The sanctuary message is a message that is dear to the heart and soul of God’s people. It is as vital to the Christian’s life as the air we breathe, and just as air is life to the physical body, so the sanctuary message is vital to our spiritual life. But it is not just a message, it is a call to action—a plea to live after the perfect example of Christ.
“Thy way, O God, [is] in the sanctuary: who [is so] great a God as [our] God?” Psalms 77:13. Very few words, yet so profound. We are told that the sanctuary was originally a tabernacle built by Moses after the pattern of the sanctuary in heaven. “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, [that] thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.” Hebrews 8:5. It was not just the physical nature of the sanctuary that was patterned after that of the heavenly, but also the services. “Thy way, O God, [is] in the sanctuary.” These words alone should state clearly how important it is that we have a clear understanding of the sanctuary. God’s way has been laid open for all to see as we take a walk through the earthly sanctuary.
Although not a complete list of all of the purposes of the sanctuary, four broad purposes can be identified. Through the representations of Christ in the sanctuary, the Israelites were to lay hold of the merits of the Savior to come. Secondly, the sanctuary was a physical confirmation that God was indeed with them. It was a place where He might dwell amongst His people. The sanctuary was also to show, not just the Israelites, but all generations of mankind, the plan of salvation. Although just a shadow, it provides all that needs to be known that we might be saved from a wretched world of sin. The message is presented to us in such a way that even children can comprehend the foundation on which it is built—love, obedience, and holiness. Fourthly, when we look at the sanctuary, we are also able to see the ministry of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary. Just as the high priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year to cleanse the sanctuary, Jesus is now in that Holy of Holies ministering as our high priest.
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6. Jesus is the only entrance into the sanctuary, and thus, into heaven. This is exemplified in the physical sanctuary. The only entrance into the tabernacle was the eastern gate. God and sin cannot coexist and because we all are sinners and have each fallen short of the glory of God, our only hope of eternal life with God the Father is through Jesus, our entrance.
It is only through Jesus that we can find forgiveness of our sins. This was expressed by John the Baptist the day Jesus came to be baptized by him. John 1:29 reads, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In the earthly sanctuary the sinner was to bring a lamb without blemish over which to confess his sins, sacrificing its life in atonement for transgression of the law. The blood of the slain lamb was the foreshadowing of Christ’s perfect sacrifice on Calvary.
The sanctuary message makes it perfectly clear that the life of a Christian is a life of sacrifice. “If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24. There were many types of offerings in the sanctuary, one of which was the burnt offering. In the burnt offering, not only was the sacrifice slain, but also dismembered and placed on the altar to be completely consumed by the flames. I Corinthians 15:31 says, “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” Though just a few words, but profound. Each day we are to die to self and surrender all to Christ as He surrendered all for us, for what servant should expect to be treated better than the Master?
This brings new meaning to God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The burnt offering in the sanctuary was a show of complete surrender to the will of God. Christ’s body was mutilated and hung on the cross for humanity. The torture that Christ endured prior to His death makes the Christian heart ache when struck by the reality of the cruelty. Words cannot express the affliction He endured as the cat of nine tails struck His body over and over again—an instrument of torture tearing at His flesh by the ends of each tail. Thirty nine lashes, not once, but twice. The crown of thorns pressed into His brow, the mockery, the nails, and the desertion; and all the while, Jesus, with just a word, could have put a stop to it all—but chose to endure. The very people that He was dying to save were His murderers. The inexplicable sacrifice of Christ for our salvation was a complete surrender to the will of the Father; a will which stemmed from an incomprehensible love for a vile, fallen race. Our Christian calling is portrayed in the sacrifice to Christ—to surrender our will completely to the Father. Our lives are not ours, but His—paid for through creation and redemption.
