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Sanctuary of salvation

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Archives / 1983 / January

 

 

Sanctuary of salvation

Frank B. Holbrook
Frank B. Holbrook is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, Washington, D.C.

 

Men have created buildings for many purposes, and even God Himself once directed the erection of a very special building on earth. Nearly 3,500 years ago, during Israel's exodus from Egypt God said to Moses, ' 'Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them' (Ex. 25:8). At first Israel's desert sanctuary consisted of a carefully crafted tent. About 480 years later, Solomon replaced it with a permanent Temple erected in Jerusalem. Razed by the Babylonians in the 6th century B.C., the Temple was later rebuilt, under Zerubbabel's direction, by the exiles returning from captivity. In 20 B.C., Herod the Great began to remodel and embellish this second Temple, a task accomplished just a few years before its total destruction in A.D. 70 by the Romans.

The sanctuaries of Israel were unique among earthly edifices although built with similar materials. They were not built as residences for a priestly caste or for commerce and trade. They were not conceived to bring renown to their architects. Nor were they built to perpetuate the memory of some wealthy magnate. Israel's sanctuaries were sanctuaries of salvation. By means of these sacred structures and their accompanying rituals, the God of love, man's Creator, determined to disclose to sinners the good news of how He planned to lead them out of the darkness and despair of the human predicament. This fact is affirmed by the writer to the Hebrews: "For unto us [Christians] was the gospel preached, as well as unto them [the Israelites in the exodus]" (Heb. 4:2, emphasis added).

The sacrificial system with its ministering priesthood was "a figure (parabole, literally, "a parable") for the time present . . . until the time of reformation," that is, until the coming of Christ (Heb. 9:9, 10). Through symbol and ritual God purposed by means of this gospel-parable to focus the faith of Israel upon the sacrifice and priestly ministry of the world's Redeemer, the "Lamb of God" who would take away the sin of the world (Gal. 3:23; John 1:29), the "High Priest of our profession" (Heb. 3:1).

Vertical dimension

Israel was fully aware that its tabernacle sanctuary was a reflection of a higher reality, that is, the heavenly dwelling place of God. Moses was instructed to make the tabernacle and its furniture "after their pattern" (or model, Heb. tabnith) shown to him (Ex. 25:9, 40). Archeological researches in this century have shed new light on Near Eastern thought patterns concerning the heaven-earth relationship. The ancients conceived an analogical relationship between the two spheres. Thus many scholars would agree that Israel viewed its earthly sanctuary as a counterpart of the heavenly dwelling of the Deity.

Both in the Old and New Testaments this vertical linkage is understood and affirmed (cf. Deut. 26:1-5, 15; 1 Kings 8:13, 30, 39, 43, 49). The writer to the Hebrews describes Israel's sanctuary as "the copies of the heavenly things," and "a copy of the true one" (Heb. 9:23, 24, R.S.V.).* He asserts that the relation ship between the two is that of copy to original, of shadow to substance. The priests of the earthly sanctuary served as "a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary" (Heb. 8:5, R.S.V.).

Parables are generally defined as short stories told to illustrate a truth, usually one major point. Details are not intended to be interpreted; they function simply to round out the account. In like manner the parable of sanctuary ceremonies and rites has certain main thrusts. In this article we will review briefly three important elements in the plan of salvation, which the ancient service illustrated and foreshadowed in ritual types: (1) substitutionary sacrifice, (2) priestly mediation, and (3) final judgment. The sanctuary parable may be compared to a spiritual grid upon which we may see registered, in an illustrated manner, the basic acts performed by the Deity to meet and to resolve the sin problem.

Atonement by blood

One thing that strikes a modern reader as strange is the Old Testament's heavy emphasis upon sacrificial blood. In addition to the public morning and evening ritual that kept a sacrifice burning around the clock on the altar in the court (Ex. 29:38-42; Lev. 6:9, 12, 13), there were various sacrifices representing different emphases in the Israelite's approach to God, such as worship, confession of sin, dedication, and expressions of thanksgiving. But, all had one thing in common—the shedding of blood.

What did shed blood signify? God explained the matter to Israel: "The life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. . . . For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof (Lev. 17:11, 14, emphasis supplied). Obviously, the blood of the sacrifice symbolized its life. Shed blood simply meant a life given—a life laid down. Since the blood of the sacrificial animal was shed and mediated by the priest in behalf of the worshiper, it is clear that God intended to foreshadow the substitutionary atoning death of the coming Redeemer. As the writer to the Hebrews affirms: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22, R.S.V.).

