The Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary: fitting the redeemed for Heaven

List of Studies

1. Introduction

As we see in study: ‘Sin defeated: overview’, 2.2,2.5, the cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary is the third phase of Christ’s Atonement for the sin of mankind (the first two phases are the Cross, and the Resurrection of Christ).

As such, the Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary is equally as important as the first two phases. Such is its importance that, when the cleansing is completed, the redeemed will be fitted fully for eternal life in God’s Kingdom - they will be as though they had never sinned. The wicked, on the other hand, will be forever condemned and marked for eternal death. 

In this study, therefore, we examine in depth the Cleansing of the Sanctuary in Heaven, its purpose and its outcome.

2. The context

We see in Scripture (Ps 102:19) that the Sanctuary in Heaven is God’s dwelling place, and in He 8:5, we see that it was the pattern for the Sanctuary on Earth.  

The ‘Daily’ / ‘Continual’ Ministry

The death of multiple sacrifices on Earth (the ‘Daily’/ the ‘Continual’) illustrated and pointed to the once-for-all Sacrificial Death of Christ upon the Cross.

The sprinkling of the blood of the many earthly sacrifices illustrated and pointed to the ‘sprinkling’ of Christ’s own Cleansing Blood (Re 1:5) after the Cross, i.e. Christ’s ‘Continual’ Ministry.

After the Cross, Christ ascended to Heaven.  Thus the ‘sprinkling’ of Christ’s Blood could take place only in the Heavenly Sanctuary (the original of the Sanctuary on Earth).

The annual Day of Atonement

The ‘Daily’ on Earth transferred sin to the Sanctuary. To complete Israel’s earthly ‘salvation’, once a year the Day of Atonement cleansed the earthly Sanctuary by eradicating (in figure, He 9:8,9) the sin accumulated from the ‘Daily’.  As a result, Israel was re-affirmed as God’s people.

This illustrated and pointed to the final Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary, after which the sin of the redeemed will be eradicated for eternity.  The redeemed will be made, in Christ (2Co 5:21), as though they had never sinned - fitted fully to take their place in God’s sinless universe.

The remainder of this study concentrates on the Cleansing of the Sanctuary in Heaven.

Note. Many deny the doctrine of the Sanctuary in Heaven and its cleansing.  They assert that the Atonement for sin was wholly completed on the Cross.  This objection is addressed in study: ‘The Sanctuary: answering objections’, Objection 1.

3. Cleansing the Heavenly Sanctuary: purpose, start date, and timing

Da 8:14  Unto two thousand and three hundred days then shall the sanctuary be cleansed [Strong’s H6663, to be right].

Many understand the Hebrew word translated in the KJV as ‘cleansed’ to mean ‘vindicate’, and they apply it primarily to the vindication of God in His dealing with sin. 

However, Scripture is plain - Christ’s purpose is primarily to save sinners (Lk 19:10; 1Ti 1:15).  Therefore, everything that Christ has done and is doing is for the salvation of penitent mankind.  

Thus the key purpose of the cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary is to make the redeemed wholly right with God, and to do so in a way that reveals and vindicates His plan of salvation.

The start date of the cleansing is given by the 2300 days prophecy, which is addressed in study: ‘The 2300 days prophecy: the end time in history’,4. 

There we see that prophetic days refer to actual years (see Prophetic time), and we establish autumn 1844 AD as the end point of the 2300 days (years), which denotes the beginning of the end time in Heaven, and the start of the Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary.

Note. Many teach that when Christ ascended to Heaven He began His final Atonement immediately.  To complement this belief, they teach that Christ’s ‘Daily’ Ministry was conducted before the Cross. These companion objections are addressed in study: ‘The Sanctuary: answering objections’, Objections 2 and 3. 

In order to prepare the redeemed for the Heavenly Kingdom, this cleansing occurs before the second advent of Christ, so that when Christ returns the number of the redeemed is made up, and they are ready to receive the reward that Christ brings with Him. (Re 22:12). 

To understand such important concepts, we must now study the Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary in depth.  The Cleansing consists of both Judgement and Atonement.  We shall first examine the Atonement aspect.

4. The Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary: Atonement

In the Old Testament the term ‘atonement’ is applied variously to sin and trespass offerings (Leviticus ch. 4), the annual feasts (Leviticus ch. 23), and to the Day of Atonement (Leviticus ch. 16).  These were sacrificial atonements addressing different aspects of God’s pre-Cross dealing with sin - in every case it was the blood of the sacrifice that made atonement (Le 17:11).

