Today I would like to take a different approach as I talk about the sanctuary. I want to take you on a journey through it. To me it's like a treasure map to the greatest treasure anyone can ever find.
Once I was visiting in a church. The lesson was on the sanctuary and during the discussion the question arose; "when we study with non-Adventists, when should we introduce the sanctuary doctrine?" Someone quickly answered, "That should be left until the very last, tell them about Christ first and the cross and other basics, then, after they are committed, tell them about the sanctuary." Someone else said, "Yes, the sanctuary just scares them away."
I was saddened. No wonder there is so much animosity against the sanctuary. Is this really what Adventists think of the most beautiful, Christ centred teaching we have? Don't they realize that it is the sanctuary that takes all the different aspects of salvation and blends them together in a harmonious whole, with everything centred on Christ?
So today I'd like to take you on a personal journey through the sanctuary. As we travel, please remember this is an allegory, not a theological exposition. What I want to share is how this doctrine affects us in a very personal way. So let's begin the journey.
As we approach the sanctuary, the first thing we see is a white linen fence all around the sanctuary. White linen is symbolic of righteousness. The contrast between the goodness of the sanctuary and the evil of sin all around us is instantly seared into our conscience. Inside is righteousness, outside we have no righteousness, for "we are all as an unclean thing and all our righteousness is as filthy rags. (Is 64:6) As we stand outside that pure white fence in our filthy condition, our hearts sink, it seems hopeless, there is no way we can ever measure up, the way seems closed.
But a voice is calling us, "I am the door: by Me if anyone enters in, he shall be saved." We look in the direction of the voice and see the gate. It is open. At the gate, Jesus is standing, His arms outstretched, calling to us. Now we have a decision to make. Do we want to stay outside in our sins, or do we want to answer that call. As long as we stay outside that door, we are "without Christ, having no hope, and without God in the world." (Eph. 2:12).
We decide to respond. We approach the gate and open our hearts and minds to Jesus. He welcomes us with open arms, yet as we look at Him, our own sinfulness becomes even more apparent and we exclaim, "O wretched person that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) Gently Jesus leads us to the first station in the court yard of the sanctuary.
Here we see a large brazen altar on which sacrifices are offered. Beside the altar stands an innocent little lamb. We hear the words, "Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world." Suddenly we realize this isn't just a lamb, this is Jesus Himself, our Creator, our God, standing there. He is the sacrifice. "Come," Jesus calls, "Place your hands upon my head and confess your sins." Trembling we place our hands on the head of Him who has never cherished an evil thought, and confess all our dark imaginings, we look in the face that has only love and goodness, and confess all our hate and evil. We acknowledge specific sins and shortcomings, knowing that He has never sinned.
And as our attention is drawn to the cross to see what our sins did to Jesus, something happens inside. All our pride and selfishness is stripped bare, and we ask, "What is sin, that it should require such a sacrifice?" Suddenly the horror of sin is revealed to us. Those little sins that we thought we had a right to hang on to don't look so innocent anymore, and we experience what is know as repentance. Repentance includes sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. True repentance does not happen outside the gate. We may experience regret for the consequences of sin while outside, we may even change our lifestyle, but only as we contemplate the cross in the presence of Jesus can we experience true repentance, which is so necessary to the Christian life.
As we see what our sins did to Jesus and how He took our punishment because He loved us, we will begin to gate our sinfulness and long for Christ's righteousness. Gladly we surrender all our cherished idols--everything that stands between us and Christ we place on the alter and even more, we give ourselves to Jesus by the mercies of God, we present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy , acceptable unto God. (Romans 12:2)
At the altar we are forgiven, the penalty of our sins was paid by the Lamb of God. We experience peace that we never thought possible before. Yet our journey has only begun. Jesus lovingly guides us to the next station. Now we see a huge bowl of water, called the laver. Here the priests washed their hands and feet before entering the Holy Place. So we too, before we enter the sanctuary, will be washed. Baptism is a symbol of this cleansing. Baptism means dying to the old way of life and being reborn in Christ.
At the laver, we give up self rule and self righteousness, we choose Jesus as King and Lord of our lives. This cleansing was made possible by Christ's death, and He is anxious to take our sin stained garments and cloth us with the white robes of His righteousness. This spotless robe of righteousness doesn't cover our sins, it takes the place of the old filthy garments. Now we are clean, we are holy, through the agencies of "blood and water" we are forgiven and cleansed.
So far our journey has been only in the outer court of the ancient sanctuary. In the heavenly sanctuary there is no outer court. The alter and the laver meet their fulfilment on earth, in the cross. It was on earth that Christ died for all and became the living laver, "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." (Zech. 13:1)
The outer court activities were a daily occurrence, likewise we also need a daily experience. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross DAILY, and follow me." (Luke 9:23) And Paul states, "I die daily." (1 Cor. 15:31) "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20) Of course this does not mean daily baptism. It means daily commitment.
Now we are ready to enter the sanctuary itself. As we go into the Holy Place we are introduced to the key elements of living a Christian life. We see the table of shewbread, which symbolizes Jesus the Bread of Life. We see the golden candle stick, which symbolizes, Jesus the light of the world. We see the altar of incense, which symbolized Jesus intercessory prayers.
Everywhere we see Jesus. For being in God's sanctuary means abiding with Jesus. There is no other way to live the Christian life. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me" (John 15:4) The three articles of furniture in this apartment symbolize the essential elements in this abiding, sanctifying experience.
We go to the table of shewbread, here we spend time with Jesus studying His Word. "Sanctify them through Thy truth, Thy Word is truth." (John 17:17) If we want victories over sin, if we want Christ's power and strength, we must feed daily from the Word — the Bible. We need to fill our minds and thoughts with the words of God. The more we study and think about heavenly themes, the more our faith and love for Christ will grow, and the more our lives will reflect His character.
