SDA Doctrine versus Bible Truth: The Sanctuary

In brief, SDAs...

  1. Teach Jesus moved from the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place in heaven in 1844
  2. Teach Jesus is currently cleansing the sanctuary from the sins of the saints

SDA Doctrine about the Sanctuary

Seventh-day Adventists teach the following regarding the Sanctuary:

1. The sanctuary in the Old Testament is a replica of the heavenly sanctuary. The activities that were performed in the earthly tabernacle by Israelite priests are now being performed by Christ in the heavenly sanctuary ever since His ascension into heaven.

2. Prior to October 22, 1844, the throne of God is in the Holy Place. There is no Scriptural evidence of this. Ellen White saw this in a vision.1

3. When Christ ascended to heaven He entered the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary, the Holy Place, and remained there performing work similar to that of the earthly priests in the Holy Place of the earthly temple.

4. Christ remained in the Holy Place until October 22, 1844, when He (and the Father) moved from the Holy Place into the second apartment of the heavenly sanctuary, the Most Holy Place, to begin cleansing the heavenly sanctuary (Dan. 8:14) by performing the Investigative Judgment of the antitypical Day of Atonement.

5. Just as the sins of the Israelites were laid upon the sacrificial lamb, carried into the temple by the lamb's blood, and sprinkled on the veil by the priest, so the confessed sins of Christians are transferred into the heavenly sanctuary by the blood of Jesus. As the sins have accumulated in the heavenly sanctuary, it has become "defiled" and is in need of cleansing.

6. The earthly sanctuary was cleansed on the Day of Atonement when the high priest took blood into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled it on the mercy seat. Likewise, SDAs say the same process occurs in the heavenly sanctuary which has become defiled by the confession of the sins of the believers. They teach that the blood of Jesus carried these sins into the heavenly sanctuary:

As anciently the sins of the people were placed by faith upon the sin offering and through its blood transferred, in figure, to the earthly sanctuary, so in the new covenant the sins of the repentant are by faith placed upon Christ and transferred, in fact, to the heavenly sanctuary.2

In summary, in 1844, Christ moved to the Most Holy Place and began the Day of Atonement process in heaven to cleanse the sanctuary. This process will continue until shortly before His return to earth.


Problems with the SDA Doctrine of the Sanctuary

Here are some problems with SDA teachings regarding the sanctuary.

1. Christ entered the Most Holy Place at His ascension, not in 1844 - By comparing the Biblical evidence found in the Old Testament description of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16) with the New Testament description of the Day of Atonement (Heb. 9) the location of Jesus in the heavenly temple can be determined exactly:

For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24).

When Hebrews was written, Jesus was appearing in the presence of God. When Revelation was written, He was sitting down with His Father on God's throne (Rev. 3:21). Therefore, Jesus was in the Most Holy Place during the first century.

In the ancient temple, the mercy seat upon the Ark of the Covenant symbolized the throne of God, watched over by two covering cherubs. The Ark was in the Most Holy Place of the temple. This is where the presence of God appeared:

And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat (Lev. 16:2).

The place of the Lord's presence in the Old Testament tabernacle was upon the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place. In order for Christ to have entered into the "presence of God" He must have entered into the Most Holy Place to appear before the mercy seat of God. This is further validated by the fact that the authors of the New Testament repeatedly refer to Jesus as sitting or standing on the right hand of God. Never once is He ever pictured in a separate room from God. Notice what Mark, Luke, Stephen, Paul, the author of Hebrews, and Peter say:

So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God (Mark 16:19).
Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God (Luke 22:69).
But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).
Who [is] he that condemneth? [It is] Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us (Rom. 8:34).
Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set [him] at his own right hand in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:20).
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God (Col. 3:1).
Who being the brightness of [his] glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3).
Now of the things which we have spoken [this is] the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens (Heb. 8:1).
But this man {Christ}, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12).
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).
[Jesus] Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him (1 Pet. 3:22).

2. Jesus opened the door to the Most Holy Place at His ascension - SDAs teach that Jesus opened the door to the Most Holy Place in 1844, but the Bible teaches differently:

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us... (Heb. 10:19,20).
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:15).

Jesus, by His sacrificial death, opened the way for us to enter into the Most Holy Place so that we could bring our petitions directly to the "throne of grace." The "throne of grace" could be nothing other than the Mercy Seat in the Most Holy Place where the "presence of God" abides. The way into the Most Holy Place has been opened since Christ's ascension. Prior to 1844, how could sinful humans have had access to the Holiest if Christ Himself was not ministering there? And how could first century Christians, to whom the book of Hebrews was addressed, approach the throne of grace in the Holiest if the door into the Holiest was not even opened until 1844?

