Angel Manuel Rodriguez
Is the heavenly sanctuary a real temple, with a holy and a Most holy place?
It may be important to know the structure of the heavenly temple, but what is really significant is the work that Christ has been doing there on our behalf. But let me deal with your specific concern.
1. There is a Divine Heavenly Abode: If the heavenly sanctuary served as a model for the earthly sanctuary, there must be some type of structural relationship between the two (Heb. 8:5). Obviously the correspondence is a pale or shadowy one, because the human imagination cannot encompass the totality of the heavenly one. But there is a level of correspondence.
The Scriptures testify to the reality of the heavenly sanctuary, which is described as God's heavenly abode (e.g., Rev. 11:19; 14:17; 15:5). That by itself clearly implies a particular space, a majestic structure about which we know close to nothing and about which we can only talk, using the images and terminology of the earthly sanctuary.
2. God's Abode is not an Empty Room: Inside that temple is the most majestic throne one could imagine, the throne of God and Christ (Rev. 4:2). The reality of this throne is emphasized by the fact that Christ, who took to heaven a glorified human body, sits on it. In the heavenly temple there are also seats or thrones where heavenly beings sit to worship and serve the Lord (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 4:4). God has allowed those creatures to assist Him in the administration of the universe.
3. God's Abode is a Place of Action: Daniel saw God moving from one place to another within the heavenly sanctuary as He interacted with His creatures. Daniel saw Him entering a particular area and sitting on His throne (Dan. 7:9). He also saw the Son of man entering that same area and coming to the presence of God. The images are taken from Leviticus 16, where the high priest entered the most holy place with a cloud of incense to minister before the throne of God, before the ark of the covenant. In Daniel, the Son of man functions as a high priest, entering the heavenly most holy to minister for us.
4. God's Abode Has Different Spaces: John acknowledges that there are different spaces or rooms in the heavenly sanctuary. In one of his visions he was shown an angel ministering before the altar of incense in what would be the equivalent to the holy place in the earthly sanctuary (Rev. 8:3, 4). But he was also allowed to look inside the heavenly most holy Place, where he saw the ark of the covenant (Rev. 11:19). We are dealing here with different areas within the heavenly sanctuary. The least we could say is that the heavenly sanctuary has
no less than two rooms. This is to be expected if the earthly was built as a copy of the heavenly.
Interestingly, Jesus said to His disciples that in His Father's house there are many rooms (John 14:2). The phrase "house of my Father" most probably is referring to the temple in heaven where Jesus is going and where He is planning to take His disciples in the future. That temple is not a one-room building but rather a multiroom structure of majestic size.
The nature of the heavenly sanctuary is beyond our full comprehension. That is to be expected of a fraction of space that unites the infinite and the finite, the eternal and the temporal, God and His creatures, God's mode of existence with that of His creatures. No human building could adequately represent it.
But its uniqueness is not incompatible with its concreteness. The majesty and grandeur of the heavenly sanctuary are emphasized when we say that there are rooms in it. Since we are unable to comprehend its nature fully, God has given us the language and images of the earthly sanctuary to refer to it. Thus the concreteness and reality of the heavenly sanctuary as well as its diversity of spaces are emphasized without equating the heavenly realities with those of the earthly sanctuary.
We must retain the language and images of the earthly sanctuary to refer to the heavenly in order to avoid spiritualizing or rejecting the reality of God's heavenly dwelling.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez is director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.