This past Tuesday, October 22, 2019, we experienced the passing of the 175th anniversary of the Great Disappointment of 1844, and the commencement of the investigative judgment in heaven (Dan. 7:9-14; 8:14).  An anniversary such as this should invite sober reflection and a reassessment of where we stand in the course of sacred history and the scrutiny of heaven.

Like the original Christian movement, the great Second Advent movement was conceived in crisis.  And just as the resurrection of Jesus Christ rescued the hopes of His disciples from the jaws of despair and oblivion, so the discovery of the sanctuary truth in Holy Scripture rescued the hopes of Adventism’s founders from gloom and collapse.

The redemption of hope experienced in the wake of both disappointments began with two pairs of disheartened believers, each on a lonely walk.  The first of these takes us back to what was likely a pleasant spring evening, with two dissolutioned followers of Jesus on a stroll toward the village of Emmaus, eight miles from Jerusalem.                                                                          

The Walk to Emmaus

One week ago this day, the approaches to Zion had resounded with hosannas as the humble Nazarene rabbi accepted honors He had heretofore shunned.  Astride a beast never before ridden, on the way to what the cheering throng fervently hoped would be His coronation as David’s heir and Israel’s king, Jesus had permitted His followers’ hopes to build toward the long-awaited crescendo of glory.  At once they envisioned the Roman armies driven from the Promised Land, the legions of the world’s great empire vanquished, and Jerusalem at last the metropolis of the earth.

Now, seven days later, the hopes of Messianic glory have withered as surely as the palm branches themselves.  The cries of “Hosanna!”, scant days before, had morphed into shouts of “Crucify!”

In the end, the One temporarily honored by the fickle crowds had suffered the fate reserved only for the vilest of criminals, revolutionaries, aliens, and slaves.  With bitter hearts the two disciples declared, against the silhouette of Jerusalem in the fading light: “We trust that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:21).

But as they stroll along, a mysterious Stranger joins them. Their despair is so deep, their mourning so intense, that even prolonged conversation with this Man fails to disclose who He really is.  Not the reciting of multiple Scriptures, nor even the burning of their hearts within as the truth made its mark, could lift the veil of the Visitor’s identity.

Only at the supper table, as Christ blesses the meal in a manner with which they are well familiar, do they recognize their risen Lord.  In moments they dash from the house, leaving their meal untouched, and hurry back to Jerusalem to revive the faith and scatter the tears of their fellow disciples with the joyful news that their Savior lives.

The Walk Through a New England Cornfield

Now let us move forward eighteen hundred years, and join two other disciples on another stroll of despair.  O.R.L. Crosier and Hiram Edson, among at least 100,000 others, have joyously awaited their Lord’s return.  For decades a newly aroused understanding of Bible prophecy has swept the earth—from America and England to such remote places as Chile and Mongolia. 

Only fifteen years before, a simple farmer and former army captain is compelled to test a pledge made privately to God—that if he received an invitation to speak on the prophecies of Daniel, he would answer the call and do so.  The invitation came quickly, and throughout the remainder of William Miller’s life, he would never be without an invitation to speak.

Two months earlier, a man named Samuel Snowe had calculated that according to authentic Jewish reckoning, the Day of Atonement fell this year on October 22.  Snowe reasoned that just as Jesus, the antitypical Passover Lamb, had died at the time of the Passover, so the 2,300-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14 would likely be fulfilled on the literal Day of Atonement.

On this day the earth, which they held to be the sanctuary described in this verse, would be cleansed.  The Lord would come, His people would be taken to heaven, and the earth—along with the impenitent majority—would be destroyed by fire. 

Yesterday—October 22, 1844—was a day they would never forget. 

Thousands of homes and meeting houses filled with the expectant faithful; prayer and song rose from thousands of joyful hearts.  What incredible worship services must those have been!

Crops were left ungathered in the fields.  Beds were made with the confidence that they would never be used again.  One Philadelphia shopkeeper hung a sign in his store window with the words:

This shop is closed in honor of the King of Kings.  Who will appear about the 22nd of October.  Get ready, friends, to crown Him Lord of all! [1]

Not until the hour of midnight passed did these faithful watchers realize their Lord would not appear that day.  Glorious anticipation became bitter crying and tears.  As foretold by the apostle in Revelation, their experience had been sweet in anticipation, but very bitter in reality (Rev. 10:9-10).

