So often when we read the Bible, we skip over the Old Testament except for the Psalms, the creation story of Genesis, and an occasional look at Isaiah. We spend our time in the New Testament, which is wonderful, but we miss the revealing of God’s redemptive plan in the Old Testament before Jesus came to earth as man. God, from the beginning, knew man would sin and He revealed His plan throughout the Old Testament. The Bible is not two disconnected parts, the Bible is one story, the fall of man as he willfully turns away from God and God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, unfolding from Genesis 1 to the last chapter of Revelation.
Let us to begin examining the tabernacle erected in the wilderness by Moses and the Israelites, how God patterns the tabernacle after what exists in heaven, and how God reveals the person of Jesus Christ in the building of the tabernacle. There is so much to cover; such deep meaning in the construction of the tabernacle… so much revealed. This will take time with more study on your part to completely understand, but we will begin by looking at Exodus 25:8:
“And let them construct a sanctuary for Me that I may dwell among them.”
And in Exodus 29:45-46 we read:
“I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.”
There are words in these two passages that are essential in understanding the deeper meaning we see revealed in the building of this sanctuary designed in detail by God, the tabernacle.
First of all, the term tabernacle comes from the Latin word tabernaculum meaning ‘tent of meeting’, so think of it as transitory or a temporary place of meeting God in worship (and indeed the Jewish people used the tabernacle in sacrifices, celebrations of special feast days, and in worshiping God). In the passages in Exodus, the term sanctuary, in Hebrew mikdash, is used in describing the tabernacle as well as the Temple in Jerusalem. Yigal Tzadka, Editor-in-Chief of Hebrew Today, News You Can Use and a series of study books called Biblical Hebrew, notes that this term is used in both a temporary and permanent setting to describe the Holy Place where God dwells…the tabernacle as well as the Temple. We, as Christians are but temporal beings and God dwells within us as we live our lives on earth and dwells among us forever as we step into eternity.
In Exodus 25:8, the Hebrew word betocham means ‘dwelling in them’, not ‘dwelling in it’ and the English translation ‘dwell among’ does not fully explain the meaning as the Hebrew language does. This is a huge clue to the deeper meaning God is teaching us. You see, a structure is not where God dwells; He dwells in the midst of the Israelites as he guides them night and day through the wilderness. He also dwells in the hearts of the Israelites as they wander through the wilderness. Christ comes in the New Testament as the Son of God, the Incarnate Christ, the Son of God dwelling in a human body, and He walks or is among the people. As we accept Christ as our Savior, He dwells in us, and in the New Jerusalem of Revelation, the Son of God sits beside the Father, and we, the children of God, are there.
Now we look even deeper into the scriptures. This we study is so steeped in meaning, truth straight from our Creator. The design of the tabernacle is key to understanding what God sent to earth, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, then, now and for eternity. The design came directly from God in minute detail as referenced
in Revelation 11:19, 15:8 and Hebrews 8:5:
“Who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for “See, He says, that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”
And again in Revelation 21:22:
“I saw no temple in it for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple.”
The building of the tabernacle in the wilderness, described in Exodus 25 through 40, indicates the importance God placed on the tabernacle referencing the Christ and His role as the Messiah on earth. The passage in Revelation 21 refers to the permanent dwelling of The Lord Almighty and Jesus Christ in eternity as they are the Temple of the New Jerusalem. Three separate parts make up the tabernacle structure. The outer court, enclosed by linen curtains, contains the brazen altar for sacrifices and the brazen laver for washing before sacrificing. The Holy Place contains the table of shewbread, the golden altar of incense, and the golden candle stick. Lastly, the Holy of Holies contains the ark covered by the mercy seat where blood is poured on the Day of Atonement each year.
The Holy Place and Holy of Holies outer covering is made of animal skins.
In John 1:14, we read that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus comes as the Son of God within a body of flesh and blood just as the tabernacle is covered with flesh, but dwelling within the tabernacle….God. Can you already see the analogy, the symbolism God uses to reveal the coming Messiah and the culmination of His redemptive plan for mankind?
The brazen altar for sacrifice as well as the brazen laver stand outside the tabernacle in the courtyard. When Christ comes, the need for animal sacrifice is gone. He is the sacrificial lamb. As Jesus approached John the Baptist baptizing in the Jordon River, John said “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” In Revelation 5, an angel asks who is able to open the book and break the seals. “The lamb standing as if slain” took the book and in verses 12 and 13, “the myriads of angels and living creatures” said, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and glory and blessing…To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” Christ became the sacrifice, the atonement for our sin.
The brazen laver stands behind the altar and before the entrance into the Holy Place. Christ, seen in the sacrificial lamb, washes away the sin of man with the shedding of His blood. You see what a beautiful portrait of the Messiah to come is given by God in the tabernacle.
The symbolism of the implements within the Holy Place and Holy of Holies is staggering. God paints a precise picture of The Christ with each piece pointing to God’s plan for salvation for man, though steeped in sin. The golden candlestick represents light and Jesus came as the light of the world as explained in John 8:12 and 1 John 1:7. In Revelation 21:23, we read, “And the city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illuminated it, and the lamp is the Lamb.” This city is the New Jerusalem. The table of shewbread is revealed as the Bread of Life in John 6:35 when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.” From the tabernacle in the wilderness described Exodus to New Jerusalem in Revelation, see how the Word of God is one continuous story with one theme, how God weaves His message though the Old Testament into the New Testament. We at last come to the Holy of Holies containing the mercy seat where blood is poured each year on the Day of Atonement by the high priest.
Prior to entering the Holy of Holies, the High Priest burns incense on the golden altar of incense. This symbolizes the prayers of the people going up to God. The smoke of the burning incense shields the eyes of the High Priest from the mercy seat and ark. Separating the Holy of Holies in the wilderness tabernacle is a veil that stands between those who worship God and God Himself. We know this veil is torn from top to bottom when Jesus dies on the cross; man is no longer separated from God. Through Jesus, we have direct access to our Heavenly Father in prayer.
The mercy seat that covers the top of the ark within the Holy of Holies is sprinkled with blood on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to atone for the sins of the people. Revealed in the New Testament, the blood shed by Jesus Christ described in Romans 3:24-25, frees us from the penalty of our sin, eternal death and separation from God. The blood of Jesus is so clearly seen in the pouring of the blood on the mercy seat. Much about the tabernacle is precursor to the coming Messiah and God’s deliberate revelation about the Son of God, the person of Jesus Christ.
Not reading what God reveals in the Old Testament is like reading only the last chapter of a book. Yes, God’s truth is woven like fine gold through chapter and verse until at last the Good News of Christ is reality. To understand our need for salvation, to know our heart, to mature in our relationship with God, and understand our mission to proclaim the Good News, we must study all of God’s truth. You see, it is our relationship with God that holds the most importance. How can we proclaim allegiance or carry the name Christian if we don’t understand the sinful nature of mankind or the totality of God’s gift of eternal life revealed to us throughout God’s Word? Just one temporary ‘tent of meeting’ described in Exodus is God teaching us about His gift of eternal life through His Son and the attributes of both our Heavenly Father and His only Son.
We will look at the High Priest of the tabernacle in the wilderness as a portrait of Jesus on another day. Today, if the Jesus Christ depicted in the tabernacle in the wilderness is unknown to you, you can know him today and give your life to him. If you seek a deeper understanding, a mature relationship with God, that can begin today. Salvation is the beginning of the journey, but the richness of knowing and giving time to God in study is what matures the relationship. Understand the deeper meaning of scripture. Truly know the God who created you and His desire for your eternity.