50. Does believing in an Investigative Judgment mean Adventists do not believe the atonement was completed at the Cross?
Yes and no. This is a misconception of terminology rather than substance. The confusion arises out of a misunderstanding of Christian jargon, namely the use of the word ‘atonement’. In particular, most Christians use the word narrowly to mean Christ’s full and final death on the Cross; whereas, Adventists have traditionally applied the term in a broader sense to mean the entire plan of salvation, including not just Jesus’ death but also the final eradication of sin and death at the Last Judgment.
As J. K. Mozley notes, confusion commonly arises between Christians because the term is used in a variety of different ways, depending upon the context.
As noted in Questions on Doctrine, despite its wide use in Christian circles, the word itself explicitly appears in the New Testament only once:
“The word occurs in the New Testament only once (Rom. 5:11), where it is the translation of katallage, a word meaning "reconciliation," or a "reconciling," and is elsewhere so translated (Rom. 11:15; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19). The related verb katallasso occurs six times, and in each case is translated "to reconcile" (Rom. 5:10; 1 Cor. 7:11; 2 Cor. 5:18-20). Katallage should be rendered "reconciliation" in Romans 5:11 also.” (emphasis added)
Many critics wrongly imply that Adventists reject that Christ’s death on the Cross was a perfect and final sacrifice for all human beings. For example, Adventists do of course believe, "We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10) (emphasis added). Of course, Adventists also acknowledge that final words on the Cross were, “It is finished” (Jhn 19:30).
For the avoidance of doubt, Adventist publication Questions on Doctrine states:
“We repeat, they [early Adventist writers] believed as fully as we do that the sacrificial work of our blessed Lord on Golgotha's hill was full and complete, never again to be offered, and that it was done once and for all.” (emphasis added)
By comparison, one might compare Adventist views with the doctrines of Transubstantiation (Roman Catholics) or Sacramental Union (Lutherans), which arguably teach Christ re-dies daily in the Eucharist. Therefore, these other ‘mainstream’ Christian groups arguably deny Jesus only offered His body “once”, contrary to Heb 9:25,26 and 10:10.
One might also cite doctrines such as Limited Atonement (Calvinists) and Blood Atonement (Fundamentalist Mormons), which arguably teach the Cross does not cover all sins for all people. Therefore, these groups also arguably deny Jesus offered His body “for all”, contrary to Heb 10:10.
Thus, compared with Adventist ideas on atonement, which do affirm "We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all", these other Christian groups arguably have much more peculiar views.
Perhaps people often get confused between the Adventist belief in a final and complete sacrifice on the Cross, compared with Jesus’ post-Cross intercessory Ministry in heaven. As again noted in SDA publication Questions on Doctrine:
“Quite generally those who teach that a completed atonement was made on the cross view the term in its popular theological sense, but really what is meant by them is that on Calvary, the all-sufficient atoning sacrifice of Christ was offered for our salvation. With this concept all true Christians readily and heartily agree. "We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10). Those who view this aspect of the work of Christ as a completed atonement, apply this term only to what Christ accomplished on the cross. They do not include in their definition the application of the benefits of the atonement made on the cross, to the individual sinner.
There are those however, who believe the atonement has a much wider connotation. They fully agree with those who stress a completed atonement on the cross in the sense of an all-sufficient, once-for-all, atoning sacrifice for sin. They believe that nothing less than—this took place on the cross of Calvary.
They believe, however, that in the ancient typical sanctuary service other aspects of the atonement are brought to light. In the morning and evening sacrifice they see sacrificial atonement provided for all men (Ex. 29:38-42). In the sinner's own personal offering they see sacrificial atonement appropriated by the individual (Lev. 4:31). Then came the grand climax on the Day of Atonement—day of judgment—when sin was definitely and finally dealt with. These ancient services, they believe, were all typical of the work of Christ. The morning and evening sacrifices and the individual offerings for sin pointed forward to the Saviour's sacrifice on Calvary's cross. The ministry of the priest in these services pointed forward to the high priestly ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, where He applies the benefits of the atoning sacrifice to the individual sinner.
Then the Day of Atonement services, they believe, pointed forward to the work to be accomplished in what they call the Investigative judgment which eventually culminates in the final obliteration of iniquity at the close of the millennial period.” (emphasis added)
As a simple point of logic, if the entire atonement process or plan of salvation was completed at the Cross, why did Jesus have to return to heaven at all and not simply usher in the new Triumphant Kingdom in 33 AD – what was left for Him to do? In the Earthly Sanctuary, which is a pattern of the Heavenly Sanctuary and shadow of God’s plan of salvation, the death of the sacrificial animal is not the end but the beginning of the atonement process.
Rather, the blood must be taken by the High Priest into the Temple and sprinkled upon the Ark of the Covenant for sins to be blotted out (Heb 9). In fact, in relation to one of the few references to the word ‘atonement’ in Rom 3:25, the margin/footnote reference of the NIV notes:
“The Greek for sacrifice of atonement refers to the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant (see Lev. 16:15,16).” (emphasis added)
People may forget that Jesus is not merely the Lamb of God who died on once and for all on earth (Jhn 1:29); He is also our High Priest in heaven (Heb 8:1-2). The Bible makes it clear what Jesus has been doing all this time – He has been acting in an intercessory role as our mediator (Heb 9:15).
The point is, Satan and the problems of sin and death may have been irrevocably determined at the Cross, but they will not be finally destroyed until God’s Last Judgment is complete. Most Christians would accept that victory was assured at Golgotha, but battles will continue to be fought daily until the end of time. We may be the Church Militant but we are not yet wholly the Church Triumphant.
In conclusion, one can see the slight but important difference between Christ’s death on the Cross, being once and for all as the Lamb of God, compared His post-Cross intercessory role in heaven as our High Priest.
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