But now, on their way to console grieving brethren, Crosier and Edson pass a cornfield.  As with the disciples traveling to Emmaus, the truth of Scripture shines into their fainting but receptive hearts.  Edson would later write that he “saw, distinctly, and clearly,” that instead of coming to earth to cleanse it with fire, Jesus had instead gone into the second apartment of the heavenly sanctuary, there to commence the final judgment of God’s professed people.

Two Disappointments

The parallel between these two great disappointments is striking and profound.  Both were the result of false views of Jesus’ coming.  Just as Jesus’ disciples believed the Messiah was to reign as an earthly king, so the Millerites falsely believed Jesus was to come and cleanse the earth on October 22, 1844.

In both cases a more careful study of God’s Word could have prevented misunderstanding.  In both cases the world scoffed and scorned and presumed a movement to be dead.  And in both cases, the world was wrong.

A Doctrine Embattled Yet Enduring

Out of the in-depth Bible study, ashes, and tears of the 1844 Disappointment was born the one unique contribution of Seventh-day Adventists to Christian theology—the two-apartment ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment commencing at the close of the 2,300-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14.

Despite its solid support in the pages of Scripture, this doctrine has endured the slings and arrows of attack—both inside and outside the church—more than any other of our distinctive teachings.  And the reason why is understandable—it is because this doctrine encapsulates the theological, prophetic, and moral imperatives of the Seventh-day Adventist faith more than any other of our Fundamental Beliefs.

Contrary to the claims of critics across the decades, the classic Adventist sanctuary doctrine traces deep roots within the Biblical consensus.  If one simply permits the Bible to explain itself, to be its own interpreter, it is easy to defend from the Sacred Pages.  One must accept one of two false premises—at times both—in order to see as credible the attacks against this doctrine.  The first of these is the erroneous view of the gospel and righteousness by faith which sees justification (defined by these critics as declarative only) as the sole ground of human salvation, and which declares sinless obedience to be impossible this side of heaven, even through God’s power.  Gillian Ford, wife of the late Desmond Ford, is clear as to why her husband challenged the classic Adventist 1844 theology:

It was Ford’s emphasis on righteousness by faith that led him to see the necessity for reinterpretation of the SDA scheme of prophecy [2].

The logic here is compelling and inescapable.  If all one needs to be saved is a mere declaration of righteousness while sin persists in the life of the most sanctified believer, there is no need for the lives of professed Christians to be investigated so as to ascertain their fitness for heaven.  If sin can’t be perfectly overcome in this life, even through divine strength, there is no need for the heavenly records to be scrutinized for the purpose of determining whether, by God’s grace, sin has been both confessed and forsaken in the lives of those bound for heaven (Ex. 32:32-33; Dan. 7:10; 12:1; Rev. 3:5). 

Nor would there be any reason for the investigative judgment to be delayed till 1844 if declarative righteousness were all one needed for salvation.  The reason the judgment has been delayed till the end of time is because only then will God have a totally perfected people (Zeph. 3:13; I Thess. 5:23; II Peter 3:10-14; I John 3:2-3; Rev. 3:21; 14:5).  Were such perfection impossible and/or unnecessary, the final judgment and second advent could have occurred centuries ago.

The second of these false premises, from which challenges to the classic Adventist sanctuary message arise, is the historical-critical approach to Bible prophecy.  One champion of this approach was the late Raymond F. Cottrell—who, in a summary of his objections to the sanctuary doctrine written just before he died, correctly states that one’s method of Bible study determines whether the sanctuary doctrine is seen as flawed or flawless:

The traditional Adventist sanctuary doctrine is based on the historicist principle, or method, of prophetic interpretation.  Consequently, those who follow that method automatically find the doctrine flawless.  On the contrary, those who follow the historical principle, or method, find it bristling with flaws [3].