Thus the sacrificial altar illustrates several important truths. (1) in every dying victim was seen the judgment of God on sin. A holy God cannot take transgression lightly, for sin is a deepseated rebellion against all that is good, noble, and true. It must be eradicated if there is to be harmony in the universe. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). (2) In every dying victim was fore shadowed Calvary's great Substitute. "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3). (3) In every dying victim was foreshadowed the great truth that it is God, and not man, who provides the atoning sacrifice. "God put [Christ Jesus] forward as an expiation by his blood" (Rom. 3:25, R.S.V.). (4) In every dying victim was also illustrated the truth that forgiveness, and the reconciliation with God that results, could be received by faith alone (cf. Rom. 4:6-8; Heb. 9:15).

The sacrifices of the sanctuary system were repetitive. Like a story, this ritual parable of redemption was "told and retold" year after year. By contrast, the antitype—the actual atoning death of our Lord—took place at Calvary once for all time (Heb. 9:25-28). On the cross the penalty for human sin was fully paid. Divine justice was satisfied. From a legal perspective the world was restored to favor with God (Rom. 5:18). Therefore, we can speak of the atonement or reconciliation being completed on the cross as foreshadowed by the ancient sacrifices. The penitent believer trusts in our Lord's finished work.

Atonement by mediation

In patriarchal worship the symbolism centered on the sacrifice. In the Israelite sanctuary the emphasis was extended to the priesthood and its handling of the sacrificial blood. Why this enlarged emphasis? Why the necessity for a priest if sin was completely atoned for in the sacrifice? What insight into the plan of salvation was God desiring to clarify?

In the religion of both patriarch and Israelite the shedding of blood symbolized a life given, a life laid down in behalf of another. The blood "spoke" of expiation and forgiveness. But another aspect in the process of reconciliation was accentuated in the office of the priest: the need for mediation between God and man. The ministry of a priesthood stresses the seriousness of sin, the sharp cleavage it has made between heaven and humanity, and the ugliness of the estrangement between the holy Creator and the sinful creature.

Although the sanctuary was located in the midst of Israel, its arrangement excluded even the most spiritual Israelite from a direct approach into God's presence. A penitent sinner might bring his sacrifice and slay it, but he could receive no forgiveness until the priest mediated in his behalf and sprinkled the blood in the appropriate place before the Lord. He needed the priest to represent him to God and to apply the merits of the sacrifice.

This mediatorial ministry of the priest—this application of sacrificial blood—was also viewed by Israel as a form of atonement. "And the priest shall take of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put it upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and . . . shall burn [the fat] upon the altar . . . and the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him" (Lev. 4:34, 35, emphasis supplied).

The English term, "atonement," carries the idea of a reconciliation between two estranged parties. Just as the atoning death of Christ (in a legal sense) reconciled the world to God, just so the mediation, or application, of the merits of His sinless life and substitutionary death makes reconciliation with God, or atonement, a personal reality to the penitent believer.

The writer of Hebrews clearly indicates that the Levitical priesthood fore shadowed the grand priestly ministry of Jesus Christ in the presence of God. The focus is on the living Christ "who is set on 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 pitched, and not man" (Heb. 8:1, 2). Thus the emphasis shifts after the cross from the earthly type to its heavenly counterpart.

Furthermore, the sanctuary in heaven is seen not simply as the dwelling place of Deity, but as the great center of redemptive activity by means of Christ's priestly ministry. For "he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). "We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. . . . Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:15, 16).

Our Lord's priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary can be seen more clearly by examining the Israelite sanctuary "parable" that prefigured it. (cf. Heb. 8:4, 5). On earth the priests engaged in two distinctive divisions of ministry—a daily and a yearly—each characterized by rituals, the daily related to the holy place and the yearly to the Most Holy.

In connection with the daily service, penitent sinners came to worship and to confess their sins. The blood of their sin offerings was sprinkled upon the altar; sometimes the officiating priest ate a portion of the sacrifice. Both ritual acts signified the removal of guilt from the penitent to the sanctuary and its priest hood, leaving the sinner forgiven and accepted before God. "God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation," Moses instructed the priests who role-played the priesthood of Christ in this salvation parable (Lev. 10:17; cf. Num. 18:1, 2).

