Why did Paul focus on the sanctuary services in Hebrews?

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Paul and Hebrews

The apostle Paul in the book of Hebrews writes about the sanctuary (the earthly one and the present heavenly one). He gives a comparison with, and contrast between, the symbols by which the Lord gave the plan of salvation to the nation of Israel in Old Testament era and the reality of Christ’s ministry on behalf of people since the crucifixion.

The experiences of the Israelites under the typical system are given as a lesson and warning to the New Testament believers. Through the typical system and Israel’s experiences under it, Paul tries to develop a fuller understanding and gratitude to the ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary.

The Heavenly Sanctuary

After Jesus died on the cross as our sacrifice for sin, He ascended to heaven to serve as our Heavenly High Priest (Hebrews 9:11, 12). Paul writes, “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”; “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, 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 8:1, 2, 5).

The blood ministered by the earthly priest represents Jesus applying His blood to our record of sins in the sanctuary above, showing that they are forgiven when we confess them in His name (1 John 1:9). “It was necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these: but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 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 9:22-24).

Christ performs a special work of cleansing the heavenly sanctuary, which answers to the service performed by the high priest in the earthly sanctuary on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). This special judgment day, like that of Israel’s Yom Kippur, foreshadowed the final atonement to be made for planet Earth.

Of this specific ministry of Christ, the prophet Daniel writes: “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” (Daniel 8:14). When the year-day principle is applied to this his time period its termination is A.D. 1844. By that time the earthly temple, a pattern of the things in the heavens, had long since disappeared. Therefore, the reference Daniel 8:14 must be to the sanctuary of the new covenant, “the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” (Hebrews 8:2).

Some may ask: wasn’t the atonement of Christ finished on the cross? Jesus completed the sacrifice which provided for a final atonement for every soul on the cross. But, just as the sacrificing of the lamb in the courtyard did not cleanse the record of sin until it was sprinkled inside the sanctuary, so the death of Jesus can have no cleansing until it is applied to each individual life that seeks it through the High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. And once the work of the investigative judgment out of the books of heaven is ended, Jesus will return to execute His judgment (Revelation 22:11, 12).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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