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The Jewish Tabernacle and its Symbolism

by Dr. Robert D. Luginbill


1. The Earthly Tabernacle and Temple as a Type of the Heavenly Temple:

1. The Court (Exodus, chapters 25-40):

a. The (Inner) Court: This is also known as the "court of the priests" in Herod's temple. Surrounded by a barrier in the case of both the tabernacle and the later temple, this enclosure represents the sanctified community of believers on earth who have entered through the gate (i.e., Jesus Christ: on our Lord as "The Door", see above), accepting His sacrifice which confronts them at the point of entry in the form of the brazen altar (a type of the cross). The enclosure or "barrier" of the court which separates unsaved mankind from those who have been sanctified by God represents the "enmity" of God toward sin which is only removed in Jesus Christ (Eph.2:11-22), who is the only gate or door into the place of fellowship with God while still on earth. As types which speak of our earthly experience (acceptance of Christ and entrance into the court of fellowship with God on earth, or rejection of Christ and exclusion from this same court), the court along with its physical enclosure are not represented in the heavenly temple.

b. The Brazen Altar: There is also no corresponding item of furniture for the brazen altar in the heavenly temple. That is because this altar represents the cross (1Cor.5:7; Heb.9:11-14; 1Pet.1:19), the place of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, which sacrifice was accomplished on earth. The brazen altar is to be distinguished from the "altar of incense" which is the true counterpart of the altar mentioned later in this chapter (see below).

c. The Laver: This is also known as the "sea" in the court of Solomon's temple (1Ki.7:23-26; 2Ki.16:17; 2Chron.4:2-5; Jer.27:19). The laver-sea is the only piece of furniture from the earthly court which has an ostensible counterpart in the heavenly temple. Inasmuch as the court represents the earth, the relationship to the laver-sea of the somewhat similar "glassy sea" which appears in God's heavenly temple needs to be explained here in brief.

In Revelation 4:6, the "sea of glass similar to crystal" is actually the watery upper layer of the heavens, the "waters above" that form the circular "vault" of the heavens that stands between the twin heavens of sky and space and the third heaven, the place of the temple of God (Gen.1:6-7; Is.40:22). Therefore in the heavenly sea we are looking at the "top layer" of the heavens, so to speak. The fact that the earthly laver-sea which represents this heavenly sea is both concave (in terms of the brass container) and flat (in terms of the upper surface of the water contained) is also significant, for each of these two parts represents important aspects of the true heavenly picture, with the bronze standing for the firmament of the heavens and the water for the heavenly sea above it (cf. Is.40:22 quoted below). From the vantage point of the third heaven, the place of God's heavenly temple (above the sky-universe), the flat surface of the heavenly sea is what is immediately visible. From our perspective here on earth, however, the heavens have a concave or "vaulted" appearance (as anyone looking up at the sky can attest), and it is this earthly perspective which is represented in the similarly concave shape of the tabernacle's water-filled half-sphere made of bronze:

He [is the One] who sits [enthroned] above the circle of the earth (i.e., the "circular ceiling-vault" of the heavens as viewed from the earthly perspective), and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers [in His sight]. He [is the One] who stretches out the heavens like a curtain (cf. Ps.104:2), and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in (i.e., the "flat" appearance of the combined heavenly sea and firmament of the heavens looking down from the third heaven).
Isaiah 40:22