These daily rituals occupied most of the religious year and in their various facets disclosed that this priestly ministry in behalf of the believer was one of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. The counterpart in Christ's priestly mediation is not difficult to see (I Tim. 2:5).

When a repentant sinner, under the wooing influence of the Holy Spirit, comes to God, his forgiveness and acceptance is made possible through Christ's intercession and application of His merits (Heb. 7:25). As his Saviour, Christ assumes the sinner's liability (1 John 2:1), pardons his sins (1 John 1:9), and records his name in the book of life (Luke 10:20). As he abides in a bond of union with Christ, the repentant believer will daily grow to become like Him (Col. 3:1-3, 10).

Thus we find that the priest's daily ministry in the holy place of the sanctuary parable parallels Christ's heavenly ministry of forgiveness and restoration. These cover the various aspects of the Scriptural doctrines of justification and sanctification—the saving and trans forming of the sinner who puts his trust in Christ.

Atonement by Judgment

The yearly service—the second distinctive division of priestly ministry in the sanctuary parable—occurred on one day just once a year. Known as the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27), it was a most solemn time; to be observed with fasting, prayer, and confession (verses 28-32).

The Day of Atonement was the set time for the removal of the sins that had been figuratively transferred to the sanctuary by the blood of the sacrifices offered throughout the previous year (Lev. 16). Because it accomplished a final disposition of sin—an action that left sanctuary and people ritually clean—it may be viewed as foreshadowing the final judgment that ultimately resolves the sin problem and completely removes all trace of its presence from God's universe. In that sense it foreshadowed atonement by judgment, the final application of the merits of Christ to remove the presence of sin for all eternity.

That day's distinctive ritual centered on two sacrificial goats—the "Lord's goat" and the "scapegoat" (the word translates the Hebrew term, aiyuid , and was coined to refer to the goat that "escaped" into the wilderness). A special sprinkling of the blood of the Lord's goat in the two apartments and court of the sanctuary led to the priestly act of transferring all the sins to the head of the live goat (the scapegoat) that was then banished into the wilderness, both goat—and sin—forever removed from the camp (Lev. 16:15-22).

As far back as the second century A. D., many Christians have held the scapegoat and the Lord's goat to be double symbols of Christ (Epistle of Barnabus, 7:6, ff). However, three facts suggest a different identification for the scapegoat: (1) the scapegoat was not slain as a sacrifice and thus could not be used as a means of bringing forgiveness. For "without shed ding of blood is no remission" (Heb. 9:22); (2) the sanctuary was entirely cleansed by the blood of the Lord's goat before the scapegoat was introduced into the ritual (Lev. 16:20); (3) the passage treats the scapegoat as a personal being, the opposite of, and opposed to, God (Lev. 16:8 reads literally, "One to Yahweh and the other to Azazel"). * Therefore, in the setting of the sanctuary parable, it is more consistent to see the Lord's goat as a symbol of Christ and the scapegoat—Azazel as a symbol of Satan.

Thus the ritual of the scapegoat pointed beyond Calvary, and the simple forgiveness of sin to the final resolution of the sin problem and the banishment of sin and Satan. In the final judgment the ultimate effects of Calvary will be seen (cf. Heb. 2:14, 1 John 3:8). The throne of God, represented by the sanctuary, as well as those who have placed their trust in Him, will be cleared and vindicated. Full accountability for sin will be rolled back upon Satan, its originator and instigator. Satan, his followers, and all the effects of sin, will be banished from the universe by destruction. Atonement by judgment will, therefore, bring about a fully reconciled and harmonious uni verse (Eph. 1:10). This is the objective that the second and final phase of Christ's priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary will accomplish.

Time for the Judgment

Through the illuminating insights of Bible prophecy, particularly the prophecies of Daniel 7, 8, and 9, those important salvatory acts of God registered on the grid of the sanctuary parable come alive with a time dynamic. The "70 weeks" of prophecy of Daniel 9:24- 27 accurately foretold the time for the appearance of the Messiah, His atoning death, and entrance into His priestly ministry.

"Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city," the angel Gabriel explained to Daniel, "to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy" (Dan. 9:24). Following historicist principles of interpretation in which a day in symbolic prophecy is equated to a year of literal time (cf. Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6), we arrive at a period of 490 years allotted to Israel (70 x 7 = 490). This could have been the nation's finest hour. The time for the arrival of the longawaited Messiah was spelled out.

