a people. It is bound up with our relationship to Christ, our Righteousness and Redeemer. The Great Controversy, page 488, emphasizes the importance of understanding this precious atoning work indicating, “Satan invents unnumbered schemes to occupy our minds, that they may not dwell upon the very work with which we ought to be best acquainted. The archdeceiver hates the great truths that bring to view an atoning sacrifice and an all-powerful mediator. He knows that with him everything depends on his diverting minds from Jesus and His truth.” It is so important to understand why God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, used the sanctuary to graphically portray His soul-saving work. We believe in the Trinity--Christ has always existed and always will exist as part of the Godhead. Arianism or anti-Trinitarianism is one of the attacks of the devil to discredit Jesus and take away His authority for creating this earth and re-creating a new heart thereby nullifying the incredible impact of the sanctuary service.
When the Israelites were in the Sinai Desert, not far from here, God said in Exodus 25:8-9, “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.” It has always been His plan to dwell among us. By giving us a “pattern” of what exists in heaven He accomplished two things: 1) He explained in the simplest form the plan of salvation; and 2) He provided a visual sign of His presence with His creation.
When Christ ascended to heaven He was not only the “Slain Lamb” but became also our “High Priest” and “Mediator.” He was uniquely qualified to do this after having offered Himself to die for us so we might have eternal life through His blood and grace. II Corinthians 5:21 beautifully explains this by saying, “For He (the Father) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin (Christ was perfect) to be sin for us (taking our place for our sins), that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Christ’s justifying power to make us righteous through His sacrifice).”
Christ is actively participating in the literal heavenly sanctuary that is in the center of heaven as a vital part of the plan of salvation. Hebrews 8:1-2 affirms that, “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.” Hebrews 8:6 indicates, “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” Hebrews 6:19-20 affirms the heavenly ministry of Christ in the sanctuary showing that, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 9:24 underscores Christ’s marvelous work for us saying, “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us….”
Our focus should not simply be with the objects and mechanical features of the sanctuary and its services but should be on how the sanctuary impacts us personally as we face Christ’s coming. The sanctuary points to Christ’s righteousness and His plan to save us. It shows to the universe God’s incredible redemptive rescue plan for a world hijacked by the devil.
The sanctuary message holds the ultimate spiritual answer to the two extreme positions on either side of the Gospel road -- “cheap grace” on one far side and ”legalism” on the other far side. Seventh-day Adventists have been accused of being legalists—promoting righteousness by works. Nothing could be further from the truth! As we understand our need for revival and reformation in these last days, let us realize that the foundation of revival and reformation is nothing less than a full and correct acceptance of Christ and His all-encompassing righteousness based completely on the truths of the Bible. The voices of Seventh-day Adventists should be the strongest in proclaiming that salvation is through Christ and Christ alone! The two great provisions of salvation—justification and sanctification—cannot be separated for they constitute the fullness of Christ, Our Righteousness. Steps to Christ, chapters 7 and 8, explain this relationship so dynamically.
At times, there seems to be confusion about justification and sanctification and how they relate to each other and our salvation. Some promote justification to the exclusion of sanctification and arrive at what has been termed “cheap grace.” Others focus almost exclusively on sanctification and arrive at what has been termed as “perfectionism” or legalistic salvation by works. But God’s all-encompassing righteousness as beautifully portrayed in the sanctuary service involves the completeness of both justification and sanctification. It is His plan, not ours. I appeal to each of you as spiritual leaders to stay in the center of God’s will and truth. Do not be tempted by the devil to drift into either the right-side or the left-side of the ditch. As the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy advocate, keep your eyes focused on Christ and Him alone.
We need to feature the sanctuary and its meaning in a powerful way. Every child, every student and every adult should fully understand the powerful message God is sharing through the sanctuary message. The Great Controversy, page 488, says, “The sanctuary in heaven is the very center of Christ’s work in behalf of men. It concerns every soul living upon the earth. It opens to view the plan of redemption, bringing us down to the very close of time and revealing the triumphant issue of the contest between righteousness and sin. It is of the utmost importance that all should thoroughly investigate these subjects and be able to give an answer……”
Events now taking place, point to the fulfillment of the prophecies in Daniel, Matthew, and Revelation and Christ’s soon second coming.
