Where is our Sanctuary?

The word ‘sanctuary’ means a holy place. Under the New Covenant of Christ, no buildings or places are holy. Thus, a Christian place of assembly should never be called a sanctuary.

In accordance with Old Testament usage, the temple at Jerusalem is called ‘the sanctuary’ or ‘the holy place’ by New Testament writers: “For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:11). See also Matthew 24:15 and Acts 6:13.

It is made clear, however, that the temple at Jerusalem was only an earthly shadow of a heavenly reality. It is “an earthly sanctuary” (Hebrews 9:1). The true holy place is in heaven (Hebrews 9:11). “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” (Hebrews 9:24).

By the grace of God, followers of Christ may also enter the sanctuary where Christ has already gone: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Our hope in Christ is an anchor which reaches into the heavenly sanctuary! “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19,20).

The place where Christians meet is never called a sanctuary in the New Testament because our only sanctuary is in heaven. Christians can call on the name of the Lord and pray “in every place” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Timothy 2:8). Their prayers ascend to the throne of God in the heavenly sanctuary. The attitude of heart determines whether prayers are heard, not the place they are uttered.

Jesus explained this to the woman at the well after she said: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (John 4:20). Jesus told her: “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).

As Stephen told the Jews: “The Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48).

One writer, attempting to justify calling a church building a sanctuary, made the amazing assertion that a Christian place of worship is never called a sanctuary in the Bible because Christians had no special place to worship until after the last New Testament book was written! This is wrong on two counts.

In the letter of James, which is among the earlier books of the New Testament, mention is made of ‘your synagogue’ (James 2:2). The Greek word rendered here as ‘assembly’ in some translations is actually ‘synagogue’ which means a ‘place of assembly’. Do not be confused by commentators who say this refers to a Jewish synagogue. James is writing to Christians (James 2:1) who had their own separate assemblies from the beginning (Acts 2:42) and who would have little to say as to where someone sat in a Jewish synagogue!

New Testament writers never emphasized the place of assembly because the true sanctuary is in heaven. Whether a meeting hall was rented, belonged to one of the brethren, or was owned by the congregation is not considered worthy of mention. In Acts 4:31 we do read of “the place where they were assembled together.” The church at Troas met in “an upper room” (Acts 20:8). The church at Corinth came together at some central location where the Lord’s supper was eaten, for any who were hungry were to eat ‘at home’ (1 Corinthians 11:34).

James’ use of the word ‘synagogue’ indicates that Christians viewed their meeting places as similar to Jewish synagogues. Jews considered the temple to be the sanctuary. They did not classify their synagogues as ‘holy places’.

Our only sanctuary is in heaven where the prayers of the saints rise up as incense before the throne of God (Revelation 5:8; 8:3,4).

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise. Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive