The Sanctuary was the place where God met with people (Exodus 25:8). It provided a way for imperfect people to come near and have fellowship with God in the midst of a fallen world. God desires to dwell with us and tries to draw us back to Him, though because we are faulty sinners, this is not easy. Fascinated by the theology of God’s Sanctuary, I read Jacob Milgrom’s and Roy Gane’s commentaries on Leviticus, which helped me understand matters of cleanliness and uncleanliness and how the stains of evil were left in the Sanctuary. Whenever a sinful person came to the Sanctuary with a sacrifice, they transferred their sin to God’s realm, to the altar and the priest. Because such impurities entered God’s Sanctuary, God needed the Day of Atonement to free it from the stains of sin and death.
Bringing people close to God thus required not only sacrifice and priesthood but the Day of Atonement. Atonement, in its full sense, is a protracted process, for much is required to bring about the ideal world God is preparing. This idea does not align with the notion of automatic salvation and entrance to heaven by mental assent and is thus challenging for most Christians to accept; it indicates that the sacrifice of Jesus was not the end of the story. I have learned that without the priests, one could not make sacrifices, and without the Day of Atonement, God could not dwell among us. The Sanctuary presented stages of atonement—both daily and yearly services. In its full sense, atonement shows all of God’s activities to unite all things for perfection in the world to come. God’s desire to dwell with us culminates in much more than salvation into an afterlife. God not only saves people but restores the very fabric of the universe.
The atoning place within the innermost sanctum of the Sanctuary acted as a link between heaven and earth (Exodus 25:22). This is where on each yearly Day of Atonement, the high priest sprinkled the life-blood of a sacrifice for cleansing. God did not want evil and human death near His Sanctuary, so He bore responsibility for it until it could be removed on the Day of Atonement. According to the book of Hebrews, there was a serious problem in the heavens; the realm of the angels and the heavenly throne needed to be cleansed (Hebrews 9:23). The high priest would sprinkle the life-blood of the Lord’s goat onto parts of the Sanctuary to renew it by cleansing it of the people’s uncleanliness. All levels of holiness were to be cleansed on this day, reflecting the renewal of the entire universe.
The sprinkling of the life-blood from the Lord’s goat in the Holy of Holies represents Jesus, the real life-giving principle of heaven who offers a new life in which we are forgiven and united with Him. The Lord’s offering made and accepted on the people’s behalf represents God’s new life brought from heaven to renew all things, “to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Jesus’ self-giving life and the outflow of His presence heals the entire universe. I see God working to heal our brokenness and bring a fragmented universe into unity with Him.
God is working throughout history to make His ways known, resulting in new communities, a restored earth, and a renewed cosmos. As I read about the priestly mysteries of the Day of Atonement, I learned about the two goats that were chosen, the use of lots to distinguish one for the Lord and one for Azazel, and the banishing of the scapegoat. I discovered that God “is not the only one at work in this world” (Sigve Tonstad, Revelation, 2018, p. 39). How the Sanctuary addressed the question of theodicy is fascinating. Some aspects of the problem of evil requires resolution beyond God’s assuming responsibility. I learned that all suffering, sin, and evil are ascribed to Satan. It is he—not God—who is to blame for all the misery and chaos that afflict us.
If sin and death go on too long, they will place God’s Sanctuary and reputation in danger and damage His creation. It makes me wonder how my sin adds to that corruption. While sin and death are man’s choice, not God’s, the Sanctuary’s representation of sin does not place the full weight of evil on human frailty and sin. This human reality simply cannot be the full cause of evil in our world. There are menacing and threatening forces behind the scenes, and this demonic existence is the ultimate cause. The banishment of the goat to Azazel, which is the goat that belongs to him, represents the carrying away the load of sin and the banishment of the evil one—the demonic, the Satan (Leviticus 16:5). Satan has a share in our sins, as he instigates and participates in them. He is ultimately responsible and must bear blame for his role in evil and chaos.
Understanding that God is the great Atoner and Healer and not the source of chaos and evil changes the way I view God’s character and understand His desire to dwell among us. We must change and heal our opinion of God. The Sanctuary tells me that God’s character and reputation must be vindicated so that the universe can see Him dealing fairly and lovingly with sin and sinners. As I contemplate and behold God’s glory radiating from His Sanctuary, I am transformed into His image and begin to see the ultimate goal toward which He is headed—a restored universe.
Craig Ashton Jr.