It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified
with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices
than these.  For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of
the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to apper for us in God?s presence


Hebrews 9:23



The Earthly Tabernacle and the Heavenly Tabernacle


The billowing smoke of burning incense, the blood of a goat splattered on the
furniture and the curtains, the mystery of it all…  What lies behind the curtain?  The dail
y supply of showbread, the inner court, the outer court, the court of the gentiles,
the Holy of Holies?.  The gold, the blue, purple and scarlet cloth, pomegranates, lampstands,
priests going through ritual motions which are hundreds of years old…   To the modern,
?Western mind, the religious ceremony performed in the tabernacle in the wilderness,
and later in the temple in Jerusalem seems to have more in common with a pagan
religion than with the stark simplicity of Christian worship.  What was this all about?

It would be hard to overemphasize the importance to the Jews and to Judaism
of the ceremony, the symbolism and the sacrifices involved in worship at the
temple in Jerusalem.  The temple was the place where God dwelt among his people. 
The temple was the place where forgiveness for sins was obtained.  The temple was the
heart of what made a Jew a Jew.  The pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem on Yom
Kippur or one of the other festivals was the highlight of the religious year;
indeed it was the highlight of the entire religious life of the Jew.  When Jews
wanted to reassure themselves that they were truly the people of God, they would
say the mantra ?This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the templ
e of the LORD.? (Jeremiah 7:4).  To their shame, many Jews came to rely on the mere
presence of the temple in Jerusalem to define their greatness rather than maintaining
a righteous life before their God.  As long as the temple stood in Jerusalem, the
?Jews knew that God had not abandoned them.

It is also hard to overestimate the devastation for the Jews when the temple
was destroyed for seventy years beginning in 586 BC under the Babylonian King
Nebuchadnezzar and again in AD 70 by the Roman general Titus.  For a person operating
under the Old Covenant, taking temple sacrifice and worship out of Judaism would
be analogous to taking the gospel out of Christianity.  Absent forgiveness of sin, salvation
and a prayer life, the Christian religion would still maintain a shell of good
moral teaching, with advice about how to live a good life, and some nice ceremony,
but it would have been gutted of its core meaning to say the least.  What is Christianity
without salvation in the blood of Jesus Christ?  Judaism as it is practiced today is
in an analogous position.  Without the temple, there is no more presence of God with
his people, no more forgiveness of sins, no more unifying religious ceremony
as authorized in the Old Testament. 

As the Hebrew writer said, probably some time in the AD 60?s, ?By calling this
covenant ?new,? he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and
aging will soon disappear.? (Hebrews 8:13).   When Jesus Christ came, not to abolish
the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (paraphrasing Matthew 5:17), the
ceremonies performed at the temple turned from a foreshadow of the amazing things
we have in Christ to a shadow of former things.  The prophecy of Hebrews 8:13 was fulf
illed shortly after it was written.  In AD 70, when the temple was destroyed, temple
worship and sacrifice came to a permanent end.  What was old and obsolete truly
disappeared forever.

The worship and sacrifice which was performed at the tabernacle and later the t
emple of Solomon and its reconstruction under Zerubbabel was the heart of Judaism.  Ever
y part of both the daily ceremony and the annual Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
sacrifice held great significance to the Jews.  As great a significance as these
ceremonies carried for the Jews, their depth of meaning to those of us under
the New Covenant is still greater.  Every aspect of the physical worship at the temple
was a foreshadow of a greater spiritual reality which finds its fulfillment
in Jesus Christ.  For fourteen centuries, the levitical priests carried out both daily
ceremony and yearly sacrifice in the temple and tabernacle, oblivious to the
fact that the whole time they were acting out a foreshadow play of the greater
reality found in Jesus Christ and the New Covenant which was sealed by his blood:


It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified
with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices
than these.  For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy o
f the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God?s presence.
(Hebrews 9:23,24).


There we have it, clearly spelled out.  The tabernacle and temple were a copy of
a reality which is found in the spiritual tabernacle which is in heaven.  Each item
in the physical tabernacle set up by human hands, under very specific instructions
by God, will prove to be a wonderful symbol of a major aspect of our relationship
with God.  The Old Covenant tabernacle will foreshadow our relationship with God
under the New Covenant.  It also remains as a foreshadow of what we will have in the
New Jerusalem?in the tabernacle of heaven where we will stand face to face with
God.   That is subject of this chapter.  What are these great realities symbolized in the
earthly tabernacle?




First, let us consider in some detail the actual layout, both of the portable
tabernacle which was carried by the Levites during the wanderings of the Jews
in the desert, and of the more palatial temple in Jerusalem.

God gave the instructions for building the tabernacle through Moses, as recorded
in Exodus chapters twenty-five through twenty-seven and chapter thirty.


Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.  Make this tabernacle
and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. (Exodus 25:8,9).


The purpose all along for the building of the tabernacle was so that God could
dwell amongst his people without them seeing him directly, because for anyone
to see God face-to-face would mean death.  (Exodus 10:28, ?The day you see my face
you will die?).  Once the tabernacle was set up, God?s presence was seen as a pillar
of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Numbers 14:14).  Not surprisingl
y, the Jews took God dwelling with them quite literally.

The tabernacle was surrounded by a large outer curtain which made a courtyard.  The outer
?courtyard was rectangular; one hundred cubits by fifty cubits (about 150 feet
by 75 feet).  There was an entrance on the east side which was twenty cubits (about
thirty feet) long.  The curtain was made of blue, purple and scarlet yarn.  The Jews were
not allowed into the courtyard.  Only the levitical p
riests were allowed into the courtyard.  E
ven amongst the levites, only one designated priest was allowed into the Ho
ly Place to perform ceremonies on any given day.  That priest was definitely not allowed
into the Most Holy Place.  The two main objects in the courtyard outside the Holy Place
were the bronze altar and the laver.

insert a model of the tabernacle here






















The bronze altar was a platform five cubits (about 7 ? feet) on a side and three
cubits (about 4 ? feet) tall.  It was made of acacia wood and was overlaid with bronze.
  The altar  was for the burnt sacrifice of animals, grain and so forth.  As one passed
the altar, one came to a large basin, sometimes known as the laver.  The laver was
made of solid bronze.  The priests were required to wash in the laver before they could
enter the tabernacle itself.  ?Whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall
wash with water so that they will not die.? (Exodus 30:20).  The New Testament symbolism
of the laver will be important, but even for the Jews, the symbolism was probably
pretty obvious.  God wanted his people to be ceremonially clean when they came into
his presence.

The actual tabernacle was surrounded by an inner curtain ten cubits (about 15
feet) by thirty cubits (about 45 feet).  The tabernacle was divided into the Holy
?Place, which was ten cubits by twenty cubits and the Holy of Holies or Most Holy
Place, which was ten cubits square.  There was an additional curtain separating the Hol
y Placefrom the Holy of Holies.  When one passed into the Holy Place(and one better be a priest
or one might be killed), on the right wall was a table inlaid with gold, with
twelve large round loaves of bread, sometimes known as the show bread.  The bread
was replaced daily by the designated priest.  On the left wall was a lampstand of solid
gold.   The lampstand was constructed as a stand with seven branches, each topped
with a lamp.  The lamps were lit whenever the tabernacle was set up.  At the back of
the Holy Placestood a golden altar for burning incense which stood up against the
curtain which led to the innermost sanctuary.

Behind this curtain was the Holy of Holies.  Here stood the ark of the covenant.  The ark was
constructed of acacia wood, inlaid with pure gold.  Inside the ark was contained
a gold jar of manna, the tablets Moses received from God on Mount Sinaion which were
engraved the Ten Commandments.  Also in the ark was Aaron?s rod.  The lid of the
ark was made of pure gold.  It was covered with elaborate detail.  The lid was called the
atonement cover or the mercy seat.  Two golden cherubim stood at either end of the
atonement cover, with their wings spread upward, overshadowing the ark.  Outsid
e of Moses, only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies.  Even the high
priest was allowed into the Most Holy Placeonly once a year, on the Day of Atonement,
only after first springling the blood of the goat and a bull slain on that day.
  As we will see, every aspect of the tabernacle will be a foreshadow of a very
important aspect of the New Covenant.  Before we get to that, let us consider the temple
in Jerusalem.

Before entering the Promised Land, God promised the people, through Moses, that
he would establish a permanent place for his presence and for the people to
worship him in the Holy Land.  This promise was delayed for over three hundred years
during the chaotic time of the judges.  During this time the tabernacle was set up
at Shiloh. (Joshua 18:1).  The ark did not spend all its time at Shiloh, but that
interesting story is outside the subject matter of this book.

Finally, King David conquered Jerusalem, the city formerly known as Salem, wh
ere Melchizedek had ruled.  The mountainof Moriah, where Abraham had offered up Isaac
was at the site of Jerusalem.  Significantly, MountMoriahbecame the site for
the templeof God.  After establishing Jerusalemas his capital, David wanted
to build the temple.  Despite his sincere desire to build a house for his God, the
task fell to his son Solomon because there was too much blood on David?s hands. 
Solomon built a grand temple with a Holy Placeand a Most Holy Placeconstructed almost
exactly on the plan of the tabernacle, except on a larger scale.  When the ark was
finally  brought into the inner sanctuary God caused a very conspicuous grand


            When the priests withdrew from the Holy

Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And

the priests could not perform their service because

of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple.

