A place set apart for the worship of God or of gods, a holy place; a divine habitation. (1Ch 22:19; Isa 16:12; Eze 28:18; Am 7:9, 13) A “sanctuary” need not necessarily be a special building, for the one at Shechem referred to at Joshua 24:25, 26 may simply have been the site where Abraham had centuries earlier erected an altar. (Ge 12:6, 7) However, frequently the expression “sanctuary” designates either the tabernacle (Ex 25:8, 9) or the temple at Jerusalem. (1Ch 28:10; 2Ch 36:17; Eze 24:21) As applied to the tabernacle, “sanctuary” could mean the entire tent and its courtyard (Ex 25:8, 9; Le 21:12, 23), the furniture and utensils of the sanctuary (Nu 10:21; compare Nu 3:30, 31), or it could refer to the Most Holy (Le 16:16, 17, 20, 33).
As a holy place, God’s sanctuary was to be kept undefiled. (Nu 19:20; Eze 5:11) The Israelites should, therefore, “stand in awe” of that special place where God dwelt representatively. (Le 19:30; 26:2) When they were removed from the Promised Land into exile, they no longer had a material sanctuary. But Jehovah promised that he himself would, as it were, become “a sanctuary” for them.—Eze 11:16.
The Greek term na·osʹ is used in a broad sense to stand for the entire temple complex (Joh 2:20) or for the central edifice, with its Holy and Most Holy compartments separated by the curtain. (Mt 27:51) When Zechariah, for instance, went “into the sanctuary” to offer incense, he entered the Holy, for it was there that the altar of incense was located.—Lu 1:9-11.
God’s dwelling place in the heavens is a sanctuary, or a holy place. It is in this heavenly sanctuary that the apostle John, in vision, saw the ark of the covenant after the blowing of the ‘seventh trumpet.’ (Re 11:15, 19) Thereafter he observed angels emerging from this sanctuary and, in connection with the outpouring of “the seven bowls” of God’s anger, heard a “loud voice” issuing forth from it.—Re 14:15, 17; 15:5, 6, 8; 16:1, 17.
Regarding the earthly courtyard of God’s great spiritual temple, the apostle John was told in vision: “Get up and measure the temple sanctuary of God and the altar and those worshiping in it. But as for the courtyard that is outside the temple sanctuary, cast it clear out and do not measure it, because it has been given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.” (Re 11:1, 2) The temple here referred to could not be the one at Jerusalem, for that structure had been destroyed nearly three decades earlier. Being earthly, the nations could only be “given” a courtyard that was likewise on earth. So it must represent a condition enjoyed by Jesus’ anointed followers while here on earth. Whereas it would be impossible for the nations to trample upon a location in the heavens, they could treat disgracefully those persons who had been begotten by God’s spirit to be his sons and who were in line to receive a heavenly inheritance with Christ. (Re 3:12) Similarly, Daniel’s prophecy regarding the throwing down of “the established place of his sanctuary” (Da 8:11) and the profaning of the sanctuary (Da 11:31) appears to point to events in connection with those serving as underpriests in God’s great spiritual temple.
The members of the Christian congregation, Christ’s body, constitute a temple, or sanctuary, that God inhabits by spirit.—1Co 3:17; Eph 2:21, 22; 1Pe 2:5, 9; see TEMPLE (Anointed Christians—A Spiritual Temple).