What a time to be spiritual leaders in the classroom, on the campus, and in the church and to be part of God’s remnant church proclaiming His three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12 which portray Christ’s righteousness and an appeal to turn back to the true worship of God and to identify ourselves with His Biblical truth as explained in the sanctuary service!
We are coming to the close of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. I urge you to use in your classrooms the incredible, heavenly-inspired book, “The Great Controversy.” I believe fully in the message of that book which is based on Biblical prophecy. This year and next, by God’s grace, Seventh-day Adventist members around the world will distribute approximately 175 million copies in various versions including my favorite, the classic version. Websites and addresses listed in these books will point to further Biblical truth, Bible studies, contacts for Seventh-day Adventist media outlets, the full version of the book, and many more truth-filled resources. God will use this project to increase the circulation of many more Spirit of Prophecy and other truth-filled books. Ellen White said that The Great Controversy was the one book she wished circulated more than any other book she had written. The Great Controversy has much to say about the sanctuary and its services and how they apply to us as God’s remnant church. I plead with you to reread that book, have your students read it, and then encourage them to distribute it with loving care.
This is not the time for half-hearted faith: it is time to plead with the Lord for genuine revival and reformation which can only be produced by the Holy Spirit. This is not some legalistic initiative but is centered in Christ and Him alone. The sanctuary service and Christ’s ministry as portrayed in the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 call us to humbly accept Christ’s righteousness as we face His judgment and soon coming. This message has been entrusted to Seventh-day Adventists as His last-day remnant church. It is a heaven-born call of Holy Spirit power portrayed in passages such as Joel 2, Acts 2, and Hosea 6 that will empower the proclamation of salvation by faith in Christ. The sanctuary service shows us in detail this marvelous plan of justification and sanctification.
The three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 point us to the sanctuary understanding of Christ’s relationship to His people. The first angel’s message proclaiming the everlasting gospel and that the hour of God’s judgment has come is a special announcement turning people back to the true worship of God----the Creator who made everything and is worthy of our worship. We worship Him today on the seventh day, the Sabbath, because He asked us to and because it is a memorial of His creatorship. As a human being, He kept the Sabbath in this very place. His precious message of creation in six literal, consecutive, days of recent origin is the basis of our worship on this Sabbath. This precious Biblical truth of a recent literal creation has come under fierce attack by unbelieving secularists and humanists and is even being dismissed by some who claim to be Seventh-day Adventists. In essence, evolution is not a science; it is a false form of religion and a part of spiritualism. A definition of spiritualism is found in The Great Controversy,page 554: “Spiritualism teaches ‘that man is the creature of progression; that it is his destiny from his birth to progress, even to eternity, toward the Godhead.” As spiritual leaders on the campuses of Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities around the world, through God’s power, hold firmly to a literal recent creation and reject theistic evolution and general evolution theories. I call on you to be champions of creation based on the Biblical account, reinforced so explicitly by the Spirit of Prophecy and as voted by the world Seventh-day Adventist Church at the 2010 General Conference Session. The position of a theistic evolutionary or pure evolutionary religion, theology or Bible teacher in a Seventh-day Adventist university, college or academy is an oxymoron. It can’t really exist and shouldn’t. This is not only the case for religion teachers; it is the case for any teacher of any subject in our Seventh-day Adventist system. Be loyal to God’s Biblical truth, not just because you are employed by the church, but because you believe it with all your heart. It is that important to God’s ultimate mission.
God created us in a literal sense and this is closely tied to God’s salvation demonstrated in the sanctuary service showing His power to re-create in us a new heart through His righteousness and ministry of justification and sanctification.
Our church has long held to the Historical-Biblical method of interpreting scripture allowing the Bible to interpret itself--line upon line, precept upon precept. However, one of the greatest attacks against the Bible, creation, prophetic understanding, the sanctuary message and many other Seventh-day Adventist Biblical beliefs is from the Historical-Critical method of explaining the Bible which is influenced by the unbiblical approach of “higher criticism” which is a deadly enemy of our theology and mission. This approach puts an individual above the plain approach of the Scriptures and gives inappropriate license to decide what he or she perceives as truth based on the resources and education of the critic. Reject this approach which is self-centered and inspired by the devil……this approach does not lead people to trust God and His Word but will destroy your own understanding as a Seventh-day Adventist theologian or religion teacher regarding correct Biblical theology and the precious mission of the Advent movement. Without a literal understanding of God’s creative and saving power, our understanding of the sanctuary service makes no sense.
