Hebrews 9 and the Most Holy Place By Kevin Paulson

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In an effort to provide answers for those persons with honest questions about the biblical faithfulness of the Seventh-day Adventist sanctuary doctrine, we are continuing to respond to arguments by one Martin Eldon, At this point in our study we will continue to examine arguments which he claims are based on certain New Testament passages, particularly from the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 9 and the Most Holy Place By Kevin Paulson

Like Ford and Ratzlaff, Eldon fervently maintains that according to the book of Hebrews (9:8, 12; 10:19-20), Christ entered the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary at His ascension. This view finds support in the erroneous rendering of the Greek expression ta hagia (holy places) by a number of modern translations, such as the New International Version.

However, the Most Holy Place is specifically named only once in the New Testament, and that is in Hebrews 9, verse 3:

“And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all [Hagia Hagion, or ‘Holy of Holies’].”

This term was obviously available to Paul in this chapter, and is very distinct and unambiguous. Why then, if he intended to convey Christ’s entrance into the heavenly Most Holy Place at His ascension, would he not use this term in subsequent verses?

The answer becomes clear as we read the rest of the chapter. No special emphasis is attached to the Most Holy Place as being the focus of Jesus’ heavenly ministry in this context. Rather, the focus is on the replacing of the spiritually inadequate earthly sanctuary with the spiritually adequate heavenly sanctuary. See Hebrews 9:8-11. Neither of the sanctuary’s apartments is seen as being spiritually superior to the other¾a point which seriously damages the notion that the holy place in this chapter symbolizes the Jewish era while the Most Holy Place symbolizes the Christian era. In fact, the inadequacy of the Second Apartment is seen in this chapter as being far greater than that of the first apartment, since no one but the high priest could enter the Second Apartment¾and then only once a year and not without blood. See Hebrews 9:7.

In short, the earthly sanctuary (both apartments) offered only limited access to God, through mortal priests and animal sacrifices. See Hebrews 7:23; 9:6-9, 13. By contrast, the heavenly sanctuary offers unlimited access through an immortal Priest who has Himself shed all the blood required. See Hebrews 7:25; 9:14, 25-26.

But the strongest argument against viewing the Most Holy Place as the focus of Jesus’ ministry in Hebrews 9 is to simply compare the key verse on this point verse 12 with several other verses later in the chapter. Verse 12 reads:

“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.”

Robert Brinsmead, with views similar to Ford’s and Ratzlaff’s, declares concerning Hebrews 9 and 10: “Here Christ’s ascension to the heavenly sanctuary is compared and contrasted with Aaron’s entrance into the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement.” However, this is not at all the comparison made by these chapters. Rather, Jesus’ entrance into the heavenly sanctuary is compared to the inauguration of the wilderness tabernacle services by Moses and Aaron:

“Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. Hebrews 9:18-21.

Notice that the same blood is described in these verses as is described in verse 12. Moses and Aaron dedicated the wilderness tabernacle with the blood of goats and calves. See verses 18-21. Jesus dedicated the heavenly sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood. See verse 12. The parallel here is not with Aaron’s entrance into the earthly Most Holy Place on the ancient Day of Atonement, but with the inaugural ceremony of the wilderness sanctuary.

“Within the Veil”

Like other critics of the Adventist sanctuary doctrine, Ratzlaff insists that “the Biblical term, ‘within the veil’ always refers to the Most Holy Place.” It is true, as Ratzlaff claims, that many Old Testament verses do use this phrase to refer to the veil separating the holy apartment from the Most Holy Apartment of the sanctuary. See Exodus 26:33; Leviticus 16:2, 12, 15; see also Exodus 26:35; 27:20-21; 40:22, 26; Leviticus 4:5-6; 17; 24: 1-3. However, each of these passages, in context, specifically describes the veil being referred to as the one between the holy place and the Most Holy Place, thus making no assumption that the readers would automatically identify the phrase “within the veil” as referring to this particular veil.

The word for “veil” used in the book of Hebrews is the Greek word katapetasma, which in the greed Old Testament, or Septuagint, can refer to either the veil at the door or the sanctuary courtyard, the veil between the courtyard and the holy place, or the veil separating the holy place from the Most Holy Place. See Exodus 38:18; 39:40; Leviticus 16:2, 12, 15;21:23; Numbers 3:26; 4:26; 18:7. It seems careless to assume that whenever prepositions such as “within” or “without” or “ before” are attached to this very general word, it must automatically refer to the veil between the first and second sanctuary apartments.

One of the Old Testament verses using this phrase, which Ratzlaff cites as referring to the Most Holy Place, refers in fact to both apartments of the sanctuary. Numbers 18:7 reads as follows:

“Therefore thou [Aaron] and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest's office for every thing of the altar, and within the veil; and ye shall serve.”

In context, the altar here described (see verse 3) clearly refers to the altar of burnt offering in the courtyard. “Within the veil” thus refers in the above verse to those portions of the sanctuary not in the courtyard, which would mean everything behind the veil to the holy place, which would include the Most Holy Place also.

