What Adventists Believe About Jesus’ Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary
What is Jesus doing right now?
Seventh-day Adventists believe, according to what we’re told in the book of Hebrews, that Jesus is ministering in the sanctuary in Heaven right now. He is our high priest and advocate before God the Father, as He makes intercession on our behalf for the forgiveness of our sins.
But what exactly does that mean?
In this post, you will gain a better understanding of how Christ serves as our holy mediator in heaven, ministering on our behalf.
We’ll look at:
- The literal sanctuary in heaven
- How the Old Testament sanctuary was modeled after the heavenly sanctuary
- What each area of the sanctuary represents
- What Jesus is doing right now
- The Day of Atonement
- Why Jesus is interceding and advocating for us in Heaven
Adventists list their official belief on the heavenly Sanctuary as follows:
In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross.
At His ascension, He was inaugurated as our great High Priest, and began His intercessory ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the holy place of the earthly sanctuary.
In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary.
It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus.
The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have a part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom.
This judgment vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the Second Advent.”
, NKJVJesus is ministering in a literal sanctuary in Heaven
The book of Hebrews mentions that Jesus is in a sanctuary located in Heaven right now.
It explains that Jesus 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 8:1-2, NKJV).
From this verse, we learn that this heavenly sanctuary was built by God Himself, and not by any human being.
And it is this sanctuary in heaven that was used as a template for the sanctuary that was built on earth. It says that the earthly sanctuary was just a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5, NKJV).
That’s why when God told Moses how to make the earthly sanctuary and its furniture, He emphasized saying:
“Make them according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40, NKJV).
This is the same sanctuary that John saw in vision when he recorded:
“Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple” (Revelation 11:19, NKJV).
And this heavenly sanctuary even had the ark of the covenant, just like the earthly one as we will see.
The Old Testament sanctuary is a model of the heavenly sanctuary
The Old Testament describes a sanctuary that was first built in the wilderness under Moses’ supervision.
When God gave “the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings,” He meant that Moses would produce a replica of the one in Heaven. He said, “ just so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:9, NKJV).
With those clear instructions, Moses erected a sanctuary with two compartments—first, the Holy Place, and second, the Most Holy Place.
And the structure was enclosed by a fence made of linen hangings, and this enclosure formed the outer court. The fence separated the sanctuary from the rest of the camp of Israelites (Exodus 25:8; 27:9-15; Numbers 2:1-34).
Each of these compartments contained certain features, articles, and furniture that have a specific significance in the Plan of Redemption.
Even the various offerings and feasts outlined in the Old Testament for the Israelites pointed to the life and ministry of Jesus for our salvation. It also covers Jesus’ ministry after His ascension to heaven, going beyond His earthly ministry.
That’s why when the Psalmist saw how God’s plan for the Salvation of man is outlined in the sanctuary, he said:
“Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary” (Psalm 77:13, NKJV).
What do the different parts of the sanctuary represent?
The camp and outer court represent Christ’s earthly ministry
The camp represents Jesus’ pure character as He led a sinless life on earth. And through His spotless life, He became our example of perfection (2 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
The outer court had two furnishings:
- The altar of burnt offering which represented Jesus Christ’s’ sacrificial death on our behalf (Exodus 27:1-8; Hebrews 10:12).
- The laver where priests washed their hands and feet before entering the holy place. It represented Jesus’ burial and resurrection from death as a pledge of our victory over death (Exodus 30:17-21).
The laver’s relation to His death, burial, and resurrection is found in baptism.
Paul says that we’ve been “buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 3:4, NASB).
The Holy and Most Holy Place represent Christ’s ministry in Heaven
The Holy and Most Holy Place were two compartments separated by a heavy curtain. Much like a house with two rooms.
In the New Testament, we find this reference to the sanctuary’s compartments:
“For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary;
and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All,
which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” (Hebrews 9:2-5, NKJV).
Ministry In the Holy Place
Only priests were allowed in the Holy Place for daily services.
The Holy Place had three articles of furniture made of gold
1. The table of showbread (Exodus 25:23-30;37:10-16) was a table with two stacks of bread. Each stack was made of six loaves.
It represented the word of God through which Jesus sanctifies us (John 6:35, 51; 17:17; Matthew 4:4).
2. The golden lampstand (Exodus 25:31-40; 37:17-24) was a lampstand with a seven-branched candlestick. It provided light in the sanctuary. The lamps were kept burning continuously by the priest.
