With the Bible, prayer, and the Holy Spirit available to us, what value is there in taking up the topic of a religious service that most of Christianity has long abandoned? What can we gain from a study of the sanctuary service? Many people see no relevance in its study, no need to understand the symbolism, no benefit for our modern society to dwell on the sacrificial system, established during the Hebrews’ flight from slavery in Egypt. (Actually, sacrifices existed from the time of Adam and Eve–Abel lost his life over his sacrifice–and of course, Abraham set up an altar of sacrifice wherever he pitched his tent.)
It was indeed a teaching tool for the children of Israel though, but upon closer study we find unveiled the whole plan of salvation and the grandest illustration of the character of God anywhere in the Bible prior to Calvary. What the cross was to New Testament believers, the sanctuary was to the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets.
How can we dismiss such an important part of Scripture? Surely, we are meant to benefit from the spiritual lessons brought out in the sanctuary service. A quick look at the first few chapters of Revelation should alert us to the need to understand more fully the many symbols that point directly to the earthly sanctuary.
Memory Text: “Then hear thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven thy dwellingplace, and maintain their cause.” I Kings 8:49 KJV
The innocent question of a child, “Where does God live?”, is enough to make any adult nervous. What do you say that will not be confusing or result in a flurry of other difficult-to-answer questions about God? The fact is that although God is everywhere, He also has a dwellingplace, which as the memory text and many other verses scattered throughout the Bible point out, is heaven. (See also Psalms 102:19.)
There are five reasons for the existence of this special heavenly home for God, referred to as the heavenly sanctuary in many places in the book of Hebrews. “…the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” Hebrews 8:2 KJV
It serves as:
- God’s residence or temple (Jesus is preparing rooms for us there–John 14:1-3).
- the place where God rules from His throne (the command center of the universe).
- the place of heavenly worship (by a congregation and choir of angels).
- the heavenly courtroom (where justice is conducted).
- the place where sin is dealt with (Jesus, our High Priest, mediates there).
Sunday: God’s Residence
David attests to the fact that God is not just everywhere, but very close to us here on earth. “You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off.” Psalm 139:2 NKJV We also find in Acts 17:28, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being…” KJV
God must dwell in heaven in a special way then as well. Perhaps it’s best to think of heaven as the most glorious manifestation of God’s presence.
Discussion Question: If God is spirit (John 4:24) and no structure or dwelling can contain Him (I Kings 8:27), then how can we envision Him in a real place called heaven?
Monday: Throne Room
Many verses in the Bible proclaim God as King. He is not only King of the universe, but let’s not forget He’s also “King of all the earth” (Psalm 47:7)
“The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.” Psalm 103:19 KJV
Solomon, King David’s son, built a “Hall of Judgment”, along with his personal residence, where he presided over the affairs of the kingdom. (I Kings 7)
Discussion Question: What kind of administrative tasks would you think might be conducted in the heavenly throne room before and after sin came into the universe?
Tuesday: Worship in Heaven
The visions in the throne room in Revelation 4 and 5 seems to point to a heavenly sanctuary setting. The door that was opened in heaven (Revelation 4:1) can also be translated “gate”. “Door” and “gate” are also used interchangeably in reference to the entrance of the earthly sanctuary. The stones mentioned in v. 3 (jasper, sardis, and emerald) were the stones on the breastplate of the earthly high priest. Seven lampstands remind us of the seven lampstands in Solomon’s temple. And the twenty-four elders may refer to the twenty-four divisions of service for the temple priests throughout the year.
All of these prophetic verses point back to the Old Testament worship service. In heaven, however, Jesus is not only the High Priest, but also the Sacrifice. How thrilling to think of the worship that must go on in that heavenly sanctuary above.
Discussion Question: In what way is the plan of salvation especially revealed in the worship service in God’s heavenly temple?
We tend to ignore courtrooms as much as possible in this life. Staying out of them is a goal to be desired. No one wants to “face the judge”. After all, courts are mostly set up to punish criminals, aren’t they?
Actually, courtrooms and judges are as much about the victims of crime, as they are about the lawbreakers themselves. If you or a family member has been seriously wronged, you will be in that courtroom, praying for justice to be served. A good judge is as interested in seeing that justice is served to the victim, as to the accused.
And that is God’s ultimate desire in serving as Judge. He is a Judge for the righteous and the wicked. We can trust His decisions. There will be no mistrials in the courts of heaven.
“But the Lord shall endure forever; He has prepared His throne for judgment. He shall judge the world in righteousness, And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness.” Psalm 9:7-8 NKJV
Discussion Question: We often don’t see justice in our world today. Why must we trust in God’s justice? And why do we have to wait for it?
Thursday: Place of Salvation
If any wonder what Jesus is doing at the throne of God, where we know He went after His crucifixion, we can find the answer in Hebrews 8:1-2. “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.”
Besides Hebrews, the book of Revelation in the New Testament is full of sanctuary imagery. The throne, the trumpets, lampstands, slain Lamb, blood, and the golden bowls of incense were all part of the earthly sacrificial service. Revelation 11:19 brings us right into the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant is seen in heaven.
Perhaps ignoring the themes and symbols taught in the sanctuary has led to the many diverse interpretations of John’s visions in Revelation. Seventh-day Adventist pioneers were most aware of this trend and early on have made the sanctuary a careful and prayerful focus of study.
Summary: Here’s what Uriah Smith had to say on the subject in “Reflections on the Sanctuary”, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 25, 1858:
“The Sanctuary! Momentous subject! Grand nucleus around which cluster the glorious constellations of present truth! How it opens our understanding to the plan of salvation! How it lifts the vail [sic] from the position of our Lord in heaven! What a halo of glory it throws upon his ministry! What a divine harmony it establishes in the word of God! What a flood of light it pours upon past fulfillment of prophecy! How it fortifies the mighty truths of these last days! What a glory it sheds upon the future! With what hope and joy and consolation it fills the heart of the believer! Glorious subject! Its importance can neither be overdrawn nor overestimated.”
Can we be less enthusiastic about our study this quarter?!