In the last four chapters we have seen that the sanctuary has three places—the court, the holy place and the most holy place. These three places distinctly represent Christ’s work as the Lamb, the High Priest and the Judge on behalf of the repentant sinner. Of His work of judgment, Christ said, “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22).
The first step
The first step the repentant sinner takes is to come to the court with a sacrifice for his sin. “And he shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering, and kill it at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Leviticus 3:2) The sinner himself kills the offering as God wanted the sinner to always remember that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), that his sin is killing someone else. The laying of his hand upon the head of his offering symbolized the confession of his sin and the transfer of the sin from the sinner to the innocent victim.
Leviticus 16:21, “…shall lay both his hands upon the head … and confess over him all the iniquities”.
Then the priest collects the blood in a basin and takes it to the holy place of the sanctuary and pleads to God on the sinner’s behalf. Why was the blood taken to the sanctuary? The Bible tells us that life is in the blood.
Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.”
The sacrifice and the blood of an animal have no value at all. They were just symbols of the reality. The apostle wrote, Hebrews 10:1, 4 “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect…For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”
There is only one sacrifice that had value, which was offered for the sins of the whole world, from Adam’s time to the close of earth’s history. Jesus is, “The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
That holy and precious blood has eternal value for every sinner. It is called “the blood of the everlasting covenant” Hebrews 13:20
As the repentant sinner brought a sacrifice for his sin in the earthly court, in reality we come to God by faith claiming Christ as our personal sacrificial Lamb. As the sinner placed his hands upon the head of the sacrifice and confessed his sins upon it, we come to the Lamb of God and confess our sins to Him. The word of God says,
1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Yes, from our part we genuinely confess our sins to Him, and from His part the heavenly High Priest does two things—He does “forgive us” and “cleanse us”. This statement can be understood properly only from the light of the sanctuary services. Forgiving and cleansing the sins are not done at the same time as far as the sanctuary service is concerned. One is done at the holy place and the other is done at the most holy place of the sanctuary.
The daily and the yearly ministry:
The two apartments of the sanctuary revealed the two distinct works of the priest on behalf of the sinner. In the first apartment called the holy place was the daily ministry of the priest and in the second apartment called the most holy place was the yearly ministry of the high priest. The apostle who has beautifully compared the earthly sanctuary and the ministry to the heavenly sanctuary and its ministry wrote about both, the daily and the yearly services of the sanctuary. About the daily ministering in the holy place, he wrote,
Hebrews 10:11, “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins”
And about the yearly ministering in the most holy place, he wrote,
Hebrews 10:3, “But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.”
A fact needs to be noted here is that the second apartment, where the ark was, is not just called the most holy place, but sometimes it is called the holy place as well, just like the first apartment was called. But on the other hand, the first apartment was only called the holy place, never called the most holy place. So when the bible mentions holy place—it could mean either the first or the second apartment, the context would reveal it. But when the Bible mentions the most holy place or the holiest of all, it is only a reference to the second apartment of the sanctuary.
The Lord clearly told Moses that the high priest can’t come to the second apartment, where the ark was, at all times.
Leviticus 16:2 “And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.”
There was just one day in a year where the high priest ministered in the most holy place of the sanctuary. That was called the Day of Atonement.
Leviticus 16:29, 34 “And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls…And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year.”
Two distinct works
After the sinner kills the sacrifice with his own hands, in the court, the priest takes the blood to the holy place of the sanctuary. He puts the blood on the veil that divides that holy place and the most holy place. Since that is the common veil for both rooms, in essence the blood is applied to both the rooms, though the priest is not permitted to enter the most holy place during his daily ministration. And then the priest puts some blood on the altar of incense that was before the veil and then prays for the sinner to be forgiven based on the blood that was shed for his sins. The incense filled both the rooms as the veil that divided the holy and the most holy place did not reach the top of the ceiling.
