The Inferior Sanctuary

Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience—concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:1-10).

To set the stage for the superiority of Jesus’ sanctuary (Hebrews 9:11-15), the inspired penman identifies four characteristics about the tabernacle, the old covenant’s initial sanctuary.

First, this sanctuary was on earth (v. 1) and was physical in nature (vv. 2-5). (Christ’s sanctuary is in heaven and is spiritual in nature.) The fact that the tabernacle—which was a structure which could be assembled and disassembled as the nation of Israel wandered in the wilderness—was later replaced by a more permanent structure—the temple—may provide some foreshadowing of the new covenant with its heavenly sanctuary replacing the old covenant’s sanctuary.

Second, the Holiest of All in the earthly, physical sanctuary was inaccessible to every Israelite except for one (vv. 6-8), and that one—the High Priest—could only enter it on one day of the year—the Day of Atonement. (Christ’s heavenly sanctuary permits every child of God the continuous opportunity to draw near to God.)

Third, the earthly, physical, inferior sanctuary was temporary because it was preparatory (vv. 8-10). It was put and kept in place until “the time of reformation”. This word “reformation” was used in the first century to refer to setting a misaligned or broken limb. Sometimes, when a person breaks his arm today, the doctor puts the arm in a sling for a few days so that the swelling can go down before he sets the bone and puts a cast on. The sling is temporary and preparatory for the cast and the “reformation” it brings. (Christ’s heavenly sanctuary is God’s permanent solution to straightening out humanity’s fractured relationship with Him.)

Fourth, the earthly, physical, inferior, temporary, and preparatory sanctuary was ineffective in adequately relieving a guilty conscience (vv. 9-10). (Not so with Christ. His blood can cleanse the conscience from dead works.)

An effective way of cultivating appreciation is by providing perspective. Hebrews 9:1-10 does a wonderful job of helping all to gain a better perspective on Jesus’ heavenly, spiritual, superior, and permanent sanctuary and wondrous reformation He offers.

   Send article as PDF   

Author: jchowning

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *