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Benefits of Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice

This week’s study is probably the most important concern facing the Seventh-day Adventist Church today! “The Benefits of Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice” have been understood by Adventists, in at least two different ways since 1957, unfortunately.

In Questions on Doctrine, our leaders were defending Walter Martin’s assertion (29) that Adventists have been charged with teaching that the atonement was not completed on the cross! In waltzing around that question, our authors should have answered “Yes” and then explained just what we had meant for a century regarding the difference between Christ’s “atoning sacrifice” and “final atonement.” No Calvinist would have understood that unless they were willing to dig deeper into the Bible and, at least, listen to Ellen White’s clear, biblically based explanation.

Instead of unfolding our century-old understanding of the relationship between Christ on Calvary and Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, they garbled a quote from Early Writings, page 260. At first glance, they inferred that whatever is going on in the heavenly sanctuary is not part of the atonement but only an “application of the atonement,” whatever that meant!

Let’s look again at Early Writings, page 260. At first glance, the inference is that whatever is going on in the heavenly sanctuary is not part of the atonement but only an “application” of the atonement.”

The larger context of this “benefits of the atonement” statement begins on page 251 of Early Writings: “Jesus sent His angels to direct the minds of the disappointed Adventist Millerites to the most holy place, where He had gone to cleanse the sanctuary and make a special atonement for Israel” (emphasis supplied).

Then, page 253: “As the priest entered the most holy once a year to cleanse the earthly sanctuary, so Jesus entered the most holy of the heavenly, at the end of the 2300 days of Daniel 8, in 1844, to make a final atonement for all who could be benefited by His mediation, and thus to cleanse the sanctuary” (emphasis supplied).

It is more than difficult to extract from these statements (and others) that the Atonement was made at the Cross only and that only its “benefits” summed up Christ’s work as High Priest. With a misapplication of one statement taken out of context that inferred that the atonement was completed at the Cross, the Protestant world was satisfied— but the Adventist world was confused and sadly misrepresented.

What seemed even worse, for some strange reason, other than a temporary blindness, the Questions on Doctrine trio did not follow the maturing of Ellen White’s larger view of the atonement, subsequent to 1851.

What were these High Priestly benefits? As High Priest, “Christ was to complete His work and fulfill His pledge to ‘make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.’ Isa. 13:12. All power in heaven and on earth was given to the Prince of life, and He returned to His followers in a world of sin, that He might impart to them of His power and glory” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, 790).

The Questions on Doctrine trio could have included White’s larger view of the atonement that can be understood as all correct theology should be by using the theology of the ellipse: Our salvation rests on what Christ has done on Calvary and what Christ is doing in the Heavenly Sanctuary. We really can’t have one without the other to enjoy the full gospel.

The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail.…Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty energy of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power. It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world’s Redeemer.…Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church. (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, 671)

But there is so much more where Ellen White had enlarged on this concept of “benefits” and “atonement:”

And as the typical cleansing of the earthly was accomplished by the removal of the sins by which it had been polluted, so the actual cleansing of the heavenly is to be accomplished by the removal, or blotting out, of the sins which are there recorded. But before this can be accomplished, there must be an examination of the books of record to determine who, through repentance of sin and faith in Christ, are entitled to the benefits of His atonement. The cleansing of the sanctuary therefore involves a work of investigation—a work of judgment. This work must be performed prior to the coming of Christ to redeem His people; for when He comes, His reward is with Him to give to every man according to his works. (Rev. 22:12)

Attended by heavenly angels, our great High Priest enters the holy of holies and there appears in the presence of God to engage in the last acts of His ministration in behalf of man—to perform the work of investigative judgment and to make an atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to its benefits.…So in the great day of final atonement and investigative judgment, the only cases considered are those of the professed people of God [that is, all those of all the ages who professed loyalty to God]” (Ellen White, Great Controversy, 422, 480, emphasis supplied)

Zeroing in on what we can expect from Christ’s mediatorial work, day in and day out, it is helpful to remember why Jesus is our High Priest in completing the atonement for you and me:

For instance,

Everyone who will break from the slavery and service of Satan, and will stand under the blood-stained banner of Prince Immanuel, will be kept by Christ’s intercessions. Christ, as our Mediator, at the right hand of the Father, ever keeps us in view, for it is as necessary that He should keep us by His intercessions as that He should redeem us with His blood. If He lets go His hold of us for one moment, Satan stands ready to destroy. Those purchased by His blood, He now keeps by His intercession. He ever liveth to make intercession for us. ‘Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them’ Heb. 7:25. (Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, 104, emphasis supplied)

What could be clearer than Ellen’s use of the theological ellipse:

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. Those who would share the benefits of the Savior’s mediation should permit nothing to interfere with their duty to perfect holiness in the fear of God. (Ellen White, Great Controversy, 488, emphasis supplied)

Here is another typical example of Ellen White’s understanding of the ellipse of truth—Atoning Sacrifice and All-powerful Mediator. We can’t have one without the other, anymore than we can find water without hydrogen and oxygen!

Herbert E. Douglass is a theologian, retired college administrator, and author of twenty-two books who currently lives in Lincoln, California.

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