Longing for the Divine

The Sanctuary: The Shape of God’s Ideal

The Old Testament Sanctuary (also known as the Tabernacle) has fascinated me since my youth. As I studied it, I learned that it not only illustrates God’s way of redemption but foreshadows what God will bring to pass when the universe becomes the place of His dwelling (Revelation 21:1-4). It is about both a heavenly reality and this world, which are tied together in the God who made them.

According to Hebrews 10:1, the Sanctuary functions as a shadow of the good things to come, not their actual manifestation. It explains what God has planned for us. The Sanctuary provides us with an idea of the kind of place this world will be. We can see a glimmer of God’s ideal when we look at what should and should not be in His Sanctuary.

First, let’s take a quick look at what shouldn’t be there. No leaven was allowed because it is associated with fermentation, which is related to death. There was to be no spoiling or fermentation (Leviticus 2:11). No iron tools were to be used either, for they are implements of war and death (Deuteronomy 27:5). Nothing was to ruin, rot, or rust. Nakedness was also disallowed (Exodus 28:42). Being exposed conveyed shame and a loss of integrity. The priests dressed to the nines in exquisite garments of beauty and integrity (Exodus 28:2).

In addition, no lame, blind, diseased, or disfigured person was allowed to come near the Sanctuary (Leviticus 21:18–21). This was not prejudicial but symbolic. Symbolism was what the Sanctuary was all about. When Jesus went about healing the blind and lame, He was approving Sanctuary entrance for those who had been shut out—left standing outside, unable to enter. In the world made new, there will be no lameness, blindness, deafness, cancer, or heart attacks, for none of these diseases will come upon us (Exodus 15:26). No death or symbols of death were allowed in the Sanctuary. Death—indeed, anything less than wholeness—is not part of the perfect world that God intends and will bring to completion.

Next, let’s consider what should be in the Sanctuary. Salt was used because it is a preservative that prevents fermentation and decay and renders things more fit for life (Leviticus 2:13). The Sanctuary was the place for atonement and blood, which symbolizes the giving of life (Leviticus 17:14). Fat was included, as it is a metaphor for the best part of life. There were gold, silver, precious stones, and elaborate tapestries with stunning threads of gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarn. The Sanctuary, with its embroidered angels and cherubim, is a pattern of heaven, of the Edenic world, of life in God’s presence. This heavenly glory and beauty, however, are to be within this reality too, as it all connects to the earth.

The Sanctuary was not to be a still, sober, or passive place. It was a busy place. It held both enormous beauty and bustling activity. It was the place where fellow worshippers came together to draw near in fellowship with God. When we consider its festivities, celebrations, and rejoicing along with its cleansing, healing, and redemption, we see that we were created for a place like the Sanctuary, where we will experience endless joy and celebration.

God wants to make a place on earth that symbolizes life like the Garden of Eden. God has good things in store for us. God is holy. God is beautiful. God is life. God is love. When distance is erased, God will dwell among our ranks to share life with us. There will be no death or dying, no hospitals or graveyards. Evil will not gain passport into this perfect world made new, for it will be banished forever. Death and evil will be shattered in the deep abyss. The divine promise is to redeem and renew all things. God offers His comforting balm to all.

The entire system given by God is about life and holiness overcoming evil and death. It is a picture of redemption, glorification, and resurrection. It is about us gaining a more abundant life (John 10:10). We will be returned to our lives, for God will revive the dead (Isaiah 25:8; 26:19).

The Sanctuary is a holy place. Don’t think of the term “holy” as conveying religious sanctimony, for it simply means absolutely different and unique. The Sanctuary was made for one purpose: that a loving God may dwell among us (Exodus 25:8). The preparations God is making for us in heaven will be launched on earth. God has revealed the future He has planned for us, allowing us to see who we are meant to be. I want to join Him in His work and become more and more in tune with His desires. Seeing the universe as God desires it allows me to see the person I am really meant to be.

Craig Ashton Jr.

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