The Cleansing of the Sanctuary
Alan Crandall In the following article Alan Crandall discusses the doctrine held by the Second Advent movement in the nineteenth century regarding the ‘Cleansing of the Sanctuary’.
The article is the third part of a series by Alan Crandall which has been published by Good News Unlimited.Introduction
The ‘Cleansing of the Sanctuary’ was a fundamental doctrine of the Second Advent movement in the nineteenth century. For William Miller, and for Seventh Day Adventists ever since, Daniel 8:14 proclaimed the good news of Christ’s atoning work and his glorious return to bring salvation to his people. Like the exhaustless universe, this text invites us to a never-ending contemplation of God’s grace. As we come to this promise afresh, it is with the earnest desire that Christ will ‘interpret to (us) in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself’ (Luke 24:27).What is ‘the Cleansing of the Sanctuary’?
In a previous article (December 1980) we noted that Old Testament prophecy frequently has more than one application. Prophecies that originally pointed to redemptive events in Old Testament history are regularly reapplied by New Testament authors to the death, resurrection and eschatological triumph of Jesus Christ. In other words, the pattern of God’s working in history provided symbols or types of God’s ultimate act of redemption–the atoning work of Christ. In this concluding article, we wish to see 1) how the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 was initially fulfilled in Jewish history and 2) how it pointed forward to an even greater fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
We begin with a verse by verse analysis of Daniel’s vision.Exposition of Daniel 8
I raised my eyes and saw and behold a ram standing on the bank of the river. It had two horns (Dan 8:3). The vision begins with the Medo-Persian Empire, as explained by the angel-interpreter in verse 20.
As I was considering, behold, a he-goat came from the west…the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. He came to the ram with the two horns…and he ran at him in his mighty wrath (vv. 5-6). The Greek empire appears next on the scene, with Alexander the Great as the ‘conspicuous horn’ (see v.21). Medo-Persia was defeated by Greece about 330 B.C. when Alexander was 25 years old.
The he-goat magnified himself exceedingly, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven (v.8). In 323 B.C. while attempting to consolidate his conquests, Alexander died of malaria and his empire was divided into four kingdoms–Macedonia, Thrace, Syria and Egypt.
Out of one of them came forth a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land (v.9). A ‘horn’ in Daniel consistently symbolises a ‘king’ (cf 8:20-21; 7:24). Thus out of one of the four divisions of the Greek empire, a king would arise who would dominate and oppress the land of Palestine–’the glorious land.’ This king would extend his conquests toward the territories south and east of Palestine (Egypt and Persia). The same power seems to be described in Daniel 11:20-45 where it is identified as ‘the king of the north.’ Or Syria (the division of the Greek empire immediately north of Palestine).
It grew great even to the host of heaven and some of the host of the stars it cast down to the ground, and trampled upon them. It magnified itself, even up to the Prince of the host and the continual burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of the sanctuary was overthrown (vv. 10-11).
A massive persecution and disruption of Jewish society is here predicted. The ‘stars’ represent God’s people, who would experience ‘fearful destruction’ (v.24). The ‘Prince of the host’ is God himself (cf Josh 5:14) who would be attacked in the person of his saints. The ‘continual burnt offering’–the daily temple sacrifice–would be abolished by the invader and even the sanctuary itself would be overthrown through the defilement of pagan idolatry.
Then I heard a holy one speaking and another holy one said to the one that spoke. ‘For how long is the vision concerning the continual burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate and the giving over of the Sanctuary and host to be trampled under foot? And he said to him. ‘For two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state’ (vv.13-14).
God had set a limit on this evil state of affairs. The little horn would be allowed to trample on God’s people and sanctuary for only a few years, after which time the suppressed sacrifices would be restored. The blasphemous oppressor would eventually be ‘broken’ by God’s liberating power (v.25).
We should note that there is no evidence in this passage–or anywhere else in the book of Daniel–that would require us to interpret the 2300 evenings and mornings as ‘years’.
