Relevant Biblical Passages: Hebrews 9
Sanctuary Language in Hebrews. Though “sanctuary” looms large in the book of Hebrews, a broader perspective is gained by looking at the role which “sanctuary” plays (or does not play) through the full sweep of biblical history. The concern for the “unity” of Scripture can tempt the interpreter to distort the message of Hebrews on the one hand or misuse it on the other:
- Imports which Distort the Message of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews should be allowed the privilege of developing his own message with his own particular emphases. It defeats the author’s purpose if we attempt to import into Hebrews the emphases found at other times and places and in other biblical books.
- Exports which Misuse the Message of Hebrews. If it is inappropriate to import into Hebrews the themes and emphases from other books, it is also misleading to export the themes and emphases of Hebrews in ways in which would distort the variety of emphases and themes found elsewhere in Scripture.
- A survey of the “sanctuary” theme (or its absence) throughout the Bible. The following epochs or eras reveal that “sanctuary” has not played the same role throughout God’s dealing with His people: In other words, “sanctuary” is important, but not all-encompassing.
- Before sin – no sanctuary, no barriers to communication between God and humanity.
- Patriarchs – sacrifices, but no sanctuary, only holy places.
- Wilderness wandering – a brand new sanctuary, modeled on a “pattern” given by God (Exod. 25:9).
Note: Archeologists have demonstrated that the “pattern” of the Israelite sanctuary is remarkably similar to the “pattern” of sanctuaries used by her Ancient Near Eastern neighbors. In other words, God “revealed” to Moses the kind of “church” which would be recognized as “church” in Moses’ day and culture. The similarities between Israel’s worship and that of her neighbors, however, should not obscure the dramatic differences. Most notably, the “fertility” rites which dominated Canaanite worship were totally transformed in Israelite worship. In Canaanite worship, sexual orgies on earth re-enacted what was imagined to be happening in heaven. The male and female deities of Canaanite religion found no answering chord in Israel. For God’s chosen people, the fertility of the earth and its creatures was simply God’s gift to His created world.
- Judges and early kings – a scattered sanctuary. When Solomon became king, even the various pieces of sanctuary furniture were not together in one place (e.g. 2 Chron. 1:2-6).
- Exile in Babylon – Israel had to learn to worship God without a sanctuary.
- Restored Temple – Finally God’s people had a sanctuary once again; but it was an impoverished temple, a cause for weeping among those who had seen the glories of Solomon’s great edifice (Ezra 3:10-13).
- Herod’s temple – a temple enhanced by the gifts of someone viewed as an unworthy ruler by many of God’s people.
- No temple – except in heaven. When the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 CE, there was no longer an “official” place for meeting God on earth.
- No temple in the restored earth. In the earth made new, there will be no temple, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22).
- Criticizing God’s earlier plan. While clearly claiming continuity between the old and the new (cf. Heb. 1:1-2), Hebrews boldly declares the “deficiencies” of the former.
Hebrews 9:8: “the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing.”
Hebrews 9:9: “gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper.”
Question: Are there other examples in Scripture of an “inspired’ writer being “critical” of a God-given plan from another era? (Cf. Acts 15:10; Romans 7).
- Locating God’s throne. In the light of Revelation 21:22, the statement that there will be no temple in the new earth, how should be interpret other passages which seem to locate God’s temple in the sanctuary or temple (e.g. Isa. 6:1; Rev. 7:15; 16:17)?