The Old Testament Sanctuary

(Part 3 of the Cleansing of the Sanctuary Series)

In this part of the Cleansing of the Sanctuary Series (see the introduction/overview) the Old Testament Sanctuary is examined to see if it could be the sanctuary referred to in Daniel 8:14; the one that is to be cleansed.

“Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?” (Psa 77:13)

This verse suggests that God’s way of doing things in the plan of salvation is centered in the sanctuary. It certainly seems to be how He dealt with the sin problem in Old Testament times. Let’s review the role of the Old Testament Sanctuary.

What did Moses See?

“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.” (Heb 8:5)

But Moses was shown a “pattern” while he was in the mount. That does not say he saw anything in heaven. Could he not have been shown the equivalent of a blueprint? It was, after all, instructions about what he was to build. The pattern was likely different than anything a heavenly sanctuary would look like. Heaven does not contain an altar for the burning of animal sacrifices. Any heavenly sanctuary would be on a much larger scale than what Moses built. Consider the numbers of beings involved in heaven:

“And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;” (Rev 5:11)

What was the Purpose of the Old Testament Sanctuary?

Here is Paul’s statement about the role of “the first tabernacle” (v8):

“Which [‘the first tabernacle,’ verse 8] was a figure [symbol or illustration] for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;” (Heb 9:9)

He called it “a figure” which, according to Webster, is:

  1. In theology, type; representative. Who was the figure of him that was to come. Romans 5:14. (

The Old Testament sanctuary represented a greater reality; it was not necessarily a copy in detail.

The Old Testament Sanctuary a Teaching Tool

We recognize that it was all meant to teach a greater reality. Essentially, it was theater, with:

  • A playwright – God Himself
  • A producer – Jesus
  • A director – Moses
  • A script – scripture, especially Exodus to Deuteronomy
  • A star actor – the high priest
  • Supporting actors – the priests
  • Stagehands – the Levites
  • Costumes – the priestly robes
  • Props – the articles of furniture
  • Curtains – to separate the scenes
  • A live audience – the Israelites

And, while it is no longer playing live, up to this day we still have:

  • Professional theater critics – theologians
  • Readers of the play’s script – us

Not “theater” in a demeaning sense (like “it’s all just an act”) but as a teaching tool. In New Testament times this was continued:

“For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” (1 Cor 4:9)

The word “spectacle” is from the Greek word “theatron.” Its other two uses (Acts 19:29, 31) are translated as “theatre.”

Hebrews 9:9, quoted earlier, said that the service of the tabernacle “could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience.” It could not relieve a person’s conscience from the effects of sin. (But it pointed to something that could.) The New Testament is clear that the Old Testament sanctuary with its services were not, on their own, effective:

“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Heb 10:4)

Old Testament Sacrifices not God’s Ideal

There are other verses that imply the ineffectiveness of sacrifices by indicating God’s dissatisfaction with them:

“For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.” (Psa 51:16)

“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.” (Isa 1:11)

Most versions for “I am full of” say “I have had enough of.” The New Living Translation says “I am sick of.”

“For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices:” (Jer 7:22)

“Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:7)

The implied answer to that question is “no.” The next verse tells us what God is much more interested in:

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8)

“And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33)

“And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:” (Heb 10:11)

We can conclude that the Old Testament sanctuary did not achieve the goal of cleansing the sanctuary but was meant to be a teaching tool to show us God’s way of dealing with the sin problem; to reconcile us to Himself.

This is Part 3 of the Cleansing of the Sanctuary Series

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

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