The Heavenly Sanctuary

(Part 4 of the Cleansing of the Sanctuary Series)

Is the sanctuary that is to be cleansed (referred to in Daniel 8:14) located in heaven? Is there anything in heaven that needs cleansing?


This page is part of a series of studies to identify the sanctuary of
Daniel 8:14 that is to be cleansed and to understand the cleansing
process. After reading this page, go back to the series overview.


In this series, we are studying to identify the sanctuary that is to be cleansed and to understand that process. Before looking at the possibility of a heavenly sanctuary we should first look briefly at another option and some of the history that led to the idea of a heavenly sanctuary.

Expecting the Second Coming Two Centuries Ago

William Miller, an American Baptist minister, in the early 19th century, studied the prophecies of Daniel and concluded that the sanctuary was the Earth to be cleansed at the Second Coming of Christ. He started preaching in the 1830s and finally settled on an exact date – October 22, 1844. His message spread rapidly and contributed greatly to what is called The Great Second Advent Awakening. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Great_Awakening)

Those who believed his message (the Millerites) expected Jesus to return to the Earth (the sanctuary, in their understanding) on October 22, 1844. But what happened that day? Nothing – as far as the expected Second Coming happening. Many gave up their faith in the message but others concluded the problem was not with God’s word but with their understanding of it.

Then They Looked Up

One Advent believer, Hiram Edson, claimed to have had a revelation showing that the sanctuary was not the Earth but the heavenly sanctuary. From that, the concept of a heavenly sanctuary as a place for a work of judgment – a review of the record books (part 12 in this series) of heaven – soon developed and is held by many today.

There are certainly verses that could be seen as supporting that there is a sanctuary in heaven:

“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.” (Dan 7:13)

Does that tell us there is a sanctuary in heaven like the one on earth? It doesn’t say that or even use the word “sanctuary” but many have seen similarities between things represented as being in heaven and the earthly sanctuary. For example:

“And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.” (Rev 1:13)

The connection is sometimes used as evidence that the earthly sanctuary is a copy of the heavenly sanctuary because they both contain the candlesticks. However, we are told that:

“… the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” (Rev 1:20)

So the seven candlesticks are a symbol of the seven churches described in Revelation chapters two and three. If the candles in the earthly sanctuary are a symbol of those in the heavenly then they are a symbol of a symbol rather than a symbol of a reality. I’m not sure scripture does that. John did not go to heaven. He saw, in vision, a representation in symbolic form. The candlestick in the earthly sanctuary could also represent Christ the light of the world. The presence of candlesticks in the earthly sanctuary does not prove that there is a sanctuary in heaven.

Is Christ Ministering in the Heavenly Sanctuary?

The Ancient of Days (The Father) is in heaven (Dan 7:13), but that is not saying that heaven is somehow contaminated or needing to be cleansed. Hebrews chapter 9 describes the earthly tabernacle and its work then says:

“But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;” (Heb 9:11)

Of 19 verses using the original Greek word “ktisis” (G2937) that is the only verse where it is translated as “building.” It is usually “creature” (11 times) or “creation” (6 times) which is how most versions render it in this verse. Some say “not of this world” or “not of this created world.” Hebrews chapter 8 helps us with the location of where Christ as high priest is:

“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.” (Heb 8:1-2)

So where is Jesus located? – in the heavens. Of what tabernacle or sanctuary is He the minister? – the true one. Jesus (in human form remember) is at the right hand of the throne. That is His physical location. But what/where is the tabernacle/sanctuary for which He is ministering? Is it in heaven? It doesn’t say that. It seems obvious but that is not the only possibility.

Hebrews 8:1-2 says Jesus is a minister “of the true tabernacle,” not
that He is a minister in the true tabernacle. There is a difference.
For example, a person could be an ambassador of the United States
to a foreign country but that does not mean he is ministering in the
United States. Rather, the ministering, while being done in behalf of
the United States, is actually conducted outside of the United States.

The Heavenly Sanctuary – More Questions

The focus of the Millerite believers after 1844 shifted to a heavenly sanctuary and further study brought out much understanding of the whole sanctuary system. However, we have no indication from scripture that Daniel’s prophecy (Daniel 8:14) has been fulfilled at this point. So the questions remain:

  • What happened in 1844, if anything?
  • What sanctuary is being referred to?
  • What is the nature of the cleansing?
  • What about the timing? Is it still future?

Mentions of a Heavenly Sanctuary

We saw in part 3 that Moses likely did not even see a sanctuary in heaven. The phrases “heavenly sanctuary” or “sanctuary in heaven” do not even appear in the King James Version of the Bible. “Sanctuary” appears in 128 Old Testament verses and in four New Testament verses of which three are referring to the Old Testament sanctuary which Moses built.

The one use of “sanctuary” in the New Testament that does not refer to the Old Testament sanctuary is:

“A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” (Heb 8:2)

That verse is not referring to the Old Testament sanctuary as Jesus never officiated there in the role of a priest. Here is one verse that does indicate a sanctuary in heaven:

“For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth;” (Psa 102:19)

We make an assumption to make that sanctuary equivalent in furnishings etc to the earthly tabernacle. However, “sanctuary,” in that verse, is actually from the Hebrew word “qodesh” which, in the majority of uses, is translated as “holy.” The original does not say “sanctuary.” Here is one version using a more-correct translation:

“that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the LORD looked at the earth.” (Psa 102:19, ESV)

There are a few verses that speak of where God is but with no details of anything equivalent to the earthly sanctuary:

“The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.” (Psa 11:4)

“But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Hab 2:20)

“Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation.” (Zech 2:13)

There is not really much in scripture that points directly to a heavenly sanctuary equivalent to Moses’ sanctuary on Earth.  A question one could ask is “was there an altar of burnt offering in heaven?” We could say that the altar of burnt offering in the heavenly system was where Christ died but that was the cross of Calvary which was on Earth. Also, would there have been any need of a sanctuary in heaven equivalent to the earthly sanctuary if there had been no sin?

 As noted above, Jesus is physically located in heaven while He is ministering on behalf of the true tabernacle but it does not say where that tabernacle or sanctuary is located. Nor does it identify the nature of that tabernacle – we’ll get to that in part 6.

Ministering in and from the Heavenly Sanctuary

We know that Jesus (our advocate and the representative or ambassador of the Father) promised to be with His followers on Earth which He can do while physically in heaven via His omnipresent Spirit. So the work He is doing has at least some of its effect on earth. Jesus promised His disciples that He would be with them:

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.  … If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:18,23)

Wouldn’t we classify Jesus being with them (in spirit) and comforting them as ministering to them? I think we are starting to see some connection to this verse:

“A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” (Heb 8:2)

 The Millerites initially thought of the sanctuary (of Daniel 8:14) as the Earth. They soon realized they were mistaken and, to their credit, did not give up. Their focus changed towards heaven. I am more convinced than ever that God had a part in the Second Advent movement; that God was leading willing people for a purpose. But they did not have everything in regard to the sanctuary sorted out. Perhaps we don’t yet.

This is Part 4 of the Cleansing of the Sanctuary Series

Return to Daniel 8:14 (the master page of the series) to continue

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