What Cottrell here calls the “historical method” is, in simple words, higher criticism—the reduction of the Bible, in his own words, to a “historically conditioned” document replete with “thought forms with which they (the original hearers) were familiar, [reflecting] the salvation history perspective of their time” [4].  Such a premise views Bible prophecy, not as the unerring word of the eternal God superseding time and space (II Peter 1:19), but rather as a localized instrument of spiritual guidance and comfort, limited by culture and circumstance and reflective of the agendas and prejudices of those by whom it was written and to whom it was addressed.                                        

Such a view of the inspired Word robs it of transcendence and thus of any enduring ability to measure human thoughts and deeds, in the end granting veto power over God’s written counsel to the opinions, scholarly speculations, and personal experiences of fallible mortals.  No one embracing such a view of the Bible is likely ever again to tremble at its word (Ezra 10:3; Isa. 66:2).  The logical extension of such thinking leaves no room for an objective standard of right and wrong, no immutable law by which sin and righteousness are defined, and thus the evisceration of Christianity itself.      

In short, objections to the classic Adventist sanctuary doctrine must either deny the gospel according to Holy Scripture in favor of a truncated substitute, or deny the transcendent authority of Scripture itself in favor of relativism and higher-critical guesswork.  No scholarly education or mindless aversion to change is needed to persuade thoughtful Adventists that either view presents a mortal threat to the most basic rationale for their church’s—and Christianity’s—existence. 

Ease of Defense

It isn’t the purpose of this article to review in depth the principal charges leveled by critics of the investigative judgment/sanctuary doctrine [5].  But a quick survey of several of them helps us understand how easily defended this doctrine is recognized to be when the full weight of Biblical evidence is considered.

The prophecies of Daniel 7, 8, and 9 contain parallel predictions which, when placed alongside each other, fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, and only make sense when the day-for-a-year principle of prophetic interpretation (Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6) is applied to the time periods found there.  The notion that the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes could in any way be represented by the little horn depicted in Daniel 7 and 8 is untenable for a cluster of reasons, the most compelling of which is found in Daniel 7.  According to this verse, when the little horn is overthrown the following will occur:

And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him (Dan. 7:27).

Last time I checked, the dominion of Antiochus Epiphanes (which wasn’t much) ended about 2,100 years ago, and without all nations on earth serving and obeying the Lord.  The Roman papacy, by contrast, bestrides today’s world with ever-increasing influence and power, and is thus—for this and other reasons—the only power (along with its pagan predecessor) which can rightly be seen as the fulfillment of this symbol.

Far from drawing a parallel between the Old Testament high priest’s entrance into the Most Holy Place of the earthly sanctuary on the ancient Day of Atonement and the entrance of Christ at His ascension into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary, Hebrews chapter 9 draws a parallel instead between the inauguration of the wilderness tabernacle by Moses and Aaron with the blood of goats and calves (Heb. 9:18-21), and the inauguration of the heavenly sanctuary service by Jesus, not with the blood of goats and calves as Moses and Aaron did, but by His own blood (verse 12).  Parallel inaugural services, not the typical and antitypical Days of Atonement, are the focus of this chapter.

Contrary to the falsehoods told by critics of our sanctuary message, Seventh-day Adventists have never taught that sacrificial blood defiles the sanctuary, whether on earth or in heaven.  Rather, it is the sins that the blood transfers to the sanctuary which causes this defilement.  And it’s so easy to illustrate.  When I take a shower in the morning, the water transfers the filth from my body to the shower.  It isn’t the water that makes the shower dirty, but rather, the filth transferred from my body to the shower.  Which is why, every few weeks, the shower needs to be cleaned.

The same is true of the blood of Christ, our sins, and the heavenly sanctuary.

Conclusion: The Judgment Still in Session

Accountability is in short supply in today’s world, sometimes even among Christians.  Whenever the Biblical paradigm of law, grace, forgiveness, and the needful conquest of sin is lost sight of, people logically conclude that how they live makes no difference so far as their eternal destiny is concerned.  Even among conservative Christians, the trivializing of sin brought about by the “gospel” of salvation without victory has led to devastating moral compromises, the loss of integrity for the sake of secular power, and the widespread perception that hypocrisy, not faithfulness to principle, is the most evident Christian trademark in our present world.