The ‘seven times’ of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity in Daniel 4:14-16 is apparently meant to be taken literally–why not here also? The ‘seventy week’ prophecy of Daniel 9 is sometimes said to illustrate the day for a year principle but in reality the prophecy merely speaks of ‘seventy sevens’ (Hebrew shabuim). The context suggests that seventy sevens of literal years (490 years) are intended by the expression. Thus, we agree with the book, Questions on Doctrine, that there is no symbolic time in Daniel 9 (pp. 276-78). By the same token, the 2300 ‘evenings and mornings’ should probably be understood as a period of approximately six and a half-literal years.The Little Horn
Now let us summarise the identifying characteristics of the ‘little horn’ and attempt to identify it historically.
The persecuting king will emerge from Syria, one of the four divisions of the Greek Empire. This means he must arise before the time of Christ, while the Greek Empire is still existing.
He will carry out wars of conquest in Egypt, Persia and Palestine–’the glorious land’.
He will launch a fearful persecution against the Jewish nation and destroy many lives, he will invade the temple, suspend the daily sacrifices, and establish an abominable system of idolatry in place of the true worship.
This bloody program will continue for approximately six and a half years before God takes action to save his people and sanctuary from the oppressor.
Does any historical figure between the time of Alexander the Great and the time of Christ match this description? Biblical scholars are almost unanimous in their conclusion that the prophecy pointed to the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to helenize Palestine during the second century B.C. The SDA Bible Commentary, while not identifying Antiochus as the little horn, notes the important role he played in Jewish history. Note the striking similarity between the characteristics of the ‘little horn’ in Daniel 8 and what history tells us was carried out by King Antiochus against the Jews:
It is…an undeniable historical fact that the attempt of Antiochus to force the Jews to give up their national religion and culture, and to adopt in its place the religion, culture, and language of the Greeks, is the most significant event in Jewish history during the entire inter-testament period.
The threat posed by Antiochus Epiphanes confronted the Jews with a crisis comparable to the crises precipitated by Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Haman, and Titus. During his brief reign…Antiochus very nearly exterminated the religion and culture of the Jews. He stripped the sanctuary of all its treasures, plundered Jerusalem, left the city and its walls in ruins, slew thousands of Jews, and carried others into exile as slaves. A royal edict commanded them to abandon all rites of their own religion and to live as heathen. They were forced to erect pagan altars in every Judean town, to offer swine flesh upon them, and to surrender every copy of their Scriptures to be torn up and burned. Antiochus also set up a heathen altar in Jerusalem and offered swine’s flesh upon it.
During the years in which this policy was in effect the prospect that the Jewish religion might survive, or that the Jews could preserve their identity as a people seemed dim.
Eventually the Jews rose in revolt and drove the forces of Antiochus from Judea. They even succeeded in repelling an army sent by Antiochus for the specific purpose of exterminating them as a nation. Free once more from his oppressive hand, they restored the Temple, set up a new alter, and again offered sacrifice (SDA Bible Commentary 4:868, emphasis supplied).
According to reliable historical records, Antiochus actually erected an altar to his god Zeus in the temple. It can easily be seen how the Jews who lived through this experience would equate all this with the ‘abomination of desolation’ prophesied by Daniel. Just as Sennacherib had once mocked the living God (2 Kings 19:3). Antiochus magnified himself against the Prince of princes.The 2300 Days
The ’2300 evenings and mornings’ probably point to the period of general persecution which began in 170 B.C. when a representative of Antiochus’ regime engineered the assassination of Jewish high priest, Onias 111. Although Antiochus was not personally involved in this plot it would have been viewed by the Jews as the first step in an ongoing Syrian intrigue to further dominate Palestine. Jerusalem was given a puppet religious leader who was willing to co-operate with Syrian designs.
This oppression reached its height sometime in the year 167 when Antiochus issued his decree prohibiting the Jewish religion. Greek soldiers poured into Palestine and some say as many as 70,000 Jews were killed in the persecution that followed. It was at this time that the temple sacrifices were suspended and the sanctuary itself defiled with pagan idolatry. Then, in 164 B.C., God-fearing Jews known as Maccabeans revolted against the Syrian army and succeeded in re-capturing and ‘cleansing’ (or ‘restoring’ RSV) the temple in December of that year. The following chart pictures the 2300 days as probably understood by Jews before the time of Christ:
Although the evidence available today does not make it possible to know the precise day the Syrian persecution began, the ’2300 days’ (obviously a round number) is an amazingly accurate approximation of the period of time during which we know the Jewish nation and its religious institutions were under attack.
Another possibility is that the ’2300 evenings and mornings’ may refer, not to days, but to 2300 evening and morning sacrifices during which the daily temple services would be suspended by the pagans. If so, the period would equal 1150 days (two sacrifices per day) and would be roughly equivalent to the three-plus years during which the Syrian army prevented sacrifices from being made.Desmond Ford writes:
‘It is quite certain that any Jews reading these verses prior to Christ but after the Maccabean revolt would have thought of Antiochus Epiphanes. So the apocryphal books of Maccabees apply the prophecy, and likewise the translators of the LXX and all rabbinical interpreters. Thus pious Jews were encouraged to believe that God had both foreseen and forewarned regarding the greatest catastrophe since the Exile’ (Daniel, p. 186).’
The restoration of the sanctuary by the Maccabees was similar to that accomplished in former years by Hezekiah (who removed the heathen alter erected by his father Ahaz in the holy place, 2 Kings 16:10-16) and Josiah (who purged the accoutrements of Baal worship from the temple as part of his religious reform. 2 Kings 23:4-5). A Jewish feast known as ‘Hanukkah,’ or Feast of Dedication was established to commemorate the Maccabean triumph over Syrian forces and the cleansing of the defiled temple (1 Maccabees 4:53). Jesus himself apparently celebrated this feast (John 10:22-24) and the book of Hebrews includes the second century Jewish martyrs among those who overcame by faith (Heb 11:34-38).Fulfilled in Christ’s Cross
As we pointed out in a previous article (December 1980), it is not enough to understand merely the historical application of Old Testament prophecy. All Scripture points to Jesus Christ, and God’s saving acts in Old Testament history were intended as types of his ultimate act of redemption in the death, resurrection and triumph of Israel’s coming king. A note on Daniel 8:14 in the Jerusalem Bible, points out that the prophecy ‘has a messianic sense above and beyond the immediate historical one.’ Therefore, the most important fulfilment of the ‘cleansing of the sanctuary’ is to be found in the New Testament.
The promise of the restoration of the sanctuary was a promise of the messianic kingdom. Christ himself, and later, Paul and John re-applied Daniel 8:14 to the atonement made on Calvary and to Christ’s victory over Satan. Like the concentric, ever-widening circles on the surface of a lake after the casting of a stone, the New Testament elaborates the messianic significance of this Old Testament vision. Let us study some of these key passages.
In a deliberate repetition of the cleansing that occurred in 164 B.C. when Greek idolatry was expelled from the temple, Jesus also cleansed the temple in his day (Matt 21:12-13). The nefarious money changing in the temple–a perversion instigated by Annas the high priest–was swept away in a single act of messianic authority. Although Jesus did not quote Daniel 8 on this occasion, it is obvious that he was acting out that prophecy in a way that would cause the people to recognise him as the antitype of their past history. In an ironic twist, the defilers of God’s house were no longer the pagans, but the Jews themselves. Daniel’s prophecy of the crushing of pagan opposition was now applicable to the unbelieving Jewish nation, for in rejecting Jesus, the Jews, no less than Antiochus Epiphanes, had become the opponents of God.
Immediately after cleansing the corrupted temple and defeating its hypocritical, scoffing priests, Jesus revealed the cosmic implications of his act. He said to the crowd: ‘Now is the judgement of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself’ (John 12:31-32).