The primary emphasis of the first angel’s message is about the judgment of all who have ever lived and are living. This judgment in heaven is taking place right now and is part of the entire plan of salvation based upon Christ’s work for us on this earth and in the heavenly sanctuary.
God gave Moses the vision for the earthly sanctuary. It would remind the world of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, the ultimate transference of sin to Satan, and how Christ would handle the sin problem through His righteousness and judgment.
Hebrews 8:1-2 says about Jesus that, “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 pitched, and not man.” The descriptions of the sanctuary furniture and structure in Exodus 25-28 and in Patriarchs and Prophets, Chapter 30, are fascinating.
Everything about the sanctuary reminds us of Christ, His ministry and His perfection: golden walls, silver sockets, court of fine linen, brazen altar representing Christ’s shed blood, laver of Christ’cleansing power, showbread as the Bread of life, seven-branched candlestick as the Light of the world, and altar of incense showing God’s presence with a fire that He kindled and the prayers ascending to Him for forgiveness. Its horns were touched with blood from the sin offering and also sprinkled before the veil showing the transference of guilt from the person to the sanctuary's.
The curtain between the Holy and Most Holy Places did not reach the ceiling so the incense drifted into the Most Holy Place over the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant where the symbolic service of atonement and intercession took place connecting heaven and earth.
The Most Holy Place had the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments, a golden pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded showing God’s constant interest in our lives and His care for our needs. The Ark’s Mercy Seat was protected by two golden cherubim angels with a wing stretched out while the other was folded in reverence and humility. This represented the reverence with which heaven regards the law of God and great interest in the plan of redemption. This is what the judgment is all about--our deliverance through the blood of Jesus--our humble submission and confession to Him recognizing our need of forgiveness and the deliverance that He offers at the judgment. Above the mercy seat the Shekinah glory gave the physical manifestation of God’s presence.
The holiness of the sanctuary and of God’s presence and power is profound. Just as He was in the earthly sanctuary He is now in the heavenly sanctuary and also here with us today through the Holy Spirit. That is why reverence in His presence is so important.
As Patriarchs and Prophets, page 349 says, “Thus in the work of Christ for our redemption, symbolized by the sanctuary service, ‘mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.’ Ps 85:10.”
The sanctuary service demonstrated God’s plan of redemption through the blood of Christ. A sinner at the door of the tabernacle placed his hand on an animal’s head, confessing his sin symbolically transferring that sin to the innocent sacrifice, and then he would kill the sacrifice. Normally, the blood was then sprinkled by the priest before the veil in the Holy Place showing the transference of the sin to the sanctuary on a daily basis. Once a year, the Day of Atonement service removed the accumulated sins during which the high priest entered the Most Holy Place to cleanse the sanctuary of sin.
Two goats brought to the door of the tabernacle--one slain as a sin offering for the people with the blood being brought into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled on the mercy seat representing Christ’s blood shed for us--the other goat, the scapegoat representing Satan, would have the high priest place his hands on the head of the scapegoat confessing the accumulated sins of Israel thus transferring the sins from the sanctuary to the scapegoat. It was led into the wilderness to die showing that Satan will ultimately bear the final penalty of sin through death putting an end forever to sin.
At Christ’s death on the cross on that momentous Friday afternoon, the priest at the temple in Jerusalem was about to kill the evening sacrificial lamb. When Christ died, the curtain separating the Holy Place and Most Holy Place was, as Matthew 27:51 records, “rent in twain from top to the bottom.” The sacrificial lamb escaped from the priest’s hands. In Desire of Ages, p 769, we read, “The great sacrifice has been made . . . . A new and living way is prepared for all. No longer need sinful, sorrowing humanity await the coming of the high priest. Henceforth the Saviour was to officiate as priest and advocate in the heaven of heavens.”