Leviticus 4:6, “And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the LORD, before the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the LORD, which is in the tabernacle of the congregation”
The blood being put on the veil and on the altar of incense symbolized that the sins of the repentant sinner are now transferred into the sanctuary—from the sinner, to the sacrificial animal; and from the sacrificial animal the sins are transferred through its blood into the sanctuary finally, by the priest.
In the daily ministration in the first apartment two things happens. The sin is transferred into the sanctuary by the blood, and then it stands forgiven because of the merit of the blood that was shed. The record of the sin, though forgiven, remains till a future date, when the ministration in the second apartment, the most holy place, takes place. Here the forgiven sins were cleansed and blotted out of the record books permanently.
Why would God want to keep a record of the forgiven sin and then blot it out later? Just as there are two apartments in the sanctuary that deals with our sins, man has two things to do in regard to sin. First, he needs to repent or confess his sins, and then he needs to overcome or forsake or conquer it as well. Jesus taught this truth plainly when he told the woman, who was a sinner, John 8:11 “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
The Old Testament too clearly teaches that we need to stop sinning; we need to forsake sin, and not just confess our sins.
Proverbs 28:13, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
Do you remember where the mercy seat in the sanctuary was? It was in the most holy place, in the second apartment of the sanctuary. For us to receive mercy, from the mercy seat of God, for the sins committed, we need to confess and forsake them as well.
Jeremiah too writes about the two aspects of dealing with sin—the forgiveness and blotting out of it. He prayed to the Lord not to do both for his enemies.
Jeremiah 18:23 “Yet, LORD, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me: forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight”.
So when a repentant sinner comes with a sacrifice for the sins committed he stands forgiven immediately, by the ministration in the holy place. But unless he forsakes it, overcomes it, when he meets the same situations (temptations) again, he will never have mercy granted to him from the mercy seat, the ministration in the most holy place.
The apostle Peter, too, being filled with the Holy Spirit, declared to the multitude the two steps in dealing with sin before it could be permanently blotted out.
Acts 3:19, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”.
Repentance to sin is the first step and being converted or overcoming sin is the second step. When we confess (repent for) our sins the Lord indeed forgives us instantaneously, but the blotting out of sins is not done at that point, but at a future date. Peter called that time when the sins are blotted out as “the times of refreshing”.
King David, when he committed adultery and murder, asked God for blotting out his transgressions as well. He knew the blotting out takes place in the most holy place where the mercy seat is. Notice carefully his wordings.
Psalm 51:1, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.”
Twice he used the word— “mercy”, “mercies”, probably referring to the atoning blood that was put in two places in connection with the mercy seat of the sanctuary—upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat, on the day of the cleansing of the sanctuary.
Leviticus16:14 , “And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.”
The record of sins remains till the Day of Atonement, where God from the mercy seat blots out all our transgressions forever. Prophet Micah too joins in the same line of thought when he mention about all our sins, figuratively being cast into the depths of the sea—meaning it will be remembered no more, no more; record of it is preserved.
Micah 7:18, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”
The prophet connects the act of God in casting our sins into the depths of the sea to the act of God who “delighteth in mercy”. It is from the “mercy seat” of the most holy place that is done.
The psalmist David knew that a person’s sins are blotted out only when he has overcome his sin—when he has a clean heart and a right spirit—and not just when he has confessed his sins.
Psalm 51:9, 10 “Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”
The cleansing of the earthly sanctuary
Every day the sanctuary was polluted or defiled with the sins being transferred there from the sinner through the blood of the sacrifice, in the daily ministration that took place in the holy place. And once a year God made provision for the sanctuary to be cleansed from all its sins on the Day of Atonement through the ministration that took place at the end of the Jewish religious year.
Leviticus 16:16 “And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.”
Leviticus 16:19 “And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.”
Yes, the earthly sanctuary was cleansed because of the “uncleanness of the children of Israel”. And how was it unclean? The text says, “because of their transgressions in all their sins”.
The point that most miss out is this: if the sins of record are immediately blotted out when the sinner receives forgiveness, then why does the sanctuary need a cleansing once a year at all, because the sin is immediately cleansed and removed from the record anyway when forgiveness was granted! But the fact is, we have seen—only forgiveness is granted in the first apartment where the priest pleads with the blood of the atoning sacrifice, but the sanctuary retains the record of sin, till the ministry is done in the second apartment, on the Day of Atonement. Then the uncleanness of their sins, accumulated throughout the year, is removed and the sanctuary is declared cleansed.
It is not just the sins of the repentant sinner that is recorded in the registers of heaven, but of all people as well, of the repentant and the unrepentant, as God will judge both the good and the bad. God mentions the great evil that people were committing and the Lord says their unrepentant sins were defiling His sanctuary—that is getting registered in the books of heaven. But it is only through the atoning blood and the intercession work of the priest the forgiveness and blotting out takes place. The sins of the wicked will remain there till he pays for it on the judgment day.
Ezekiel 5:11, “Wherefore, as I live, saith the Lord GOD; Surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things”
Also in the book of Jeremiah it is mentioned of the record of sin in God’s presence in the heaven. As God will judge the whole world-the good and the bad- He has all the records with Him.
Jeremiah 2:22 “For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD.”
What can wash away our sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
The cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary
The apostle Paul writes that all things that were done in the earthly sanctuary were examples and the shadows of what Christ does as the High Priest in the heavenly Sanctuary
Hebrews 8:3, 5, “For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer…Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things”.
As the earthly high priest had two distinct ministrations in the two places of the sanctuary, our heavenly High Priest has the same because the earthy services were an “example and shadow of the heavenly things”.
Though there are similarities between the earthly and the heavenly temple there are differences as well.
One, the animal sacrifices for the earthly sanctuary, and the blood, were offered every day. But “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) is the only sacrifice of the heavenly sanctuary, which was offered only once on Calvary because it was a perfect sacrifice, it was an eternal sacrifice for all humanity—before the cross and after the cross as well. His blood is called “the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20) because it has eternal value.
Two, there were many high priests in the earthly sanctuary by the reason of death, but since the heavenly high priest never dies, He is has the “unchangeable priesthood” (Hebrews 7:24).
Three, as in the earthly sanctuary most of the time the ministry was in the first apartment, and once a year, at the end of the year, he would go to the second apartment for the cleansing of the sanctuary, our heavenly High Priest, too, does likewise. At His ascension Jesus, by His own blood, “entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12). And when would Jesus enter into the second apartment of the heavenly sanctuary to cleanse sin from the sanctuary? Paul says it takes place at the “end of the world”. He wrote, “Once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). “To put away sin” from the sanctuary was nothing but to cleanse the sanctuary—that was done on the Day of Atonement.
The earthly sanctuary was cleansed every year on the Day of Atonement. The heavenly sanctuary would be cleansed from the record of sin at the “end of the world” we are told. As “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7), and He was sacrificed for us exactly on the Passover day, Christ the High Priest would commence His work in the most holy place on the Day of Atonement as well. But when would that be?
As God gave the great prophet Daniel the year of the death of the Lamb of God, in a prophetic calculation, in Daniel Chapter 9, God gave the year of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary by the heavenly High Priest, in Daniel chapter 8.
Daniel 8:14 “And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”
We don’t have the space and time now to deal with these two amazing time prophecies of the Bible.
But the matter of fact is the heavenly sanctuary gets cleansed before the second coming of Jesus. How do we know that? In the earthly Sanctuary the priest bore the sins of the people while the ministered in the sanctuary.
Numbers 18:1 “And the LORD said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy father's house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary”.