The lampstand represents the church of God, who are His true followers (Revelation 1:20).
During His ministry, Jesus had declared that He is the light of the world. And that whoever follows Him will walk in the light (John 8:12).
John also described Jesus as the true light that gives light to everyone (John 1:9).
Then Jesus told His followers that they are the light of the world. And that they should let their light shine before others who will see their good works, and glorify God. Just like a lamp is placed on a stand to give light to all around it (Matthew 5:14-16).
So, the light that shines from the lamps in the sanctuary represents the witness of the followers of Jesus.
They’re empowered to be witnesses for Jesus through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
And the oil represents the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:2-6).
3. The Altar of Incense (Exodus 30:1-9; 37:25-29) was a golden altar close to the curtain which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.
Incense was burned on it, filling the sanctuary with fragrance. The fragrance rose over the curtain and perfumed the most holy place where God’s presence was.
It represents the righteousness of Christ that was mingled with the prayers of the saints (Psalm 141:2; Luke 1:8-10).
What’s the relation of these furnishings to Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary?
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples for a period of 40 days. Then He ascended into Heaven (Acts 1:3).
But before He left, He insisted that they wait in Jerusalem until He had sent them the Holy Spirit to empower them to preach the Gospel to all the world (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8,9).
And ten days later on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out to the saints (Acts 2:1-4).
Now, the day of Pentecost was the next Jewish feast after the Feast of First Fruits, which was fulfilled at Christ’s resurrection.
It came on the 50th day after the first fruits had been dedicated (Leviticus 23:15-17).
On this day, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as promised. And this event was accompanied by “divided tongues, as of fire” which “sat upon each of [the disciples]” (Acts 2:3, NKJV).
The exhibition of fire at this event is significant. It reminds us of a major milestone in the earthly sanctuary services recorded in the Old Testament.
When the priestly ministry first began, Aaron, who was the ordained priest presented sacrifices on the altar of sacrifice.
And when he was done,
“Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people.”
“Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar” (Leviticus 9: 22-24, NKJV).
Also, at the inauguration of Solomon’s temple, a sacrifice was offered. And as a symbol of God’s acceptance of the sacrifice, “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chronicles 7:1, NKJV).
The fact that the fire consumed the sacrifice signified that He accepted the sacrifice. This was the case with Elijah’s and David’s sacrifices too (1 Chronicles 21:26; 1 Kings 18:38).
So, fire coming down from heaven signified three things:
- Acceptance of the sacrifice made at the altar of sacrifice
- Starting of the priestly ministry, so the priest could then enter the Holy Place
- Opening up the sanctuary as a place for ministry
And notice that the fire falls on the altar of sacrifice located at the outer court. Which signifies the earth, where Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice.
But we read that the “way into the holy places [was] not yet opened as long as the first section (the outer court) is still standing” (Hebrews 9:8-9, ESV).
This means the ministry in the Holy Place could not start until the ministry in the outer court had been finalized. And it was finalized when the sacrifice offered there was accepted.
Then the priest would go to the Holy Place and then go out again to bless the people as Aaron did.
Jesus’ ministry in the heavenly sanctuary began at Pentecost
In explaining the events of Pentecost, Peter made it clear that Jesus had “received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father” then poured it out to His followers on earth (Acts 2:33, NASB).
So Jesus went to the heavenly sanctuary after His ascension. And the acceptance of His sacrifice on the cross was signified by the fire falling at Pentecost.
And His entrance into the Holy Place and blessing His people who were at the camp (on earth) by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is key because one of the priest’s first work in the sanctuary was to ensure continual light by adding oil to the lamps. And as we mentioned earlier, oil was a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
That is why when John saw a vision of Jesus in Heaven, He was walking in the midst of the candle sticks to ensure they are lit to the end of ages (Revelation 1:13,21).
And history shows that the witness of God’s true church could not be completely put out, even in the Dark Ages.
And just as the showbread which was maintained in the sanctuary and changed every sabbath, Jesus keeps His church fed by the word of God as seen earlier. And He Himself is the Word that became flesh (John 1:14).
Again, history reveals that the Bible has never been completely destroyed, even though it passed through such bitter opposition in the Middle Ages. Because Jesus Himself stands to ensure His children can have access to it until the end.