(1 Kings 8:10,11).


At this time, God provided powerful evidence that he was dwelling in his temple
in Jerusalem! 

Solomon?s temple was significantly different from the tabernacle in that it
provided several different courtyards.  The Holy Placewas surrounded by an inner area known
as the courtyard of the priests.  The sacrificial altar and the laver were in the courtyard
for the priests.  It would be more accurate to say the lavers (plural).  Due to the volume of
sacrifices on special feast days, there were ten basins set up in the courtyard
of the priests.  Outside this courtyard was the courtyard of Israel, where Jewish men
who were not priests were allowed.  In front of this, on the eastern end of the temple
was the courtyard of women where, obviously, the Hebrew women were allowed to
enter. Still further from the sanctuary was an even larger courtyard reserved
for the gentiles.  The Jews saw this as an arrangement of those closer to and farther
from the presence of God.  However, there is no specific command in the Bible to
build separate courts for the men and women, so it is questionable to assume
that God saw the distinction between male and female Jews in this way.

Solomon?s temple was built by around 970 BC.   It survived, with some renovations,
until its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar?s army in 586 BC.  By 516 BC, after the
return from the exile, a second, smaller temple was built under Zerubbabel along
a style similar to Solomon?s temple.  This temple stood until it was completely rebuilt
under King Herod.  Herod?s temple was begun in 20 BC.  It was still being completed during
the life of Jesus Christ, finally being finished in AD 64.  Herod?s temple was
destroyed only a few years later in AD 70, bringing to an end the sacrificial
form of worship of Jehovah and the physical presence of God in Israel.


Schematic Plan of the Temple



From the web site /







The tabernacle, and later the temple, was center of worship for the entire Hebrew
nation.  If the tabernacle was the place where God dwelt among his people, then one
could argue that the entire focus of the Old Covenant worship was to establish
a way to be in fellowship with God and to come into his presence.  This, too, is the
focus of the New Covenant.  How are we to come into a relationship with God?  The earthly
tabernacle will give us many hints.  

The setup of the tabernacle in the Old Testament tells us that only a person
who is free of sin can enter into the  presence of God.  Only the high priest could
enter the presence of the Lord behind the curtain, only once a year, and even
then, only after the blood of a goat and a bull was splattered on the atonement
cover of the ark to atone for his sins. 

There is a sense in which this remains true under the New Covenant as well.  Onl
y a perfect person can come into the presence of God.  However, when Jesus came
to dwell on the earth, he did something amazing.  In John 1:14, we read, ?The Word became
flesh and lived for a while among us.?  The phrase translated in the NIV as lived
among us in the Greek means literally, he came for a while and tabernacled among
us.  In Jesus, we see God face-to-face.   When Jesus stepped into Jerusalem, the Jews were still
going through the motions of the sacrificial system so that the high priest
could go before God once a year to represent them.  All the while they were going
through this symbolic ceremony, God was tabernacling among them in the form
of Jesus Christ.  God had truly come to Jerusalem.

But Jesus has gone back into heaven to be at the right hand of God.  How are we
to come into the presence of God now?


Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it
was necessary for this one (ie. the high priest Jesus) also to have something
to offer.  If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men
who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.  They serve at a sanctuary that is a
copy and a 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.? But the ministry Jesus has received
is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is a mediator is superior
to the old one, and is founded on better promises. (Hebrews 8:3-6)


When Jesus was on the earth in human form in his ministry, he did not enter
into the Holy of Holies in the temple at Jerusalem.  When he died and was raised,
he entered a heavenly tabernacle to offer gifts and sacrifices there for us
directly before God.  That is the meaning of the phrase, ?if he were here on earth.? 
Although Jesus walked into the temple precincts while here on the earth, he
did not enter into the Holy of Holies.  He did not need to. He entered the heavenly
tabernacle?the reality of which the physical tabernacle is merely a copy. 

The tabernacle itself, then, represents the presence of God with his people.  In the
heavenly tabernacle, those who are saved by the blood of Jesus will dwell with
God forever.


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. (Revelation 21:3)


Again, the Greek word translated as dwelling in this passage is literally tabernacling. 
?In heaven, God will tabernacle with us as he tabernacled with us when Jesus
came to the earth as God in the flesh.

Actually, for those who are in Christ, God is dwelling with and in them right
now.   ?Don?t you understand that you yourselves are God?s temple and that God?s
spirit lives in you.? (1 Corinthians 3:16).  What an awesome concept!  The antitype to the
Jewish temple is the bodies of those who have been baptized into Christ, receiving
the promised Holy Spirit to dwell in them (Acts 2:38).  God is tabernacling
with his people.  No wonder God allowed the temple in Jerusalem to be destroyed in
AD 70.




