The sanctuary structure built by Israel was not done as a favor to a homeless God. “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Instead, it was a symbolic structure of God’s heavenly temple, His home, where He invited His creation to come for intimate fellowship with Him. This is the point that the book of Hebrews seeks to make: “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24).
Jesus said, “ ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands’ ” (Mark 14:58). In speaking of His resurrection, He was referring to His own body being a temple or sanctuary. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19). Aside from the Old Testament temple, the Bible also refers to our bodies as being sanctuaries of God—models of the reality of heaven.
The Garden of Eden
There are only two places where God plants: He plants a garden in Eden, and He plants Himself in the sanctuary. In the original text, there is a relation between Genesis 2, where God plants, and Exodus 25, where He dwells. The ancient sanctuary of Israel had three main components: the courtyard, the holy place, and the most holy place. Similarly, Adam and Eve had their own sanctuary with three components: Eden, their home located east of Eden, and the midst of the garden.
The Sanctuary in Time
The sanctuary and the Sabbath have significant parallels. The sanctuary is present at creation in the Garden of Eden, and the Sabbath is present at the conclusion of creation. The Sabbath has allusions to creation and so does the sanctuary. Of creation, the Bible says, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. . . . And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done. . . . Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Gen. 1:31–2:3). Exodus 39 and 40 have similar language: “Moses looked over all the work, and indeed they had done it; as the Lord had commanded, just so they had done it. And Moses blessed them” (Ex. 39:43). Notice the parallels in the concepts: saw // looked, very good // just so, made // done, blessed // sanctified.
The Sanctuary and Education
From Mount Sinai in the wilderness where Israel sojourned, God desired to reveal His splendid standard for character—the ideal established at Creation, where Adam was created as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). Beholding the character of God, Moses declared, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Ex. 34:6). The sanctuary was to serve as the second piece of God’s plan not only to present Israel with an ideal to attain but also with a means by which such character could be attained. “Another lesson the tabernacle, through its service of sacrifice, was to teach—the lesson of pardon of sin, and power through the Saviour for obedience unto life” (Education, 36).
The splendor required of the building itself was also a lesson to be learned. In Exodus 31 God called for Bezaleel and Aholiab by name and made them the artisans of the sanctuary, responsible for major parts of its aesthetic beauty. In this task, God is personally interested in the success of the individual, and He calls people to do an overwhelming and beautiful work for Him. He empowers them with “the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship . . . that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Ex. 31:2, 6).