The investigative judgment as historically taught by Seventh-day Adventists is the antidote to this perverse condition among our Lord’s professed followers.  When Moses asked for his name to be blotted out of God’s book if Israel couldn’t be saved (Ex. 32:32), God replied, “Whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book” (verse 33).  The opening of heaven’s books of record at the close of time (Dan. 7:9-14) culminates in the deliverance of “every one that shall be found written in the book” (Dan. 12:1).  Elsewhere the Bible calls this book the book of life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 20:12,15; 21:27; 22:19).  But God’s statement in Exodus 32:33 presents us with a problem, as it says that “whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book.”  Elsewhere the Bible informs us that “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23; 5:12).  So how can any of us escape being blotted out of the Lamb’s book of life?

Revelation 3, verse 5 tells us:

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed with white raiment, and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.

This overcoming experience will be verified by close investigation, by divine “subpoenas” that no sinner, however arrogant, can flout.  Those former (and current) Adventists who dispute Ellen White’s insistence that our words, actions, and secret motives will decide our eternal destiny [6] had best take up their argument with the wisest of kings (Eccl. 12:13-14), the apostle Paul (II Cor. 5:10), even our Lord Himself (Matt. 12:36-37; 25:31-46).  Ellen White was indeed a plagiarist, regarding this and a host of other teachings—all of which she copied straight out of the Bible!

Out of the wreckage of the Millerite movement so long ago, the ultimate moral summons to the human family resounds from the pages of Scripture and the voices of William Miller’s spiritual heirs.  All the inspired counsel subsequently bequeathed by God to the Seventh-day Adventist Church so far as doctrine, worship, and lifestyle are concerned, finds its basis in the imperative of making ready, through God’s limitless power, the hearts and lives of those who must pass the judicial review in progress since that bitter moment when a scorned and heartsick remnant sought meaning in the crucible of disappointment.

One hundred and seventy-five years later, that heavenly tribunal remains in session.  The summons to intense self-scrutiny and heart-cleansing on the ancient Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:30; 23:28-30) is echoed in the following words from the pen of the modern prophet:

Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a Mediator.  Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling.  Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil.  While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, a putting away of sin, among God’s people upon the earth. . . .

            When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing [7].                                                                    

Some may find the above standard daunting.  All of us should!  But equally apparent in the Sacred Pages is our Lord’s gracious perseverance—“not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).  Jesus our Savior is both our Judge (John 5:22) and our Advocate, or attorney (I John 2:1).  The odds, in other words, are stacked in our favor!  (What defendant wouldn’t want to be tried in a court where both one’s lawyer and one’s judge were the same person?)  But the choice to confess and forsake sin through divine power is still left with us.  Free choice is the precursor to the loving relationship God seeks from His children.  For without liberty, there can be no love.

The third stanza of an early Advent hymn portrays, in lyrical splendor, words which can never be lost on the hearts of our Lord’s striving faithful living in the great antitypical Day of Atonement:

            The solemn moment is at hand

            When we who have His name confessed

            Each in his lot must singly stand

            And pass the final searching test.

            Jesus, we hope in Thee alone

            In mercy now upon us look.

            Confess our names before the throne

            And blot our sins from out Thy book! [8]



1.  Jerome L. Clark, 1844, vol. 1: Religious Movements (Brushton, NY: TEACH Services, 2005), p. 48.

2.  Desmond and Gillian Ford, For the Sake of the Gospel: Throw Out the Bathwater But Keep the Baby ((Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Inc, 2008), p. 153.

3.  Raymond F. Cottrell, “The ‘Sanctuary Doctrine’—Asset or Liability?” (A Presentation of San Diego Adventist Forum, P.O. Box 3148, La Mesa, CA  91944-3148, February 9, 2002), p. 28.

4.  Ibid, p. 14.

5.  Those desiring an in-depth survey by the present writer of the major attacks against the classic Adventist sanctuary doctrine should consult the following online articles, titled, “The Sanctuary Doctrine: Cultic or Biblical?” Parts 1-3:;;

6.  Ellen G. White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, pp. 307-315; Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, p. 36; Sermons and Talks, vol. 2, p. 294.

7.  ----The Great Controversy, p. 425.

8.  Roswell F. Cottrell, “O Solemn Thought!” Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Assn, 1985), no. 417.


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Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and does script writing for various evangelistic ministries within the denomination. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan