Usless Prayers

Those who have rejected the first message could not be benefited by the second; neither were they benefited by the midnight cry, which was to prepare them to enter with Jesus by faith into the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary.  Moreover, by rejecting the two former messages, they have so darkened their understanding that they can see no light in the third angel’s message, which shows the way into the most holy place.


I saw that as the Jews crucified Jesus, so the nominal churches had crucified these messages, and therefore they have no knowledge of the way into the most holy, and they cannot be benefited by the intercession of Jesus there. Like the Jews, who offered their useless sacrifices, they offer up their useless prayers to the apartment which Jesus was left.” Early Writings, pages 260,261.


We are particularly interested in the last statement, “Like the Jews, who offered their useless sacrifices, they offer up their useless prayers to the apartment which Jesus has left.” When Jesus died on the cross, type met antitype, and the temple services ceased to be of value or have any spiritual significance. Yet, the Jews continued to offer sacrifices, ignorant of the fact that Christ by His death had abolished them. It is to this custom of the Jews that the author has reference in the statement that the Jews offered useless sacrifices and that in like manner some now offer useless prayers to the apartment that Jesus has left. Just what is the meaning of this? Does anyone ever pray to an apartment?


To obtain an understanding of this, it is necessary to refer to the sanctuary built by Moses in the wilderness.


When God brought Israel out of Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land, He commanded them to build Him a sanctuary that He might dwell among them. Exodus 25:8. At this time, they were wandering in the wilderness with no fixed abode, and they erected a temporary structure, called the “tabernacle” or “sanctuary,” which they could move from place to place. When Israel later entered Canaan, they erected a most magnificent structure that came to be known as “Solomon’s temple,” one of the wonders of the ancient world. While the temple was much larger than the sanctuary, both were of the same essential design.


The Building


The sanctuary was divided into two apartments: the first, called “the holy,” and the second, called “the most holy.” The first apartment contained three articles of furniture: the alter of incense, the table of shewbread, and the seven-branched candlesticks.


The second was called “the most holy” because this was God’s dwelling place where He revealed Himself on special occasions. In it was the Ark of the Covenant, a wooden chest overlaid with gold, which contained the two tablets of stone in which God had engraved with His own finger the Ten Commandments. The cover of the ark was called “the mercy seat,” on the top of which were the figures of two angels made of pure gold; and over the mercy seat hovered the Shekinah glory, emblematic of the presence of God.


There were no windows in the building, and the only light came from the golden candlestick, some of the seven lamps of which were always burning. The most holy apartment was dark, consonant with God’s desire expressed to Solomon: “The Lord said that He would dwell in the thick darkness.” 1 Kings 8:12.


None of the priests was ever permitted in the most holy place; the high priest could enter one day in the year, while he performed his service there. As soon as he was done, the most holy was closed, and not opened again until the next year. The most holy was considered so sacred that no one might even be in the first apartment while the high priest was in the second. 


The Service


The common priest served in the first apartment only, where each morning and evening they offered incense on the golden altar that stood close to the veil separating the two apartments. The meaning of the offering of incense is thus recorded by the revelator. He saw seven angels that stood before God. “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.” Revelation 8:3,4.


As the priest offered incense, he also offered prayer, and his prayer with the incense came up before God as a sweet-smelling savor. On certain occasions the priest also brought with him blood from the sacrifices offered on the altar of burnt offering outside in the court, and a small part of this he put upon the horns of the altar of incense, while another part of the blood he sprinkled toward the veil behind which was the ark containing the law. The symbolism of this is clear: A man had sinned and had brought the required sacrifice and slain it. Then the priest had sprinkled of the blood on the altar of burnt offering. In case the anointed priest sinned, some of the blood was taken into the first apartment and there sprinkled toward the veil, in token of the law of God that the sinner had broken. This constituted a blood atonement, and as some of the blood was also placed on the horns of the altar of incense, the prayers that ascended to God with the incense also contained evidence of the man’s repentance and of his belief in the atoning blood.


This service of incense and blood was carried on every day of the year in the first apartment, and as a result, men obtained forgiveness. It is repeatedly stated that “it shall be forgiven them,” “it shall be forgiven him.” See Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18.  Hence, the first apartment came to be known as the place where forgiveness was to be had.


