Jesus and the Heavenly Sanctuary

Jesus is superior because he ministers in the “true tent” as opposed to the earthly “copy and shadow.”  He is not a priest in the earthly tabernacle or temple, but rather in the “real tabernacle” which is in heaven.  This text alludes to Exodus 25:40 which indicates that the original tabernacle was built after a pattern which was revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

In Exodus Moses received the plan for the Tabernacle from God.  The noun tabnit means something like “an architectural plan” often with the connotation that the item which is designed follows the pattern of something else.  An idol, for example, is in the pattern of a person or animal (Deut 4:16-18, referring to “graven images.”)   In the Greek translation, the word is tupos, a pattern or plan.  But in philosophical writings the word can have the sense of archetype, the ideal thing after which something is patterned.

As with other elements of Israel’s history, the writer of Hebrews is creating a typology between the earthly, historical fact of the tabernacle and the heavenly, “substance behind the reality.”  The writer is explaining that the heavenly is greater than the earthly, therefore the heavenly priest who ministers in the heavenly sanctuary is superior to the earthly.

It is significant that 8:2 states that the earthly tabernacle was set up by the Lord, alluding to Num 24:5-6 (describing the loveliness of the tents pitched by the Lord).  The immediate reference is to the tabernacle, but all of creation is the “tent pitched by the Lord” (Isa 42:15; 40:22).  The tabernacle was a kind of replica of Eden, decorated with trees and guarded by Cherubim.

Does this imply that there really is a “heavenly sanctuary”?  Possibly, since the idea of a heavenly sanctuary is common in both the Hebrew Bible and in the Second Temple period literature.  Ezekiel 40-48 is most obvious example, but see also Jub 31:34, 1 Enoch 90:28f., 1QSb 4.24ff, (Mark 14:58 may also be included here, although this comes on the lips of false witnesses at the time of Jesus’ trial.)   But the point the writer is trying to make is that just as the copy is inferior to the original, so too the earthly copy is inferior to the heavenly perfection.  If Jesus is a high priest in that heavenly sanctuary, then his priesthood and sacrifice are also therefore superior.

Ellingworth (Hebrews, 408) sees this passage as a reversal of the intent of Exodus 24.  There, Moses had a copy of the perfect model from heaven, therefore the worship in the tabernacle was superior to any other form of worship.  Here in Hebrews, he argues, the copy Moses made is inferior to the heavenly reality in Jesus. But these may not be mutually exclusive points, Moses’ tabernacle was superior to all forms of worship in the Ancient world, but now in Jesus the “substance” of Jesus’ ministry is greater than the shadow of Moses’ ministry.

The writer therefore sums up the argument so far in the book (Jesus and his high priesthood are superior to the levitical priesthood) and anticipates the major point of this chapter – that the covenant under which Jesus operates is superior to the old.

12 thoughts on “Jesus and the Heavenly Sanctuary

  1. I also agree that there likely is an actual heavenly temple. That’s probably why God gave such explicit instructions on how to build the tabernacle and all its furnishings in Exodus 25-28. How beautiful the earthly temple must have been with all its fine craftsmanship from artisans which had the Lord’s blessing upon them as they worked on the temple. “He has filled them with skill to do all manner of work. . . those who do every work and those who design artistic works” Exodus 35:35. And how much more beautiful the heavenly temple must be! Such a temple is fitting for where the Son of Man would offer his own blood as a sacrifice for our sins. What is more. . . I believe it is also likely that this temple was made long before Christ even came to earth. May be even Christ himself worked on it with his own hands just as he had worked on his creation from long ago. This is likely but just speculation. We truly do have a Great High Priest. He is far superior to the priests that operated under the law. As Hebrews 7:23-25 says, “. . . there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 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” (NKJV).

    • Aaron Van Voorst “And how much more beautiful the heavenly temple must be! Such a temple is fitting for where the Son of Man would offer his own blood as a sacrifice for our sins.”
      To my knowledge Jesus was on Earth when he offered the blood sacrifice. Unless there’s a passage that states that Jesus offered another blood sacrifice in the heavenly temple. I also realize how tempting it might be to take this metaphor too far and make it into an analogy. The Temple/tabernacle are but shadows of God’s Temple/Tabernacle in the way that my hand moves as a shadow of the thought of my mind. My mind pictures the action of my hand, and it obeys more or less (It has trouble catching a football.) So in the same way the Earthly Tabernacle was that which existed in the mind of God and was translated to Moses to oversee and it functioned more or less, emphasis on the less, they way he wanted it too. But Christ being the perfect tabernacle came and offered a perfect sacrifice, as a perfect priest, in just the way God had intended it, no less. “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Heb 9:11-13)
      All this to say that, although it may be cool to think of heaven having a huge temple which is made to glorify God it seems a little impractical and silly to think that a huge temple could add glory to an infinite God. Don’t get me wrong, all glory, honor, and power are to Him, but if the that which he created gives him glory, how much more glorious would the uncreated one be. A temple would pail in comparison. But I’m sure that is not what you meant, it is just how it sounded to me.

