I recently heard some mind-blowing insight on the Tabernacle that is discussed in the Old Testament. Below I have described a general idea of the parallel the Tabernacle has with salvation, which is defined as deliverance from the power and penalty of sin.
Hebrews 8:4-5; 9:1-28
Tabernacle means “tent,” “place of dwelling” or “sanctuary.” It was a sacred place where God chose to meet His people, the Israelites, during the 40 years they wandered in the desert under Moses’ leadership. It was the place where the leaders and people came together to worship and offer sacrifices.
The Tabernacle of Moses is a lesson of unquestionable authority.
The Tabernacle was more than just a dwelling place. All the components of the Tabernacle were part of an intricate visual aid to illustrate God's relationship with His people. One aspect of this relationship was God’s requirement for complete obedience. God told Moses to create the Tabernacle exactly the way He commanded (Exodus 25:9).
To this end, God gave very specific instructions about the size of each component and the materials the Israelites were to use. These seemingly cumbersome rules were not intended to burden the people, but to show God’s unquestionable authority and holiness, and emphasize that people could only come to God on God’s terms, not on their own. They had to obey reverently not only in the construction of the Tabernacle, but also in the way they worshipped. Any irreverence or ritual uncleanness could result from an individual being cut off from his people or in death.
The Tabernacle really was a prophetic projection of the Lord’s redemptive plan for His people. Revelation 21:3 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.’”
Here are a couple pictures of the Tabernacle of Moses:
Something to note: There was only one gate by which people could enter into the Tabernacle courtyard. This symbolizes Jesus’ statement that He is the one gate by which we can enter God’s presence. John 14:6 -“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 10:9 - “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved” -John 10:9.
[Refer to Hebrews 9] - The Tabernacle was always to be set up in the midst of Israel’s campsite. This symbolized God’s desire to dwell among His people. God does not desire to be aloof or distant—He desires to be accessible to us. In fact, He desires to dwell within us.
But there is a problem, and the Tabernacle also symbolized this problem...
(Refer to the linked pictures for understanding) Any Israelite could go into the outer court of the Tabernacle as long as they were ritually clean, but there were restrictions and barriers that prevented most people from getting any closer to God. Only the Levitical priests could go into the Holy Place, the sanctuary in the Tabernacle. And no one (with one exception that I’ll explain soon) could go into God’s dwelling-place, the Holy of Holies. A thick veil separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies—this was as if God was saying: “Yes, I desire to have you in My presence—but you are not allowed the way you are. There is a serious problem that separates us, and until that problem is resolved there can be no real closeness between us.” That problem was explained (symbolically) by what was inside the Holy of Holies...
Their only piece of furniture in the HOH (Holy of Holies) was a wooden box called the “Ark of the Covenant.” And most important of all, it was over the Ark of the Covenant on the mercy seat that the very presence of God existed (Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2). Every article in this box was highly symbolic:
Inside the box were three things that symbolized the problem God had with the Israelites. There was a jar of manna. This was the food that God supernaturally provided for the Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness (story in Exodus). This was the same food that the Israelites complained about—so it symbolized their ungrateful rejection of God’s provision. There was also Aaron’s walking stick. This stick represented God’s leadership through Moses and Aaron. Over and over again the Israelites rebelled against their leadership—so that God had to vindicate that Moses and Aaron were his chosen leaders by supernaturally causing his staff to bud (Numbers 17). So this staff symbolized their rebellion against God’s leadership. Finally, there were the 10 Commandments (Exodus 19-24)—the two stone tablets that summarized God’s law. Even as Moses brought these tablets down from Mt. Sinai, the Israelites were having an idolatrous orgy. Moses furiously threw them down and smashed them—so God made another copy and told him to put them in the Ark of the Covenant. They symbolized their disobedience to God’s law. This is not a pretty picture—and God has the same problems with us! What do we find in the meeting room with God? A record of why we deserve to be condemned by Him!
*Ultimately, the problem, discussed above, is sin.*
BUT there is good news to come so I encourage you to continue reading :)
Refer to Hebrews 9:1-4. “Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A Tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lamp stand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered Ark of the Covenant. This Ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.”
