Exodus 25:8 (KJV)
And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.
In our world today, each is seeking some good place to lay His head after a long busy 21st Century Day. The need is so dire and evident that affordable housing is one of the big four presidential agendas from the country where I come from. Today I would like to turn your mind from your bungalow or mansion or caravan or even your traditional hut, whichever building you so adore, to a more magnificent building whose builder and maker is the Great Monarch of the Universe, the Almighty God. A building that for at least 6000 years has housed the plan of salvation (a plan “laid too deep” to be broken up by the evil one) and which is our privilege today to study.
What is the Sanctuary?
“The question, What is the sanctuary? “is clearly answered in the Scriptures. The term “sanctuary,” as used in the Bible, refers, first, to the tabernacle built by Moses, as a pattern of heavenly things; and, secondly, to the “true tabernacle” in heaven, to which the earthly sanctuary pointed.” – (Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, 417.1)
Why a Sanctuary?
Pain, suffering, and death are no new news to any mortal; we know it too well, including Bible-believing Christians, even atheists. The former, unlike the latter, has a reason for the existence of all these.
God made man a being with freedom of choice. This came with risks, though, because if a man chose to, he could go against God’s commands and such was evident when the tempter managed to deceive Eve and through her, Adam. With the possibility of such an occurrence, God had already made a provision in case man sinned (Titus 1:2), a provision outlined in what we Christians call “The Plan of Salvation.”
This plan was revealed to Adam and His sons (Gen. 3:21, 4:4)
“The sacrificial system, committed to Adam, was also perverted by his descendants. Superstition, idolatry, cruelty, and licentiousness corrupted the simple and significant service that God had appointed. Through long intercourse with idolaters the people of Israel had mingled many heathen customs with their worship; therefore, the Lord gave them at Sinai definite instruction concerning the sacrificial service. After the completion of the tabernacle He communicated with Moses from the cloud of glory above the mercy seat, and gave him full directions concerning the system of offerings and the forms of worship to be maintained in the sanctuary.” – (Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 364.3)
With the perversion of the sacrificial system committed to Adam that pointed to the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, God revealed to the Israelites the plan of salvation through the Sanctuary and its services, all pointing to the Savior to come, of which was a pattern of the Heavenly Sanctuary (Exodus 25:40). Services which later came to be perverted for when came the one to whom they pointed to, they knew Him not (John 1:14, 11). O the exceeding sinfulness of Sin!
This temple was designed to host God’s presence and reveal His plan of salvation through a three-dimensional panorama. You see, the wilderness sanctuary and the other Hebrew temples that followed show the Lord’s desire to remove the barrier between God and humanity caused by sin (Isaiah 59:2) so that He might once again draw close to us. Such is the ultimate purpose of the plan of salvation (Gen. 3:8, Rev. 21:3).
A Divine Design
Let’s take some time to analyze the sanctuary: its apartments, furnishings, and Services.
The Court and Its Furnishings
The sacred tent was enclosed in an open space called the court, which was surrounded by hangings, or screens, of fine linen, suspended from pillars of brass. The entrance to this enclosure was at the eastern end. It was closed by curtains of costly material and beautiful artistry, though inferior to the sanctuary’s. The hangings of the court being only about half as high as the walls of the tabernacle, the building could be seen by the people without.
In the court, and nearest the entrance, stood the brazen altar of burnt offering. Upon this altar were consumed all the sacrifices made by fire unto the Lord, and its horns were sprinkled with the atoning blood.
This altar represents the cross of Christ. The animal represents Jesus, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Between the altar and the door of the tabernacle was the laver, which was also of brass …At the laver, the priests washed their hands and feet whenever they went into the sacred apartments or approached the altar to offer a burnt offering unto the Lord.
Washing at the laver symbolized the inner cleansing of the priests’ hearts before approaching God. The same concept is acted out through the Christian ritual of baptism when a believer is immersed in water: The new Christian symbolically dies to their old way of life and is raised to a new walk with Jesus. (Romans 6:4)
Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 347
The Holy Place and its Furnishings
The first apartment or holy place was the table of showbread, the candlestick, or lampstand, and the altar of incense.
The table of showbread stood on the north. With its ornamental crown, it was overlaid with pure gold. The priests were each Sabbath to place twelve cakes on this table, arranged in two piles and sprinkled with frankincense.
The bread symbolizes God’s Word, the Bible. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness to turn stones into bread, Christ responded, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The Bible is God’s written Word, and through it, we are spiritually sustained. Just as the priests ate the showbread in the sanctuary, the Christian needs to partake of heavenly truth through the study of God’s Word. Just as we regularly need to partake of sustenance for life, we daily eat of God’s Word of life. “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).
