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by Jacob Ninan
Many godly men and scholars have expounded the lessons we can learn from a study of the tabernacle that God instructed Moses to erect in the wilderness as the centre of worship for the people of Israel. Many have brought out possible spiritual meanings behind the details of the arrangements, colours and materials used in the tabernacle and have derived lessons for us.
The tabernacle, as a dwelling place for God, was but a shadow of things to come (Col.2:17), and now under the new covenant, which Jesus has made, we are the tabernacle of God (2Cor.6:16)! When we are born again, God begins to dwell in us. God does not dwell in earthly tabernacles or temples (or even church buildings). When some people refer to a church building as the house of God, we must remember that it is a place that is dedicated to God, but not a place where God dwells. The covenants have changed, and God now dwells in us and not in buildings or places (Acts 17:24). It is good for us to look at the old and new tabernacles and see the similarities and differences.
The Old Tabernacle
The tabernacle was a tent (45’ X 15’) towards one end of a compound (75’ X 150’). The part of the compound outside the tent was called the Outer Court where ordinary people were allowed to enter. The tent itself was divided into two parts, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (Holiest of Holies). Only the priests from the tribe of Levi, who had been allotted the service of the tabernacle, could enter the Holy Place, and only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and that too only once a year, on the Day of Atonement.
The Outer Court had the altar of burnt offering (7½’ X 7½’ X 4½’) and a brazen laver with water for the priests to wash hands and feet before entering the Holy Place. The Holy Place had a seven spouted lamp, the altar of incense (1½’ X 1½’ X 3’) and the table of showbread (3’ X 1½’ X 2¼’). The Most Holy Place had the Ark of the Covenant (3’ X 2¼’ X 2¼’) with the mercy seat above it. The ark contained the two tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments, a pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded. The mercy seat had two statues of cherubim facing each other, with their wings spread over the ark.
The Old Order Of Service
A predominant feature of the service of the old tabernacle was the separation of people into priests and ‘ordinary’ people. The priests had the entire responsibility for spiritual service and for standing between God and men, and the other people enjoyed the benefits. People would bring their offerings, and from then on the priests took over entirely. They killed the animals or birds and offered them as sacrifices to God along with other forms of offerings. They washed their hands and feet with water, entered the Holy Place and offered incense to God, offered and later ate the consecrated bread, and lit the lamps that gave light in the tent of the tabernacle. The High Priest went once a year into the Most Holy Place, sprinkled blood for his own sins and for the sins of the people, and claimed mercy from God. He also brought in a pan of burning incense and let the sweet smell rise before the mercy seat.
The New Tabernacle
The covenant between God and man has changed. The old covenant has been made obsolete (Heb.8:13), because it could not achieve the relationship that God wanted to have with people, and now a new covenant has come in its place. Under this new arrangement between God and man, we, each one of God’s children through faith in Christ, have God living in us (Col.1:27;Jn.14:23). We are the new tabernacle of God. Even the ‘least’ or the newest born-again (spiritual) baby can have a direct relationship with God as his Father (He.8:11). There is no more necessity for any man to mediate between us and God (1Tim.2:5). We do not need to pray through a ‘saint’ or a pastor or prophet to get a hearing from God.
The church is the gathering of all such children of God, and is also referred to as the Body of Christ or the Bride of Christ. The local church is a gathering of a few members of this Body locally, and is just a small part of the ‘universal’ church. The church building is a place where such local groups of God’s children meet, and it is not even necessary to have such formal buildings or places for a local church to meet, because when two or three believers are gathered together in Jesus’ name, wherever they meet, that is a ‘church’ meeting with Jesus Himself attending it (Matt.18:20).
The New Order Of Service
Each of us has the responsibility now to keep this new tabernacle holy (2Cor.6:14-18). All of us are now priests (and kings) with Jesus as our High Priest (Heb.5:5,6;1Pet.2:9). Now there really ought not to be any tribe or group of people called priests or clergy. There are leaders among us (apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc.) whose responsibility is to instruct, guide, train and equip us to be able to do the work of this tabernacle (Eph.4:11,12)! We are not to shirk our responsibility and relegate it to these leaders.
The Outer Court. There are many people outside the kingdom of God. It is our privilege and responsibility to lead them towards God beginning with the sacrifice of Jesus.
The brazen altar. Our Day of Atonement was over, once for all, when Jesus died on the cross in our place taking the punishment for our sins upon Him (Heb.10:10-12). Having received this forgiveness freely as a gift when we came to God through trusting in Jesus, all we need to do is to confess the sins we fall into whenever we become aware of them (1Jn.1:9;2:1,2).
The brazen laver. We wash ourselves by taking heed to the word of God and keep ourselves holy all the time (Eph.5:26).
The altar of incense. We have access to God in Jesus’ name to offer our praise, worship and prayers to God at all times (Jude 20;Rev.5:8).
The table of showbread. We can now feed directly on the spiritual food that God gives to us from the word of God and grow stronger and more mature. We grow from being able to drink only milk to becoming able to eat even strong meat (1Pet.2:2;Heb.5:13,14).
The golden lampstand. Each of us is to shine as lights in this dark world, in the places where we are placed (Matt.5:16). Our life is to be a sweet aroma and a blessing to all who meet us (2Cor.2:14;Gen.28:14).
The Most Holy Place. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil before the Most Holy Place in the temple in Jerusalem was torn from the top to the bottom, giving us a free access to God through faith in Jesus. This bypasses all rituals, ceremonies, mediators and officials and makes it possible to be in the presence of God all the time. We can live in God’s presence now. We can express our thanksgiving and worship to God constantly and enjoy His love and grace abundantly.
The Final Question
Have we recognised the great privilege God has given to us? Are we enjoying every aspect of it? And are we fulfilling our different roles in the tabernacle that we are?
-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, February 2012
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