 Let us look at the individual items in the tabernacle as foreshadows of things
to come.  When one first entered the tabernacle, one came to the sacrificial altar.  T
his is where the fellowship offering, the peace offering, the sin offering and
so forth were laid out and burned in the presence of God.  We will spend an entire
chapter considering the significance of each of the offerings prescribed in
Leviticus, so let us keep it simple for now.  What we learn from the presence of
the bronze altar in the courtyard is that in order to come before God, a sacrifice
is needed.  This sacrifice involves the shedding of blood.  Coming into fellowship with God
has always required the shedding of blood.  Jesus takes his blood with him when he
enters the heavenly tabernacle for us. Consider Hebrews 9:23-26.  This passage makes
the concept very clear.


It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified
with these sacrifices but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices
than these.  For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of
the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God?s presence.  Nor did
he enter heaven  to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters
the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would
have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world.  But now he has appeared
once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of


The presence of the bronze altar in the tabernacle was a constant reminder for
the Jews of the continuing need for sacrifice in order to have fellowship with
God.  The antitype of the tabernacle sacrifices is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  As blo
od sacrifice on the altar was required for the priests of Aaron to enter the Ho
ly Place, so the blood of Jesus, sacrificed on the cross, allows us to come into
the presence of the Most High God?to enter the spiritual tabernacle in Heaven.
Daily, weekly, yearly sacrifice is no longer needed in the New Covenant.


When Christ came as a 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.  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer
sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are
outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal
Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences form acts
that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:11-14)


Imagine the number of goats, sheep, calves, doves and so forth sacrificed on
the altar at the tabernacle
or at the temple in Jerusalem over the fourteen
centuries of its existence!  Surely there were tens of millions of sacrifices.  On the great feast
days, the brook of Kidron in Jerusalem ran red with the blood.  All of these sacrifices
were foreshadows, copies, reminders of the one great sacrifice of Jesus? blood
on the cross.  Could God have created a more graphic illustration of the problem of
sin and its solution?




But let us come closer to the inner sanctuary.  What do we come to next?  We come to the laver. 
?Before the priests could enter the sanctuary to offer their daily service before
God, they were required to bathe: ?They shall wash their hands and feet so that
they will not die.? (Exodus 30:20).  A sacrifice for sins is required in order to come
into the presence of God.  Is anything else required?  Apparently, yes.  It is not hard to see
what God intended the washing in the laver to be a foreshadow of.  We have already
seen the Hebrew writer declare the things in the tabernacle to be copies of
things to come.  The requirement that the priests to be washed in water in the basin
is clearly a foreshadow of the command in the New Testament to be washed in
the water of baptism.


?and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also?not the removal of
dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. (1 Peter


In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter explains that the water of Noah?s flood is a foreshadow
of the cleansing water of baptism.  He could just as easily have said that the water
in the laver is a symbol (foreshadow) of New Testament baptism.  The water in the laver
removed dirt from the bodies of the priests, but it also made them ceremonially
clean so that they could serve the living God.  Similarly, the water of baptism
makes those who come to Jesus clean, so that they may serve God.

From the presence of the laver in the courtyard, outside the actual tabernacle,
we learn that baptism in water is required in order to come into the presence
of God.  So much for those who teach that baptism is simply a ceremony reminding
us of something which had already happened.  What happened to the priests who forgot
to wash their hands and their feet before they entered the sanctuary? ?They
shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die.?  There is water in God?s
plan for us to come to him. There has been water in the plan from the beginning.

After repenting and being  baptized (Acts 2:38), after the  sacrifice of Jesus? blood
has been applied to us, we can come into the sanctuary?into the place where
God dwells with his people.  Let us in our minds visualize entering into the Holy Place
.  What do we find there?  We find symbols of our relationship with God.




On the right as one came into the Holy Place stood a gold-inlaid table with twelve
large round loaves stacked on the top.  The loaves were baked fresh and replaced
daily by the priest on duty. 

The twelve loaves were symbolic of the twelve sons of Israel and of the twelve
tribes descended from them.  The antitype of the twelve tribes in the Old Testament
is the twelve apostles in the New.  The signigicance of the twelve loaves is that
there is sufficient spiritual food for all of God?s people.  It does not seem to be
a coincidence that when Jesus fed the five thousand in the wilderness (John
6:1-15) there were twelve basketfuls of bread left over.  The bread, traditionally
known as the show bread, was a foreshadow of the spiritual food we have in Christ.
  Jesus did not leave us in much doubt about the significance of the bread in
the sanctuary.  ?I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry.? (John 6:35).
  When Jesus made this statement, soon after feeding the five thousand bread
in the wilderness, his hearers thought both of the manna in the wilderness and
of the bread in the sanctuary. Jesus is spiritual food.  He is also known as the
Word of God.  Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life.  The bread, then is spiritual

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