Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary
There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle that the Lord set up and not humans. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. At His ascension, He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the holy place of the earthly sanctuary. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary. It is a work of investigative judgement, which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judgement reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom. This judgement vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the second advent. (Leviticus 16; Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6; Daniel 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Hebrews 1:3; 2:16, 17; 4:14-16; 8:1-5; 9:11-28; 10:19-22; Revelation 8:3-5; 11:19; 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:11, 12)
“Justice sharpens the point of prophetic poetry and convicts the believer that those who follow Christ, who call themselves Christians, must necessarily care for the poor, the weak and the oppressed. It is hypocrisy to lift certain themes out of scripture and neglect this one.”—Ken Wystema1
I learned the word “advocacy” as a 10-year-old when I did a school project about environmental sustainability. Back then, I understood advocacy to be the act of standing up for something or someone who needed protection. When I commenced law school as a 17-year-old, my concept of advocacy had been somewhat warped by television dramas such as Suits and The Good Wife. I thought legal life would see me waxing lyrical in courtrooms and frequenting the boardrooms of skyscrapers in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore in a well-cut power suit, advocating for corporate clients. I perceived the legal profession as cut-throat, fast-paced, lucrative and glamorous. In some spheres that summary is authentic, but it was not to be my story.
Fast forward a decade and I was a fully-fledged lawyer. Rather than boardrooms and skyscrapers, I found myself holding meetings in the cool of a makeshift tent next to a billabong in the far north of Western Australia. I wore jeans and a t-shirt; such was the stifling heat of our simple yet stunning meeting place. My boots were covered in a thick layer of red dust. My clients were not the movers and shakers of Asian conglomerates but proud Aboriginal elders who, despite living and thriving for many centuries, were engaged in a struggle for state government recognition that they were the traditional owners of the land on which we met. Children wandered the meeting space, barefoot and happy, stopping every so often to wrap me and my colleague in an enthusiastic bear hug. Whenever one of the little ones ventured too close to the water’s edge, an elder issued a strict decree in the local dialect, summoning the child back to the safety of the meeting tent. The billabong’s resident crocodile wouldn’t be fed that day.
My experience working for Aboriginal clients is a far cry from the bright lights of corporate law. Representing those communities both in and out of the courtroom was an extremely fulfilling experience—professionally and spiritually. It required me to develop the trust of my clients, manage the complexities of the case, and walk with them through the peaks and troughs that characterise litigation. It reinvented my understanding of advocacy and gave me a precious insight into the character of Jesus, our Advocate. For me, nowhere else in Scripture is Jesus’ advocacy so clear as in the doctrine of the investigative judgement.
The Bible is abundantly clear in its message that justice is close to the heart of God and is an intrinsic component of the Christian life. We are well versed as to the content of texts such as Micah 6:8 and James 1:27, but the Adventist understanding of the investigative judgement is a beautifully profound illustration of God’s commitment to doing justice. Our fundamental belief about the investigative judgement really takes on depth and form when read in conjunction with the great courtroom scene of Daniel 7:9-12. In this chapter we find the white-haired Ancient of Days seated on a fiery throne, presiding over the heavenly record books that lay open before Him. Modern-day judges can but dream of evoking such majesty and respect! Further detail as to the meticulous happenings in the heavenly courtroom are provided by Ellen White: “As the books of record are opened in the judgement, the lives of all who have believed on Jesus come in review before God. Beginning with those who first lived upon the earth, our Advocate presents the cases of each successive generation, and closes with the living. Every name is mentioned, every case closely investigated.”2 [pullquote]
Who are the characters in this scene? You and I are the accused. We are on trial, facing the death penalty. The courtroom is tense—the stakes are high. Satan appears as the arrogant and vindictive prosecutor, who craftily hurls evidence of unbelief and misconduct before the court. If he can make us look sufficiently unworthy, recalcitrant and unrepentant, then that will disentitle us from entry into the kingdom of God. But then there’s Jesus, our Lawyer. Wise, calm and humble, He pleads on our behalf before God to admit us to His eternal kingdom.3
Jesus embodies all of the attributes of a good lawyer. His preparation is meticulous, He is a gifted orator and He thinks quickly on His feet. Since Jesus knows our individual stories intimately, there is no-one better placed to construct a sound and logical mitigation narrative that contextualises our poor decisions. As Satan builds his case and we begin to question the legal basis for our right to access the kingdom of God, Jesus soothes our concerns and confidently pushes on with our defence. I imagine sitting next to Him at the bar table. He whispers to me throughout the proceedings, “I died so that you can live. My grace is sufficient for you.”
Most importantly, Jesus believes in the vindication of His clients and, by His death, has a vested interest in our case. Ellen White records that the climax in the proceedings takes place when Jesus tenders His own “wounded hands” as evidence in our favour, stating “I know them by name, I have graven them on the palms of my hands.”4 Imagine the response of those in the courtroom’s public gallery—what an unexpected twist to the proceedings! This is no ordinary lawyer. He doesn’t rely upon the theatrics of His counterpart to impress the Judge. Instead, He subjected Himself to the pain, humiliation and death that would otherwise be ordered upon us, His beleaguered and guilty client. He is the perfect Advocate.
Earthly court proceedings inherently have a sense of uncertainty about them because the outcome is subject to the actions of imperfect human lawyers, questionable evidence and the deliberations of fallible human judges. Thankfully, that is not the case in God’s courtroom. In Daniel 7:21,22 we are told, “. . . judgement was given in favour of the holy ones of the Most High, for the time had come, and the holy ones took possession of the kingdom”. It is because of Jesus that we can step boldly into the heavenly courtroom, so that if we have repented of our sins and committed our lives to God, we can be confident of Jesus’ ability to secure judgement in our favour.
For me, the beautiful image of Jesus the Advocate gives strength and rigour to my Christian faith and crucial meaning to my chosen vocation. As someone “to whom much has been given”,5 more than anything I want my faith to translate into action. I want the fruits of my life to be tangible and have real-world consequences that reveal the kingdom of God. Understanding that Jesus speaks well of me before God and does everything possible to ensure that I can live a fulfilled and peaceful life for eternity makes me want to do what I can to ensure God’s other beloved children have the same opportunity, notwithstanding their lot in life.
Advocacy is neither glamorous nor lucrative. It requires one to become intimately accustomed and entwined with the unlovely people and powers in our society. Pursuing justice on behalf of Christ is a challenging and often thankless calling. Advocates may be dismissed as a “social justice warrior” or worse, even by members of their own faith community. Be encouraged! Don’t be dissuaded by such short-sightedness. Just as Jesus advocates for us in our imperfect, broken and unlovely state, we are called to do the same for the marginalised and oppressed in our respective spheres of influence, that they too might know that with Jesus, victory is certain.
Lesleigh Bower is general secretary of the Western Australian Conference.