Jesus is interceding for us in Heaven—right now, and continually
In the earthly Sanctuary, the people would go to pray at the temple during the “hour of incense”. They’d pray outside while the priest burned incense on the altar of incense inside. This “prayer service” did not end in the Old Testament times but continued even to the New Testament days (Luke 1:8-10).
Now in the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus “always lives to make intercession” for us as our high priest as we “pray without ceasing” out here on earth (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NKJV).
He intercedes for us to God by mingling our defiled prayers with His righteousness since He alone is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 4:14; 7:25-26, NKJV).
It’s only the righteousness of Christ that can make our prayers acceptable before God. Just like only a special kind of incense was acceptable for sanctuary service (Exodus 30:34-38).
So as we pray, we can be thankful that Jesus is interceding for us before His Father in Heaven.
As our prayers rise to Heaven, Jesus works to ensure they’re answered.
The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “is also able to save to the utmost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25, NKJV).
Therefore we can come with boldness to the throne of God and receive mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Christ’s ministry enlightens our understanding as we talk with Him through prayer. We can have faith that He hears and answers our requests.
Ministry In the Most Holy Place
The Most Holy Place is the most sacred part of the Sanctuary.
There is only one piece of furniture in this small room—the Ark of the Covenant, or the Ark of the Testimony (Exodus 37:1-9).
It was a symbol of God’s presence and power (Exodus 25:22; Numbers 10:35-36; Joshua 6:6-7).
Inside the ark are three items:
1. The golden pot of manna which served as a reminder of how God provided food for the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16:32-35).
It’s also a reminder for us that God promises to take care of us.
Paul reminds us that, “God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NKJV).
And He doesn’t just supply us with physical food, but also spiritual food (1 Corinthians 10:3).
Just like God gave manna to the Israelites to make them know that “man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
And as we saw with the show bread, it is by His word that Jesus sanctifies us.
Even in Heaven, Jesus promises to feed those who overcome with the “hidden manna” (Revelation 2:17, NKJV).
2. Aaron’s rod which budded and miraculously flowered when some leaders of the Israelites questioned who God had chosen to serve as priests in the sanctuary (Numbers 17:8).
God commanded that it be kept “before the Testimony…as a sign against the rebels” (Numbers 17:8, ESV).
Rebels who defied God’s authority in choosing who is ordained for the holy service in the sanctuary .
It also served to remind those called to be priests that they were called to “distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:10, ESV).
They were required to be an example and to teach the Israelites to distinguish between the holy and common in their lives too (Ezekiel 22:26; 44:23).
The Bible describes us as a “royal priesthood” who have been made kings and priests unto God (1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6, ESV).
And we read that we’ll reign as priests in the new earth (Revelation 5:10).
So, Aaron’s rod that budded is significant even to us today. It reminds us to respect things that God has clearly marked as holy.
And we need to relate to these matters in a way that we can be an example, and lead others to God’s truth.
3. The two tables of stone with the Ten Commandments that God wrote with His own finger (Exodus 31:18; 34:1)
They were the Covenant, or the Testimony. The ark was called the Ark of the Covenant/Testimony because the two tablets were placed in the ark (Deuteronomy 10:1,2,5). When John saw a vision of the heavenly sanctuary being opened, He noted that “the Ark of the Covenant was seen in the temple” (Revelation 11:19, NKJV).
This means the Ten Commandments found in it are important and relevant even in Heaven.
The Psalmist said that “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. … The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:7-8, NKJV).
And Solomon wrote about the conclusion of the whole matter as to “fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.” Because “God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, NKJV).
This makes it clear that we’ll all be judged based on the law, since the law is what defines whether something is sinful or not (1 John 3:4).
Only the high priest entered the Most Holy Place. He could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement. And even when he did, he had to have a protective smokescreen of incense otherwise he’d die (Hebrews 9:6,7; Leviticus 16:2, 12, 13).
What happened on the Day of Atonement?
On the Day of Atonement, Israelites held “a holy convocation” and afflicted their souls (Leviticus 23:26-27, NKJV).
All sins that had been forgiven and transferred to the sanctuary all year long through animal sacrifices were removed from the sanctuary.
If anyone didn’t afflict himself, he would be “cut off from his people” (Leviticus 23:29, NKJV). This means he’d die.
But those who did afflict themselves had their sins atoned for, so they didn’t die.
How did this atonement happen?
While the people afflicted themselves through prayer and fasting, the high priest would intercede for them by taking “two male goats for a sin offering” (Leviticus 16:5, ESV).