On top of the ark stood two statues of cherubim—angelic beings who are associated with banishment from God’s presence (Genesis 3:24). The cherubim’s faces were directed downward, into the contents of the Ark. It’s like they are saying: “Look at what these people have done! God definitely has a problem with these people. God has to judge all this!” And that’s the point. Yes, God loves us. Yes, God desires to have personal closeness with us. But He can’t—because we have violated His righteous character in many ways—and the penalty for this is death. (THE GOOD NEWS IS STILL TO COME…)
If this was all there was in the Holy of Holies, this would be a very depressing message. But there was something else—something called the “mercy seat.” It was the lid over top of the ark—and what happened on this lid symbolized God’s solution to our problem with Him. Because God is holy, God must judge our sin with death. But because God is loving, He provided a way to judge our sin without judging us. He provided a substitute who was killed in our place. Once a year, the high priest (the only one allowed in the Holy of Holies) selected a goat without any physical defect. After symbolically transferring the nation’s guilt for that year on to the goat by laying his hands on the goat’s head, the goat was slain and its blood (demonstrating His death) was carried in by the high priest into the Holy of Holies and poured out onto the mercy seat. The blood covered the lid so that the cherubim now “see” the death rather than the sins. The sins have been covered by the substitute’s death. After pouring out this blood, the high priest came back out and laid his hands on another defect-free goat. Then he sent the goat off into the wilderness. Symbolically, then, God’s judgment for their sins was “sent off” because of the death of the first goat.
This ritual sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, then, was a BEAUTIFUL picture of God’s plan of forgiveness. But it was never more than a temporary and defective picture—it never actually solved the problem of our separation from God. This is what the author emphasizes in Hebrews 9:8-10. The problem was not solved, because the high priests were sinful people just like us, not sinless mediators (9:7). They only went into a man-made tent, not into the actual heavenly presence of God. The sacrifices they offered were only animals, not human. (In fact, the Old Testament strictly forbade human sacrifice. It demanded human death for human guilt, but prohibited sinful human sacrifices.)
The Tabernacle system only cleansed people ceremonially/symbolically (re-qualified them to come into the outer court), it didn’t actually forgive people. The proof of this is two-fold: the sacrifices had to be repeated every year, and even then the worshippers couldn’t go into God’s presence. As 9:10 says, it only applied until God brought the real solution... :)
The Fulfillment in Jesus
Refer to 9:11,12. Here is some really good news! Jesus came as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Tabernacle system:
He was the real High Priest - the sinless High Priest who is therefore qualified to fix our sin problems with God because He doesn’t have any of His own sin problems. He went into the real Tabernacle—the actual presence of God—with His solution. He voluntarily offered His own blood—His own perfect and sinless life—to pay for our sins.
Therefore, He has accomplished a permanent solution for our guilt before God—He has died “once for all” and obtained an “Eternal redemption.” See 9:13,14. The most that the Old Testament sacrifices could grant was ritual cleansing—the right to go into the outer court. But Jesus’ sacrifice actually removes our guilt and cleanses our conscience (experience God’s forgiveness) so that we can serve (“worship”) God and enjoy his personal presence! By His blood, we are now able to enter into God’s presence.
This is why Jesus, just before He died on the Cross, cried out “It is finished” (Matt.27:50; John 19:30). What was finished? All of the Old Testament sacrifices and the whole Tabernacle system were finished, because what they symbolized was now accomplished by His death! And this is why the moment Jesus died, the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn in two (Matt.27:51). The separation between us and God that had stood so long, because our sins, was now bridged by Jesus’ death. The way into God’s presence was open for everyone—as long as we come through what Jesus did for us.
Ritualistic worship of God is now discarded!
The implications that flow from Jesus’ death and resurrection are huge! It changes the whole way we relate to God. One big change is that ritualistic worship of God is now discarded! That’s what is implied by the Temple veil being torn when Jesus died.
God has now called us to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (see John 4:24). This means that now God’s presence resides inside of us when we follow Him, and we can worship Him whenever and wherever we want. There is no need to sacrifice animals anymore, because Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice. Now that the real High Priest has entered the real Tabernacle to offer the real Sacrifice, Christianity is about a personal love relationship with God, not about ritualistic worship!
How amazing is it that God would give us such a clear picture in the Old Testament of how the Coming Messiah - JESUS - would redeem us all?!
I pray this novel as a devotional message touched you and gave you more knowledge into God’s love and forgiveness.
May your faith increase always! :)
For more information on the Tabernacle of Moses, you can refer to Exodus 24:12-27:21.
Here is a song that talks about the Tabernacle:
“Take Me In” – Kutless
P.S. – Thanks to Jennie Reeder for help on this one :) Love you!