“The laver was placed between the altar and the congregation, that before they [the priests] came into the presence of God, in the sight of the congregation, they might wash their hands and their feet. … It was to show them that every particle of dust must be put away before they could go into the presence of God.” Gospel Workers, 162, 163. The “dust” to be put away was symbolic also of sin. The lesson taught by the washing in the laver is that Jesus provides the cleansing. Psalms 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” There is nothing good within us without the presence of Christ. He alone can mold us into His image. Genesis says that we were created in the image of God and this image was to be reflected in each member of God’s family. Since the sin of Adam and Eve, mankind has adapted the image of evil and only by inviting Jesus into our hearts every moment of every day to cleanse us from sin and self, can we display the character of Jesus.
As the lambs were slain every morning and evening, the blood from the lamb was taken to the inner veil of the temple and sprinkled before it. Through the presentation of the blood to the sanctuary, the people were showing their faith in Christ’s cleansing and transforming power. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the veil would be cleansed; not by the priest, not with anything made by man, but by the only One who has the power to cleanse us from our sins and transform our lives. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9. Jesus is the only Source of forgiveness and cleansing from a life of sin. We must believe completely in His goodness and mercy for there is no other way to be cleansed and transformed.
A breathtaking glow radiated throughout the tabernacle, the light reflecting gently off the pure gold that furnished God’s house. In the life of the Christian, Jesus is the light. He is the source of life, goodness, and love. It is the object of all who love and fear God to reflect His perfect light and holiness to others. But just as gold does not come to its purest form except through fire, so we do not become perfect in character except through the trials and tribulations that God allows in our lives to purge the impurities from us. Only then, can we truly reflect Christ. II Corinthians 7:1: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” We are to become perfect in holiness, so we can reflect Christ, the Holy One.
In the first apartment of the sanctuary was the table of showbread. Upon the table were twelve loaves of bread, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The bread was placed in two stacks of six. Now, two sixes, when placed side by side make sixty six—the number of books that make up the Bible. God’s word, the bread of life, should be consumed daily. It is our life sustenance, an anchor to hold us steady through the churning waters we call life. There is no other standard, by which we can judge our lives or characters than by God’s word.
The candlestick was made of solid gold. The seven lights were to remain lit day and night, year in and year out, never to flicker. This light represents the Holy Spirit. Maintaining the light of the lampstand required constant vigilance as does having the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Satan is imposing and forceful, but the Holy Spirit is gentle and respectful. We must constantly be battling the devil and inviting Christ. The good news is that, with our invitation, Christ helps us fight the enemy. He is our most powerful ally, if we but ask.
In the first apartment of the sanctuary was the table of incense before which the priest offered prayers on behalf of the children of Israel. The smoke rising to the heavens exemplified their prayers lifting up before the Saviour. Just as the smoke is mixed with the prayers of the priest, Jesus mixes our prayers with His righteousness before the Father. Communion with God is the key for a spiritual relationship. No relationship can be built and sustained without communication. A relationship with Jesus is no different. He wants to be our best friend. Never would we consider cutting off communication with someone who is dear to our hearts. Christ wants to be part of our lives. There is no matter too great or too small for His interest. He granted us the privilege of prayer so that we can speak with Him. Just like a human relationship is built with time and dedication, so a meaningful relationship with God is built through persistent communion.
In these ways, the Sanctuary not only teaches of a need to purify our lives, but also how we can accomplish this. When Jesus asks something of us, He never leaves us without a knowledge of how to achieve His will; nor does He leave us without a means by which to do so. He recognizes our human frailty and reaches out His hands to uphold us if only we reach back.
Ecclesiastes 12:13: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man.” We are told in the Bible that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It would stand to reason, then, that if He said that keeping His commandments “is the whole duty of man,” it is just as true now as it was then. It is stated so very clearly that there is no room for speculation and doubt. This exact principle is depicted when looking at the Sanctuary. The law was designated a place of prominence—the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies, a place entered only once a year by only one person. Had the high priest entered the Most Holy place with a sin in his heart, he would have instantly died from the Shekinah glory of God. It was a serious matter to have cherished sin and it is just as serious a matter today. God has not changed. Sin cannot exist in the presence of God. Our eternal life with Him depends on our cleansing through Christ who is now in the Holy of Holies ministering on our behalf.
