A Place Set Apart
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The term “sanctuary” comes from the Hebrew “miqdash” and means “sacred place, sanctuary, holy place” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance H4720). It has the sense of being holy – something above the common or something consecrated. It is a term that is strongly associated with the word to sanctify which in its most basic sense simply means “to set apart.” So the sanctuary is a place that is set apart for a particular purpose and, in this case, for God’s specific purpose.

Image © Steve Creitz from GoodSalt.com

Image © Steve Creitz from GoodSalt.com

We set areas aside as safe havens for animals that we call sanctuaries, and we often consider a church, especially the main room, as a sanctuary that is set apart from the rest, a place of rest and protection from the stresses of the world, a place where we can learn heavenly things.

In the Bible we first encounter the word sanctuary in Ex 15:17 which is a part of the song of Moses,

“You will bring them in and plant them
In the mountain of Your inheritance,
In the place, O LORD, which You have made
For Your own dwelling,
The sanctuary, O Lord,
Which Your hands have established” (NKJV).

It is interesting that this is set in the context of a protective environment immediately following the crossing of the sea which freed the Israelites from slavery while destroying their enemies. It is a song of salvation and protection; and it is also the same theme that we find in the sanctuary.

As one looks at the sanctuary built by Moses it is obvious that it is not designed to physically protect those on the inside, since the courtyard is surrounded by a wall made of woven fabric which has no real strength to withstand physical assault. This, then, brings up a very important understanding of the sanctuary: Its real purpose is to teach spiritual things, and it was designed to be used as an object lesson.  Therefore, it involves a lot of symbolism. As the Sabbath lesson says, “God devised the earthly sanctuary, a pictorial representation of the plan of salvation” and that, “When God established the sanctuary on earth, He used it as a teaching tool.”

After Israel accepted the covenant at Sinai which included the Ten Commandments, God presented Moses with a pattern to use in constructing a sanctuary (Ex 25:40; 26:30). What that pattern was is to somewhat of a mystery. We do know that the earthly sanctuary was built as an image of the heavenly sanctuary (Heb 8:1-5), but we are never told the dimensions of the heavenly sanctuary. The idea of exact equivalence often breaks down in the details of ministry. For instance, the earthly sanctuary required a daily sacrifice, but concerning the real Lamb of God, Paul writes that “the death that He died, He died to sin once for all” (Rom. 6:10 NKJV). And in the heavenly sanctuary, the daily ministry actually overlaps the ministry of the Day of Atonement, unless one wishes to believe that since 1844 babies are judged at the time of birth. So the particular place where Jesus is at any one time within the sanctuary (holy place or most holy place) has no exact equivalence. Thus we may end up with serious theological problems if we only focus on spatial relationships within the heavenly sanctuary.

We understand that heaven is the capital of the universe, and we are told, “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at 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 erected, and not man” (Heb. 8:1-2 NKJV).

The Heavenly sanctuary is the reality after which Moses patterned the earthly sanctuary. It was a place set aside to demonstrate how God was going to deal with the sin problem.

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A Place Set Apart — 9 Comments

  1. Thank you for this, Tyler.

    Since the sanctuary seems to be exclusively concerned with the sin problem, some have concluded that there will be no more heavenly "sanctuary" when the sin problem is dealt with. Or perhaps there will be something as a reminder of what God did to rescue humanity from the evil of sin.

    The Bible tells us that there will be no "temple" or sanctuary in the New Jerusalem because God Himself will be there - both in the city and in the hearts of the people.

    Like(5)
    • Inge,
      Great thought. All of the New Jerusalem will be filled with His presence. Our entire lives will be lived in His presence. Doesn't this give us some idea that God wants us to live in His presence now, every minute, every moment of our lives? Isn't the Sabbath especially designed for us to live in His presence continuously? "Communion with God" every moment? Incredible.

      Like(1)
  2. Thank you Tyler & Inge,
    What a excellent introduction to our topic of the Sanctuary, it being a protective environment for us.
    The story of redemption will be the our study in eternity, so I am not concerned with spatial matters. But I am keenly anticipating real joy & worship as we learn more of the mind of God in His gift of love for us.

    Like(2)
  3. i looked at this article and got impressed much, and Ithink I must say a big and sincere thank you.
    But here comes a stir, given the components or rather constituents of the sanctuary,considering the 3 things in the ark, the shew bread, etc not forgetting thepriests and their duties, will it be appropiate to call structures that we set aside for worship SANCTUARY? I wanted to mean the church structures. Thanks

    Like(1)
    • Petro,
      "Set apart" is one of our human definitions of "holy". However it is impossible to use that definition in reference to God. Angels bow before our God and worship: "Holy! Holy! Holy is our God! Heaven and earth is ..". "Holy" captures the reverence due God in view of His character, His majesty, His awe." ("set apart" does not define God)
      The Sanctuary is "Holy" because it has been sanctified by the presence of a "Holy God". Remember God does not live in temples of wood and stone (structures); but He lives in the "Temple of the Holy Ghost". The presence of God comes to the structure, because His people have an appointment with Him there. (remember the presence of God coming down on the Sanctuary in the wilderness; and His presence on the Ark)
      The Sabbath is "holy" because it has been sanctified, blessed, and invested with peace in the presence of a Holy God.
      This is why EGW says the highest form of sabbath keeping is "communion with God"; and the highest level of education is "communion with God."
      Living in the presence of a Holy God.
      We become holy as Jesus Christ lives in us, through the presence of the Holy Spirit - now by faith. But at His coming, we shall be changed, being restored by His miracle into the holy children of a Holy God, through Christ given His mind, His character, His spirit. Blessed and sanctified forever by His presence.