Then he would “cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel [or scapegoat]” (Leviticus 16: 8, ESV).
The one for the Lord would be killed without hands being laid on it. So, sins weren’t transferred to the temple through it.
Instead, its blood was used to cleanse the sanctuary and to “make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins” (Leviticus 16:16, ESV).
The Azazel goat was presented alive before the Lord.
With this one, the high priest would “lay both his hands” on its head and “confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins” (Leviticus 16:21, ESV).
Then it would be sent away to the desert to bear all the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:21,22).
And Jesus entered the Most Holy Place in the heavenly sanctuary. Then He started going through the records of everyone who has ever lived. This is the investigative judgement (Daniel 7: 13-14; 9-10).
Since then, Jesus has been ministering as our high priest in the Most Holy Place.
Jesus is our high priest
As the high priest in the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus intercedes for individuals who come to Him in repentance, confession, and faith (Hebrews 9:11-12).
He applies the benefits of the atonement that He gained for us through His sacrificial death to all who claim them. He forgives the sins of the penitent and places these sins in the sanctuary through His blood (Hebrews 9:24-26).
Having paid the price for our redemption, He now works as the mediator between us and God (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:24).
He pleads with God for our forgiveness and reconciliation with God as one who understands us well. Speaking of this ministry in our behalf, the Bible says:
“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” (Hebrews 4:15, NKJV).
During the investigative judgment that happens before the Second Coming, Jesus examines the cases of all who professed His name. This serves to determine if they are entitled to the benefits that the atonement provided.
The purpose of the judgment is to reveal if repentance was genuine leading to a changed life.
During Jesus’ intercessory ministry, repented sins are temporarily transferred to the sanctuary. Then they’ll finally be placed on Satan and eventually destroyed.
Jesus is our advocate
Another role that Jesus fills is being our advocate before God. He “entered the holy places…to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24, NKJV).
As an advocate who stands on behalf of another before the judge, Jesus defends us before the Father (1 John 2:1).
This is because as He reviews our cases, Satan who is also known as the “accuser of the brethren” is always ready to accuse us (Revelation 12:10; Zechariah 3:1, NKJV).
He accuses us because as the Bible says, we are all sinful (Romans 3:23).
Even after Jesus paid for our sins at the cross, Satan still tempts us and we still choose wrong, since we are still living in this sinful world. But Christ pleads His blood for all who repent (Hebrews 9:12,24).
Only Christ can refute Satan’s arguments against the guilty human race (Jude 1:9; Zechariah 3:2).
The judgment is like a courtroom scenario
God the Father is the judge, and we humans are the accused sinners. We are rightfully guilty and the Devil stands as our accuser before God, the judge.
But then Jesus stands as our advocate who defends us. He shows that He has paid the bond for our release from guilt through His blood.
Thus, we are justly redeemed from the clutch of Satan through Christ’s ministry for us.
This scene is vividly portrayed in the story of Joshua the priest. The whole story is recorded in Zechariah 3:1-11.
The Investigative Judgment is going on now
Even now, Jesus is going through our records in Heaven. Our names are either being accepted or rejected based on our past and present decisions and actions.
And soon, Christ’s ministerial work will end. His ministry will come to a stop when our probation closes and He says:
“He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still” (Revelation 22:14, NKJV).
And since no one knows when this will happen, now is the time to repent. The time to send our sins to Christ who will plead for our forgiveness. Then when He comes, we may be covered with His righteousness and not be found guilty (1Timothy 5:24).
That way, the blessings given to Joshua will be ours when God promised him that:
“If you will walk in My ways, and if you will keep My command, then you shall also judge My house, And likewise have charge of My courts; I will give you places to walk among these who stand here” (Zechariah 3:7, NKJV).
In a nutshell, we have seen that Jesus is currently ministering as High Priest in the Heavenly sanctuary.
He is interceding and advocating for us before the Father. And thanks to His sacrificial death on the cross, He redeems all who repent from sin and the penalty of death by His own blood.
That is our only guarantee of eternal life at His second coming.
So, we can be thankful that Jesus is ministering on our behalf in Heaven.
And purpose to live lives that will honor Him, and ensure our names are accepted when they come in review before Him.
Want to learn even more about the significance of the sanctuary, the judgment, and Jesus’ loving sacrifice to save us all? Sign up for Bible studies here.
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