The sins got transferred from the sinner, to the sacrificial animal, and then through the blood the priest was the vehicle to carry it into the sanctuary. So Christ was not just our sin bearer on the cross, (on the cross He paid the penalty for our sins), but He is still our sin Bearer as the High Priest pleading the merits of His sacrifice on behalf of sinners. Isaiah wrote,
“And he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
Listen carefully to what the apostle Paul said about second coming of Jesus and He bearing our sins. Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
As the High Priest now, Jesus still bears our sins. But when He comes the second time, He is coming “without sin”, which means the bearing of the sins is over, His high priestly work is over, the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary is over! In symbolic picture John saw the end of Jesus’ mediation for sinners in the heavenly sanctuary, when the censer, symbolizing His mediation work, is cast down.
Revelation 8:5, “And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth”
And that is why Jesus declares, after the work of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary of the record of sin is over, and just prior to His second coming, these solemn words. Revelation 22:11, 12 “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward [is] with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”
The pre-advent judgment
The cleansing of the sanctuary was also called the Day of Judgment as the final verdict went out, as sin was removed from the sanctuary. The breastplate that the high priest wore when he “goeth in before the LORD” is called the “breastplate of judgment” (Exodus 28:30).
In the first century when Paul was preaching about the judgment he referred to the judgment in the future. He said, “Judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). But the people of God who are to take the gospel to the whole world before the coming of Jesus, we see, in the prophetic book of Revelation, preaching the everlasting gospel and telling the world that the judgment has already begun. They are not putting the judgment in the future as Paul did but they are putting the judgment in the present, something going on in the heavenly sanctuary. They are not preaching error. The Bible calls this last day gospel preaching by His people as “the everlasting gospel”.
Revelation14:6 “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come”
How did they know “the hour of his judgment is come”? They get it from the book of Daniel that gives us the timing of the heavenly sanctuary to be cleansed.
Prophet Daniel saw in prophetic vision the scene of the heavenly judgment.
Daniel 7:9 “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.”
There are books of record that God opens up in judgment. Every detail is registered in those heavenly books—the good and the bad. God doesn’t need any record because He knows the end from the beginning. But God preserves it for the benefit of the universe that is watching the final verdict. John the revelator, too, saw the judgment scene and the books that were associated with the judgment.
Revelation 20:12 “… and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”
If when we ask for pardon, the past record is blotted out, then what would be in the books of record? Then why open the books at all of the righteous? Only the books of the wicked should be opened. But the Bible says,
2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
The standard of Judgment
The sanctuary reveals the grand truth that the judgment takes place at the most holy place where the law of God is. The blood was put on the ark which contained the law of God.
Leviticus16:14, “And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.”
What does it signify? The law demanded the death of the transgressor. But God’s mercy has found out a way for the transgressor to live through the death of the Son of God. In the sanctuary above, Jesus shows His blood as the payment for sin and pleads for mercy to be shown to the transgressor because of Him. He took our justice and granted us mercy! “And mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” (James 2:13).
When John was shown the heavenly judgment he saw the ark of the testament in the heavenly temple, in which the law of God is.
Revelation 1:18, “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth. And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament.”
The Bible is very clear, in several places, that the law of God, the Ten Commandments, is the standard of the judgment.
James 2:12, “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”
Lest someone wonders which law is apostle referring to, he quotes a couple of them. “For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill.” (James 2:11). That’s the Ten Commandment law!
Also you will notice the people who preach the “everlasting gospel” (Revelation 14:6) as shown to John when they preach “the hour of his judgment is come” (Revelation 14:7) are keeping the commandments of God, because the judgment is based on the commandments!
Revelation 14:12, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
Yes, indeed, the Sanctuary Unlocks the Mystery of the Judgment!
Is our life in harmony with the holy precepts of the Decalogue? We need to if we desire to pass the heavenly judgment! We can’t keep the law in the old covenant way with our human effort; we need the experience of the new covenant, a life filled with the Holy Spirit to do that. May God help us to this end! Let us conclude how the wise man concluded his book. He too associated the heavenly judgment with the commandments of God.
Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”