The Sanctuary As a Model
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Sometimes we get confused about the sanctuary as described in Scripture. Is the earthly sanctuary of Old Testament times an exact replica of the heavenly sanctuary? If so, why? Do God and the angels need a visual representation of God’s holiness when they have the very presence of God Himself with them?

Certainly the items and the ritual of sacrifices in the temple courtyard do not exist in the heavenly sanctuary. The ultimate sacrifice, Christ’s death, has already happened, as prophesied. All creation knows about that event. Can you imagine God slaying a heavenly animal and shedding its blood to represent the crucifixion of Christ? I certainly can’t.

I like the explanation I first heard when I was teaching at a school in Africa as an American missionary. A charismatic Catholic priest lived not far from the school, and one of the theology teachers at our ministerial seminar, who happened to be from Australia, became a friend of this priest and began meeting with him every week, explaining the sanctuary to him. I came along to listen.

The Old Testament sanctuary, the Australian minister explained, was a sandbox in the desert, a vivid display and acting out of the components of the plan of salvation. Every detail of the sanctuary and the sanctuary service was an illustration of an aspect of Jesus’ ministry to us as His people and His dealings with sin.

Many people, he continued, assume that the heavenly sanctuary is a copy of the earthly sanctuary, but the opposite is true. And by “copy” we are not referring to the same object or action, but a feeble though inspiring version of it. In heaven there are no copies, only the original.

I’ve thought a lot about that during the past thirty years. God didn’t “need” a sanctuary so He could sleep with His children. God didn’t get “tired” after working all day with people and “needed” a place to go to be by Himself. He ordered the temple built, the one the priests carried on their shoulders through the desert as well as Solomon’s glorious tabernacle, for the benefit of His people. He knew the weakness of this tempted and distraught family of His, and He took every possible step to assure them that no matter what, He was with them. That’s the way God is.

The sanctuary points to the sacrifice of Jesus and the obliteration of sin at the end of time. What a glorious picture that is. Today we serve the same God who took great pains to help the Israelites understand His love for them and His willingness to forgive them. We have all sixty-six books of Scripture to study what God has revealed about His will for us. That is far more than was revealed through the sanctuary service, but we need more because we are near the end of time as we know it.

I think it’s good to review the story of the wilderness sanctuary from time to time and recall the specific ways that God reaches out to heal us from sin. But today we have another task: to proclaim the soon coming of the Lord Jesus to take over the reign of His kingdom. We do that by absorbing His will for us by spending time in prayer and study. We do that by “living for Jesus in all that we do,” by overcoming sin by the grace of God, by showing others what God’s love can do for us.

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The Sanctuary As a Model — 10 Comments

  1. The most profound point in this post is that "In heaven there are no copies, only the original." I look forward to the day when I will be able to behold the vast beauty of the heavenly creatures God has made! His sanctuary has given us hope for all eternity.

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  2. I am currently studying this wonderful topic. It has enhanced my own understanding of holiness, Jesus' role in my salvation and God's love in providing a picture of salvation that those living before Christ could understand.

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  3. “In heaven there are no copies, only the original.”
    That is very true.
    However, the question as to whether there is a real sanctuary in heaven hasn't really been answered. What is the original?

    Is there actually a PLACE set apart in heaven where Jesus officiates as our High Priest?

    I know some say all of heaven is God's sanctuary. But is that somehow destroying the reality that indeed God has a sanctuary IN heaven.

    Notice these verses:
    Rev. 11:19 "And the temple of God was opened in heaven,"
    Notice the temple is IN heaven.
    "there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament"
    The ark of the covenant is IN the temple which is IN heaven.

    Rev. 14:17 "And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven,"
    So there is a temple IN heaven which angels can enter and come out of.

    Rev. 15:5 And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:
    15:6 And the seven angels came out of the temple,

    So there is a real temple IN heaven which serves to deal with the sin problem. It is where our High Priest officiates on our behalf.
    The outer court, I believe is not part of it -- for the one and all sufficient sacrifice was made on this earth.

    When the New Jerusalem descends, scripture says there will be no temple in it. We wonder why?
    Because the sin problem has been dealt with, there is no more need.
    Yet, we find in EGW's writings that the temple is outside the city, apparently kept there as a reminder of the great salvation that brought redemption.

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    • Ulrike, I will agree with you that there is a sanctuary in Heaven, not because of what Revelation says but because of the testimony of Hebrews 8:5 in conjunction with Exodus 25:40. Furthermore, I won’t argue size, to me that is pointless. What is important is purpose.
      As far as using texts out of Revelation, be careful how you use them. You are trying to make something literal that is in a context that is symbolical in nature. For instance, if you are going to literalize Rev 14:17 then you should do it for the immediate context as well. That means that you need to explain how Angels use a “sharp sickle” to gather people, or should we say “clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe” (Rev 14:18 NKJ) and don’t forget the winepress that God has.
      Rev 15:5 is no better. I really didn’t know that God’s wrath is actually held in seven golden bowls (v 7), did you?

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      • For what it's worth, Tyler, I might suggest that Revelation is essentially no different than any other book in the Bible -- that is, with respect to the principles of interpretation that must be used. You knew which ideas to pull out and mention as obviously symbolic. So then, those are the ideas which we must interpret symbolically. When we see something that we are better able to take literally, then we should do so. In the case of there being a temple in heaven, I see no problem with taking that literally, especially when EGW clearly encourages us to do so. I like your point about size. The earthly sanctuary was a model, but nothing has been revealed in regard to scale, so there is no need to imagine anything that would be at all confining. When you think about it, if the entire book of Revelation were symbolic, it would be impossible to interpret. Seeing that no Scripture is of any private interpretation, I don't think it would be God's way to leave us guessing like that.