3. Jesus Christ is the veil - All of the items in the Old Testament tabernacle pointed to the ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. The "veil" in the earthly sanctuary that separated the Holy Pace from the Most Holy Place was a symbol used to represent the work of Jesus:

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest 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 (Heb. 10:19,20).

The Bible teaches that there is not a piece of cloth hanging in heaven between the apartments of the Sanctuary, but that Jesus Christ is Himself the "veil!" Note what happened when Christ died on the cross:

And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom (Mark 15:38).

The tearing of the veil indicated that Christ had opened up the way into the Most Holy Place. Christ Himself is the veil that was "rent." Just as the Levitical priesthood ministered in the earthly tabernacle, the "royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:9) of believers has access to the heavenly tabernacle. Unlike the Levitical priesthood, however, the "royal priesthood" has direct access to the "throne of grace" through the "new and living way" that Christ has opened for us through the veil, which is His body. Therefore, we have access to the Most Holy Place through Christ.

4. Was the Sanctuary "cleansed" in 1844? - SDAs have calculated a 2300-year time period that ends in 1844. They claim that the Investigative Judgment (cleansing of the Sanctuary) began in 1844 based upon Daniel 8:14, which says:

And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed (Dan 8:14).

SDAs teach that the "sanctuary" in this verse is the heavenly sanctuary, and that it is being "cleansed" from the sins of the righteous during the Day of Atonement process.

In order to test that claim, one should read the preceding context which is found in verses 9-13:

Out of one of them came forth a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land. It grew great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host of the stars it cast down to the ground, and trampled upon them. It magnified itself, even up to the Prince of the host; and the continual burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown. And the host was given over to it together with the continual burnt offering through transgression; and truth was cast down to the ground, and the horn acted and prospered. Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to the one that spoke, "For how long is the vision concerning the continual burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled under foot?" (Dan. 8:9-13 RSV)

SDAs teach that the "little horn" power represents Catholicism which ascended to power during the dark ages and persecuted Christians. They claim that the papacy established its own priesthood and obscured Christ's work in the sanctuary:

"Papal Rome effectively obscured the priestly, mediatorial ministry of Christ in behalf of sinners in the heavenly sanctuary (see Heb. 8:1,2) by substituting a priesthood that purports to offer forgiveness through the mediation of men. This apostate power would be quite successful, for 'he cast truth down to the ground. He did all this and prospered' (Dan. 8:12)."3

Carefully think this through. SDAs teach "Papal Rome" was the little horn power of Daniel 8:9-12 that defiled the heavenly sanctuary by substituting its own priesthood. Then, in Daniel 8:13, the question is asked: How long will the defilement continue? Or, using SDA reasoning, "How long will Rome be permitted to defile the Sanctuary?" According to SDAs, the 2,300 years ended in 1844. So, was any part of the vision in Daniel 8:10-12 fulfilled in 1844?

  • Did the Catholic Church stop the confessional in 1844? No!
  • Did the Catholic Church change any of its policies or practices in 1844? No!
  • Did Protestantism unveil the truth about Catholicism in 1844? No, several centuries earlier!
  • Did any part of Daniel 8:10-12 come to pass in 1844? No!

Daniel 8:14 answers the question posed in verse 13 by saying that after 2300 days, "then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." Cleansed from what? From the defilement in verses 9-12. SDAs say that Rome defiled the sanctuary, so one would think that in order to be consistent, SDAs would teach that the "cleansing" refers to ending Rome's defilement of the heavenly sanctuary. But they do not! Instead, they switch to a completely different subject, and say that the "cleansing" of the sanctuary has nothing to do with Rome, but is talking about cleansing the sins of the righteous from the heavenly sanctuary during the Day of Atonement!

SDAs ignore the question asked in verse 13 and answer an entirely different question in verse 14! Instead of verse 13 asking how long was the little horn power to defile the sanctuary, SDAs have changed the question in verse 13 to "How long will the heavenly sanctuary be defiled by the confessed sins of God's people?" This is a completely different question than the one asked in the Bible!

The Bible truth is:

  • Daniel 8 never mentions anything that took place on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16)
  • Daniel 8 never mentions an offering for sin or a scapegoat
  • Daniel 8 never mentions the sins of the righteous
  • Daniel 8 never mentions an atonement for sins
  • Daniel 8 never mentions that "sins" are defiling the sanctuary

The idea that confessed sins are transferred to the heavenly sanctuary and are defiling it is not found anywhere in the passage of Daniel 8. Look at what various SDA scholars have written regarding this problem:

