By Tom Brown
serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.
This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle:
'See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you
on the mountain'" (Heb 8:5).
The reason God told Moses to build the
tabernacle "exactly" as God showed it to him, was because the tabernacle
would be a pattern of what is in heaven. The tabernacle, with all its
furnishings, actually tell the Gospel story. Yet when I was a new
believer, I was quite confused as to why there was so much in the Old
Testament about the tabernacle. I could not understand at the moment why
God devoted so much time and detail in explaining to Moses how he must
build the tabernacle. It wasn't until later I came to understand and
appreciate the details of the tabernacle. Later the tabernacle became
the temple. The tabernacle and temple speaks of several things. Let's
look at four of those things that the tabernacle symbolizes.
Learn about the Tabernacle
the tabernacle is a symbol of the Jesus Christ. He said, "'Destroy
this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.' ...But the temple
he had spoken of was his body" (John 2:19 and 21). To understand
the temple, you will come to understand more of Who Jesus really is.
the tabernacle is a symbol of the Church. "Don't you know that
you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If
anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is
sacred, and you are that temple" (1 Cor 3:16-17). When you
understand the tabernacle you will better understand how the Church
should function and what worship should really be like.
the tabernacle is a symbol of your own life. "Do you not know
that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you" (1 Cor
6:19). The more you understand the temple, the more you come to
the tabernacle is a symbol of heaven.
"When Christ came as
high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through
the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to
say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood
of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by
his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb 9:11-12).
When you understand the tabernacle you understand
heaven and your own salvation. It teaches you how God saves you and what
it means to be saved.
There are three aspect of the
tabernacle: first the courtyard, second the Holy Place and finally the
Holy of Holies. We will look at these three sections and the furnishings
within these three sectors.
Let us now embark on the study of the
tabernacle. Let us imagine ourselves on a journey to this special place.
tabernacle faced east, and God told the tribe of Judah to set up its
tent at the front of the gate leading into the courtyard. 1
The other tribes were to set their tents on the right and left of Judah
surrounding the tabernacle. This is significant: God was showing that by
facing east the Messiah would come like the sun of the morning. And He
would come through the tribe of Judah. Jesus was born from this exact
tribe. He was a Jew from the tribe of Judah.
As a person entered the courtyard
leading to the tabernacle he would pass through two items. First was the
bronze altar. 2 It was here that the animals were sacrificed
for the sins of the people. The altar was made of common wood from the
acacia tree. God was signifying that the death of the Messiah would take
place in a very common way, not an exotic death. Death by crucifixion
was the common death penalty of the Roman empire. In fact, when Jesus
died He was crucified between two thieves. This type of death was not
The second item one would notice after
the bronze altar was the bronze basin. 3 It was made of
mirrors and contained water. The priest, after sacrificing an animal,
would then wash his hands and feet before being worthy to enter the
tabernacle. The bronze basin speaks of baptism. The work of the cross
can only be applied through baptism. Today, people want to go around
baptism and say a simple prayer to be saved. But make no mistake about
it, baptism in the normal means of being saved.
No one was allowed into the Holy Place
until the animal had been sacrificed and the person would be bathed in
the basin. This means, no one really can go into the tabernacle or be
part of the tabernacle without being saved. The courtyard is the place
leading to the tabernacle, and unless a person receives the pardon
through the death of Christ and is baptized, he cannot really enter the
we enter the tabernacle, let us consider what the tabernacle looked like
from the outside. While the inside was adorned by beautiful curtains
made of goat hair, the outside of the curtain was made of see cows,
possibly sea lions and walruses. 4 The goat hair speaks of
Christ sacrifice, since goats and lambs were used in sacrifice, yet the
ugly curtains covering the entire tabernacle seems rather out of place
at first. Why use such ugly animal skins to cover the tabernacle? It's
simple, Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, "He had no beauty or majesty
to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire
him" (Isa 53:2). So by using ugly animals as the covering God was
showing that the Messiah would come not looking like a king. Instead of
the Messiah arriving through some great and rich family, Jesus was born
from very poor parents. They could not even afford to sacrifice a lamb
at his circumcision. They had to use two inexpensive doves.
looking at the tabernacle, let us now move into the Holy Place. There
were three important items in the Holy Place. To the left was the
Lampstand and opposite it across the room to one's right was the Bread
of the Presence (sometimes called the Showbread). And directly in front of you, just in front of the
curtain separating the room from the Most Holy Place, was the Altar of
The Lampstand was to have oil
continually in order for its lamps to keep burning. 6 The oil
is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Oil was never used in the courtyard,
because the Holy Spirit is not given for salvation. The Holy Spirit
comes after a person is saved. The Holy Spirit enlightens our
understanding of the Word of God. We also should be a light to the
world, and through the power of the Holy Spirit we can be powerful
witnesses for Christ.
The Bread of the Presence was placed on
the table made of the same wood of the brazen altar, acacia. 7
This ties together the suffering of Christ with the daily presence we
receive from Holy Communion. Not only was bread placed on the table but
a cup of wine as well: "And make its plates and dishes of pure gold,
as well as its pitchers and bowls for the pouring out of offerings. Put
the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times"
(Ex 25:29-30). There is only one reason to have "pitchers and bowls
for the pouring out of offerings", and that is because wine was used
at the table. This confirms that the table was a communion table. Notice
that the bread was called the "bread of Presence." This shows
that the sacrifice of Christ is always present, even though we have been
removed from the actual time period of the sacrifice. Christ sacrifice
is eternal. A church that does not regularly take Holy Communion is
missing out on the way of true worship. The tabernacle clearly shows how
the church should worship.
