A Tale of Two Sanctuaries

Hebrews  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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As Christians, we should rejoice in living under the New Covenant.

We know that we are part of two worlds, yet we don’t often think of what this means for us. For example, we are part of this world, so we need to obey the laws of the land. However, for the Christian, we also are part of God’s world (kingdom citizens), so His laws trump any earthly law that may be contrary to Him.
We also come together on this earth to worship corporately, usually in a church structure, or even some homes, depending on your local church. Yet, we know that even though the church building has often been called the house of God, it is not really where God lives, if you will. This building, and many others around the world, are simply dedicated to ministry and to equipping the saints to do God’s work in this world. God actually dwells in a heavenly sanctuary.
Chapter 9 of Hebrews continues in the discussion about the New Covenant and how it is far superior to the Old Covenant in so many different ways. Some of you may wish that we would have covered this whole topic in one sermon, but I felt that would be a disservice to many things which we really ought to know and to be encouraged by, so that we don’t find ourselves tempted to go back to legalistic, inferior ways.
Today’s message will find us understanding more clearly how the Old Sanctuary, though set up by God, is completely inferior to the New Sanctuary. We’ll just start to touch on the superiority of the New Sanctuary.
As Christians, we should rejoice in living under the New Covenant.

Shadow Was Short-Lived. - 9.1-5

We touched upon the fact that the earthly priesthood was inferior and had to be replaced. Today, we’ll start off by looking at some reasons why the Old Covenant Sanctuary was inferior.
Hebrews 9:1–5 (NASB95)
Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Again, we’re reminded that God had set this up, so it was not worthless. Rather, it was temporary and was to serve an eternal purpose. However, it was worthless and insufficient, so it was short-lived. Verse 1 presents this in the fact that it had regulations of divine worship, though it was also earthly. It had limitations. Though it was designed by God and put together by individuals uniquely gifted and all the supplies had been brought by the Israelites, according to the last few chapters of Exodus, it was still limited. As the nation moved, it had to be dismantled and put back together again. It had to be repaired since it was made of materials on this earth. In the beginning, the walls were animal skins. It could not be everywhere at once. This is also made more obvious, since God’s glory moved into the sanctuary, He could not be limited to one location. Plus, this was just for Israel and not for all of humanity. All of this was temporary, pointing to Christ.
On the monitors, you see a very simple diagram showing the tabernacle. Again, remember that this is a foreshadowing or a type of that which would come into its perfect completion. It was a pattern. In verses 2-5, the writer of Hebrews talks about the various items and parts of the tabernacle. The reason is that each had a very specific spiritual meaning, which I’ve talked about during our adult Sunday School sessions. These were all copies of the things in heaven (Heb. 9.23).
To enter into the courtyard, there was a single gate on the east side. In other words, there was only one way to get into the tabernacle. I’m sure you easily recognize the fact of this shadow portraying the reality of what Jesus said when He stated, I am the way and elsewhere, I am the door.
From the courtyard, only the priests can go any further. You can see the outer one which is called the holy place. Then, there is the veil, which we recall was torn from top to bottom, when Jesus cried out, It is finished. Past that is the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could go in only one time per year. Within the Holy place was the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread. The oil lamps were essential simply for light since there were no windows. In the Old Testament, Israel was told to be a light to the nations, though they often failed in that. In the New Testament, Christians are supposed to shine as lights in the world.
We also see the table and the sacred bread. Interestingly, each Sabbath, the priests would get rid of the old loaves to take out and eat, and put in new, fresh loaves on the table. The old bread was not resold or given away, it was to be eaten only by the priests and they could only eat it in the sanctuary or tabernacle. This was to be a reminder of God’s continual presence that kept the Israelites going. The similarity is found in John 6, where Jesus is called the bread of life.
You notice that the altar of incense is just before the veil which separated the Holy of Holies. The coals from this were used to burn incense at the mercy seat which was on top of the Ark of the covenant. The Psalms give the picture of the daily burning of incense by the priests as a picture of prayer going up to God. The symbolism seems to be that Jesus is interceding for us as we lift up our prayers.
The Holy of Holies had only the ark of the covenant. This picture is taken from a Jewish book of history. It was actually a wooden chest that wasn’t that terribly big. It was three feet, nine inches long; two feet, three inches wide; two feet, three inches high. At the top is what was called the mercy seat made of gold, with two cherubs. According to Exodus and the Psalms, this was symbolically the throne of God in the tabernacle. Inside the box was the tablets of the law. So, on the day of Atonement, blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat, symbolizing covering the law. So, instead of God seeing the law which had been broken, he would see the blood. Notice that the blood was a covering. Jesus, however, serves as our mercy seat, in that God sees Jesus and his righteousness. Jesus’ blood doesn’t just cover our sin, it removes it completely.
There is a whole lot more that we could look at and be totally amazed. However, I want us to completely understand that this was all symbolism or a pattern or a type. It was not the spiritual reality. So, we can see that in this tale of two sanctuaries, the Old Covenant Sanctuary is merely a shadow.