Taken as a single composite of two things exhibiting a different appearance from either side, it is therefore not surprising that the heavens and the heavenly sea should receive this dual representation in the organization of the tabernacle-temple, that is, the tabernacle's curtain representing the view from the third heaven (as seen in the above quote), and the laver-sea representing the view from earth. Importantly, moreover, this twin representation also serves to emphasize two distinct aspects of mankind's relationship to God. For on the one hand, the actual "waters above" in concert with the "firmament of the heavens" clearly serve to geographically separate God's "dwelling" in the third heaven from Man's abode here on earth. The outer curtain of the tabernacle beyond which only the priests can go and the inner veil beyond which only the high priest (as a type of Christ in ascension) could go effectively convey this principle of separation of Holy God from sinful man. On the other hand, the heavens also reflect the glory of God (a fact obvious to anyone who has ever contemplated the awesome nature of the universe), and all mankind is aware of God from their testimony (Rom.1:18-20; cf. Job 38:1-38; Ps.8:1-4; 19:1-6; 97:6; Acts 17:24-31). The laver-sea, made of bronze and filled with water, had the reflective qualities of a mirror (and, in fact, was originally made of mirrors: Ex.38:8). Anyone gazing into the laver-sea could not but help to catch the reflection both of himself and of the sky above. Thus, with its unique reflective qualities, the laver-sea effectively conveyed the symbolism of sinful mankind contemplating itself against the backdrop of the awesome heavens of God which stand between Him and us. Bronze, incidentally, symbolizes judgment (cf. the brazen altar), and thus emphasizes the dire nature of this reflective comparison. So whether looking down into the laver-sea and catching the sky's reflection, or up into the actual heavens above (which are represented in turn by the curtain of separation), man is forced to appreciate his flawed character and God's perfect character and is thus put into the proper frame of mind to receive His gracious help, eternal life in the Person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. When we do thus properly "reflect" on these things, the correct response is to turn to Him in faith for salvation and forgiveness (represented by washing with the water of purification in the laver-sea: cf. Eph.5:26).(5) This symbolism of reflection seen in the laver-sea is a well-attested quality of the heavens, which are ever "pouring forth" God's witness of Himself to the world (and are thus a surrogate for His Word, the best "reflector" of Him which we possess; cf. Ps.8:1-4; 97:6; Rom.1:18-20):

The heavens recount the glory of God, and the firmament tells of the work of His hands. One day after another pours forth [His] words, and one night after another declares [His] knowledge. There is no tongue or culture that cannot understand their voice (i.e., of the heavens/firmament). Their design has gone out into (i.e., "is visible throughout") the entire earth, and their words to the end of the world. He has set a tent for the sun within them (i.e., hidden it in the heavens/firmament's night sky), and from this it goes forth like a [resplendent] bridegroom from his [wedding] canopy. [The sun] exults to run its course like an athlete [does]. Its starting line is at one end of the heavens, and its circuit [takes it] to the ends [of the sky]. And nothing is hidden from its view.
Psalm 19:1-6

Can you spread out the sky into a firmament like He does, like a solid mirror which has been cast [of metal]?
Job 37:18

Be doers of the Word and not merely hearers, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, such a one is like a man who recognizes his natural face in a mirror – for in this case, though he recognized himself, he straightway went about his business, soon forgetting what he looked like. But he who sets his gaze upon the perfect law of freedom (i.e., scripture – the perfect mirror of the heart) and sticks with it, and is not a [mere] forgetful hearer [of the Word], but a doer of deeds [inspired by the Word], that man will be blessed in his "doing".
James 1:22-25

For at the present time our perception [of heavenly things] is like [viewing] a dim reflection in a mirror. But then [when we meet the Lord] we will see [Him] face to face. Now I have only partial knowledge, but then my knowledge [of Him] will be complete, just as He has always known me.
1st Corinthians 13:12


d. The tabernacle and the first curtain: We have already explained how that the curtain of the tabernacle represents the sky and the universe beyond it, thus effectively demonstrating the impossible distance between man and God from the standpoint of human effort (on the inner veil, see below). For who can "ascend to heaven to bring Christ down" (Rom.10:5-10; cf. Deut.30:12-14)? Clearly, there could be no way into the heavenly tabernacle (whose earthly access was impossible for all except those representing God) except through God's gracious dispensation. For, as the Levitical rites made clear, the only way behind the veil representing the heavens (and thus the only way to pierce the veil of eternity by analogy), was through the blood of a perfect victim slaughtered on behalf of the sinful worshiper (a crystal clear symbol of the sacrificial death of our Savior on our behalf). The tabernacle was itself composed of four layers:

   1) An outer layer of dark, leathery "sea-cow skins", symbolizing the firmament of the sky, glistening, shimmering, with a blue-black watery appearance, and impenetrable to the eye.

   2) A layer of ram skins dyed red, symbolizing the only Mediator between man and God, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb without spot or blemish, shedding His blood in order to remove this barrier of separation and reconcile us to God, without which sacrifice it was impossible to penetrate . . . . .