Notice something special about the shewbread, every Sabbath the bread was replaced with new loaves. This depicts the Sabbath experience, for though we feed upon the bread all week, on Sabbath we gain a fresh new supply as we spend the day with our Lord in a special way. Interestingly the manna did not fall on Sabbath, but the shewbread was renewed each Sabbath. This stresses that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God. Upon the Sabbath the focus is not on physical bread, on Sabbath we seek a fresh, new supply of spiritual bread from our Lord and Saviour in His Holy Word.
From the table of shewbread we move to the altar of incense. The altar of prayer. Prayer is described by one author as a key that unlocks heavens storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence. We need to use this key regularly in order to live the Christian life. During prayer we are to open our hearts to God as to a friend. When we pray we are in conversation with God Himself, we are drawn into a close, intimate relationship with Him.
In the earthly sanctuary it was the priest who offered the incense upon this altar and so it is no — Jesus takes our imperfect prayers and mixes them with His merits and presents them to God as sweet smelling incense.
Now there is one more step in the Holy Place. One more important aspect in the journey of sanctification. As we move toward this station we are surrounded by beautiful light. Our whole life begins to shine from the light of this candlestick. Before us stands the seven branched candlestick, each branch has a beautifully designed bowl at the top which contains olive oil. This candlestick represents Christ, "the Light of the World". The oil is the Holy Spirit, the source of power.
The purpose of the candlestick is to give light, so it should be our purpose as Christ's followers to let our light shine in this world of moral and spiritual darkness. Jesus said, "You are the light of the world . . . Let your light so shine before that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:14,15) We are Christ's lights on this earth. As we spend time in the Holy Place with Jesus, our lives and characters will be changed and we will reflect the light shining on us from Christ. You know, we tend to get so hung up on this work/faith thing. If we would just follow the map it would be so clear.
If we place works at the beginning of the journey, before we go through any of the stations, works is totally useless, any works are only an outward act that has no bearing whatsoever on our salvation. If we place works with the brazen altar or the laver, it makes works a means of gaining salvation and we can never earn our salvation. It is only after we have surrendered our hearts and lives to Christ, been forgiven and cleansed, and begun our walk with Christ in the Holy Place, that works come into the picture. As we dwell with Christ, we are filled with the thoughts of God and the purposes of God. We long to bring glory to God. Now our works are motivated by our desire to honour God and to give people around us the right concept of God. Our works show whether we are abiding in Christ or whether we are walking on our own.
It is so easy to start walking on our own again. We know Satan's strategies well enough. He tries to pull us out of the sanctuary. Get us too busy to pray, too busy to study God's word. He tries to engross our minds with anything as long as it keeps us out of God's sanctuary. And before we know what has happened, our light has dimmed, we find ourselves back in sinful patterns of living. We may still be trying to keep up the appearances or "form of godliness", but now works are merely legalistic acts, not light shining from Christ's golden candlestick through our lives.
We find ourselves out of God's sanctuary, not because God threw us out for misbehaviour, but because we neglected to abide in Christ. We chose not to live in the Holy Place when we chose not to pray, not to study. What do we do now? There's only one thing. Start at the beginning of the journey once more. Come to Christ just as you are, confess, and repent at the altar of sacrifice, seek cleansing, claim once again Christ's spotless robe as you surrender your own robes of self-righteousness and sin. Then walk with Jesus in the Holy Place once again. He will restore His peace and assurance of salvation to you and your life will once again shine for Him.
Now we come to the last part of the journey. "The Most Holy" Here is where we face the holy law of God. Here it is determined if we can live in God's Holy Presence. As we approach, the glory, purity and holiness in this room is overwhelming. Sin in this room is like flammable material and cannot endure. At first we think we cannot enter and live. For Hebrews 12.29 says, "Our God is a consuming fire." Anyone who dares enter in their sin laden condition will be consumed.
But Jesus takes us by the hand and says, "Come, you are clothed with my righteousness, all your sins are confessed and covered with my blood, you have chosen to be my follower, we have walked together enjoying each other's fellowship, now I want to legally instate you as my brother — my sister — now you will receive your legal title to heaven.
As God looks at us, He doesn't see filthy rags of self righteousness and sin — they have been forsaken and burned at the altar of sacrifice, He doesn't see our sins — they have been confessed and covered with Christ's blood, He doesn't see our shame for we have been washed and covered with Christ's spotless robe of righteousness, He doesn't see a rebellious heart, that has been replaced by a new heart, eager to do God's will.
Christ then pronounces the verdict: "You have walked with me through the sanctuary, now you will be granted the privilege of walking with Me throughout eternity.(Rev. 14:4 para.) "Your name is written in the book of Life. (Rev. 3:5) Come, ye blessed, enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." (Matt. 25:35)
The above journey is all BY FAITH. Some have mocked us asking if we "literally" walk through the heavenly sanctuary-- NO it's by faith in Christ, BUT THE NEXT EVENT is totally literal, for Jesus will literally come and literally take us home to a literal heaven, and we will be with HIM forever!
Dear friends, the above is an allegory of what the sanctuary means to me. For me it's not enough to talk about the subject only in theological terms, I need to know how it applies to my daily walk with God. In my studies I have found the sanctuary to be rich in symbolism which helps me understand better what Christ wants to do in my life. As I study the symbolism, the purposes of Christ in saving humanity from their sin — not in their sin -- comes clear. The investigative judgment is part of the whole picture. This study was not meant to be an exposition of how Levitical ceremonies match with the book of Hebrews etc. It is a personal study of the symbolism of the sanctuary as it relates to the personal life.