It is clear that in cleansing the temple from its defilement, Jesus wished to draw attention to his approaching crucifixion. Just as God had saved His people from the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes, and just as Christ had now liberated the temple again, so the cross of Calvary would gain the world’s salvation. As the ‘little horn’ of Old Testament history was ‘broken by no human hand’ (Dan 8:25), by grace alone, so Christ’s substitutionary death would be a judgement against the powers of darkness and cause the ruler of this world to be cast out.
Christ’s blood has liberated us from Satan’s control. ‘He disarmed the principalities and powers…triumphing over them’ (Col 2:15). The captives have been released. Our fellowship with heaven has been restored. The sanctuary has been cleansed. Through the atoning work of our representative, Jesus Christ, our sins have been forgiven and we possess eternal life through the riches of God’s grace.Fulfilled in Christ’s Parousia
In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8, Paul re-applies the imagery of Daniel 3 to the Parousia, or Second Coming of Jesus. Antiochus Epiphanes becomes a symbol for ‘the man of lawlessness, the son of perdition,’–the antichrist who opposes the gospel. According to Paul, the ‘temple of God’ is defiled by antichrist in the New Testament age as well as in the old. But the suffering, persecuted church of Christ will not be left to perish. While the powers of evil have already been defeated in principle by the cross, they will receive their final blow when ‘the man of lawlessness’ is destroyed by the Lord Jesus ‘by his appearing and his coming. ‘God’s irresistible purpose to save his people will not be thwarted by any principality or power in the universe.
Jesus applied the imagery of Daniel 8 in a similar fashion in his Mount Olivet sermon (Mark 13; Matt 24). Utilising the ‘desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel’ (Matt 24:15) as a symbol of the church’s tribulation. Christ told his disciples that the elect will undergo persecution similar to that experienced by the God-fearing Jews who were attacked by Antiochus Epiphanes. Just as God promised to cleanse the sanctuary and save his people in days of old, Christ assured the church’s victory over the powers of darkness with these words: ‘Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and.(you) will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other’ (Matt 24:30-31).
The book of Revelation also re-applies Daniel 8 to the New Testament antichrist, his warfare against the gospel, and the Second Coming of Christ. In Revelation 13-14 we find the following points:
The beast will utter ‘haughty and blasphemous words’ against God, his temple and his people, in an attempt to conquer the saints (13:1-10).
The ‘hour of God’s judgement’ will come and the ‘Son of Man’ will appear in the clouds to destroy the oppressor and vindicate his suffering church (14:6-20). One greater than Antiochus will be trampled in the great winepress of the wrath of God. Saved by grace, the redeemed will stand forever on a liberated Mount Zion with the Lamb.
The messianic fulfilment of Daniel 8:14 looks like this:Conclusion
Thus we see that the vision of Daniel 8 found its initial fulfilment in the Old Testament history of the Jewish people. Just as the prophecy foretold. Antiochus was nearly successful in suppressing the true religion for a limited period of time. But the message of Daniel gave hope to God’s people in their terrible ordeal. Encouraged by the promise of ultimate vindication, many gave up their lives in defence of truth, while others were spared to see Israel’s deliverance from the king of the north. God did not forget his promises. At the right time God arose to save his people and judged the boastful tyrant. The temple was cleansed.
We also see how the pattern of God’s saving activity in shadowy Old Testament times was re-applied by New Testament writers to the final redeeming act of God. Daniel 8:14 was a type or symbol of Jesus Christ.
At the death and resurrection of Jesus, Satan (like Antiochus) was defeated and those who believe the gospel (like the suffering Jews) were delivered from eternal death. At his Second Coming, Christ will make manifest his sentence against evil and gather his waiting people to himself.
‘Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him’ (Heb 9:28). This — the glorious redeeming work of Jesus Christ — is ‘the cleansing of the sanctuary.’