On the Day of Atonement, the high priest officiated in the second apartment. As stated above, while the high priest was in the most holy place no one else was permitted in the sanctuary, not even a priest. Should a sinner bring his lamb that day, he would find no priest to minister it for him. The attention of all was riveted on the high priest as he entered the sanctuary; and while he was inside, all Israel lay upon the ground seeking the Lord and praying that God would accept the ministration of the chief priest when he was in the most holy pleading for them.


Israel considered this day as a day of judgment, when the sins of the year came in review before God. “Whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in the same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.” Leviticus 23:29.


The Jewish Encyclopedia, page 286, article, “Atonement, “quotes this concerning the Day of Atonement: ‘’ God seated on His throne to judge the world, at the same time Judge, Pleader, Expert, and Witness, openeth the Book of Records; it is read, every man’s signature being found therein. The great trumpet is sounded; a still small voice is heard; the angels shudder, saying, this is the Day of Judgment: for His very ministers are not pure before God. As a shepherd mustereth his flock, causing them to pass under his rod, so doth God cause every living soul to pass before Him to fix the limit of every creature’s life and to foreordain its destiny. On New Year’s Day the decree is written; on the Day of Atonement it is sealed who shall live and who are to die, etc. But penitence, prayer, and charity may avert the evil decree.’”   


The Meaning for the Christian


These considerations are of absorbing interest to the Christian as he realizes that the temple services, including the services of the Day of Atonement, were symbolic of a higher service above in the heavenly temple, and that we have in Christ “such an High Priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” Hebrews 8:1,2. 


As our Mediator, “Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” Hebrews 9:11,12. “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” Verse 24.


The work of the priests in the first, apartment of the sanctuary on earth, was confined solely to the forgiveness of sin. Forgiveness is good, but it does no go far enough. It was “a shadow of good things to come, “ but it was only a shadow” and not the very image of the things; “ for never could the “sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.” Hebrew 10:1. All they did was to forgive sins after they had been committed. However, forgiveness is not enough. Sin must be stopped, not merely forgiven.

As long as men are satisfied with forgiveness, they will never reach the standard God has set. Christ came not merely to forgive sin, but “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness.” Daniel 9:24. If man had finished transgression, made an end of sin; when he has made for him reconciliation for iniquity and is in possession of everlasting righteousness, he stands approved of God. All this Christ came to do. Forgiveness of sin is wonderful; to have made an end of sin is surpassingly wonderful. Such a man God can present as His finished product. Forgiveness is solely an act of God. Holiness is a product of God’s and man’s combined effort.


The High Priest


The high priest made a very thorough soul preparation before he dared present himself before God. He had to attain to a state of holiness in entering the most holy place; for without holiness no man shall see the Lord. See Hebrews 12:14. Priests, as forgiven men, might enter the first apartment; but only a holy man could enter the second. This is why the high priest had upon his miter a plate of gold inscribed, “Holiness to the Lord.” Exodus 28:36. This plate he must always bear. “It shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.” Verse 38. Even his garments had to be holy. Leviticus 16:4; Exodus 28:2.


This becomes of importance as we consider Paul’s invitation “to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” Hebrews 10:19. Only a holy man could enter then; only holy men can enter now. To go with Christ all the way, an expression we often hear, means to go with Him into the holiest of all; not merely into the first apartment, but in to the second.


The time has come to take this advance step. Throughout the ages men have preached the glorious message of forgiveness of sin, and millions have turned to God and been converted. That message is still to be preached, for we will always need the forgiving power of God; and it is not possible to enter the second apartment without going through the first. However, to God’s elect He sends a message to come with Him by the new and living way that He had prepared for us. Those who thus enter with Him, He will keep from falling, while those who refuse to go further, will sometime find their prayers to be useless. He, who depends on God’s promise of forgiveness and expects to sin and sin again, and keep on sinning and trusting to God’s forgiveness, is presuming on the mercy of God. Let him believe that the Christ who came to make an end of sin, will also give him power to go and sin no more.