   3) the "tent" of goat-hair, representing the vast space separating us from the holiness and holy residence of the Father in the third heaven, a chasm only penetrable through the blood of the Lamb (cf. Heb.1:3; 6:19-20; 9:11-14; 9:24-25; 10:20).

   4) An innermost layer of linen, blue (reflecting the heavenly origin of the only One who can give us access), purple (reflecting the royalty of the only One who can give us access), and scarlet (reflecting the sacrifice of the only One who can give us access). This layer was also embroidered with cherubim, symbolizing the holy abode of God, the third heaven lying above the firmament of sky and space (unreachable apart from Christ).(6)

When He had accomplished the cleansing of [our] sins, He took His seat (i.e., beyond the veil) at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Hebrews 1:3b

Since we have, therefore, a Great High Priest who has passed through the heavens (i.e., as through the veil), [even] Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our profession [of faith in Him].
Hebrews 4:14

And this hope [truly] is what "anchors" our lives, a secure and solid [anchor of hope] which penetrates [behind] the veil (i.e., the heavens) into the inner place (i.e., the heavenly holy of holies) where our vanguard, Jesus, has entered on our behalf, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:19-20

The sum of what we have said is this: we have a High Priest of such [amazing] quality that He has [actually] taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in heaven, a Minister of the holy things and of the true tabernacle which the Lord has pitched, not man. For every priest is appointed to present offerings and sacrifices. Wherefore it was necessary for Him also to have something to offer. Now if He were [ministering] on earth, He would not have been a priest, inasmuch as there are already those who present offerings according to the law [of Moses]. These minister in [what is a] copy and a shadow of the [actual] heavenly [tabernacle], just as command was given to Moses as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For He says, "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown to you on the mountain (i.e., Sinai)."
Hebrews 8:1-5

But Christ has already arrived [in heaven] as [the true High] Priest of the good things to come, [having passed] through the [veil of the] greater and more perfect tabernacle, that is, the one which is not of this creation (i.e., through the heavens and into the third heaven). Nor was it through the blood of goats and bullocks, but through His own blood (i.e., His death) that He entered once and for all into the [heavenly] holy of holies, having wrought eternal redemption.
Hebrews 9:11-12


2. The Holy Place (see Exodus, chapter 25-40):

In the tabernacle and later temple there are two spaces, commonly referred to as the holy place and the holy of holies respectively. The holy place, the outer space and the larger of the two rooms, contained the table of the bread of presence, the altar of incense, and the golden candlestick, and was representative of the fellowship between God and sanctified believers in paradise. From before the creation of man, to Eden, to paradise below the earth, to the present third heaven, to eternal New Jerusalem, although the location of "paradise" has been variable, the most fundamental aspect of it has always been the same: it is the place where God's creatures enjoy untrammeled fellowship with Him.(7) At present, ever since our Lord's crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, His passage "through the heavens" into the heavenly Holy of Holies, "paradise" has meant the third heaven, the heavenly temple and dwelling-place of God the Father. Christ's ascension into heaven "split the veil" of the heavens, rending the barrier of separation between man and God through His blood, opening the way of "access" to the Father for all who believe and follow His Son (cf. Eph.2:18; 3:12), for He is the only entrance, He is the only way into heaven (Matt.7:13-14; Lk.13:24-25; Jn.10:7-9; 14:6; cf. Rev.3:7-8; 19:11), and He is in a very literal way our "leader" into the heavenly holy of holies (our archegos: Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb.2:10; 12:2). That is why at Jesus' death, the moment when He had completed His victorious life and sacrifice perfectly in every way, the Father caused the temple's literal veil to be split open, graphically demonstrating for any and all who would not refuse to see it the reality of His provision of salvation symbolically portrayed in the very temple which speaks entirely of Jesus' work: with the cross an accomplished fact, man can now enter into the very presence of God – but only on the basis of our Lord's sacrificial death (compare Matt.27:51 with Heb.10:19-20). For Christ's work removed the veil-barrier of enmity and estrangement (erected by man through the sin of our first parents) making possible our reconciliation to the Father, so that we may now stand in His presence through the blood of Christ (Rom.5:1-21; 2Cor.5:17-21; Eph.2:14-18; Col.1:19-22; cf. 1Pet.3:18).

In anticipation of our Lord's sacrifice (which was acceptable to the Father in every way), the Father had mercifully delayed judgment upon sin until the time when He gave His own Son to be a means of propitiating all sin for those who put their faith in Him (Rom.3:25-26; 2Cor.5:19; cf. Acts 14:16; 17:30). This salvation – forgiveness of sin and provision of eternal life – extends not only to all who have trusted in Jesus since the cross, but also to all those who sought forgiveness and eternal life from God before the cross, trusting in His promises and in His promised One to come so clearly portrayed in the tabernacle and all its rites, so clearly foreshadowed and prophesied throughout the Bible (e.g., Ps.22; Is.52-53; Lk.24:25-27). Because the way to the Father was not opened until Jesus' sacrifice and ascension to Him, the righteous who died before these events, "the conjunction of the ages" (Heb.9:26; cf. 1Tim.2:6), were taken after death to an interim "paradise" below the earth, a place of blessing to be sure, but still separated from the presence of the Father by the veil of the heavens, to await the fulfillment of the Messiah's mission. This is the "hell" to which our Lord descended after His death on the cross before His resurrection – not a place of torments (although part of Hades was and still is reserved for that function), but rather, in the case of all those who died in the Lord from Abel until Jesus' resurrection, a place of rest and repose in which to await the opening of the way into the heavenly inner sanctum through the blood of Christ. It is to this interim paradise that Jesus refers when on the cross He tells the believing thief "today you will be with Me in paradise" (Lk.23:43; cf. Lk.16:19-31).(8)

Since our Lord's resurrection from the dead, ascension to the third heaven, and session at the right hand of the Father, there is now nothing to hinder departed believers from entering into the presence of the Father along the "newly opened and living way" that Jesus has made for us into His presence (cf. Jn.14:2-3; 17:24; Heb.1:3; 4:14; 6:19-20; 8:1-5; 9:11-12):

(19) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence in this entrance of ours into the [heavenly] holy of holies by the blood of Jesus, (20) an entryway through the [heavenly] veil [of separation] which is new(9) and alive and which He has consecrated for us, that is [through the sacrifice] of His flesh (cf. Heb.10:10; 10:18), (21) and since we have [this] great high priest over the household of God, let us approach [the throne of grace (cf. Heb.4:16) to pray] with a truthful heart in complete faith, (22) our hearts sprinkled [clean] of [any] bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water [of the Word (cf. Eph.5:26)].
Hebrews 10:19-22

This tangible reality of believers liberated from the necessity of occupying a temporary abode (i.e., the underground paradise of sheol) and free to anticipate their destined home with God in heaven after death was promised by our Lord (Jn.14:1-6; cf. Jn.12:26; 17:24), and is clearly visible in the biblical descriptions of believers now actually in the presence of the Father and the Lamb (2Cor.5:8; 12:1-6; Phil.1:23; Heb.12:22-23; cf. Rev.6:9; 7:9-17). Moreover, it is also clear from a number of passages that our Lord, when He made His actual and highly symbolic journey through the heavens and into the Father's presence, led "captivity captive" (Eph.4:8; cf. Ps.68:18), freeing from the subterranean paradise known as "Abraham's bosom" all the faithful who had previously died (Ps.146:7b; Is.14:17b; 42:7; 49:9; 61:1; Lk.23:43; cf. Lk.16:19-31), and taking them in His train up to the third heaven (Jn.14:2-3; cf. Ps.68:24-27; Jn.17:24; Col.2:15; 1Pet.3:18-22; Rev.1:18). Since the veil of the heavenly temple of God (i.e., "the third heaven", the "antitype" or true location represented by the Holy of Holies in the earthly tabernacle) has now been split open by Christ's victory, there is no further distinction in heaven between the Holy Place (representing the previous subterranean compartment of sheol, "Abraham's bosom") and the Holy of Holies, with saved, departed humanity now resident in the presence of the Lamb and of the Father. For it is into this genuine "Holy of Holies" in heaven above that Christ entered in company with all those who had previously died in the Lord and had previously been awaiting this momentous event in the paradise below:

For Christ did not enter into a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one. Rather, He entered into heaven itself, so as to present Himself before God [the Father] on our behalf.
Hebrews 9:24

Since then there is now no distinction in the heavenly temple of God between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place (the separating veil having been removed by Christ), we should not be surprised to see in the description of the heavenly temple in Revelation (describing as it does matters after the fact of the ascension) the placement of objects within this true Holy of Holies which, in the earthly tabernacle-temple, were reserved for the Holy Place. So while we shall cover here under the sub-heading of "the Holy Place" the altar of incense, lamp, and table of the bread of presence, the reader is asked to keep in mind that in the forthcoming description in Revelation these articles are seen to appear within the heavenly temple proper (i.e., the genuine Holy of Holies).

