Our society can hardly function without pictures. We use pictures everywhere. We hang them on our walls, upload them online, publish them in books, carry them in our wallets, watch them on our screens, and put them on our driver’s licenses. In spite of the fact that even the best picture can never replace the real thing, the old familiar saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is still true.
God understands this. Long ago He gave us far more than just the written Word. He gave us a picture of Jesus working out the plan that Heaven devised to save us from sin. He gave us a picture of His love.
“A picture of His love?” you might ask. How could He give us a picture of His love? This is what our study is about—how long, long ago God gave us a special picture of His plan to end the great problem of sin, not only in our individual lives, but in the universe as well. It is a study on His loving plan of salvation as pictured through the sanctuary.
The earthly sanctuary is patterned after the heavenly sanctuary. By studying the details of its earthly services, we have a better understanding of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary where He now intercedes for us as our High Priest.
After centuries of slavery in Egypt, God set His people free to become His chosen representatives to the heathen nations. Thus, on the way to the Promised Land, God began to teach Israel about Himself and His plan of salvation. Through the sanctuary and its services, He came to live with them and give them a glimpse of heaven.
Hebrews 8:1, 2 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at 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 erected, and not man.
2. What did John see in heaven?
Revelation 15:5 After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.
3. What were the two apartments of the sanctuary called?
Exodus 26:33 And you shall hang the veil from the clasps. Then you shall bring the ark of the Testimony in there, behind the veil. The veil shall be a divider for you between the Holy Place and the Most Holy.
God’s presence was in the sanctuary, and through its two apartments, we get a glimpse of the activities of heaven.
In the sanctuary, the dazzling furniture, the rich, flowing curtains, and the bleeding, dying animal carried a special meaning. Each symbolized our Lord Jesus Christ. In this study, we see how the role of the high priest also points to Christ, our Intercessor.
1. Who was the high priest of the earthly sanctuary?
Hebrews 5:1, 4 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins....And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.
High priests were from the Hebrew tribe of Levi, descendants of the first high priest—Aaron, Moses’ brother.
2. Who is the High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary?
Hebrews 9:11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.
In the earthly services there were many high priests. When one died, another would take his place. But Christ, “because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.” Hebrews 7:24.
3. What wonderful ministry is our High Priest able to do for us because He lives forever?
Hebrews 7:25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
In Hebrews 8:3 we read, “For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices.” If we were to do a detailed study of Exodus and Leviticus, we would find numerous types of services. However, most of the high priest’s work can be summed up in the ministration of the daily sin offering and the yearly Day of Atonement.
1. If a man sinned, what kind of lamb would he bring to sacrifice?
Leviticus 1:10 If his offering is of the flocks—of the sheep or of the goats—as a burnt sacrifice, he shall bring a male without blemish.
We do not come to our High Priest with a lamb, “but with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 1 Peter 1:19.
2. After the offering was brought, what was placed on the head of the offering?
Leviticus 1:4 Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
This signified that the man’s sin had been transferred to the animal. No longer did the sinner bear his guilt! He had found a substitute. The perfect lamb was a symbol of our sinless Savior. In His suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross, Jesus took our sins on Himself and died to pay for them.
3. Who killed the lamb?
Leviticus 1:10, 11 If his offering be of the flocks,...he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the Lord.
Just as the man who sinned killed the lamb, all of us caused the death of the Lamb of God through our sin (John 1:29). We killed Jesus.
4. Where was the blood placed?
Leviticus 1:11 And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar.
By the sprinkled blood of sacrifices, sins were transferred to the sanctuary and so recorded as “pardoned.”
If we will confess our sins to Jesus, He will record “pardon” in the heavenly sanctuary beside the record of our sins. This can only be done because He now ministers His sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary on our behalf (Hebrews 9:22‒24).
5. Where are sins, repentance, and pardon recorded in heaven?
Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
A full record of the life of every human being is kept in heaven. These records will be examined in the judgment.
The priests entered the Holy Place daily to carry out the services of the sanctuary. But only once a year did the high priest enter the Most Holy Place to do a special work for the whole nation of Israel. (See Leviticus 16:2.)
From the daily sacrifices for individuals and the nation, the sanctuary became defiled with the sins of the people. The Day of Atonement was for total cleansing of the sins recorded and pardoned in the sanctuary during the year. The people were to pray and search their lives completely in order to ensure all sins were confessed, forsaken, and pardoned.
Two goats were chosen—one became the Lord’s goat; the other, the scapegoat.
1. What was done with the Lord’s goat to make atonement for the people’s sins?
Leviticus 16:8, 9, 15, 16 Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord's lot fell . . . . He shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, . . . and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
The death of the Lord’s goat symbolized the death of Christ, who is able not only to pardon, but also to cleanse from all sin.
2. After the sanctuary was fully cleansed, what did the high priest do?
Leviticus 16:21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness.
In this way, all the confessed, pardoned, and forsaken sins of the righteous were transferred from the sanctuary to the scapegoat. Now the sanctuary, the high priest, and the people were completely cleansed from their record of sins.
The scapegoat did not cleanse the people. They were cleansed by the blood of the Lord’s goat. Rather, he represented the fallen angel, Satan, who began all evil and deserves punishment for all the sins he has tempted people to commit.
Unlike any other animal in the sanctuary service, the scapegoat was led out to die in the wilderness: “The goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.” Leviticus 16:22.
3. What will be the final fate of Satan, the instigator of sin?
Ezekiel 28:18, 19 “Therefore I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever.”
The Bible promises that the sanctuary in heaven will also go through a special cleansing: “Unto two thousand three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” Daniel 8:14. This cleansing involves an extended work of review and judgment.
Those whose sins have been forgiven because they accepted Jesus’ death for their sin will be acquitted and given eternal life. Their sins will then be placed on Satan, who will be punished and eventually destroyed.
The long war between good and evil will be over forever!
Will you humbly, fervently direct your prayers to the throne of grace so that every sin can be revealed, pardoned, and put away through the power of God’s Holy Spirit? Will you prepare for the final cleansing of the sanctuary in heaven?