We are ready to consider the statement quoted at the beginning of this chapter: “Like the Jews, who offered their useless sacrifices, they offer up their useless prayers at the apartment which Jesus has left.”


A little girl who had done something wrong was asked if she ought not to ask Jesus to forgive her. To this she gave an emphatic No! The perplexed parents asked if she had not done wrong, which she readily admitted. Why? She said simply that she did not want to ask Jesus to forgive her. She had not quite finished what she was doing. She wanted to do a little more first and then ask for forgiveness.


While we cannot recommend such a procedure, the philosophy in itself is not bad. She had the right idea that she ought to finish doing wrong before she asked for forgiveness. It is useless to ask God to forgive us for stealing, if we intend to keep on being dishonest. It is useless to ask God to forgive us for breaking the commandments if we intend to continue in violation. God wants to do more for us than forgive our transgressions. He is waiting for us to claim the power that will keep us from sinning.


With God in Our Prayer Life


For us to enter with Jesus in the holiest of all, does not mean that we are to enter a room; it means that we are to enter into an experience comparable to that of the high priest who was getting ready to meet his God. To pray to Christ in the first apartment; to pray for forgiveness, and then sin and sin again is displeasing to God.


We are to enter with Him in the holiest of all and there find the help we need for holy living. Forgiveness in itself is wonderful; sanctification is still more so. God wants us to go with Him all the way.


In the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, one prayer was effective and the other useless. The Pharisee began by saying, “God I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are.” Luke 18:11. He was not an extortioner; he was not unjust, not an adulterer, not even as bad as the publican. He was a good man. He fasted and paid title. The publican’s prayer was short, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He “went down to his house justified rather than the other.” Verse 13,14. The prayer of the Pharisee was unacceptable to God. It was grounded in pride and conscious superiority. Such prayers are in vain.


Once when Israel had sinned, “Joshua rent his clothes, fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads.” Joshua 7:6. Joshua prayed earnestly and got un unexpected answer. “Get thee up,” said God, “wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel had sinned.” Verses 10,11. As Joshua hesitated, came the one word, “Up.” Verse 13.


What was wrong? Was it not proper for Joshua to pray? God did not think so, not at that time. There was sin in the camp, and the first thing was to go vigorously to work and root out the sin. That was why God rather roughly told Joshua to get up and not lie there on his face praying and, when he didn’t move fast enough, gave that one-word command, “Up,” which doubtless was teaching Joshua that prayer is not a substitute for action. Joshua was praying, but his prayer was not approved. There was work to be done.




Hypocrisy is one of the subtlest of sins. Christ might spare a poor sinful woman and refuse to condemn her, but when he found that the Pharisees “devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers,” His wrath was aroused, and He did not spare. Mark 12:40. Their hypocrisy was their sin. He called them hypocrites, fools, blind, children of hell. Matthew 23:15,17. “These shall receive greater damnation.” Mark 12:40.  


Why such language and such denunciations? It was not because of their sins as such, serious though they were, and meriting the rebuke. It was their hypocrisy that stirred Christ’s soul. He declared to the Pharisees, “Ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” “Ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautify outward, but are within full of dead man’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Matthew 23: 27,28.


Never before has Christ spoken so harshly. These men used religion as a cloak to hide their wickedness, and dared address the most high God in prayer. That was blasphemy, and Christ’s whole being revolted against them. Their prayers were an insult to God. 


Christ’s reaction to the Pharisees measures His hatred of insincerity and pretense of any kind. Let all have in mind that the Pharisees were not the only ones guilty of this sin. Anything that savors of pretense, falsehood, lying, guile, fabrication, distortion, exaggeration, dissimulation, deceit, or misrepresentation is anathema with God.  The Lord wants His people to tell the truth, live the truth, believe the truth, and love the truth. In their mouth must be found no guile. Such people will do what they promise; the will be true to the truth though the heavens fall; they will be honest and fair; and their word will be sacred to them, the conscience void of offense. In addition, their prayers God will hear.


Memory Verse:


“And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the market places, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: thee shall receive greater damnation.  Mark 12: 38-40




1.   Do you personally know anyone who acts just like a modern day Pharisee? Explain. 




2.   Do you think it is possible to tell the truth all the time in every instance? Explain. 




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