Sanctuary cleansed?

It's a topic that has caused a great deal of debate within Adventism. So, what is the sanctuary and what will happen to it? Pastor Emanuel Millen explores.

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(Credit: AUC Resource Centre)

The events of the French Revolution, towards the end of the eighteenth century, saw many Christians beginning to correlate world history with biblical prophecy. They saw the imprisonment of the Pope as the infliction of the “deadly wound” of Revelation 13:3 and the fulfillment of the 1260-day/year prophecies of Daniel and Revelation (Daniel 7:25; Revelation 12:6,14; 13:5). This time prophecy ended in the year 1798. Observed prophetic fulfilment together with celestial events and natural disasters were seen as the beginning of the “time of the end” (Daniel 12:4).

These interpretations of time prophecies in the Bible relied on seeing a day in prophecy as a symbol for a literal year. This can be established throughout the Bible, but one does not have to leave the book of Daniel to see that days in his prophecies symbolise years. The 70-year captivity of the Jews by the Babylonians was a result of failing to observe Sabbath years (2 Chronicles 36:21). God had instructed His people to let the land rest every seven years. The timespan required to accumulate 70 failings in observing Sabbath years amounts to 490 years. 490 symbolises grace. This is the number of times Jesus told His followers to forgive a person (Matthew 18:25). Following the Babylonian captivity, Daniel is told that there will be another period of 490 before another reckoning (Daniel 9:24). This period is described as 490 prophetic days, but we can infer it represents literal years as it parallels the 490 years of grace leading up to the Babylonian captivity. Furthermore, the events culminating with the arrival of the Messiah cannot fit into 490 literal days but fit perfectly when measured in years. This time period runs from 457 BC to AD 34 (Daniel 9:25). While the 490-year period is long past, there is yet another prophecy in Daniel that spans a much longer period. That is the 2300-day/year prophecy of Daniel 8:14, which also began in 457 BC and ended in AD 1844. It describes something dramatic and cosmic happening to the sanctuary:

And he said to me, “For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed” (Daniel 8:14, NKJV).

The question arises, what is the sanctuary and what will happen to it? The Millerite movement thought the sanctuary in this verse pointed to this earth and its cleansing as a purification by fire before a new earth emerges. This meant that Daniel 8:14 referred to the second coming of Jesus. People were filled with excitement over the thought they would soon see their Lord and Saviour. Needless to say, they were very disappointed when Christ did not return in 1844. But this did not put an end to Adventism—the expectation that the second advent of Jesus is near. Some of the disappointed Christians did not throw away their faith or return to previous traditions. They began to search the Bible more thoroughly with a strong determination to never rely on human traditions, but rather to base their faith entirely on the Bible and to let the Bible interpret itself. Some of these Adventists eventually formalised into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

So how did the Adventists interpret Daniel 8:14? They saw the sanctuary as a reference to Christ’s ministry in a heavenly sanctuary referred to in Hebrews and in Revelation (Hebrews 9:11-10:12; Revelation 11:19). And since they were relying on available English Bible translations, they saw the word “cleansed” as a connection to the Day of Atonement. After all, it was only on this day that the sanctuary was cleansed and this must mean that Daniel 8:14 tells us that the year 1844 began a Day of Atonement in the sanctuary in heaven.

A look into the Hebrew text of Daniel 8:14, however, reveals that the word “cleansed” does not appear in the original language. Does this mean that the Day of Atonement does not feature there? What does this imply about the veracity of Adventist beliefs if it does not? What is happening to the sanctuary in Daniel 8? These questions have been the cause of a lot of debate within Adventism.

"There is only one ritual that can remedy transgression. It is the Day of Atonement."

The term “cleansed” probably made its way into the King James Version (KJV) Bible through the Greek Septuagint translation, which uses katharisthesetai. We get our word “catharsis” from it, which means to cleanse or purify. Another possibility is that the KJV relied on the Latin Vulgate, which uses the word, mundabitur, which also means cleansed.1

In the Hebrew, the thing that happens to the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14 is nitzdak. It is the passive form of tzedek which means right/righteous/justify. It is telling us that the sanctuary will be put right or justified. Modern Bible translations like the English Standard Version (ESV) get it right:

And he said to me, “For 2300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.”

The word for atonement is kippur and the word for cleanse is tahar. These neither look nor sound anything like the word tzedek, which is used in Daniel 8:14 to describe what happens to the sanctuary. Conversely, no forms of the word tzedek are found in Leviticus 16, which describes the Day of Atonement activities. So what happens to the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14 if there is no linguistic connection to the Day of Atonement?

To answer that we need to look at what the sanctuary is being restored from. Daniel 8 describes a power that arises after the Greek empire. Unlike its predecessors, this power expands not only in geography but also into heaven. It persecutes God’s people and tramples down truth. It figuratively puts itself in the place of Prince Jesus and consequently eclipses His ministry.

What the antichrist power does is described as “transgression” (Daniel 8:13). In the Bible there are different words to describe the various types of wrongs. “Transgression” is the Hebrew word pesha and it refers to rebellion.2 There is only one ritual that can remedy transgression. It is the Day of Atonement. In fact, in all of Leviticus, “transgression” only occurs in chapter 16, which is the chapter that describes the Day of Atonement. This means that even though “cleanse” is not used in Daniel 8:14, this verse certainly does include a Day of Atonement. To further strengthen the Day of Atonement connection, Daniel in vision sees a ram and a goat in chapter 8, which are the animals used on the Day of Atonement. Furthermore, the evenings and mornings of verse 14 cannot refer to the daily sacrifice as this is always described as the morning and evening sacrifice. The only day that begins in the evening, which affects the sanctuary, is the Day of Atonement.

Daniel 8:14 employs the term “justify”/”restore” because it has a broader range of meaning than the term “cleanse”. It is a fitting term to describe the solution to the problems described in verse 13. Dr Martin Pröbstle describes it this way: “The word was chosen intentionally in order to cover all problems created by the horn: restoration of the priestly ministry to its rightful state, purification of the heavenly sanctuary from horrible sin, and the vindication of the sanctuary and the saints.” 3,4

Daniel 8:14 affirms that God has a solution to wrongs. Along with the parallel passage of Daniel 7:8-14, it describes the restoration of truth and the relationship between God and His people. God’s character has long been sullied by the lies of the enemy. The redemption of humanity, which is claimed by Satan as his, is questioned. This will not last forever. Everything is laid open for investigation. False charges laid against God and His people are legally and rationally dismissed. There is now no question that we belong to Jesus and He is worthy of our worship. We can have assurance of our standing with God because Jesus is not only our substitute but also our High Priest, and it is only His work that has any merit. Right now He is working on our behalf to restore us from being trampled-down people to shining like the stars of heaven. Once atonement is complete, the malicious witness—the adversary, Satan—takes on the infliction he desired on others.5

Since 1844, Bible truths that had for centuries been hidden or obscured have been rediscovered. God is again being portrayed as love rather than an evil monster. The relationship between God and His people is being restored. People again go directly to Him without a human mediator. This not only gives people peace and assurance but also allows God to restore His image of love in them. What Daniel foresaw was the time when God and His people will be at one again. The timing might be longer than desired but some things cannot be hurried. Love takes time; it cannot be forced but can only be awakened, and after it is awakened it takes time to bloom. While we wait we can confidently abide with Jesus and take courage from Daniel 8:14 that the process of restoration will be completed.


Emanuel Millen is pastor of Yarra Valley church in Victoria.

  1. For more on this see: The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978) vol IV, p 844
  2. Rebellious wrongs defile the sanctuary without blood manipulation (Leviticus 20:2,3; Numbers 19:20).
  3. Martin Pröbstle, Where God and I Meet (Hagerstown: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2013) p 109.
  4. For an in-depth analysis of Daniel 8:14 see Martin Pröbstle’s PhD dissertation, Truth and Terror: a Text-Oriented Analysis of Daniel 8:9-14 (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Digital Commons, 2006), http://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/dissertations/132/.
  5. Azazel comes into play once Atonement is complete (Leviticus 16:20). He is not sacrificed, but is treated as a malicious witness (Deuteronomy 19:16-19; Revelation 12:10).