Last week we studied God's temple in heaven. We learned about God's throne, His advisors and the control centre of the universe. This week we study copies. On the face of it, what we learned about last week seems nothing like what we will read about this week. Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and see why God had us create "copies" of the temple, His sanctuary in heaven, how many He made, and what all of this means!
Seventh-day Adventists understand there is a literal sanctuary in heaven. Hebrews 8:1-2. We tell people that the earthly sanctuary was just symbolic of the heavenly sanctuary. True, but here is the catch. While both the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries are literal sanctuaries, they are both symbolic. The earthly sanctuary points to the work Jesus is doing in the heavenly sanctuary, while the heavenly sanctuary points to the work that Jesus is doing, not in a building, but in our hearts!
“Heaven” on Earth
Commentary for the October 12, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” Hebrews 8:5, NIV
Joseph, a faithful servant of God, had been sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. What they had intended for evil, God intended for good.[i] Joseph was eventually the means of saving his entire family from a prolonged famine. His father, Jacob, and all who were with him, eventually moved to Egypt, and they settled there as honored guests. They enjoyed Joseph’s protection as a favored official who ruled over the nation on Pharaoh’s behalf. However, over the following 430 years,[ii] their situation deteriorated until they found themselves in abject slavery. During that time, not only had their status changed, but their relationship to God had also devolved.
Surrounded by idolatry and witnessing the apparent prosperity of the idolaters compared to their own sorry lot may have caused many to question the efficacy of their inherited faith. Nonetheless, the Bible witnesses to the faithfulness of a few. Most notably, the family of Moses still sought to follow God’s leading and to understand His will. This was apparently a powerful witness that Moses never forgot as he chose to identify with the oppressed Israelites rather than with the Egyptians, even though he had been raised in Pharaoh’s household.[iii] This Moses, God chose to call at the burning bush[iv] to free the Israelites and fan the barely burning ember of their faith back to a flame. Later, God also provided through Moses two tablets of laws and a sanctuary sacrificial system as teaching aids to help them grow in understanding their responsibilities to God and to one another. Unfortunately, they and we have failed to grasp the lessons, tending instead to bind heaven and God to human perspectives rather than informing our humanity from God’s perspective.
Perhaps this is what is happening with the writer of Hebrews.[v] Familiar with the wilderness tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple and its services, he proposes that this is what is in heaven. In spite of the fact that God told Moses that He was showing the leader of the Exodus a pattern to be copied[vi] and never said that what he was showing him existed in heaven, the author of Hebrews interprets the event in that manner.[vii] By doing so he imposes on heaven, the entire sacrificial system of the sanctuary. From such a perspective, heaven must be a very bloody place indeed. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of animals bled out their lives in the sanctuary as repetitive symbols of the death caused by sin. While these may have been symbolically pointing to an eventual death upon a rough, wooden cross outside of Jerusalem, one cannot help but wonder why so many thousands of innocent animals had to die over hundreds of years to make the point? Some may find the picture that accompanies this article repugnant, but imagine that same image hundreds of times a day.
Perhaps this was the purpose, to make sin offensive in the eyes of the people. If so, it failed miserably as the Israelites became so sinful that they did what none of the nations around them had done.[viii] Instead of learning such a lesson, they turned from it and found the gods of the nations around them more accommodating to their desires. Yet, they were not less bloody in doing so as they replaced the bloody sacrifices of animals in the sanctuary with the sacrifice of their own children, burning them in the fires of the idols.[ix] This was how poor the spiritual understanding of the Israelites was. Not until the Babylonian captivity was the desire for idols extinguished among the faithful. Even then, only a remnant chose to reject the idols of Babylon and return to Israel,[x] but they were more faithful than those who had come out of Egypt. As a result their bodies did not litter the road back to Israel as their ancestors’ had.
Apart from any symbolic significance of the sanctuary service to the apostate Hebrews, is it part of a larger picture that we are somehow missing because we want to impose our perspective on heaven rather than the other way around? In order to find out, we may need to abandon the perspective of the immature faith of these struggling Israelites and see if we can discover a more mature understanding to inform our perspective. Perhaps we can set aside other “childish” perspectives as well in order to do so.[xi]
If we look at the Bible, all sixty-six books, as a whole, we can perhaps discern a continuous timeline from Eden lost to Eden restored. The first Eden was created in the beginning. It is where God walked in the garden with mankind and conversed face to face with us. Eden is restored in the final chapters of Revelation. Once again God will be present with us in that Eden.[xii] Between the two Edens is a long tale of woe. Like some Dickensian novel, all seems darkness and misery with only random flashes of light until the denouement. It seems somewhat mindboggling then that anyone would want to take the form of worship, with all its blood and burning of animal flesh, used during the darkest period and use that as a model for heaven.
