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The Symbolic Sanctuary
Publish date: May 21, 2009
Summary: The ceremonies performed in the ancient sanctuary—and the structure of the sanctuary itself—are symbolic of Jesus' life and ministry.
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The ceremonial law prefigured the ministry of Christ. We can see this by studying the ancient sanctuary. Moses had to construct the sanctuary exactly according to the pattern shown him on mount Sinai:
And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them (Exodus 25:8).
... 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).
The earthly Old Testament sanctuary, and the entire ministry associated with it, reflects the ministry of Christ on our behalf. It is also a miniature enactment of the much greater ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, of which the earthly sanctuary was merely “a figure for the time then present” (Hebrews 9:9). The earthly was a copy of the heavenly.
Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle (Hebrews 8:5).
Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary that was not built by human hands after His resurrection and ascension into heaven.
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (Hebrews 9:24).
The price for sin was paid for at the cross. Justice was satisfied, but the ministry of Christ did not end there. Sin still exists and sinners still have to have access to God through Christ.
The teaching that Christ's work was finished on the cross is inconsistent with the model God gave us in the sanctuary. Jesus' death and resurrection only began His ministry in the sanctuary. He was the Lamb on the altar of burnt offerings in the outer court of the tabernacle, but we also must travel into all the other areas of the sanctuary to understand the fulness of His ministry.
Jesus still has many roles to fulfill before the sin problem can be fully eradicated from us and this world forever. We serve a risen Saviour, who is our High Priest, our Advocate, our Judge, and our King who is interceding in our behalf in the heavenly sanctuary. Read about these roles of God in the article Our Judge and Advocate.
We have such an high priest...in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man (Hebrews 8:1-2).
Read more about the symbolism of furniture in the tabernacle:
The laver and all the vessels of the court that were used in the services connected with the altar were of brass. The entire body of the whole burnt offering and portions of various offerings were burned upon this altar. It consumed that which typified sin. Sin separates us from God, and all sin must be put away before the sinner can be at-one-ment with God. Therefore the work done upon this altar was a symbol of the final destruction of sin, which will be necessary before the redeemed can enjoy their eternal inheritance. We must remember that Christ was the Lamb who was slain, and He could not begin the rest of the sanctuary work without first going through the sacrifice on the altar in the courtyard. The services in the courtyard represented the work on Earth, while the inner sanctuary work was for the work done in heaven.
The golden candlestick with its seven golden lamps was on the south side of the first apartment of the sanctuary. It was made of gold beaten into shape by the workman's hammer. Christ, in explaining to John the meaning of what he had seen, said, "The seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches" (Revelation 1:12-20). Read more about the seven churches. The Church, represented by candlesticks, is to hold the Light of the world, Christ, high for everyone to see.
The table of shewbread, or showbread, was placed on the north side of the first apartment of the sanctuary. On the Sabbath day the Levites made twelve loaves unleavened bread. During the entire week the bread lay on the table. At the end of the week it was removed and eaten by the priests. This bread symbolizes the twelve tribes of Israel in that time. However, it also represented Christ—the Bread of Life—and His living Word that brings life. We are to eat this Bread of Life by reading the Bible and obeying its life-giving words.
The golden altar, or altar of incense, was before the veil in the first apartment of the sanctuary. The high priest alone was to perform the sacred duty of placing incense before the Lord on this altar. The altar and the fragrant incense in the earthly sanctuary were an example of the work our great High Priest, Jesus, is performing for us (Hebrews 8:5). Our prayers, like incense, go up to God with the help of our High Priest.
Romans 8:26 tells us that we "know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." This means that sometimes we don't know how to pray, but God can read our hearts, and through His Spirit, He is listening deeply to what we are saying. The sincere prayer a pleasure to God. He wants to be asked for the help we need because He so much wants to help us.
The broken law contained in the Ark was the only reason for all the sacrificial services, both typical and antitypical. The cover of the Ark was called the mercy seat, and was of pure gold. There is great consolation in the fact that the Lord Himself covered the broken law with a mercy seat; and then He, the merciful God, took His position upon that seat, so that every sinner who comes confessing his sins, may receive mercy and pardon.
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