September 2020
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The Sanctuary


 Lesson 2: “‘Heaven’ on Earth”

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The reason for the existence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to proclaim the sanctuary truth to the world. It is the third angel’s message. If this truth is simply about some other-worldly, abstract, philosophical notion, having nothing to do with our day-to-day lives, then it loses its “presiding power” in our lives. [1] If the sanctuary truth is our Divine mandate for the church’s existence, then it is imperative to establish its veracity and authenticate its reality in heaven.

The Bible and spirit of prophecy teach that there is a real structural temple in heaven of which Christ is the vibrant, living expression of the truths taught therein. And this heavenly temple had its miniature “sandbox” model on this earth during the Old Testament dispensation as a teaching aid of God’s plan of salvation.


God’s everlasting covenant given to Abraham pointed him to the heavenly sanctuary for salvation and he believed the promise. Specifically Abraham believed in the gospel of Christ as God proclaimed it to him. [2] The Sacrifice for sinners was so vividly proclaimed by God to Abraham that when asked to “sacrifice” his son Isaac on the altar, he was motivated by Divine love to give his only true son. [3] The source of agape is the heavenly sanctuary. [4] When God evangelized Abraham with the gospel it was thorough and complete [5] He revealed to Abraham what was in heaven, the sanctuary, so that he could share with God as much as a human could, the sacrificial love of God.

Thus the everlasting covenant has ever been God’s promise of restoring grace to sinners as revealed in the sanctuary. The temple in Heaven is the special dwelling-place of God. “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Hab. 2:20). “The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven” (Psalm 11:4).

Among the antediluvians was one young man who “walked with God” (Gen. 5:24). God took Him by the hand and Enoch went for a walk with God. “By faith” Enoch bore a “testimony” to his generation “that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5). Enoch did not resist God and permitted Him to purify his life of sin and thus God was able to reveal the deeper meaning of the sanctuary truth and cleanse him of all known and unknown sin so that “he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him.” Here was one person before the Flood who comprehended the “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of “the love of Christ, … filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:18, 19).

This demonstrates that there was no necessity for an earthly sanctuary for most of earth’s history. For some 2,200 years, from creation until Mt. Sinai, there was no earthly sanctuary, but there was a real Temple residence for God in heaven.

It was not until Israel made their old covenant promise, “all that the Lord hath spoken, will we do” (Ex. 19:8) that out of necessity God initiated the construction of an earthly tabernacle. Motivated by their own self-sufficiency to obey the commandments, ancient Israel made their vain pledge to keep their part of the bargain and that was the old covenant.

God never asked them to promise him anything. He simply proclaimed the good news promise to them as he had done with their father Abraham. The only appropriate response would have been for them to believe God’s promise just as Abraham did. Then God’s Divine love would have been written in their souls.

But their self-confident pledge was the great sin of unbelief. Paul writes: “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions” (Gal. 3:19). The root cause of “transgressions” is unbelief. Evidently there was a great sin committed by Israel at Mt. Sinai which necessitated the emphasizing of the law of God in the format of the ten commandments written by God’s own finger on tables of stone. Since the people would not simply believe God’s promise so that He might write His laws in their hearts and minds, He was obliged to write them on rocks which were placed in a box, the ark of the covenant, which was put in the tabernacle.

God wanted to abide in their lives, but through unbelief they sent Him to dwell in a “motel room.” In his talk before the Jewish council, when he was on trial for his life, Stephen said, “our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness” (Acts 7:44). The tabernacle was a witness of their unbelief in God’s everlasting covenant.

You cherish a picture of a loved one when the loved one is absent. But when the loved one finally comes, you no longer look at the picture, for you can see your beloved face to face. So, when Jesus the great High Priest came and died for us in person, the “picture” or “types” of the Hebrew sanctuary were no longer needed. Like a shadow that comes to an end when we see the sunlight which made the shadow, so the “shadow” of the earthly sanctuary met its fulfillment at the cross. The veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom and the ministry of the earthly sanctuary itself lost its significance (Matt. 27:51). That is why there is no earthly “temple” or “sanctuary” like there was in the days of Moses and Daniel. We have something better–the reality in heaven.

When Jesus ascended after His resurrection, He began His work as High Priest in a “better” sanctuary than the old one. His followers no longer cared about the old sanctuary in Jerusalem, but they followed Christ by faith as He entered the one above. We can easily understand that if Jesus as our High Priest has “passed into the heavens,” then the real, eternal sanctuary is also in heaven (Heb. 4:14). And nothing can ever “take away” His ministry there for “He ever liveth” and His ministry is “unchangeable” (Heb. 7:25, 24).

The New Testament makes it clear: “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). Our minds are directed to the true one in heaven, of which the earthly was a pattern. “The first tabernacle was … a figure 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; … but Christ [has] 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. 9:8-11).

Our friends in the Evangelical churches would not consider the sanctuary truth “dry, stale, or profitless,” if we ourselves proclaimed its practical meaning. This is what the 1888 “messengers,” A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, began to see. They rightly discerned that there is no way that the record of our sins could be blotted out of the books in heaven unless first of all the sin itself is blotted out of the human heart. This simple insight was practicalizing the sanctuary.


Paul E. Penno


[1] “Satan is striving continually to bring in fanciful suppositions in regard to the sanctuary, degrading the wonderful representations of God and the ministry of Christ for our salvation into something that suits the carnal mind. He removes its presiding power from the hearts of believers, and supplies its place with fantastic theories invented to make void the truths of the atonement, and destroy our confidence in the doctrines which we have held sacred since the third angel’s message was first given. Thus he would rob us of our faith in the very message that has made us a separate people, and has given character and power to our work” (Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7, p. 17; 1905).

[2] “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:8).

[3] “By faith [motivated by agape] Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Heb. 11:17, 18).

[4] “He stepped into the chariot and was borne to the holiest, where the Father sat. There I beheld Jesus, a great High Priest, standing before the Father. … Those who rose up with Jesus would send up their faith to Him in the holiest, and pray, ‘My Father, give us Thy Spirit.’ Then Jesus would breathe upon them the Holy Ghost. In that breath was light, power, and much love, joy, and peace” (Early Writings, p. 55).

[5] “The blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14). “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5).