Sanctuary definition - a place for God?
Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

Note: “sanctuary” can have a few meanings. The sanctuary this page is most concerned with is that most often referred to as the heavenly sanctuary that is to be cleansed as in Daniel 8:14 “then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”

Traditional Legal Model – The sanctuary is heaven or a part thereof where Jesus, in some understandings, carries on the legal aspect of the work of salvation by cleansing the heavenly books of the record of people’s confessed sins. This work was prefigured by the earthly sanctuary built by Moses in which the people were “cleansed” by the application of sacrificial blood – but only typically: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Heb 10:4)

Biblical Healing Model – While Jesus, in human form, is physically in the heavenly sanctuary, through His omnipresent spirit, He aids each of us as we cooperate with Him in the process of cleansing the sanctuary heaven is most concerned with – the minds of His people on earth.

From a Modern Dictionary

Sanctuary (noun)

  1. a sacred or holy place.
  2. Judaism.
    a. the Biblical tabernacle or the Temple in Jerusalem.
    b. the holy of holies of these places of worship.
  3. an especially holy place in a temple or church.
  4. a church or other sacred place where fugitives were formerly entitled to immunity from arrest
  5. any place of refuge; asylum.
  6. a tract of land where birds and wildlife, especially those hunted for sport, can breed and take refuge in safety from hunters.

(, accessed Nov. 5, 2019)

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Sanctuary (noun)

  1. A sacred place; particularly among the Israelites, the most retired part of the temple at Jerusalem, called the Holy of Holies, in which was kept the ark of the covenant, and into which no person was permitted to enter except the high priest, and that only once a year to intercede for the people. The same name was given to the most sacred part of the tabernacle. Leviticus 4:6. Hebrews 9:1.
  2. The temple at Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 20:8.
  3. A house consecrated to the worship of God; a place where divine service is performed. Psalms 73:17. Hence sanctuary is used for a church.
  4. A place of protection; a sacred asylum. Hence a sanctuary-man is one that resorts to a sanctuary for protection.
  5. Shelter; protection.

(, accessed Nov. 5, 2019)

Sanctuary Definition – Synonyms

Let’s establish that the terms sanctuary, tabernacle and temple are all somewhat synonymous. There are a number of verses that seem to make these equivalent terms:

“And they [the Levites] shall keep thy charge, and the charge of all the tabernacle: only they shall not come nigh the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, that neither they, nor ye also, die.” (Num 18:3)

“Afterward he brought me to the temple, and measured the posts, six cubits broad on the one side, and six cubits broad on the other side, which was the breadth of the tabernacle.” (Eze 41:1)

“The posts of the temple were squared, and the face of the sanctuary; the appearance of the one as the appearance of the other.” Eze 41:21)

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

“For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.” (Heb 9:2)

The words “house” and “habitation” are also, at times, used with a meaning like the other terms:

“Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.” (Dan 5:3)

“In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Eph 2:21-22)

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:” (Heb 11:8-9)

It says Abraham lived in “tabernacles” but, of course, we would call that a tent. The original Greek word is “skene” (Strong’s G4633) which can mean a tent.

“Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles (G4633); one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” (Matt 17:4)

Peter would have been proposing to make tents, not something as elaborate as the tabernacle Moses had built, certainly not a place for sacrifice. Matthew used the same word and it is used again in Acts to refer to what Moses had built:

“Our fathers had the tabernacle (G4633) of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.” (Acts 7:44)

Sanctuary Definition – A Safe and Holy Place

So, we have the somewhat similar terms: dwelling, habitation, house, sanctuary, tabernacle, temple, tent. The most significant term (and the one we are focusing on) is “sanctuary.” The other terms all have the meaning of a place to live or to house something. A sanctuary is that and more. It implies the idea of a place of safety and security, as given in the dictionary definitions above.

It also implies a place of holiness as the word sanctuary is from the Hebrew word “miqdash” (Strong’s H4720) which is related to the Hebrew verb “qodesh” (Strong’s H6944) as used in “holy habitation” (Deut 26:15, quoted below).

“The word ‘sanctuary’ signifies ‘holy place,’ and every abiding place of God is necessarily holy. The sanctuary of God is therefore His dwelling-place.” (E.J. Waggoner, The Everlasting Covenant, p367)

The quotation above suggests that any sanctuary or place God is to abide must be holy. This corresponds with verses describing God’s habitation as holy as in:

“Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey.” (Deut 26:15)

The word “holy,” in that verse, is a translation from the Hebrew word “qodesh” (H6944) which is based upon the Hebrew verb “qadash” (H6942) meaning to sanctify. It is interesting that the word “sanctuary” as in this verse:

“Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.” (lev 19:30)

which is the Hebrew word miqdash” (H4720) is also from the word qadash. As “sanctuary” is based on a word meaning to sanctify or make holy, it makes sense that a sanctuary is to be a holy place.

Thus, the need for cleansing the sanctuary for God’s abiding presence. Here are verses connecting God’s abiding place to the human sanctuary:

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

“And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” (1 John 3:24)

Further studies on other options for the meaning of the sanctuary of Daniel 8:14 will show that the best option is the human heart. If you came to this page from the Cleansing of the Sanctuary Series you may click here to return to that study.

Go to The Character of God and the Gospel Glossary

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