Ellen White is thus not at all out of step with Scripture when she states that “within the veil” in Hebrews 6:19 refers to the veil to the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary.

In a broader sense, the term “within the veil” in the book of Hebrews refers to the complete access to God which believers now enjoy as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice and priestly intercession. This is why “the veil” is used as a symbol of Jesus’ broken body in the following passage:

“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest [again, the plural form, ‘holy places’ meaning the sanctuary as a whole] by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.” Hebrews 10:19-20.

As we saw in Hebrews 9, the issue here is not the distinction between the veil to the first apartment and the veil to the Second Apartment, but the replacement of the spiritually inadequate, inaccessible ministry of the Levites and the spiritually efficacious, accessible ministry of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary. This is what Ellen White refers to when she writes that “a new and living Way, before which there hangs no veil, is offered to all.” This in no way contradicts her other statements in which she describes physical partitions in the heavenly sanctuary. Her point in the previous statement is simply that because of the cross, no barriers of any kind prevent our immediate access to God. The physical structure of the heavenly temple¾clearly attested to by Scripture (see Hebrews 8:5; 9:23) is not the issue here at all. Veils in the heavenly sanctuary can no more impede our access to God than could the walls and gates of the New Jerusalem!

Ratzlaff follows the script of other sanctuary critics by alleging that belief in a literal heavenly sanctuary necessitates the physical confinement of Jesus, stating that according to historic Adventism, “Christ entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary for the first time” in 1844. Considerable time and attention has been given to this point through the years by critics of our sanctuary doctrine. One now deceased Adventist historian, in a favorable review of Desmond Ford’s attack on the sanctuary, spoke of how Ford rejected “the confinement of Christ in the Holy Place for 1800 years.” Another critic has stated more recently that, according to historic Adventism, “the Father and the Son have been separated by a curtain for 1800 years.”

However, the critics’ arguments arise from a failure to consider all of the relevant Biblical evidence. None need fear that Christ’s ministry in the heavenly holy place excluded Him from the Father’s immediate presence, which is where the book of Hebrews clearly places Him at His ascension. See Hebrews 9:24. Sometimes people get confused in thinking that wherever God is would have to be the Most Holy Place so if Jesus is in the presence of God at His ascension, they claim, He would have to be in the Most Holy Place.” Yet the critics fail to consider that the only reason the immediate presence of God was restricted to the Most Holy Place in the earthly sanctuary was due to the problem of sinful man. This problem does not exist in heaven or in the heavenly sanctuary; thus the immediate presence of God need not be confined there.

Moreover, in the earthly sanctuary symbols of God’s presence were found in the holy place and courtyard as well as in the Most Holy Place. See John 6:48-51; 8:12. Without question Christ went into His Father’s immediate presence at His ascension. See Hebrews 9:24. Adventism has never denied this truth. There is no doubt hat Jesus was just as surely in His Father’s presence while ministering in the holy place for 1800 years as He has been since 1844.

In short, according to the book of Hebrews, the inefficient earthly sanctuary has been replaced by the efficient heavenly sanctuary. The rending of the Saviour’s flesh at Calvary was accompanied by the rending of the inner veil in the temple at Jerusalem. See Matthew 27:51. Nowhere does Scripture teach that this means Jesus immediately began a Most-Holy-Place, Day-of-Atonement ministry at His ascension. The rending of the inner veil simply meant that because of Jesus’ death, nothing in the earthly sanctuary was sacred anymore even the Most Holy Apartment. Only one sanctuary (in heaven), and only one Priest (Jesus Christ) mattered from that time forward.

Those who insist that the cross has already fulfilled the Hebrews Day of Atonement, with no further fulfillment needed in 1844, should wonder why the New Testament especially the book of Hebrews says so little about the Day of Atonement and its services. While Christ may indeed have attended Day of Atonement ceremonies in His lifetime, no record exists in the Gospel accounts of His ever doing so, much less of His pointing to these services as the focus of His coming sacrifice. Perhaps most importantly of all, we should ask Why did Jesus not die on the Day of Atonement instead of on the Passover, if, in fact, He wished His followers to understand that the final judgment, symbolized by Yom Kippur, was to begin immediately with His ascension to heaven? From the perspective of evangelical theology, what a powerful statement Jesus’ death on the Day of Atonement would have made, signifying that no one need ever afflict his soul again, as required by the ancient ritual! See Leviticus 16:29; 23:29.

But the fact is that Christ’s fulfillment of Day-of-Atonement symbolism was not the burden of the New Testament, because, aside from fulfilling the sacrificial requirements, the final antitype of Yom Kippur was yet future. No wonder the book of Hebrews declares, concerning the Most Holy Place, “of which we cannot now speak particularly.” Hebrews 9:5. Yet the fact that the heavenly sanctuary will eventually require cleansing is clearly stated in this very chapter, which speaks of the heavenly sanctuary being “purified [cleansed]… with better sacrifices.” Hebrews 9:23. It is significant, as we earlier noted, that the Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint, uses the same word for cleanse in Hebrews 9:23 as is found in Daniel 8:14 and Leviticus 16, the latter of which explains in detail the Day of Atonement services.