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        • R. G., I will certainly agree with you that we should use the rules of interpretation for Revelation that we use for the rest of scripture. As for the texts that I used in the immediate context of Rev 14:17, they were examples used to illustrate what I was saying. I believe I made that clear when I said “For instance.”
          The point that I was trying to make (and probably failed at) was that we can’t just go in and slice and dice to suit our whims. That is something we don’t do with parables and I am suggesting that we shouldn’t do it in places where there are a lot of obvious symbolism. To do so can become rather dangerous spiritually.
          I am not arguing the reality of the heavenly sanctuary or of angels or Heaven or of John himself all of which Revelation speaks. I believe in all of those things because other scriptures support those doctrines and can stand independently without Revelation backing them up.
          It is just that I believe that the book of Hebrews establishes a more sound basis for our belief in a heavenly sanctuary that is not surrounded by a lot symbolic language and therefore is less prone to mishandling.

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  4. This comment is in response to a comment posted under "Thursday: The Rich and the Poor." In that comment Carol Christensen said, "did anyone notice the memory verse in Heb 12:2? 'is set down at the right hand of the throne of God'? What's with that? I thought Christ didn't enter the sanctuary where God's throne is until 1844."

    This is something that has been debated at length and very technically. To me the problem with our understanding is not in our belief that the judgment started in 1844 but in the way we view the sanctuary. When we think of it in terms of a literal building where Jesus walks from room to room then we open ourselves up to all kinds of problems with texts like Heb 12:2. To me Joyce has the right idea that the sanctuary is a model - it is something that is covered in metaphorical language and deeply symbolical. It is about ministry and how Christ was going to solve the sin problem.

    I don't really know how big the sanctuary in Heaven is and I don't think anyone else knows for sure either nor do I think it is important. To me it could be a relatively small model that existed before the one on earth was built. It was to be a teaching tool used to teach the entire universe, including us, the plan of salvation that God laid out before time began.

    The symbolism is simple; Jesus is the sanctuary (Jn 2:19-21), the high priest (Heb 8:1-2), the sacrificial lamb (Jn 1:29,36; Rev 5:12, etc.), the light in the holy place (Jn 8:12; Jn 1:4-5) along with the bread (Jn 6:35). He is the law encased under the mercy seat for it is a transcript of His character; in short, He is everything in the sanctuary and because His church is part of His body (1 Cor 12:12-27), the branches of His vine (Jn 15:5), and the stones of His temple (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-5) we also are part of that symbolism for we also "are the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14 NKJV) and bread through our witnessing and the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). That is why Paul could say that God, "made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:5-6 NKJV). Such things can only be said symbolically for we most assuredly are not there physically.

    There is a judgment going on and the Bible puts God's throne in the Holy of Holies where God meets His people above the mercy seat as He did with Moses (1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chron 13:6; Ps 80:1; Ps 99:1; Isa 37:16). That judgment which is the main one didn't commence until 1844 but it wasn't the only time that God judged. In Christ's time Jesus said that, "the ruler of this world is judged" (Jn. 16:11 NKJV). That basically happened in Heaven when Satan was kicked out. Then there was the judgment that took place at the time of Noah's flood and again at the tower of Babel. It is the same judgment that was proclaimed to John two thousand years ago, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot" (Rev. 17:1 NKJV) because God knows everything, "Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done" (Isa. 46:10 NKJV). So He knew the decisions people would make long before they were even created and because of that the judgment that starting in 1844 was to God only a formality that because of His love for His creatures He graciously allowed them to judge His judgment.

    Because of all of this, where Jesus went at His ascension and what took place is essentially immaterial. By faith Jesus sat down on His throne at the right hand of the Father in the Holy of Holies shortly after the ascension and we are there with Him. That is the dynamics of the hope and the faith in God's promises that we have. It is a matter of seeing the spiritual rather than the literal as Jesus said, "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life (Jn. 6:63 NKJV) for most of what the Bible says must be "spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14 NKJV).

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  5. When we became Adventists, we were taught that It did matter where Jesus went after His ascension. In fact, the whole Adventist theory is based on where Jesus went after His ascension; that the atonement was not complete at the cross and didn't resume until 1844 which began the "investigative judgement". Pretty important, I would say. Early Writings page 42 states,"I was shown that the door was opened in the Most Holy Place in the heavenly sanctuary where the ark is in which are contained the 10 commandments. This door was not opened until the mediation of Jesus was finished in the Holy Place of the sanctuary in 1844. Then Jesus rose up and shut the door of the Holy Place, and opened the door into the Most Holy and passed within the second veil where He now stands by the Ark."
    All that I can find in the Bible is that Jesus rose and sat down at the right hand of the Father. Right now, I have to go with what the Bible says. Carol C.

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    • As far as I am concerned Carol, you are right. What we must understand about inspiration and in particular what Ellen White said is that the Bible is a communication to fallen man and relates to him with that in mind. It is not a perfect communication in the language of Heaven, it is that of man and I believe that Ellen White was communicating the plan of salvation to people in a way that not only she understood but also those she was writing to. We do not explain complex things to toddlers with an adult level of understanding; we do it at their level. God is doing likewise with us and using things that we can accept, understand, and appreciate.

      Furthermore, I have met people that thought that the Bible was given to mystify us and that we can't understand much of what it says. Nonsense! God doesn't spin His wheels producing a document that can't be understood. Even the lowest and most uneducated people understood the bulk of what Jesus said except for the parables which He had to explain to His disciples. However, the Pharisees understood them well enough that they sought to destroy Him because of what He was saying.

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