Every sacrificial offering made before the cross pointed to the one true Sacrificial Atonement (the Cross), but nevertheless it is legitimate to emulate Scripture and apply ‘atonement’ to different aspects of God’s post-Cross dealing with sin.

4.1 The need for cleansing

We see in study: 'The Sanctuary on Earth',3.1 that the Daily (continual) sacrifices transferred sin to the Sanctuary, where it remained until the annual cleansing on the Day of Atonement (see study: 'The Day of Atonement'). 

This was a figure sufficient for the time, but it could not actually eradicate sin (He 10:4).  Furthermore, it dealt with sin for one year only.  Following the Day of Atonement the process began again, and so on for centuries.

If the redeemed are to have eternal life (Ro 6:23) a final cleansing from sin that is not based on the blood of bulls and goats, and which is sufficient for eternity, never needing to be repeated, is needed.  This is provided in the Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary.

In order to join the unfallen universe the redeemed must actually be without sin - it is not sufficient for the redeemed to be regarded as such.

Therefore the ultimate purpose of the Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary is to entirely eradicate the sin of the redeemed so that they are sinless perfection.  Only then will Christ’s Atonement for sin be entire and complete. 

This is confirmed in 2Co 5:21, in which we see that, in Christ, the redeemed are made the Righteousness of God, which is absolute sinless perfection.

4.2 Conducting the cleansing

On the annual Day of Atonement in the earthly Sanctuary the High Priest entered the Most Holy (i.e. within the veil) to make, in the very presence of the Father, an atonement for Israel. The atoning blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, which rested on the Ark of the Covenant - mercy is above the Law.   

This cleansed (in figure for the time) the earthly Sanctuary of the sin accumulated from the Daily sacrifices. 

In keeping with the earthly representation, to conduct the cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary the Father and the Son (Christ our High Priest) must enter the Most Holy in Heaven. 

We know from prophecy that this entrance occurred in the autumn of 1844 AD (see studies: 'The 2300 days prophecy',4.2 and 'Moving from the Holy to the Most Holy'). 

Now that they are enthroned in the Most Holy, the Father and the Son are conducting their most solemn work: by the Blood of the Cross, the sin accumulated from Christ’s ‘Daily’ Ministry is eradicated for all eternity.

4.3 The nature of the cleansing

As we see in Da 8:14 (section 3),‘cleansed’ is translated from Strong’s H6663, ‘to be right’.  Thus the cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary is in the sense of putting things right, i.e. in Christ penitent sinners are 'made right' - their sin is eradicated, and they have peace with God (Ro 5:1). 

The eradication of sin is foretold in Scripture:

Ps 103:12  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. 

Mic 7:19  He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.

These texts apply upon repentance, but if someone later repudiates their repentance their sin is 'added back' (see study:‘Sin: definition, origin, and consequences‘,7 and Eze 18:24). 

When the final cleansing in the Heavenly Sanctury is completed the redeemed will be restored irrevocably to God.  Only then will the above texts be realized in full.

Full restoration requires an atonement that is not a figure (section 2), but is one which can actually take away sin.  This is discussed next.

4.4 Christ’s Blood sufficient

Since the Cross Christ (our true High Priest) has offered His own blood, which He shed willingly as a one-time Sacrificial Atonement for sin:

He 7:27  Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.

By His own Blood, Christ is qualified to minister in the Heavenly Sanctuary - everyone for whom Christ pleads His own blood are forever washed clean of sin (Re 1:5). 

Christ’s own blood is sufficient for all eternity; by it mankind may enter with Christ into the Heavenly Sanctuary: first into the Holy in Heaven (see study: ‘The Sanctuary in Heaven’, 3.2), and now into the Most Holy in Heaven (see study: ‘The Sanctuary in Heaven’,3.4): 

He 10:19  Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 

Wherever Christ resides, with Him are those who are joined to Him by Faith (see study’ The Day of Atonment’,3.7) - they are there by the eternal atoning Blood of Christ (He 9:12), which cannot fail to save.

As we have seen in section 4.1, the ultimate purpose of the Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctury is that the redeemed are made ‘sinless perfection’.

In order to reach that point, there must be an open investigation so that the unfallen universe may know that the redeemed are truly restored to God.  This is addressed next.

5. The Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary: Judgment

The concept of God’s ‘judgment hour’ is integral to His final messages to the world - see study: ‘The three angels’ messages: God’s final plea and warning’,2.1.