The angel continued: (verse 25) "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks." Counting this sequence of 69 weeks, or 483 years, from the decree of Artaxerxes I in 457 B.C. (the decree that gave the fullest possible restoration to the Jewish state, according to Ezra 7:11-26) one reaches A.D. 27—the time of the anointing of Jesus by the Holy Spirit at His baptism and the official entrance upon His Messianic mission (cf. Acts 10:38; John 1:32-34).

But the prophecy moved on to speak of the Messiah's death. He would be "cut off, but not for himself (verse 26). He would confirm the covenant made with Israel in the last prophetic week, but "in the midst of the week he [would] cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease" (verse 27).

After a short ministry of three and one-half years, our Lord was crucified. The great inner veil of the Temple was torn in two at the moment of His death, signifying that the sacrifices of the ancient ritual had met their antitype in the Saviour's atoning death (Matt. 27:50, 51). By His supreme sacrifice at Calvary Christ obtained the right to "make an end of sins." There He made "reconciliation for iniquity" and brought in "everlasting righteousness" (verse 24).

The seventy weeks prophecy also pointed to the beginning of Christ's priestly ministry. One of the accomplishments in this period was to be the anointing of "the most Holy" (verse 24). This phrase is more accurately translated "to anoint a most holy place" (R.S.V.). When the Israelite sanctuary was first erected, it was anointed with holy oil to consecrate it for God's service. Some thing analogous to this appears to be alluded to.

Since the items listed in verse 24 pertain largely to Christ's redemptive work, it is reasonable to see in this phrase a prophetic reference to the inauguration of the heavenly sanctuary when, at His ascension, Christ was seated at the right hand of God as our High Priest and began His ministry. Indeed, this is the subject of the book of Hebrews (Heb. 8:1, 2; cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31; Rom. 8:34).

But the seventy weeks prophecy, which focused on the appearance, death, and inauguration of Christ's priestly ministry in heaven, is only the first part of a longer prophecy—the 2300 day-years recorded in Dan. 8:14. A careful study of chapters 8 and 9 clearly indicates that the angel Gabriel intended his remarks in chapter 9 to be a clarification of the unexplained time period in chapter 8: "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed" (Dan. 8:14). Starting from the same point as the seventy weeks (457 B.C.), this longer time span reaches across many centuries, to A.D. 1844.

But what does the cleansing of the sanctuary signify? The answer is solemnly spelled out in the parallel prophecy of chapter 7. (Although we have, for brevity's sake, approached these prophecies in reverse, it is generally conceded that the four main lines of prophecy, Chapters 2, 7, 8, 9, and 10-12 of Daniel are parallel, each succeeding prophecy elaborating upon the earlier ones.)

Daniel 7:9, 10 describes the same event referred to in 8:14 in these words: "I beheld till the thrones were cast down [or placed], and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened" (emphasis supplied).

It is evident from the prophecy that this is a phase of final judgment that takes place at the end of the age in heaven and prior to the second coming of Christ. It is in connection with this heavenly sanctuary judgment that Christ receives His universal dominion and His kingdom made up of those accounted worthy to be in it (Dan. 7:13, 14, 22; 12:1, 2; Rev. 3:5). Likewise, it is at this judgment that the "little horn" of Daniel 7 and 8 (analogous in part to the scapegoat in the sanctuary parable) is judged and deposed (7:25, 26), and the government and honor of God is "restored to its rightful state" (Dan. 8:14, R.S.V.) in the presence of the loyal universe (cf. Dan. 7:10; 1 Peter 1:12, last part).

Thus the prophecies of Daniel 7, 8, and 9, in conjunction with the sanctuary parable, testify to the solemn fact that since 1844 the human family has been living in the day of atonement prefigured in the earthly sanctuary. Christ is performing the last phase of His priestly ministry in the sanctuary of heaven, interceding for those whose trust is rooted in Him (Rev. 3:5).

The years of human probation are slipping away. No one knows just when the Divine voice will say, "It is enough. It is finished." But just now, while mercy lingers, a distinctive message from heaven calls "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" to attention: "Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" (Rev. 14:6, 7, emphasis supplied).

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* Excerpts from The New Jerusalem Bible, Copyright © 1966 by Darton, Longmann & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday & Company, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher.
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