A sanctuary is a holy place set apart for the purpose of worship. All over the world, churches meet in schools, houses, gymnasiums, community centers, parks, etc. For a few hours a week, those places become sanctuaries. What turns an ordinary room—a gymnasium, for example—into a sanctuary?
When we think of the word church, we often think of a building. Sometimes that word reminds us of a structure with a steeple or a long aisle between pews. That’s not what God calls the church. Instead, He calls everyone who has accepted Christ “the church” (see Colossians 4:15). So, the church refers to people, not a building.
This is important to know because, when we are with other Christians, we are the church and we can make any room into a sanctuary. When Christians worship God, an ordinary space becomes a sanctuary—a place set apart for worship.
We see this concept of a sanctuary explained well in the Old Testament.
Exodus 15:17 is the first mention of a sanctuary: “You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.” The sanctuary was a place for God to dwell in the midst of His people.
Exodus 25:8 reiterates this thought. “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”
Psalm 68:35 says, “You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!”
The sanctuary in the Old Testament was the tabernacle and, later, the temple—a place where the Lord dwelled among His people. He appeared in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The presence of the Lord over the sanctuary was a powerful reminder to the Israelites.
Our “sanctuaries” today are much different than the original sanctuary of the Israelites. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, a special dwelling place no longer exists. The Lord dwells in us as believers (1 Corinthians 3:16). The gathering places we call sanctuaries are set apart for the church to worship the Lord.