Shadow Was Suppressive. - 9.6-7

How wonderful it is to gather together with other believers in Jesus Christ to worship the Lord! However, that was not the case in the Old Covenant sanctuary.
Hebrews 9:6–7 (NASB95)
Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.
Only the priests and Levites were allowed into the sanctuary or tabernacle. The average person, nor any other tribes were permitted inside. Many of us recall when our electricity would go out, the kerosene lamps would be used. You may remember how there had to be enough oil or kerosene in the lamps so they wouldn’t go out. You also probably recall that the scissors or something sharp was used to trim the wick every time, so the lamp would burn properly. This activity was done by the priests every day with the lamps, plus adding incense on the altar. In addition, there was the changing of the twelve loaves of bread every Sabbath, which we discussed earlier.
Even though there was ministry going on there every day, only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies. That only took place one time each year. That’s not all. Before the High Priest was allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies, he had to provide a sacrifice for his own sins, then for the sins of all the people. Think about it. As Christians, we have access to the New Testament sanctuary, or the heavenly tabernacle, all of the time, regardless of our ethnic background.

Shadow Was Symbolic. - 9.8-10

It seemed that as long as the old sanctuary was still in existence, people would focus on walking by sight, instead of by faith. The readers of Hebrews were trying to make the shadow the reality, when it was only to be symbolic.
Hebrews 9:8–10 (NASB95)
The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.
As long as the priests were still involved in offering sacrifices and as long as the old sanctuary was still standing, it was as though there was still a barrier between the people and God. With the old system, there was no direct access to God by normal people. The reality, however, was that when Jesus died on the cross, the way was made open and clear for humanity to have access into the Holy of Holies, through Jesus. There was no need for the old system any longer. It was replaced with the reality and the perfect.
And as long as the old system was still in existence and used, those people would not experience complete forgiveness of sin. We know that the blood of animals offered by the priest who also sinned, could never change the inner person. It was all outward activity. All of that which the old system did only provided ceremonial purity. It could never cause moral purity. The outer person might look good for awhile, but did nothing to change who a person really was. In other words, all of the sacrifices cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience.
The old sanctuary or tabernacle was designed to show that without a Savior Who was perfect, Who would offer the perfect sacrifice and invoke a New Covenant, there was no means of getting access to God.
We go back to the first sentence in verse 8 and see that word symbol. Symbols or shadows are never meant to be the real thing. They points to the reality which is found in Jesus.
What is meant by the last phrase, until a time of reformation? Simply put, till things are made right. It is Jesus Who is able, through His New Covenant, Who can make us right.