There were three objects in the Ark of the Covenant. The manna which Israel was given during the forty year exile in the desert shows God’s provision for His people. It serves as a reminder that God is the ultimate provider. Even something as simple as the food we eat is given us by the Creator. We need not depend on money, food or water—but solely to trust in Christ and lean on Him to meet our needs.
Aaron’s staff, which bloomed, was also stored in the Ark of the Covenant. The story is familiar to most of us. Because of the disunity amongst the Israelites over the appointment of the priesthood, God caused one staff to bud signifying His choice for the priest. God is the authority in the church, not man. This is just as true today as it was then. His directions are still binding to all Christians. We need to first follow the law and the authority of God. Only where the will and law of man is in line with that of heaven are we bound to succeed.
The third object in the Ark of the Covenant was the tablets of stone on which were written the Ten Commandments. The writing of the laws in stone was not abstract; it was to signify the undying contract that was made between God and His people. Stone stands the test of time and so it is with the divine commandments. The law is based on the love of God—God is love, and He is unchanging, thus His law is unchanging. Although people are increasingly disregarding the law created for the protection of a most beloved race, God has not changed even one letter of the law. Indeed, we are told that it would be easier for the heavens and the earth to pass away than for even a part of a letter to be taken away from the law of God. The Ten Commandments were so important to God that He wrote them with His own finger, not entrusting the job to a mortal such that we would recognize the weight of His law—the only thing given to humanity that was written by God Himself. The fact that we are bound to this agreement is indisputable. It is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Another lesson to be learned through the sanctuary is order. I Corinthians 14:40 says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” During their sojourn in the wilderness, the twelve tribes of Israel pitched their tents in an orderly manner on the perimeter of the camp surrounding the sanctuary, which was always the centerpiece of the camp. Everything about the camp and the sanctuary was done in an orderly fashion. This is the way it is to be in our homes, our work places, and in our churches. God is a God of order and we, as His people, are to do all things “decently and in order” as taught through the sanctuary.
“All the pillars round about the court [shall be] filleted with silver; their hooks [shall be of] silver, and their sockets [of] brass.” Exodus 27:17. There are important lessons to be learned from the pillars that held up hangings that defined the perimeter of the courtyard. According to Exodus 24:4, Moses built an altar and set up twelve pillars, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. In Revelation 3:12, it says, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God.” As you can see, the pillars in both of these two texts represent God’s people. The pillars that surround the court are joined by the linen hangings, so the pillars, which represent God’s people, are joined to each other by Christ. What a beautiful picture of our relationship to each other as shown to us in the sanctuary.
Lastly mentioned here in the sanctuary service is the lesson of the judgment. Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest went into the holy of holies in the presence of the Shekinah glory of God. If the priest had not confessed and had his sins forgiven, he would die. We serve a Holy God, and no sin can withstand the presence of a Holy God. It was therefore critical that any sins be confessed and covered with the blood of the Lamb, Jesus. So, the sanctuary also teaches that every man will someday face his life record and just as the high priest had to be right before God, we also need to have our sins forgiven and covered with the blood of the Lamb, for God has “appointed a day in which He will judge the world.” (Acts 17:31.)
As we study the sanctuary, we see a beautiful representation of the plan of redemption. There are many lessons to be learned, and with each lesson comes a decision, to learn of and follow the Lord with our whole being. We can find You Lord as we study and act upon the lessons of the sanctuary for “Thy way, O God, [is] in the sanctuary.” Psalms 77:13.
Janet Headrick is office manager at Steps to Life. She can be contacted by email at: email@example.com or by phone at: 316-788-5559.