The bread also signifies the importance
of feeding on the Word of God. However, without the light of the
Lampstand, the person could not see the bread to eat. So the Holy Spirit
is essential to open our eyes to see and understand the Word of God.
This is why the preaching of the Word of God through the power of the
Spirit is part of worship.
The final piece of furniture was the
Altar of incense. It was a box that contained incense that the priest
would light in order to provide smoke. As you know, smoke goes upward
into heaven. This speaks of prayers offered to God. "They were
holding golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints"
(Rev 5:8). A church without prayer really has not worshipped God. We are
called to be a house of prayer. This tells me something the world would
not like to hear: God hears the "prayers of the saints" not just
anyone's prayers. Only believers have the right to approach God in
prayer, because their sins have been washed away through baptism.
Holy of Holies
There was a thick curtain separating
the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Why a curtain? "Hang the
curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the Testimony behind the
curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy
Place" (Ex 26:33). The reason for the curtain was obvious: to "separate"
the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. The curtained acted as a
barrier between man and God. The curtain was meant to show us that we
cannot enter God's presence until God removes the curtain.
"We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of
Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that
is, his body" (Heb 10:19-20). When Jesus died, the literal curtain
of the temple was "torn in two from top to bottom" (Matt 27:51).
This sign signified that Jesus' death has made a way for mankind to
approach God fully and fearlessly.
In the Holy of Holies, there was the
ark of the covenant. 8 Like the brazen altar and the table,
this too was made of acacia wood, in order to tie the ark with Christ
death and the Holy Communion that makes His death real and present in
our lives. The ark of the covenant was a chest that was carried by the
priests on two poles attached through four rings. 9 The four
rings symbolizes Jesus hands and feet that were pierced by the nails.
The nails are symbolized by the two poles that went through the rings.
And the ark was carried by men. This happened when Jesus was carrying
His cross. A man name Simon came along and carried Jesus cross, just as
men carried the ark of the covenant.
Inside the Ark of the Covenant were
three items: the Ten Commandments, the Jar of Manna and Aaron's rod that
budded. 10 Originally only the Ten Commandments were inside
the Ark, but later the other two items were placed inside the chest. Why
the Ten Commandments? Simple: the Ten Commandments were not seen by the
High Priest; they were hidden inside the Ark, much like a toy chest
hides away a child's toys. The Ark covered the Ten Commandments. This
shows that the Law and the Commandments were nailed to the cross and
buried inside of Christ. Man cannot approach God by keeping the Law. The
Law was hidden inside the Ark, not on display. This hiding away was to
show that man cannot approach God through keeping the Law. Rather,
Jesus, Who is the Ark, fulfilled the Law and kept it perfectly.
Manna in the jar shows that we enjoy
God's presence by feeding on the Word of God daily. Man cannot live by
bread alone, but by every Word from God. This is our daily bread, our
And finally the last item in the Ark
was Aaron's rod that budded. The budding of his rod showed that God
selected him as the high priest. Concerning Christ, the proof that God
made Jesus High Priest is His resurrection. Although Jesus was not from
the priestly tribe of Levi, He was confirmed to be the high priest of
God by His resurrection. It was not just the death of Christ that saves
us but His resurrection. That is the meaning of Aaron's rod that budded.
Happened to the Ark?
The ark was lost and carried away by
God's enemies, just as Jesus was crucified under the Jewish enemies of
Rome. Later the Ark was returned and lived for months at the household
of Obed-Edom. 11 He was a Gentile. The Gentiles, like Obed-Edom,
has embraced Christ. This has been the history of the Jesus Christ and
the spread of Christianity. First He came to His own Jewish brothers,
and was eventually rejected by the nation of Israel. But later the ark
was returned to David's house, 12 and this is God's way of
signifying that one day, the House of David, the Israelites, will
embrace Jesus Christ before the end comes.
Eventually the Ark of the Covenant was
lost, never to be found again. People ask if I think it will be found
again? The answer is No; because it is not needed. Jesus is the
fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant, and since we have the reality
why do we need the shadow?
Even Jeremiah confirms that the literal
Ark will not be needed:
"'In those days, when your numbers have
increased greatly in the land,' declares the Lord, 'men will no longer
say, 'The ark of the covenant of the Lord.' It will never enter their
minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be
made. At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and
all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord. No
longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. In those
days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel" (Jer
We do not need the tabernacle or the
ark to be literally restored, since the fulfillment of these are found
in Christ, in the Church, in us, and in heaven. As you can see, the
study of the tabernacle points to Jesus Christ and His Church and the
outworking of the plan of salvation. May God give you more insight as
you study the tabernacle.
1 Num 2:3
2 Ex 27:1
3 Ex 30:18
4 Ex 26:14
5 Ex 30:27
6 Ex 27:21
7 Ex 25:23
8 Ex 25:10
9 Ex 25:14
10 Ex 25:16, Ex 16:31, Num 17:8
11 2 Sam 6:11
12 2 Sam 6:17
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