After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened. And the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple dressed in clean and bright linen, wearing golden sashes around their chests. Rev 15:5-6.
This mention of the temple in heaven is one of many references to the sanctuary in the Book of Revelation. Each of Revelation’s seven main sections is introduced with a scene based on the sanctuary. Let me summarize them briefly.
Revelation 1:12-20. Jesus is among seven golden lampstands (Rev 1:12-20). He is not in the heavenly sanctuary, He is on Patmos (Rev 1:9-12). The lampstands represent the churches on earth (1:20). So God’s church is a temple in its own right (1 Cor 3:17; 1 Pet 2:1-10).
Revelation 4-5. Revelation 4-5 contains a thorough mix of images from every part and service of the sanctuary. The scene probably represents the inauguration of the sanctuary itself, when every item in the sanctuary was dedicated to God.
Revelation 8:3-5. The focus of this passage is intercession. The prayers of the saints are combined with incense to enhance their effectiveness before God.
Revelation 11:19. Here is a view of the Most Holy Place, where the ark of the covenant can be found. It appears in the context of judgment.
Revelation 15:5-8. In Revelation 15 and 16 the temple is emptied and is not put into use again. The heavenly sanctuary was inaugurated in Revelation 4 and 5, went through phases of intercession and judgment, and is here shut down, its services have ceased.
Revelation 19:1-10. There is a total absence of sanctuary furnishings in this text: no building, no censers, no altar, no ark of the covenant, no lampstand. Worship is taking place, just as it does in Revelation 4 and 5, but all direct reference to the sanctuary and its furnishings is absent.
Revelation 21:1-8. In Rev 21:2-3 the “tabernacle” is actually the New Jerusalem descending to earth. The city is shaped like a cube, just like the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary. God and the Lamb themselves become the temple of the city.
The Book of Revelation displays a completed sanctuary cycle. The cycle begins on earth (Rev 1) and ends on earth (Rev 21). Scenes 2-6, on the other hand, focus on the heavenly sanctuary throughout the Christian era. The sanctuary is inaugurated, goes through phases of intercession and judgment, then is abandoned. When the plan of salvation is over, the sanctuary will no longer be needed.