In the holy place of the earthly tabernacle, three items are present: 1) the golden table, 2) the golden lampstand, and 3) the golden altar of incense. All three of these furnishings represent Jesus Christ, with the gold standing for His deity (as rare, precious, glorious), the acacia wood (of the table and altar) beneath symbolizing His humanity (as fragile yet perfect), and with each item symbolizing a particular aspect of His sacrificial incarnation:

a. The Golden Table: The golden table holding the bread of the presence (i.e., God present with us in the Person of Christ; cf. "Immanuel": Is.7:14; Matt.1:23), represented the life-giving nature of the Person of Christ for all who partake of Him, "the Bread of life" (Jn.6:32-58; 1Cor.11:23-26).(10)

b. The Golden Lampstand: The golden lampstand, fed by the empowering oil, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit (Is.11:2; Rev.1:4; and cf. Lk.4:18), represented the life-giving nature of the message of Christ for all who receive it and accept Him, "the Light of the world" (Jn.8:12; cf. Jn.1:4-9; 3:19-21; 9:5; 12:46; Eph.5:8-15; 1Jn.1:5-7; 2:8-10).(11)

c. The Golden Altar of Incense: The golden altar of incense, emitting a sweet savor rising up into the holy of holies, represented the life-giving nature of the work of Christ, acceptable to the Father in every way and rising up in resurrection and ascension into His presence (Eph.5:2; cf. Gen.8:21; Heb.1:3), pointing the way to heaven in Him who is the "Way" for all who follow Him (Jn.14:2-3; 14:6; cf. Ps.118:19-27; Matt.7:13-14; Lk.13:24-25; Jn.10:7-9; 17:24).

Of these three, the altar and lampstand are specifically mentioned as present in the heavenly temple of God (Rev.4:5; 6:9). Neither is the table truly absent, however, for the "Bread of Life" Himself is seen to come before the Father in chapter four (in a related symbol, that of the Lamb of God which also speaks of our fellowship with Him through partaking of His body and blood: Jn.5:25-58; 1Cor.5:7), and, given the representation of the Church collective as "the Body of Christ" and the fact that the table contained the perfect number of twelve loaves, we may also see in the believers who appear "below the altar" the complement to the "Bread of Life" Himself in His Church, His Body and His Bride (cf. Rev.6:9).(12) Like a new garden of Eden then, the third heaven, God's inner sanctum or heavenly temple, is the place where all of us blessed to die in the Lord are now privileged to enter. There, in the tabernacle-paradise of God, we shall begin our "face-to-face" fellowship with Him and with our Lord Jesus Christ which we shall from that point on enjoy forever more. These three articles also speak of God's eternal provision for us in this paradise to come: 1) the table of bread speaks of physical sustenance and life, eternal life; 2) the lampstand of light speaks of spiritual illumination and truth, divine truth; 3) the altar of incense with its sweet aroma speaks of physical and spiritual joy, everlasting joy. For since Jesus has split the veil of the heavenly Holy of Holies, our "Holy Place" after departing this earth is now in the very presence of God Himself.