The popular understanding of divine judgment is that upon death, all are judged and consigned either to Heaven or to Hell (Hell is addressed in study: 'Hell: the true meaning').  However, Scripture is plain: Christ is coming again, and when He comes, He will bring His reward with Him (Re 22:12), which means that a judgment must have taken place before He comes.

The Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary therefore must involve judgment - if the sin of the redeemed is to be eradicated, they must be examined and found worthy.

Da 7:10  A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. 

This judgement is referred to as the investigative judgment.  Additionally, because this investigation (judgment) is conducted before the second advent of Christ, it is known as the pre-advent judgement.

The pre-advent judgement is not to apportion punishment - it is a work of open confirmation, either of eternal life or of eternal condemnation, making plain to unfallen created beings what the omniscient God already knows (Is 46:9,10).  Apportioning punishment occurs much later - see study: 'The end of sin and sinners: punishment and eternal death',2.3.

Note. Some believe that God is too loving to condemn and punish the wicked.  However, Scripture tells us plainly that while God is long-suffering, He will not acquit the wicked:

Na 1:3  The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked:…

5.1 Witnesses to the judgment

Since his fall, Satan has sought to win all creation to his side.  He succeeded with a third of the angels (Re 12:4), and with Adam and Eve. 

Such is Satan’s craftiness and insinuations about God (Ge 3:1-5), it is necessary for God's purposes and actions to be revealed to all unfallen beings, that they might see His Grace and perfect judgment.

By this revealing, God so uncovers Satan and his treachery that none are deceived.

Also witnesses to the investigative judgment are those few humans who are in Heaven.  

There is Enoch who was translated without seeing death (Ge 5:24; He 11:5); there is also Elijah who was taken to Heaven in a fiery chariot (2Ki 2:11), and Moses, who was resurrected (De 34:5; Jude 1:9) - the latter two appeared with Christ in His transfiguration (Mt 17:3; Lk 9:30).  

The 24 elders

There are also 24 elders who were redeemed out of ‘every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation’ (Re 5:8,9). Thus the 24 elders are humans who represent the whole human race in the Heavenly Sanctuary.  

The precise identity of these elders is not revealed. However, it is reasonable to believe that they are from amongst those who were raised with Christ (see study ‘The Cross’,4.2), and who were almost certainly taken to Heaven with Christ at His ascension.

The human witnesses to the judgment will be able to testify to the redeemed of the efficacy of God’s judgment.

5.2  With whom the judgment begins

The investigative judgment begins at ‘the house of God’:

1Pe 4:17  For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 

The ‘House of God’ are those of all ages who have made a profession of faith. These are they who are of the greatest interest to all the witnesses to the judgment - Satan’s malign accusations are centred on all who profess faith.

Paul, in writing to both the Roman and Corinthian believers, confirms that they will all be judged:

Ro 14:10  But why do you judge your brother? Or why also do you despise your brother? For all shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ

2Co 5:10  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 

The investigative judgment involves the examination of books.

6. The Heavenly books

Re 20:12  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 

Two books are used in the judgment: the Book of Life, and a book in which is recorded the life’s record, the Book of Deeds.

Note.  Our understanding of the Heavenly books is confined to our limited grasp of Heavenly things.  God does reveal these things to us - though they are expressed in ways related to our experience. God needs no books - He knows all things (Is 46:9,10).  The concept of Heavenly Books is to aid the understanding of created beings. 

6.1 The Book of Life

As we have seen, judgment begins at the House of God (section 5.2)Because it contains all who have professed faith, only those who are written in the Book of Life are judged

When a person repents and makes a profession of faith, his/her name is entered in the Book of Life. This includes those of all faiths and religions who live/have lived according to the light given them from Heaven.

Once a name is entered in the Book of Life it cannot be removed unless the reason for doing so is made plain - God’s justice must be transparent.  

Thus every name remains in the Book of Life until the final investigative judgment - regardless of how they subsequently lived their lives. 

Those not written in the Book of Life have never repented and are thus condemned already (Jn 3:18), by their own hand.  They continually rejected Christ’s call of mercy, encapsulated in the light granted them from Heaven:

Pr 1:24,25  Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; 

25  But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: 

6.2 The Book of Deeds

As we have seen, the Book of Deeds records every work, both good and bad. It shows whether the names entered in the Book of Life, after repentance, amended their lives to be obedient to God, and thereafter lived in harmony with His moral Law, as revealed in light from Heaven.

The faithful repentant have ‘pardoned’ recorded against their name. 

