A place set apart for the worship of God or of gods, a holy place. (1 Chron. 22:19; Isa. 16:12; Ezek. 28:18; Amos 7:9, 13) The Hebrew noun rendered “sanctuary” is drawn from a verb meaning, in a physical sense, “to be bright, to be new or fresh, untarnished or clean.” The Bible often uses the term in a moral sense to designate that which is holy or sacred.—See HOLINESS.
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. (Gen. 12:6, 7) However, frequently the expression “sanctuary” designates either the tabernacle (Ex. 25:8, 9) or the temple at Jerusalem. (1 Chron. 28:10; 2 Chron. 36:17; Ezek. 24:21) As applied to the tabernacle, “sanctuary” could mean the entire tent and its courtyard (Ex. 25:8, 9; Lev. 21:12, 23), the furniture and utensils of the sanctuary (Num. 10:21; compare Numbers 3:30, 31) or the Most Holy.—Lev. 16:16, 17, 20, 33.
As a holy place, God’s sanctuary was to be kept undefiled. (Num. 19:20; Ezek. 5:11) The Israelites should, therefore, “stand in awe” of that special place where God dwelt representatively. (Lev. 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.—Ezek. 11:16.
The Greek term na·osʹ is used in a broad sense to stand for the entire temple complex (John 2:20) or to the central edifice, with its Holy and Most Holy compartments separated by the curtain. (Matt. 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.—Luke 1:9-11.
THE HEAVENLY SANCTUARY
The place where God dwells 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.” (Rev. 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.—Rev. 14:15, 17; 15:5, 6, 8; 16:1, 17.
THE SPIRITUAL TEMPLE, CHRIST’S BODY
The members of the Christian congregation, Christ’s body’ constitute a temple or sanctuary. (1 Cor. 3:17; Eph. 2:21, 22; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9) This provides a basis for understanding the words directed to the apostle John: “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.” (Rev. 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. Since this courtyard is associated with God’s sanctuary, it could reasonably represent prospective members of the heavenly sanctuary, those still on earth. Whereas it would be impossible for the nations to trample upon a location in the heavens, they could trample upon persons who were in line to receive a heavenly inheritance as members of Christ’s body, persons who were due to become ‘pillars in the temple of God.’ (Rev. 3:12) Similarly, Daniel’s prophecy regarding the throwing down of the established place of the sanctuary (Dan. 8:11) and the profaning of the sanctuary (Dan. 11:31) appears to point to events in connection with those in line for membership in God’s spiritual temple.