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Lesson 6: Sanctuary Language in Hebrews *

Introduction: "What was that all about?" Have you ever asked yourself that question? Many years ago a church member discussed with me my understanding of a Bible text. She wanted to convince me I had reached the wrong conclusion about the text. She started out describing her father and what an important man he had been in the church. At the time, I could not grasp what the reference to her father was all about. Her father had nothing to do with understanding the Bible text. Later, when I reviewed the entire conversation in my mind, I realized that her point about her father was that he was an important man and therefore she was also important. I should consider her opinion more valuable now that I knew the identity of her father. The writer of Hebrews has a "what was that all about?" question for us this week. He asks us to contemplate the "big picture" of the sanctuary service of the Old Testament and consider "what that was all about?" Let's dive in and see what we can learn!

  1. First Covenant

    1. Read Hebrews 9:1. What was the "first covenant?"

      1. What clues are we given as to the meaning or identity of the first covenant? (One clue is that it involved an earthly sanctuary. The second clue is that it had regulations for worship. This leads me to conclude that the "first covenant," the writer of Hebrews has in mind, is the sanctuary service system in which sin was forgiven upon the shedding of animal blood. See generally 2 Chronicles 2:4.)

      2. Is there a "second covenant?" ( Hebrews 9:15 refers to a later covenant, a "new covenant." Hebrews wants us to turn our attention to the first covenant.)

    2. Read Hebrews 9:2-5. What is being described here? (The earthly sanctuary which was part of the first covenant.)

      1. Why does Hebrews describe the compartments and the furniture of the earthly sanctuary and then say (v.5) "but we cannot discuss these things in detail now?" Why discuss them at all if the details are not important?

        1. I've known people who cannot tell a simple story. Any story they tell is filled with irrelevant details. Do you have friends who can only tell you a story if they add a bunch of irrelevant details?

        2. Have you ever told a story and provided lots of details that did not seem to be relevant until you got to the end of your story? At the end, did your listeners understand the relevance of the "irrelevant" details?

        3. In Hebrews 9:5 we are told that the details about the furniture and the compartments are not "the point" that should most concern us. If they are not the point, what importance do you think the compartments and the furniture have to the story? (They must be teaching us some sort of lesson about the heavenly sanctuary. Otherwise, the writer of Hebrews would not go into so much detail to remind us of the earthly sanctuary.)

  2. Holy Spirit's Lesson

    1. Read Hebrews 9:6-8. This develops the idea that the details of the earthly sanctuary service were intended to teach us something. Who is teaching us this lesson? (Verse 8 tells us the Holy Spirit is using the sanctuary and its service as a teaching device for us.)

      1. Think about verse 7. We are told that only the High Priest could enter the presence of God (the Most Holy place) and he could only do so once a year. What strikes you as being important or unusual about that? (The limited access to God jumps out at us. One person had direct access to the presence of God and that was for a very limited period of time.)

      2. What does verse 7 tell us is the reason for this annual visit? (Forgiveness of sins for the High Priest and for the people.)

      3. What would you say was the primary purpose of the sanctuary and its service? (It was a system for approaching God and obtaining the forgiveness of sins.)

      4. We started our discussion of this section by saying that the Holy Spirit was teaching us something through the sanctuary service. What do you think we are supposed to learn from that service? (The entire sanctuary system was a parable of Jesus' past and present work for us. It was a prophecy of Jesus' death on our behalf (as the sacrificial offering), and it was a prophecy of Jesus' present work in heaven as our High Priest. This is an amazing and logically compelling argument for Christianity. This is a very significant logical point when discussing Jesus with observant Jews. The question to those who understand the Old Testament sanctuary service is: "What was that all about?" The answer is "It was about Jesus." It was about the better way of eliminating the sin in our lives.)

    2. Hebrews 9:8 tells us that "the way" into the Most Holy compartment "had not been disclosed" until the temple was destroyed? How do you explain that? (Once the temple was destroyed, the Jews no longer had a method by which sin could be forgiven. How could the great God of heaven allow such a situation (the destruction of the temple) to occur? It should have caused the average Jew to ask "What is going on?" Asking that question should bring the answer that the temple service on earth ended when its symbolism was fulfilled in the death of Jesus. In that way the destruction of the earthly sanctuary "disclosed" Jesus.)

      1. Now that we see that the Old Testament sanctuary service was a prophecy about Jesus, let's go back and briefly look at the "details" in Hebrews 9:2-5. What do you think is the prophetic meaning or symbolism of the following:

        1. The two compartments of the sanctuary? (Our new access to the presence of God through our new High Priest, Jesus. Instead of one man having access one day a year, we have constant access to and through Jesus.)

        2. The lamp stand and lamp? (See Revelation 21:23.)

        3. The bread? (See Matthew 26:26.)

        4. The manna? (See John 6:49-51.)

        5. The covering angels? (See Revelation 5:11-12.)

        6. The Ten Commandments? (See Matthew 5:19.)

        7. The incense? (See Revelation 5:8.)

          1. I think you can see that all of these items are directly related to Jesus or to His heavenly ministry.

    3. Read Hebrews 9:9-11. We previously discussed the main purpose of the Old Testament sanctuary service. Verse 9 seems to lead us in a different direction. What does this suggest was the purpose of the sanctuary system? (We had previously discussed that the sanctuary system was a way to separate the people from their sins. This suggests that the only purpose of the Old Testament sanctuary service was as an illustration of the future in Jesus.)

      1. Read Hebrews 9:13. Notice that this verse and verse 10 speak of "externals" -- being "outwardly clean." What does it mean to be "outwardly clean?"

        1. How does that fit into our idea that the sanctuary service on earth was essentially symbolic? (Cleaning on the outside is just for show, it is for others to see. Something that is truly clean is also clean inside. Jesus will completely separate us from sin.)

      2. Notice again the reference in verse 11 to the perfect temple that is not man-made. What temple is this? (This could only refer to the temple in heaven. Recall that we learned in an earlier lesson that the earthly sanctuary was patterned after a sanctuary in heaven. This is further proof that the earthly sanctuary service was symbolic of something much better.)

  3. Together Again

    1. Read Hebrews 9:14. What is the purpose of this entire system that is fulfilled through Jesus? ("That we may serve the living God!" A gulf was opened between God and man when Adam and Eve sinned. By cleansing us from sin, Jesus closes that gap between God and humans who choose Him. This allows us once again to become true servants of God.)

    2. Read Hebrews 9:15. This new relationship with God is called the "new covenant." How long will our new relationship through the work of Jesus last? (Eternally. It is the "promised eternal inheritance.")

    3. Friend, if you had any doubt that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the prophetic symbolism of the sanctuary service erases all reasonable doubt. The sanctuary service points unmistakably towards Jesus who died on our behalf for the forgiveness of our sins. The sanctuary service that was on earth gives us an insight into the current work of Jesus, our High Priest, in the heavenly sanctuary. Will you accept Jesus as your Savior today? Will you invite Him to intercede on your behalf in the heavenly sanctuary?

  1. Next Week: Jesus and the Covenant.
* Copr. 2003, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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