On the south was the seven-branched candlestick, with its seven lamps. Its branches were ornamented with exquisitely wrought flowers and were made from gold. The lamps were never extinguished at one time but shed their light by day and night in the enclosed room (Exod. 27:20).
Primarily, the lampstand represents Christ, who said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Secondarily, the lampstand represents God’s people, who were to reflect the light of Jesus to the world. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” (Mathew 5:14, 16); the oil that lit the lamp represents the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:1–6; Revelation 4:5, 1 Samuel 16:13).
Just before the veil separating the holy place from the most holy stood the golden altar of incense. Upon this altar, the priest was to burn incense every morning and evening; its horns were touched with the blood of the sin offering, and it was sprinkled with blood upon the great Day of Atonement. The fire upon this altar was kindled by God Himself and was sacredly cherished. Day and night, the holy incense diffused its fragrance throughout the sacred apartments, and without, far around the tabernacle.
The “perpetual incense” was a reminder of how we should come before the Lord daily in prayer, offering our petitions before His throne (Hebrews 4:16). The incense, ascending with the prayers of God’s people, represents the merits and intercession of Christ, His perfect righteousness, which through faith is imputed to His people and can alone make the worship of sinful beings acceptable to God.
Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 348
The Most Holy Place and its Furnishings
This apartment was the primary place the presence of God appeared. The Most Holy Place was a square room approximately 18 feet in height, depth, and width. It was entered into only once a year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement.
Only one piece of furniture was found in the Most Holy Place: the Ark of the Covenant. This chest was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold inside and out. A solid gold lid was made for the top and was called the mercy seat. Mounted on each side of the chest were figures of two golden angels, winged cherubim looking down toward the mercy seat, above which the presence of God appeared, the Shekinah, and where God spoke to the high priest. These represented two actual angels stationed beside the throne of God in heaven (Psalm 80:1, 2 Kings 19:15, Isaiah 6:1, 2) and the reverence with which the heavenly host regards the law of God and their interest in the plan of redemption. Inside the ark was placed a great treasure, the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, written by the finger of God.
Between the presence of God and the law of God, as we have seen, was the mercy seat, a bridge of grace that connected humanity with divinity – Jesus. Through Jesus’ dying in our place, the just requirements of the law were satisfied, enabling humanity to be reunited with God. In Christ’s loving sacrifice, God’s unchangeable law and compassionate grace were brought together. “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psalm 85:10).
The Daily and Yearly Services in the Sanctuary
The ministration of the sanctuary consisted of two divisions, a daily and a yearly service.
The daily service was performed at the altar of burnt offering in the tabernacle court and the holy place. It consisted of the morning and evening burnt offerings, sweet incense on the golden altar, and unique offerings for individual sins. And there were also offerings for sabbaths, new moons, and special feasts.
The yearly service was in the most holy. No mortal eye but that of the high priest was to look upon the inner apartment of the sanctuary. Only once a year could the priest enter thereafter the most careful and solemn preparation. With trembling, he went in before God, and the people in reverent silence awaited his return, their hearts uplifted in earnest prayer for the divine blessing. Before the mercy seat, the high priest made the atonement for Israel; God met with him in the cloud of glory. His stay here beyond the accustomed time filled them with fear, lest because of their sins or his own he had been slain by the glory of the Lord.
Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings 352
It’s all about Jesus
Acts 4:12 (KJV)
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
“As Jesus died on Calvary, He cried, “It is finished,” and the veil of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom. This was to show that the services of the earthly sanctuary were forever finished, and that God would no more meet with the priests in their earthly temple to accept their sacrifices. The blood of Jesus was then shed, which was to be offered by Himself in the heavenly sanctuary.” – (Ellen G. White, Early Writings 253.1)
God vividly outlined Jesus’ work through the divine design of the earthly sanctuary, a model of the one in heaven. Through the sanctuary services, we can better understand Christ’s important lifesaving service.
As relayed in the sanctuary, the plan of Salvation is a call to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. He who is our Passover lamb, the living water, the bread of life, the light of the world, our righteousness, and our intercessor.
To lose sight of Jesus is to be engulfed in great darkness and to lose eternal life, for “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4).
Before the throne of God above
You have a strong and perfect Plea
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for you
Your name is graven on His hands
Your name is written on His heart
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue should bid you thence depart
When Satan tempts you to despair
And tells you of the guilt within
Upwards look and see Him there
Who made an end to all your sin
Because the sinless Savior died
Your sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon you
Behold Him there, the risen Lamb
Your perfect spotless Righteousness
The great unchangeable I Am
The King of glory and of grace
One with Himself, you cannot die
Your soul is purchased by His blood
Your life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ, your Savior and your God
With Christ, our Savior and our God