      • While it is true that it might not say ‘Christ made a sacrifice in heaven’ it is also true that it doesn’t say ‘Christ was the perfect tabernacle.’ In fact it says that Christ ‘went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle’ implying that he could not himself, be the tabernacle…

        Just some more food for thought! 🙂

  2. Does the writer know that there is a actual heavenly tabernacle or is he simply creating a word picture to prove Christ’s superiority? I am quite unsure. I would lean toward the actual tabernacle in the heavenly realm. Mostly because it makes it easier to discuss this passage. The writer is adamant about Christ’s superiority as the Great High Priest. His defense can only become stronger if he includes a superior dwelling place.

    “If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law” (Hebrews 8:4). The writer argues that the first temple (sanctuary) was simply a copy of the heavenly sanctuary. He continues in verse six with the big picture in mind. The old covenant is completely gone and Jesus is the superior mediator of the new one. Rather than seeing better promises and more freedom, most Jews saw this new covenant as a loss of human power. Their faith and traditional way of living was taken from them. Kind of like taking the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of dort out of the Christian Reformed Church. Then we might not be in the “Millennial Kingdom.”

  3. I have no doubt that any tabernacle on earth cannot hope to compare to one in Heaven. A tabernacle on earth is man-made, even if its directions come from God, and therefore will be flawed. Man cannot make anything perfect. But a tabernacle in Heaven would be a sight to behold! In all its splendor and perfectness, nothing could compare. And the price to get into it has already been paid. Hebrews 9:11-12 says ” When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say not a part of this creation…he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” When Christ came to earth and died to pay for our sins, he became the ultimate sacrifice that would stand over any other sacrifice. He is the sacrifice that we need in order to stand in the heavenly tabernacle.

  4. ‘But in philosophical writings the word can have the sense of archetype, the ideal thing after which something is patterned.’ – P.Long

    It was very interesting for me, reading these sections, and reflecting back on philosophy class. I remembered Plato’s forms, and his idea that everything on earth had a ‘perfect image’ somewhere out there after which it was modeled. When I read through Heb. 8.5, “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things,” and 10.1, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near,” and a little less apparent, but still comparable 9.11, I was immediately reminded of Platonic thought.

    That being said, the argument seems compelling, or at least the imagery and wording seems to imply that there was a model for Moses to build the tabernacle from. There was a heavenly ‘perfection’ from which to build the place of worship for Israel. However, the Platonic ideas that are very much obvious in these passages, whether intentional or not, make me wonder whether the author might have been referencing philosophical thought to get across his point of Christ’s supremacy…?

    All good things to ponder! 🙂

  5. That is a very interesting thought. When most people think of heaven, even me, I think of buildings and streets and roads, . . . just like earth. We picture heaven being something like we are living in now because that is all that we have to go on, but everything would be perfect. There very well may be a tabernacle in heaven that is even better than the one that they made here on earth. But when I also think of heaven, I think of the whole place being God’s sanctuary where there is not one place that we go to to worship. So in some ways, I picture heaven, all of heaven, being the tabernacle that the one on earth was trying to mirror. In my mind, I do not see a building, but all of heaven.

    • “We picture heaven being something like we are living in now because that is all that we have to go on” (Jessica). Good point. It is hard to picture something we’ve never known. I guess we won’t know until we “get there”…

      I do love the “substance and shadow” imagery, how the new covenant is better than the old… It’s exciting to think that we live under this better new covenant, but also to know that the best is yet to come.

  6. I believe that there is a “heavenly sanctuary”. And I believe that the heavenly sanctuary is far more perfect and superior to the earthly Tabernacle. As was already said “In Exodus Moses received the plan for the Tabernacle from God.” So, we know that God had told Moses how he wanted the Tabernacle to be built and im sure God had it built the exact way he wanted it. When I think about God telling Moses how the Tabernacle is to be built I think about the scripture being wrote and how it was God ordained, and everything was done perfectly the way God wanted it. Like we talked about in class Jesus is the Great High Preist, so he would not serve in a “earthly tabernacle or temple, but rather in the “real tabernacle” which is in heaven”. I also believe that the reason for the heavenly sanctuary to be more perfect and beautiful than the earthly one is that man built the earthly Tabernacle, and even though God guided their hands man is imperfect.

    • Kyle, I was thinking along similar lines. I think that since Moses did in fact see this plan, or blueprint, on Sinai indicates the likeliness of a “real” tabernacle. And I don’t particular see a problem with this. Is heaven so far beyond our tangible understanding? I realize that this is a risky question to ask but the challenge is worthy I think. The answers can be pretty open ended because we really just don’t know.

      I like Jessica’s statement, “In my mind, I do not see a building, but all of heaven.” We can by all means speculate as to what the “real” tabernacle may be or look like, but this can risk taking it too far when a proper response would be more so concerned with the purpose of the “real” tabernacle and our actions in such than the image portrayal of it.


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