C.L. Price: "What has defiled the sanctuary and made necessary its 'cleansing' is its defilement by the little horn. Confessed sins are not referred to at all; that is an alien thought, wholly brought in by the Adventist writers themselves."4
Dr. Desmond Ford: "When would heaven intervene and stop the wicked aggressor? Verse 14 was the answer to that inquiry. But SDAs refuse to connect the two! Instead, they jump from the theme of evil deeds by an anti-God power to the theme of sins of the saints defiling a heavenly sanctuary. Let it not be missed: the context says nothing about believers defiling anything. Nor do the Old or New Testaments anywhere else teach that confessed sins defile the heavenly sanctuary. Even on earth the sanctuary of Moses was defiled by the act of sin, not by its confession. (Num. 19:13,20; Lev. 20:3)"5
Dr. Robert Brinsmead: "In the context of Daniel 8:14, 'cleansing the sanctuary' means cleansing it from the pollution of the desolator (see Dan. 11:31 for a parallel scripture). To introduce into Daniel 8:14 the idea of cleansing the sanctuary from the confessed sins of the saints is not only a diversion but contrary to the context. The sanctuary is defiled not by the confessed sins of the saints, but by the evil actions of the little horn. (Even in the Old Testament tabernacle, which the Adventist interpretation brings in at this point, what defiled wasn't confessed sins but covenant-breaking and unconfessed sin.)"6
Dr. Raymond Cottrell: "In 1958 the Review and Herald Publishing Association needed new printing plates for the classic book Bible Readings, and it was decided to revise it where necessary to agree with the Commentary. Coming again to the Book of Daniel I determined to try once more to find a way to be absolutely faithful to both Daniel and the traditional Adventist interpretation of 8:14, but again found it impossible. I then formulated six questions regarding the Hebrew text of the passage and its context, which I submitted to every college teacher versed in Hebrew and every head of the religion department in all of our North American colleges—all personal friends of mine. Without exception they replied that there is no linguistic or contextual basis for the traditional Adventist interpretation of Daniel 8:14."7

Cottrell said it the best. There is no basis in the context or linguistics of Daniel 8:14 to suggest it teaches an Investigative Judgment. That interpretation was forced on the verse by early Adventists in order to explain away the failure of the Millerite prediction of the Lord returning at the end of the 2300 days. Since the SDA prophet Ellen White endorsed this interpretation from her visions, SDAs are now stuck with it even though they cannot make sense of it.

5. Do the sins of believers ever enter the heavenly sanctuary? - There is not a single Bible verse anywhere in the Old or New Testament that says that confessed sins are transferred into the holy sanctuary or defile the sanctuary in any way. In the Old Testament, the sins of the penitent believer were laid upon the sacrificial animal and the innocent animal was killed. This sacrificial act cancelled out the sins of the sinner, and those sins ceased to exist. This is proven by the fact that the sin offering then became "most holy" (Num. 18:9). It did not carry sin, for the sin was eradicated by its death. The Bible teaches that the blood sanctifies or makes holy (Heb. 9:13). Jesus said his blood gives "life" (John 6:53). His blood is never described anywhere in the Bible as a transportation mechanism to move sins from sinners into the heavenly sanctuary.8

Bible Truth about the Sanctuary

Dr. Russell Kelly describes the Biblical truth about the atonement process:

When the sacrifice died as a sin offering at the entrance of the sanctuary, the payment for the confessed sin was complete. The ministering priest collected its blood which had become most holy (Lev. 4:20; 5:6; 6:7, 25-27; Numb. 18:9). The fat portions of the animal were placed on the altar of burnt offering, thus again confirming its holiness (Ex. 29:37). Depending on the circumstances, either the blood or portions of its flesh (eaten by the priest) were also brought into the sanctuary -- again making them most holy (Numb. 18:9).
The blood was brought inside the sanctuary, not to defile it, but as a proof (receipt of payment rendered) that the redemption price had already been fully paid. The priest announced to the penitent that “an atonement for him before the LORD” had been made and that he was “forgiven” of his “trespass” (Lev. 4:20; 5:6 and 6:7).
The blood was not brought into the sanctuary, as Ellen White wrote, “to make satisfaction for its claims” (GC420). The Atonement had already been made and announced when the sacrificial animal's blood was shed! Even at Calvary the atonement was made when Jesus shed his blood, pronounced forgiveness, announced “it is finished” and died. ...
Contrary to SDA theology, sacrificial blood always “cleansed” or “washed away” sin. Sacrificial blood did not transfer sin to another place (to be dealt with later) only to defile that other place -- the Most Holy Place in heaven! ...
As soon as the O. T. priest received the sin offering, that sin offering became most holy (Numb. 18:9). And merely touching the dead flesh of the sin offering also transferred more holiness to the priest (Lev. 6:27). Therefore, instead of transferring sin into the sanctuary via the priests (as SDAs teach), the most holy sacrifice actually transferred more HOLINESS to the priests and into the sanctuary! The holy priest was only allowed to touch, handle and work with holy things and most holy things! Exodus 28:38 explains that the priest’s ministry bore away the sin from the offering, thus making the sacrifice most holy. In fact, the death penalty awaited any priest who dared to bring anything defiled into the sanctuary (Exod. 28:43). ...
The vicarious death of the innocent sacrificial animal allowed the priest to grant forgiveness (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:15). The sin had disappeared! The sin itself had been washed away! The sin itself never entered beyond the entrance of the inner court into that sanctuary itself. ...
Contrary to what SDAs teach, the priest did not “bear SIN” nor did he “transfer sin” into the sanctuary. Like Christ, he typically bore the GUILT (or punishment) of sin for the sinner. The blood was “proof of payment” which was presented to God. Just as Adam was punished by thorns and sweat for his sin, even so the priest’s ministry of the sacrifices, his necessary job, his service, was also a type of punishment! The Aaronic priest was performing a ritual which had formerly been a required punishment by every male head-of-household. The priest was performing a sanctified and necessary act of reconciliation--not defilement. ...
All sacrificial animals were types of Jesus Christ. SDAs are wrong when they teach that the daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal blood sacrifices defiled the temple while the yearly Day of Atonement blood cleaned it. Shockingly, SDA theology teaches that Jesus Himself was, and still is, the greatest polluter of the heavenly sanctuary because he bore, and is still transferring sins into it (GC421).9


