Thursday, November 06, 2008

“Atonement in Symbols: Part 1”

God would rather die for us than live without us.

“... In these ceremonies, he [Satan] discerned a symbol of communion between earth and heaven. He set himself to intercept this communion. He misrepresented God, and misinterpreted the rites that pointed to the Savior. Men were led to fear God as one who delighted in their destruction. The sacrifices that should have revealed His love were offered only to appease His wrath” (The Desire of Ages, p. 115).

When the children of Israel demonstrated their slave mentality at Sinai and promised “all that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:8). It was inevitable that they would misunderstand the great collective symbol of the plan of salvation represented by the sanctuary.

“... And the placing of the tabernacle in the midst of the camp of Israel was an illustration, an object lesson and suggestion, of the truth that He would dwell in the midst of each individual.” Eph. 3:16-19. Some of that nation, in every age, saw in the sanctuary this great saving truth. But as a body, in all ages, Israel missed this thought; and stopping only with the thought of His dwelling in the tabernacle in the midst of the camp, they came short of having His own personal presence dwelling in their individual lives. Accordingly their worship became only outward and formal, rather than inward and spiritual” (A. T. Jones, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, pp. 72, 73).

God used the symbol of the worthless foundling in Ezekiel 16 to symbolize the perversion Israel had made of His sanctuary symbols. The Lord adorned His Israel with temple symbols, gold, silver, fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth, and He nourished her with fine flour, honey, and oil (vs. 13). Yet, she played the harlot and attributed these symbols as provided by her other gods. They refused to see that they were symbolic of God’s work of sanctification within them.

When Jesus began his ministry, He cast out the merchants who were selling the symbols of the sanctuary (John 2:12-22). The people had completely lost sight of their real significance. It was enough that they obtain an animal and perform the ritual of sacrifice because they had come to believe salvation was produced by the act itself, not the Sacrifice it represented. Israel believed that the presence of God was limited to the mercy seat within the man-made earthly temple.

Without a proper understanding of the covenants, we will repeat ancient Israel’s error regarding the significance of the sacrificial system. In the New Covenant, God promises to write His law on our hearts. Only God can change the sinful heart. Yet, we demonstrate our misunderstanding of this principle when we insist on using the ten commandments to force outward conduct regardless of genuine heart change. Do we not make the same error as Israel when we engrave the commandments on signs of various materials, even stone, and put them on the walls of our schools and churches or even bumper stickers? By our formal legalism, we demonstrate we are satisfied to have God in our midst, but not within us.

At the very end, when the fourth angel of Revelation 18 has lightened the entire earth with his glory, the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn “because no one buys their cargoes any more” (vs. 11). The cargo is defined in verses12 and13, and the articles described are basic furnishings of the temple. Even the merchants of religious symbols can no longer fool people that these are the real thing after they have seen God’s genuine glory.

The fourth angel of Revelation 18 enlarges the messages of the three angels of Revelation 14. The final gospel message disproves Satan’s claim that God cannot produce a people who have allowed God to so change their hearts that His character is perfectly reproduced in them. The symbol of His character is embodied in His law. Like Israel of old, we can pervert the symbols of the covenant of grace. The great symbolism of the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the Daniel 8:14 cleansing of the sanctuary can be perverted into a complicated system of dates and sacrifices where the genuine message of heart-changing grace is lost in all the details. The ability to reproduce the 2300-day chart with all the trimmings will not save us. Even humble acceptance of the cleansing work of God in our hearts also does not save us, but only fits us for life in the heavenly economy of love.

The symbols all point to the Cross where God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. That is what saves us. Dependence on anything else is a perversion.

Arlene Hill

Note: Bible texts are from the New American Standard translation.