6.3 The Book of Remembrance

This is a special book containing the record of those who are zealous for God (Mal 3:16). 

6.4 The examination of the books

Every case in the Book of Life is examined.  The Books of Deeds is consulted, and if ‘pardoned' by washing in the Sacrificial Blood of Christ (Re 1:5) is found against a name, that name is retained in the Book of Life. 

Re 3:5  He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. 

(This text confirms that some names may be ‘blotted out’ of the Book of Life - thus some names entered there are found unfaithful).

Of course, God knows without consulting the books who is redeemed, but the process of examination is for the transparency of the judgment.

The sin of the faithful eradicated

The Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary eradicates the sin of the redeemed and endows them with the Righteousness of God (see 2Co 5:21, and study: ‘Salvation 1: God and Saviour’,5), which makes the redeemed fit to join the unfallen beings in eternal joy, praise and worship.

Such is the completeness of the final Cleansing Atonement that even God will put completely from His mind the sin of the redeemed:

He 8:12  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses, and I will not at all remember their sins and their lawless deeds.

This is the final and full realization of God’s Covenant promise (He 8:8-10).

The backslidden and false professors

As we have seen, all those who have professed faith are written in the Book of Life.  However, if a name is found to be unfaithful, i.e. to not have ‘pardoned’ entered in the Book of Deeds, that name is removed from the Book of Life. 

This applies both to those whose profession was initially genuine, but who later repudiated their faith, and to those whose profession was initially false.  As we see in section 4.3, sin is ‘added back’ to those who are found to have repudiated their repentance. 

It may seem a contradiction to us that the Book of Life contains names who are not amongst the saved, but once again, for the transparency of the judgement this has to be the case.

Those who never repented

Those who have never repented are condemned already because their names are not (nor ever were) written in the Book of Life.

The finally unfaithful

All who are found finally unfaithful must then face what is written against them in the Book of Deeds, and suffer condemnation and destruction:

Re 20:15  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. 

The end of the finally unfaithful is addressed in study: ‘The end of sin and sinners: punishment and eternal death’.

7. The close of the cleansing

The cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary is Christ's finalising act of Atonement on behalf of all mankind - its importance therefore cannot be overstated.  

At the close of the cleansing, by means of the Atoning Blood of Christ, the redeemed will be in a state of sinless perfection. They will be as though they had never sinned - they will be wholly fitted for the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Thus the cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary, when properly understood, gives double assurance of salvation, as was the case with the Daily and Annual ministrations on Earth (see study 'The Sanctuary on Earth',3.4) that prefigured Christ's Heavenly Ministry.

When all cases have been decided, the fate of the whole human race will be forever fixed.  At that point Christ will declare that probation for the whole human race is closed (see study: ‘The end of human probation’).

After the close of the cleansing, there will be no opportunity to repent:

Pro 1:27-29  When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. 

28  Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: 

29  For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: 

The scene is then set for the redemption of the redeemed at Christ’s second coming.    

After a brief period of unprecedented trouble (see study: ‘The time of trouble: events after probation closes') Christ comes in glory to claim those He has ransomed, that they may be with Him for ever and ever (see study: ‘The second advent of Christ’).

Thus the events taking place in Heaven now are of critical importance to all.

8. Summary

This study has addressed the events taking place in Heaven at this moment.  

Since 1844, Christ our High Priest has been cleansing the Heavenly Sanctuary by His own Blood, conducting the final, complete, Atonement for sin. 

The cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary does not mean that the Atonement of the Cross is incomplete - it is a confirmation of the salvation provided at the Cross, demonstrating the Cross to all of God’s unfallen creation in order to remove doubt insinuated by Satan.

The names of all who, in all ages, professed faith in saving Grace are entered in the Book of Life, and remain there until the final cleansing in the Heavenly Sanctuary. 

Each name is examined. Those names who remained faithful are retained. Those names who subsequently repudiated their faith, together with those who were false professors, are removed. 

Those who never repented are not entered in the Book of Life, and are thus condemned.

Once the Cleansing of the Sanctuary is completed the fate of the whole human race is fixed. The redeemed are made the Righteousness of God, wholly fitted for the Kingdom of Heaven, standing before God without sin.

Then, after a brief time of trouble, Christ will come in glory to take those whom He ransomed with His own blood to be with Him for ever.   

By repenting of sin and amending our lives we each may be found amongst the ransomed.  All whose names are finally not found written in the Book of Life are lost (by their own hand). The choice is ours.

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