9 January 2023 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
Was the tabernacle in the wilderness a literal copy of one in heaven? Or is it all just symbolic?
Signed, Really Wondering
You pose a provocative question, because the difference between the real and the symbolic is an overdue discussion in Adventism.
Seventh-day Adventist eschatology has at its core the idea that the sanctuary being cleansed in Daniel 8:14 is located in heaven. Therefore there must be, according to some of our pioneers, an actual tent in heaven that is a perfect model for the one that Hebrew craftsmen made and carried through the desert with them.
Accordingly, our 24th Fundamental Belief says, “There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man.” This echoes a passage in Hebrews chapter 8, that the earthly Jewish priests “serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” It goes on to say that Moses received plans from God, according to which blueprints an earthly sanctuary was constructed.
There was, of course, a real, physical earthly tabernacle whose rituals symbolized forgiveness and salvation. But from there, things get decidedly unclear. On earth the Jewish priests killed animals, burned the corpses, and sprinkled blood all over the place which was then later cleansed. So what is sprinkled and cleansed in the heavenly sanctuary? Not Jesus’ blood, but (says Adventist doctrine) our sins.
Clearly something literal here became something figurative there. So how much more of it is symbolic?
Is there a real palace in heaven with Jesus and God sitting on adjacent thrones? Are there 24 literal “elders” and seven “spirits of God” and four “living creatures” all singing constantly to God, per Revelation 4? Are there actual paper books—or perhaps parchment scrolls—in heaven where angels are recording with quill pens a diary of our sins?
Or let’s take another favorite Adventist image: those three angels of Revelation 14 “flying in the midst of heaven.” If you had been standing outside on a quiet night in rural New England around 1844, would you have seen or heard real, visible angels flying across the sky making announcements?
It is, it seems to Aunty, only in the matter of that heavenly sanctuary where Seventh-day Adventists suspend symbolism and make it physical. But couldn’t the heavenly sanctuary just be a picture for us physical people to understand concepts about God’s saving work on our behalf?
Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians to connect the Old Testament rituals with Jesus’ ministry. You can take Hebrews 8 literally if you want to, though Aunty doesn’t know what difference it will make to your salvation if there is a tent made of badger skins and goat hair, furnished with tallow candles and rams’ horn trumpets and other earthly materials, somewhere up in the sky. (Parts of butchered dead animals in heaven seems a bit odd, don’t you think?)
No, to Aunty, the lesson is that Jesus “is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). In other words, Jesus is our Savior, which authority he earned at Calvary, and he is still in heaven hearing and granting our requests for forgiveness.
Aunty doesn’t think it needs to be any more complicated than that.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.