After His resurrection, Christ rose to heaven and began interceding as our High Priest resulting in what we read earlier in Hebrews 4:16 which says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” This was the life-saving result of the cross and the nails.
Hebrews 6:19 tells us that He entered “into that within the veil” in the Holy Place in the heavenly sanctuary doing His work of mediation for eighteen centuries and then, according to the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 which states, “unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed,” He entered the Most Holy Place to begin His final work of judgment and ministry on our behalf. According to the time prophecy of the 2300 days and using the day/year principle of the Bible, this great work in the literal Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary began in 1844.
The Great Controversy, page 486, explains that, “At the time appointed for the judgment--the close of the 2300 days, in 1844---began the work of investigation and blotting out of sins. All who have ever taken upon themselves the name of Christ must pass its searching scrutiny.”
This is a vitally crucial belief that has been attacked. Those who do not understand or believe in the 2300-year prophecy ending in 1844 do not understand the true basis for the sanctuary service nor understand one of our fundamental Biblical beliefs that make us who we are. This belief has been wonderfully substantiated by faithful Seventh-day Adventist Biblical scholars and has been plainly confirmed by the Spirit of Prophecy. If individuals do not accept this tremendous Biblical belief then they also destroy their confidence and belief in the Spirit of Prophecy. Our beliefs are grounded upon the Bible using the historicist approach and the Historical-Biblical methods of understanding Scripture and substantiated by the Spirit of Prophecy. I believe and I hope you do, too, that the Spirit of Prophecy is one of God’s greatest gifts to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is a direct fulfillment of Revelation 12:17.
We are now living during Christ’s final work of sanctuary cleansing--the Day of Atonement and the judgment. The sanctuary doctrine and the judgment are important theological reasons why Seventh-day Adventists are engaged in the Gospel commission and a worldwide mission to proclaim the three angels’ messages.
Soon Christ will return and ultimately place the final penalty on Satan. The blood of Jesus Christ, our Sacrifice, on the cross and the ministry of our High Priest, Jesus Christ, in the heavenly sanctuary, have but one purpose: that you and I and all who submit to Him, including the thousands of students for whom you are responsible, have the wonderful privilege to confess our sins and accept Him as our Saviour, thus being made right with God and then grow to become more and more like Christ Who provides eternal life--all through Christ’s ministry on the cross and in the heavenly sanctuary.
The Great Controversy, page 489, speaks to us today declaring that, “The intercession of Christ in man’s behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross . . . . We are now living in the great day of atonement.” Since we are in the Day of Atonement, we should be leaning on Christ even more than ever allowing Him to prepare our hearts for revival and reformation. Continuing on we read how, “There must be deep, faithful searching of heart. The light frivolous spirit indulged by so many professed Christians must be put away. There is earnest warfare before all who would subdue the evil tendencies that strive for the mastery. The work of preparation is an individual work . . . . Solemn are the scenes connected with the closing work of the atonement . . . . The judgment is now passing in the sanctuary above.”
Given the judgment that is taking place in the heavenly sanctuary and that we are in the Day of Atonement, what a comfort it is to have the righteousness of Christ to work in us and through us! What an encouragement to know that we have a High Priest who knows our needs and carries our sorrows and has made a way of escape. That is why we can identify so closely with Paul’s marvelous and victorious declaration in Hebrews 10:19-23 which says, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an even conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful!”
What a message of hope for Seventh-day Adventist theologians and religion teachers to carry to the classroom, to the campus, and to the world! It is a revolutionary message based upon the great Word of God! Professors, theologians, teachers--lead this positive Biblical revolution on your campuses showing that Christ is interceding for each of us and is faithful to bring us into a right relationship with Him for eternity if we will humbly submit to His righteousness and grace.
Today, will you take a deep interest in what Christ is doing for you and your students in the Most Holy Place as we prepare ourselves and the world, through the Holy Spirit’s power, for Christ’s soon coming in the clouds of dynamic glory? Will you renew your acceptance and your proclamation of our Creator, Sacrificial Lamb, Redeemer, High Priest, and coming King to face the judgment through His blood, merits, mercy and grace? Will you lead this spiritual revolution on campus back to the Bible? If so, would you join me in quietly standing to your feet just now in commitment to Him and His Holy Word as we pray?