Reality Is Superior. - 9.11-14

Verse 11 starts out with that wonderful grammatical conjunction of hope—but. So we know the author is going to get started on how the heavenly sanctuary with the New Covenant is the way to go.
Hebrews 9:11–14 (NASB95)
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. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
You have got to love the phrase, the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation. It other words, the sanctuary of the New Covenant is literally, out of this world. Thinking about this earth and this world with everything falling apart and the evil that is so prevalent is enough to send anybody into a depressing tailspin. However, when you think about the perfectness, the purity, of worship in heaven, there is nothing that should cause us to be Gloomy Gus. Even the gorgeous Jewish temple was about to be destroyed. Yet, nothing is able to destroy the reality we have in Christ Jesus.
What an interesting reminder that the old sanctuary has everything to do with this creation, including, fallible builders and materials which will eventually fall apart or be destroyed. Whereas, the heavenly sanctuary is perfect in every way and is not susceptible to time and the laws of nature.
John MacArthur provides a wonderful explanation of verse 11 showing that the New Covenant sanctuary is supreme. The former priests had to go into the Holy Place by themselves—for the people, but not with the people. The same was true of the high priest in regard to the Holy of Holies, where he could not even take other priests. But our heavenly Priest takes His people with Him all the way into the sanctuary. He takes us into the sanctuary of sanctuaries, into heaven itself—not into the symbolic presence of God, but into the real presence of God. Not only has He gone before us, but He takes us with Him.
The good things to come were already here at the time of this writing, since Christ had already appeared. Everything that was foreshadowed from the earlier verses about the old sanctuary were now reality since Jesus had ascended to heaven and was already sitting down.
But there’s more. Verse 12 speaks of the animal sacrifices that had been given, which will talked about later on in Hebrews. We know that animals cannot deal with the issue of sinful humanity. Jesus, who is God, became man for the purpose of dying for humanity’s sin. Plus, how many animals can you think of that would say, today is a good day to die for the sins of humanity? Not even with Dr. Doolittle. Jesus came purposefully, to willingly and joyfully give his life as a sacrifice, so that we could live eternally in His presence. The animals’ blood had to be carried by the priest into the Holy of Holies. Whereas, Jesus was not carried, nor was His blood offered somewhere else; Jesus gave Himself as the one time and final sacrifice. This was done for eternity, not needing repetition of any sort. In addition, it is not based upon anything we can do, but is all by the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Notice carefully, the last part of verse 12, showing the superiority of the New Covenant by the permanence of our salvation; eternal redemption.
Verses 13-14 remind us that the Old Covenant could do nothing to change a person’s heart or their inner person. Yes, a person could indeed have a saving experience with God, but the law and the rites and rituals didn’t make it happen. They were purely external. As one theologian stated: It was the purifying of the flesh but not the cleansing of the conscience.
Remember the previous chapter, where the writer stated that God will put [His] laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts. That, my friends, is the work of the Holy Spirit, which can only happen after a person commits their life to the Lord Jesus Christ.


I was thinking of a story about an old rough, mean-spirited, crude, hateful individual. When you looked at him, it looked as though he hadn’t had a bath in years, had the most raggedy, stinky clothes on the planet, and was someone you didn’t want to be sitting beside. Whenever he spoke to someone, the air would practically turn blue with his profanity. He never had a kind word for anyone.
One day, he actually got all cleaned up and looked pretty spiffy. In fact, the comments that were heard were along the lines of he cleans up pretty well. Nobody was sure what prompted this, but they were all happy about it.
Yet, that wasn’t going to change who he really was. He might have looked all fine on the outside, but his attitude and personality were still grating.
Folks found out that the local pastor had been visiting him as of recent. Miraculously, as with all salvation stories, this harsh man had been gloriously saved.
You see, the outside appearances might have made people feel a bit more comfortable. He may have even been found more acceptable by many. However, though he looked fine on the outside, the Lord knew what was on the inside. It was Jesus Who cleaned up the inner man and made him a brand new person.
It’s not what we do based on the activities of the old sanctuary of the Old Covenant that will save us. Because it’s all been done on the cross for us. It is what Jesus does based on the New Covenant of His blood where He ministers as our great high priest in the New Sanctuary that can transform our lives from the inside out.
As Christians, we should rejoice in living under the New Covenant.
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