If we look at the Bible record we can see a progression of worship forms as we move from a lost paradise to a restored one. As I have already shared, we initially walked together with God in the garden and spoke with him face to face.[xiii] Even after Eden this may have continued for generations.[xiv] After the flood, we begin to see a transition to a form of worship involving offering sacrifice to God on the high places of the earth. When the Ark came to rest on the Mountains of Ararat and everyone exited the ship, Noah offered sacrifice on that high place.[xv] Perhaps another example that illustrates the association in peoples’ minds and the idea of heaven being accessible from a higher place can be seen in the story of the construction of the Tower of Babel.[xvi]
We should note that Noah’s offering of sacrifice on the Mountains of Ararat, although pleasing to God per the text, was not ordered by God but rather was a spontaneous response by Noah. Perhaps this was conditioned by an ongoing tradition of sacrifices from the time of Abel. In any event, Noah’s is the first example of sacrifice being offered in a “high place.” As worship transitioned to the wilderness tabernacle and then to the temple in Jerusalem, many people had difficulty transitioning from one form of worship to the other.[xvii] Perhaps they questioned why anyone could once build an altar under the panoply of heaven and worship God directly, but now God is hidden away in a building and only certain individuals can approach Him?
Changing worship styles can cause contention, as we have seen even in our day with churches splitting over things like music or order of worship. Perhaps we need to avoid becoming too heavily invested in a limited perspective regarding how we approach God in worship. Those who did so with the temple were extremely offended at some of Jesus’ remarks regarding the temple. They could only understand His words from the limited, set-in-concrete perspective they had.[xviii] Jesus’ words to the woman at the well would seem to indicate that He was announcing a transition in worship to come that would supersede both worship in the high places and the worship in the temple as well.[xix]
Just as with the high places, though, we are having trouble making the transition. We continue to associate the presence of God with buildings. The Jews have done it with their synagogues. We have continued the form with our churches. We even go so far as to call our churches or at least a portion of them “sanctuaries.” This harks back to when mankind first started worshipping God in a structure during the Exodus.
Our desire to continue making this the model of our worship overlooks the tearing of the temple curtain in two at the death of Christ.[xx] Should we view this as symbolic of the partition between God and His people being removed? Has Christ’s death restored the relationship with God that existed once before when He communicated directly with each of us? That seems to be a message repeated not once but three times in the Bible.[xxi] But what implication does that have for our understanding regarding the sanctuary and heaven? Perhaps we will discover more as we progress with our study in future commentaries.
[i] Genesis 50:20
[ii] Exodus 12:40
[iii] Hebrews 11:24-25
[iv] Exodus 3
[v] Hebrews 8:5
[vi] Exodus 25:40
[vii] Hebrews 8:5
[viii] Jeremiah 2:11
[ix] Jeremiah 7:31
[x] Ezra 2:64-67
[xi] 1 Corinthians 13:11
[xii] Revelation 21:3
[xiii] Genesis 3:8-9
[xiv] Genesis 5:24
[xv] Genesis 8
[xvi] Genesis 11:1-9
[xvii] 2 Chronicles 33:17
[xviii] Mark 15:29-30
[xix] John 4:21-24
[xx] Mark 15:38
[xxi] Jeremiah 31:33-34; cf. Hebrews 8:10-11 & Hebrews 10:16
"Heaven on Earth"
October 12, 2013
Genesis 1:31-2:3; Exodus 39:32 and 43; Exodus 25:9; Hebrews 8:5; John 2:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; Revelation 21:1-22
It is not hard to imagine why God chose the first sanctuary on earth to be a garden where Adam and Eve could commune and worship with Him. Even today in a garden there is a sense of the Divine.
Sin interrupted the original plan making it necessary for God to give specific instructions and exact dimensions to Moses for how to construct another holy place to dwell among God's children, the Israelites. He said to Moses, "Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them"1
Patterned after the Sanctuary in Heaven, the copy often referred to as a shadow or antitype of the original, was to be transportable so it could be carried place-to-place throughout their wilderness experience. The plan was for the Israelites to have a place to deal with their sin-problems as well as a place to bring offerings for Sabbaths, new moons, and special feasts.
Clayton Leinneweber, a sophomore and junior Bible teacher at Oklahoma Academy has, with his students, built a life-size replica of the Mosaic Sanctuary. Everything is to scale and is moved around North America to help those who take the tour better understand the plan of salvation being worked out in the heavenly sanctuary. Perhaps you have had the privilege of touring the "Messiah's Mansion" exhibit. Messiah's Mansion is all about Jesus!2
Tours of each section of the model are given to groups in 15-minute segments. The tour guides are high-school and college-age youth who have a passion for doing God's work. Their knowledge of Scripture is awe-inspiring to observe. As each group enters the courtyard they are told the significance of the pillars and symbolic colors of the cloth that surrounds the outer court.
Once they enter the outer court the purpose the significance of every item and ceremony in the outer court is explained. The group then moves to the holy place which houses the table of showbread on which twelve cakes are arranged in two piles, the seven-branched candlestick, and the golden alter of incense. Next the tour moves to the other side of the inner veil to the most holy place which houses the mercy seat with two golden cherubims on top of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark contains the Ten Commandments, Aaron's flowering rod and a bowl of manna.
The tour ends with an explanation of the appointments on the garment of the high priest and his role in the day-to-day services. The climax comes when every member of the group is challenged to see the plan of salvation in a new light and to realize that after Jesus' death the significance of the earthly sanctuary ended. Our High Priest is now in Heaven atoning for our sins while at the same time Jesus seeks to dwell among us.
Where is your "sanctuary," your "heaven" on earth-the place where in solitude you feel you have the best communion time with God?
1. Exodus 25:8
2. Messiah Mansion
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