What is the purpose of the Sanctuary?

Author: BibleAsk Team

A Sanctuary is a place that is holy or set apart for a holy purpose. In Isaiah 59:2, it says that sin separates us from God. In response to this separation, God made a plan to restore us to Himself. The purpose of the Sanctuary is to provide a way of redemption back to God through His Son Jesus Christ.

The Sanctuary – God’s Plan of Salvation

In Psalm 77:13, David the prophet wrote, “Thy way o God is in the Sanctuary…” The Sanctuary is what makes the plan of redemption clear to men. It’s like the ABC’s of salvation. The first sanctuary structure on earth was built by the Israelites when they left bondage in Egypt. God told them, “let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The Sanctuary was built as a way for God to be with His people and teach them about His ways. It bridges the gap that sin has created. While this Sanctuary was the first one seen on earth, this is not the first Sanctuary mentioned in the Bible.

God’s Sanctuary in Heaven

The story in Exodus tells how God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. On their last stretch to freedom, they miraculously passed through the Red Sea. Upon their deliverance, they sang a song: “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established”  (Exodus 15:17).

The above verse shows that God has made a Sanctuary with His very own hands. It also demonstrates that God’s people had always known of this heavenly Sanctuary. The New Testament confirms this. “Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, 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” (Hebrews 8:1-2).

Jesus Our High Priest in the Heavenly Sanctuary

In Hebrews 7:25-26, we read that Jesus is our High Priest and He lives ever to make intercession for us. Jesus was the true Lamb that fulfilled all of the requirements of the earthly Sanctuary (Hebrews 9:12). This is why we don’t have one on earth today. Therefore, the rest of the Sanctuary ministry is carried out in heaven and must be completed before Jesus returns.

Initially, God told His people to build a Sanctuary structure on earth during the time of Moses. God told him to do so after the “pattern” that He showed him (Exodus 25:9). A pattern means that this is a copy of an original. Thus, today God’s original Sanctuary in heaven still serves as part of His plan to redeem us all back to Him.

The Sanctuary’s Symbols

The Sanctuary built by Moses was the first one made on earth and is modeled after the Sanctuary in heaven. It was made of three compartments: the outer court, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place.

The sanctuary was in the center of the camp, as God wanted it to be in the center of His people. It was in essence a large tent made of two rooms surrounded by a wall of curtains outside.  The wall of curtains resembled a fence surrounding a structure to make a large front yard. The Sanctuary had many items and services that were symbolic. They were a teaching tool of Jesus and His ministry as well as what they mean to the sinner who comes to Him (Hebrews 8:5).

The Outer Court

The outer court, also called the tabernacle of the congregation (Exodus 29:44), was made of the space between the curtain fence around the tent in the middle. There was only one opening into the courtyard through the front of the curtain. This symbolized that there is only one way to the true God (John 14:6). This area was the only area that an Israelite was allowed to enter (Exodus 29:43).

In the outer court were two pieces of furniture: the altar of sacrifice and the laver of brass (Exodus 40:29-30).

The Outer Court: Services

In one of the typical ceremonies, an Israelite would bring a lamb into the outer court. They would place their hand on the animal’s head and slay the innocent lamb. A priest would assist in the service by collecting the blood shed by the lamb. He would then sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the alter of sacrifice. The remainder of the blood would be poured out at the bottom of the altar. Finally, the rest of the animal would be burned on the altar (Leviticus 3:7-11).

In other ceremonies, after a priest sacrificed an animal, they would then approach the laver. This was a basin filled with water to cleanse the hands and feet.  The priests would wash their hands and feet before entering into the first room in the Sanctuary called the Holy Place (Exodus 30:18-21).

The Outer Court: Symbols

The lamb slain at the altar of sacrifice was as a symbol of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ (John 1:29). It demonstrated that the sinner must accept the sacrifice for his sin by faith (Ephesians 2:8).

The laver was a symbol of baptism after one accepts Christ’s sacrifice for his sin (John 3:5). Just as it is the next phase in the Sanctuary service, so it is the next phase in the Christian walk to be baptized.

Jesus fulfills all parts of the Sanctuary. He is our One way to the Father (John 14:6). He is the  sacrifice for our sins (Ephesians 5:2) and He cleanses us through baptism (Matthew 3:11) .

The Holy Place

The next compartment was the first room in the Sanctuary called the Holy Place. This room had three articles of furniture: the altar of incense, the table of shew bread and the seven branch candlestick.

Upon entering, one would see the table of bread on the right, the candlestick on the left and the altar of incense in front next of them. There was a curtain separating the two rooms inside the Sanctuary, which the altar of incense was closest to (Exodus 37:10-29).

The priests would maintain the furniture and their contents on a daily as well as weekly basis. Each service pointed to an aspect in the Christian walk as well as pointing to who Jesus is.

The Holy Place: Furniture

The altar of incense was to always burn a special blend of incense. It needed daily care, as it was never to go out. It is a symbol of prayer (Psalm 141:2, Revelation 8:3-4). Just as it was always to burn incense, God’s people are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

The table of shew bread was a rectangular shaped table. It was instructed to have 12 loaves of bread in two piles of six side by side. This bread was baked fresh every Sabbath. The loaves were mingled with incense to maintain its freshness throughout the week.  At the end of the week, it was eaten in it’s entirety on Sabbath by the priests (Leviticus 24:5-9, Numbers 4:7). The bread is a symbol of God’s word or the Bible (Matthew 4:4). All of God’s word must be taken in and nourish the soul (2 Timothy 3:16). Just as the bread was mingled with incense so should our study of God’s word be mingled with prayer (Ephesians 6:17-18).

The seven branch candlestick was made of solid gold beaten into it’s beautiful and useful form (Exodus 25:31-37). It was filled with fresh olive oil to keep the flame burning at all times (Leviticus 24:2-4). This is a symbol of witnessing (Matthew 5:14-16). Just as the candlestick was formed by the builder’s hand, so are God’s people formed as they submit to the molding of their Maker (2 Timothy 2:20-21). Also, olive oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit (1 Samuel 16:13). So should God’s people be filled with the Holy Spirit so that they can shine for Him (Acts 4:31).

The Holy Place: Jesus in Symbols

These three pieces of furniture are not only a symbol of a Christian’s walk, but of Christ Himself. He is the only Mediator for our prayers (1 Timothy 2:5). He is our Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48, 51). Jesus is also the Light of the world (John 8:12). We can only exercise our Christian faith of prayer, study of Scripture and witnessing as we do so through Christ (John 15:4).

The Most Holy Place

The last compartment of the Sanctuary was the Most Holy Place. It only had one piece of furniture: the ark of the testimony.

This ark was essentially a box, much like a large chest, made of wood and covered in gold. The lid was called the mercy seat with two golden angels bowing towards the middle in reverence. Between these angels is where the glory of God shined brightly (Exodus 25:10-22).

Inside the ark held the ten commandments written in two tablets of stone (Deuteronomy 10:2). Later, Aaron’s rod and a golden pot of manna were added (Hebrews 9:4). On the outside, a scroll with the laws of Moses were written (Deuteronomy 31:26). The law of God was for His people (Psalm 19:7), the law of Moses was against them (Deuteronomy 31:26).

This article of furniture was in the heart of the sanctuary. In like manner, God’s law is to be written on our hearts (Romans 2:15, Hebrews 8:10). His glory is also to shine in us (2 Corinthians 4:6). Aaron’s rod and pot of manna are symbols of miracles (Numbers 14:22). In like manner, conversion is a miracle of the heart. We are to let God’s glory shine from within as we are guided by the truth of His law (1 John 5:3). The scroll, made of paper, with the laws of Moses is what was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14).

The Most Holy Place: Service

The Most Holy place was only entered into by the high priest. He alone could enter only one day a year on the day of atonement. Throughout this day, all of Israel spent it in prayer and fasting. They could do no work. A special service was done in order to make atonement for the people. All of the sins recorded in the Sanctuary throughout the year were cleansed. This was the last day of the Jewish calendar. Any one who did not honor this day was cut off from the nation of Israel (Leviticus 23:27-29).

On the day of atonement, the high priest offered two goats, one the Lord’s goat and the other the scapegoat. The Lord’s goat was slain for the people and the blood was brought into the Most Holy Place. It was sprinkled seven times on the ark of the testament. When the high priest completed this work, he would come and place his hands on the scapegoat. The sins of all the people would be laid on this goat. Then a fit man would come and take the scapegoat into the wilderness far outside of the camp to be cast out. Thus, all sin was completely done away with (Leviticus 16:2-34, 23:27-31).

The Most Holy Place: Service and Symbols

The Christian knows that the end of earth’s history will come ( 1 Peter 4:7). At that time, God will have a judgment and sin will be done away with. All those who did not take the time to become right with God will not be part of His people in His kingdom. “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-8). 

The Most Holy Place: Jesus’ Fulfillment

Jesus is like the ark, as He is the center of our lives. He holds the law as well as God’s mercy. Jesus shows us the glory of the Father. He is our High Priest and sprinkles His own blood for the our sins. He is our Atonement (Romans 5:10-11) and makes intercession for us.

Jesus will eventually make an end of sin. “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:… For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:24, 26).


God’s Sanctuary is a beautiful teaching tool to His people. The sanctuary and it’s services make up much of the Bible in both the Old and New Testament.

When Jesus our High Priest completes His work in the Heavenly Sanctuary, He will come to take His children home (Revelation 11:18-19). When we go to Heaven, there is no more temple as God and Jesus are the temple (Revelation 21:1, 22).  May we follow Christ through the Sanctuary to know how we can be ready for when He comes to take us home soon.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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