      Like(1)
      • Hurford, I really appreciate the length you have gone to in explaining what Holy means. For the most part I think you are right but I would add that the Greek word for holy (hagios {hag'-ee-os}, strongs #40) means: 1) most holy thing, a saint; Origin: from hagos (an awful thing). "An awful thing" seems to be a good understanding considering the many times in the Bible people ended up face down in the dirt trembling in the presence of God or even a holy angel. It even happened with Christ in the garden of Gethsemane (Jn 18:6) when divinity flashed through the humanity of Jesus. Maybe we simply don’t have the right kind of view of God that we should have. It could be that we have become a little too free in our thinking of God and don’t worship and respect Him as we should.

        You also said:

        We become holy as Jesus Christ lives in us, through the presence of the Holy Spirit - now by faith. But at His coming, we shall be changed, being restored by His miracle into the holy children of a Holy God, through Christ given His mind, His character, His spirit. Blessed and sanctified forever by His presence.

        The text concerning our change is from 1 Corinthians:

        Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Cor 15:51-53 NKJV)

        The idea here is that with humans what decays and deteriorates in this life will remain in youthful vigor throughout eternity in Heaven and that we will not die there. That is what it means to be incorruptible and immortal. Our characters are not what changes. The character we develop here in this life is what the righteous take to Heaven. I think that is a rather sobering thought.

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  4. Hi Tyler,
    Thank you for clarifying some things about the sanctuary. But I am perplexed about your statement about the overlaping of the heavenly ministry with the Day of Atonement. Wasn't the Day of Atonement once a year in the earthly sanctuary? And this was when the Priest "atoned" for the sins of the people? Why was it only yearly? Didn't they sin every day and didn't they bring sacrifices more often than yearly? Does this mean Jesus is intercessing for us as an ongoing day of atonement? Is that what you mean? And how does judging babies come into it? Sorry about all the questions. I thought I understood about the sanctuary but feel I should have studied more before doing so!

    Like(2)
  5. Tyler, Thank you for wrestling with the concept of "sanctuary", as I believe all Christians ought to do, following the exhortation to spend a thoughtful hour each day reflecting on the life of Jesus Christ, especially the events of His death and resurrection.

    It is a challenge for us to grasp the meaning of "holy", since it is not in our experience, except through faith, which is "substance of what we hope for, and evidence of what we have not seen", or experienced. God communicates with humans in language and symbols that we on earth can relate to; and we understand and relate to Him based on what is meaningful in our own experience. Hence, to us, Jesus is the Door, the Lamb, the Feathers and Wings of a Mother Bird, the sheltering Rock and Fortress. Elijah ascended to Heaven in a "chariot of fire" before the days of the space shuttle; and the Holy Spirit is "Air", as Jesus Christ is "Water" and "Bread" and "King".

    A profound revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave to Peter, James and John, to help us understand the things of Heaven is the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on the Mount of Olives. In the presence of the three disciples, Jesus Christ took on Divinity and was clothed in the Light of Heaven; just as Moses and Elijah were clothed coming from the very presence of God. Stunned and knocked to the ground with the holy light of God, Peter recovers enough to respond to the beauty of Holiness and the glory of God surrounding Jesus Christ, Moses and Elijah: "Lord let build three tabernacles/tents; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."

    There is a good possibility that Peter's response was drawn from mental pictures of stories that told of the awe of God's presence on the Sanctuary in the wilderness. But why a "tent" for Moses, who just left mansions in glory? The distance between "chariots of fire" for Elijah, or a space shuttle of fire for Pastor Maurice, cannot capture the contrast between a tent for Jesus Christ on earth, versus the throne of The Creator God of the Universe. "Eye hath not seen, nor ears heard .... ". We can only define through human eyes what "holy" is; knowing that the Tabernacle of curtains cannot envision what God's holiness really is, and is not.

    Our Lord gave us a tent "Sanctuary", with carvings and furniture, and the awful duty to daily kill innocent lambs as a representation of our penitence in killing the Son of God for our pardon. Just as a piece of gold covered wood furniture cannot represent the throne of God, so the killing of a lamb cannot represent the Son of God dying as the totality of human sin. But the lamb is what we can relate to; and Jesus Christ remains for us the Lamb of God. However, the symbolic analogy of the "Sanctuary" terminates with the killing of the lamb; for the lamb that is offered as sacrifice has no resurrection. Sacrifice alone cannot save man (Hebrews 10). If there is no resurrection, then Christ died in vain, and we are of all men most miserable (1 Corinthians 15). There is no human model for resurrection; and none is offered in the "Sanctuary" type; but resurrection is imperative. The closest we come to it is what Jesus Himself offered: A seed dies, before it can produce new life.

    The symbolism of the Sanctuary is all about Jesus Christ, for He is:
    The Bread - JESUS THE BREAD OF LIFE. The Altar - JESUS.
    The High Priest - JESUS NEW BETTER DIVINE HIGH PRIEST. The Priest - JESUS.
    The Veil - BODY OF JESUS. The Mercy Seat - JESUS CREATOR REDEEMER.
    The Blood - JESUS. The Day of Atonement - JESUS ADVOCATE ATONEMENT. Incense/Prayers - JESUS. The Candlestick - JESUS LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
    Add: JESUS, THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.

    I believe there are times when we truly know we are surrounded by the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. Those times we get a minute glimpse of "Holy". More profoundly, Isaiah met "Holy", and entered into the deepest soul revelation, repentance, acknowledgement of God and transformation, to become like the "I AM". Moses met "Holy", and was translated. The disciples met "Holy" after the resurrection and worshiped. You and I now receive "holy" by faith, as "evidence" of what is to come. We will Worship Him Who Truly is Holy, face to face.

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  6. The sanctuary message is all about the salvation Jesus gives to His people. it is imperative that all understand the ministry of Jesus for their own salvation

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