The Sanctuary As a Model

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 — 7 Comments

  1. this is a very good study for us, every time i read, i keep learning more and more about God and the plan of redemption.

    God bless you

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. “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.

    • 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?

      • 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.

        • 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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