There is not a single word in the New Testament indicating that Christ would move from the Holy to the Most Holy Place in 1844, or at any other point in human history. On the contrary, all the Biblical evidence points to Christ fulfilling the symbology of the Day of Atonement when He died on the cross and then ascended into heaven:

  1. Christ came as a High Priest to His temple (Heb. 9:11).
  2. He entered by His own blood (Heb. 9:12).
  3. He purified the heavenly copies with His blood (Heb. 9:23).
  4. He appeared in the Most Holy Place before the presence of God (Heb. 9:24).
  5. His blood cleansed His people from their sin (Heb. 9:14).
  6. The atonement is a finished work and Christ "sat down on the right hand of God" (Heb. 10:12)

By His sacrificial death and ascension into the heavenly sanctuary Christ fulfilled every aspect of the Day of Atonement as described in Leviticus 16! At His ascension, His work of atonement was completed and finished "for ever." To symbolize the completeness of His task, Hebrews says that Christ "sat down on the right hand of God." It is finished!

Your Questions about the Sanctuary

QUESTION: Ellen White says in her 1884 version of Great Controversy:

As the sins of the people were anciently transferred in figure, to the earthly sanctuary by the blood of the sin offering, so our sins are, in fact, transferred the heavenly sanctuary by the blood of Christ.

Don't confessed sins defile the heavenly sanctuary? Doesn't it have to be cleansed from all of the sins that are accumulating there?

ANSWER: As E.S. Ballenger so eloquently put it:

The Bible presents the blood of Christ as the cleansing medium for sin. It is never represented as defiling in any sense. To teach that the blood of Christ defiled the heavenly sanctuary is a close kin to blasphemy. All the Christians of the world have always believed and taught that the blood of Christ cleansed from all sin, but the [SDA] denomination, in order to maintain the creed, are driven to the extreme of making the blood of Christ a medium of defilement. ...this was published by the author [Ellen White] and accepted by the denomination as a revelation from God. 10

The heretical statement first appeared in Ellen White's writings in 1884, and a slightly modified version of that statement continues to appear in her 1911 Great Controversy which is marketed heavily by the SDA sect today. The original statement also appears in two compilations that were published long after Sister White's death, indicating the sect's continual approval of and promotion of the statement:

  • The Spirit of Prophecy Vol. 4 (1884), p. 266, para. 1
  • The Great Controversy (1888), p. 421, para. 3
  • The Great Controversy (1911), p. 421, para. 3
  • The Story of Redemption (1947), p. 378, para. 2
  • The Faith I Live By (1958), p. 206, para. 6


Links for Deeper Study about the Sanctuary

SDA Sanctuary Teaching Examined by E.S. Ballenger

Judged by the Gospel by Dr. Robert Brinsmead

Should a Question be Answered? by C.L. Price

The "Sanctuary Doctrine" ? Asset or Liability? by Dr. Raymond F. Cottrell

Exposing Seventh-day Adventism by Dr. Russell Earl Kelly

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1. Ellen White, Early Writings, 55.

2. Ellen G. White, Great Controversy, 421.

3. Seventh-day Adventists Believe (Review and Herald, 1989), 322, .

4. C. L. Price, "Should a Question be Answered? A Study of Daniel 8:14 in New Light on Old Problems (1973).

5. Desmond Ford, Daniel 8:14.

6. Robert Brinsmead, Judged by the Gospel.

7. Raymond F. Cottrell, The "Sanctuary Doctrine" - Asset or Liability?

8. Russell Earl Kelly, Exposing Seventh-day Adventism.

9. Ibid., 69-73.

10. E.S. Ballenger, "SDA Sanctuary Teaching Examined".

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