The Bible describes a court scene that is taking place in heaven. The prophet Daniel saw that court scene in vision in which the Ancient of Days, God the Father, was seated to judge the human race based on the records contained in the books. As “the court was seated, and the books were opened” Daniel saw “One like the Son of Man,” who was “coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him” (Daniel 7:9, 10, 13, 14). The parallel passage in Daniel 8:14 describes this as the sanctuary being “cleansed.”
Let’s take a closer look at what this means. We can learn about the heavenly sanctuary by examining the earthly sanctuary. Moses made an earthly tabernacle after the pattern of the heavenly sanctuary (see Exodus 25:9, 40). When someone had sinned, that person came to the sanctuary and brought a pure, spotless animal, symbolizing Jesus, the pure, spotless Lamb of God (see Revelation 13:8). The person would lay the hands on the head of the lamb, confessing his or her sin, thus transferring it lamb. That lamb would then be sacrificed in place of the sinner, pointing to Jesus’ sacrifice that cleanses from sin (see Leviticus 1).
Once a year on the Day of Atonement the congregation of the children of Israel assembled at the sanctuary after they had confessed and repented of their sins. It was on the Day of Atonement that the sanctuary was “cleansed” from the people’s sins. On that day two goats were brought to the tabernacle, and lots were cast to determine which goat was for the Lord and which was the scapegoat.
The first goat, over which no sins were confessed, was sacrificed. Its blood was brought into the sanctuary to cleanse it from the record of sins, represented by the blood of the animal sacrifices for sins made through the year. This goat was symbolic of Jesus’ sinless sacrifice for us. At the cross Jesus Himself took our place, paid the price for the penalty of our sins, and set us free from the condemnation of sin.
After the cleansing blood of this goat was applied to the sanctuary, the sins of the people were confessed on the head the scapegoat, which represented Satan, the author of sin. It was then banished to the wilderness to die, symbolizing Satan’s final punishment for the world’s sin (see Leviticus 16).
Significantly, the Day of Atonement in the earthly sanctuary was the only service in which all Israelites were required to participate (see Leviticus 23:29, 30). Also it was the only day of the year when the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place. He did this to do a special work of atonement for the people. The priestly ministry throughout the year pointed forward to Christ’s ministry as our high priest. But the Day of Atonement pointed forward to Jesus’ entry into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary at the end of the 2300 prophetic days in 1844 (see Daniel 8:14). That is when Jesus began His work of investigative judgment as our great high priest in the heavenly sanctuary, which includes a special work of cleansing for His people (see Leviticus 16:30).
At some point the name of every person who has ever lived will come before God in judgment. Although “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we can receive the undeserved gift of salvation by confessing our sins, accepting Jesus’ sacrifice, and starting a new life of obedience. The good news is that in the judgment Jesus will be the advocate of all who accept Him as their personal Redeemer and enter into this special work by keeping all of His commandments, including the Sabbath (see Revelation 14:12). John wrote about this, saying: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Our penalty has already been paid with the precious blood of Jesus. Thanks to Christ, we can be free! We need only to accept His atoning sacrifice.
Now that the books of record are opened in the heavenly judgment, everyone’s thoughts, words, and actions, including their sins, stand revealed. The names of those who by faith were obedient to God’s law “are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:27) and will not be blotted out (Revelation 3:5). The cases of those whose names are not recorded in the book of life or whose names were blotted out during this judgment will pass in review for judgment at a later time, during the millennium and at its close.
How important it is then to “Fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14).
Our names may come up anytime in the judgment. How should we spend our time and utilize our resources? How should we use the gifts and talents God has given us? How can we open our hearts to Jesus and allow Him to change our lives? If we accept Jesus as our personal Savior, He will cover us with His robe of righteousness. To all who believe in Him Jesus promises “everlasting life” (see John 3:16).