3. The Holy of Holies (see Exodus, chapters 25-40): The holy of holies in the tabernacle-temple represented the heavenly temple of God, inaccessible to any human being, even to saved humanity after death, until the veil which separated it from the holy place should be removed by the Messiah, Jesus Christ (cf. Matt.27:51; Mk.15:38). This earthly holy of holies, the place entered only by the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Heb.9:7; cf. Lev.16:1-34), was, in its shape, a perfect cube (cf. Ex.26:16; 36:21). This was also true in Solomon's temple (1Ki.6:20), and will be true in the millennial temple as well (Ezek.41:4).(13) Significantly, the New Jerusalem will also be a perfect cube (Rev.21:16), an understandable feature given that it will be, in effect, the last "temple". For in this final paradise, God will return to earth to "tent" with saved mankind forevermore, pitching His "tabernacle", the New Jerusalem, on the new earth (Rev.21:3-4; cf. Rev.21:1). There will be "no temple" visible in the New Jerusalem because "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Rev.21:22). For the entire New Jerusalem will function at that blessed future time as the final and ultimate Holy of Holies, a perfect cubicle space (representing the perfection of the Trinity in height, width, and breadth: cf. Eph.3:18), wherein all of saved humanity will be accommodated and dwell in the presence of God for all eternity (Rev.21:3-4).

a. The Mercy Seat: The golden "mercy seat" or atonement cover, as it is also called, represents God's throne (see immediately below for the heavenly throne). Made completely of gold (befitting His deity), the mercy seat was flanked by two golden cherubs (just as the heavenly throne is attended by the actual cherubim). It was between these two golden cherubs that the Lord told Moses "there I will meet with you" (Ex.25:22), so that the image given by the mercy seat of God's heavenly throne is beyond symbolic: within the tabernacle and temple, this is the place where the glory of God, the resident or Shechinah glory, actually did dwell. Here, between the golden cherubim above the mercy seat, the Shechinah glory, a Christophany of the Son representing the Father's sovereign session in the heavenly Holy of Holies, actually did shine forth as the Light of the world (Heb.1:3a: "He [Jesus] is the shining forth of [the Father's] glory, the precise image of His essence"; cf. Jn.8:12; Rev.21:23-24).(14) It was also upon this mercy seat or atonement cover that the high priest sprinkled the blood of sacrifice only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Heb.9:7; cf. Lev.16:34), manifestly symbolizing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins "once and for all" (Rom.6:10; Heb.7:27; 9:12; 9:26; 9:28; 10:10; 1Pet.3:18), as the Father looks down with complete acceptance on His Son's "shed blood" (Heb.1:3b; 9:12; 10:12).(15)

b. The Ark: The "ark of the covenant" is the premier symbol within the tabernacle of our Lord Jesus Christ. For while the entire tabernacle along with its rituals and sacrifices speak of our Lord and His saving work (with the altar of incense, the table of the bread of presence, and the golden lampstand specifically representing clear types of Him as we have just seen above), in the ark we have a picture of Christ in resurrection, ascended to the Father, and seated intimately with Him (the sacrifice of the cross being an accomplished fact). This union can be clearly seen in the close and intimate association of the ark and the mercy seat, the latter representing the Father's throne, the former representing the Son in contiguous union with that throne (literally and figuratively: cf. Ps. 2:6-12; 110:1-6; and cf. Jer.3:16-17 where the throne of the Lord replaces the ark in the millennial kingdom). Moreover, the ark and its mercy seat always appear together and are often described collectively as "the ark" (e.g., 1Sam.3:3-7:2). Thus, in a very real sense, the ark and mercy seat are "one" just as Jesus and the Father whom they symbolize are "One" (Jn.10:30). Finally, the particular picture given by the ark and mercy seat is that of the unity of the resurrected Christ with the Father, with the Messiah, human and divine (i.e., the ark is made of acacia wood covered with gold, so that now His divinity is in full view in contrast to the First Advent), now seated in victory at the Father's right hand (Ps.110:1; Rom.8:34; Eph.1:20-22; Phil.2:9; Heb.1:3; 12:2; 1Pet.3:22).

As we are told in Hebrews 9:1-5, the ark originally contained 1) a jar of manna (Ex.16:33-34); 2) Aaron's rod that budded (Num.17:10); 3) the tables of the Law (Deut.31:24-26; 1Ki.8:21). Each of these items speaks of God's provision and man's rejection of that provision (both originally with Adam, and subsequently, as illustrated by the behavior of Israel as typical of mankind in general). God provided perfect bodily sustenance for man (the trees of Eden for Adam, manna for the Israelites), but man rejected this gracious provision (Adam by eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Israelites by "grumbling" [the jar of manna]: Gen.3:6; Ex.16:11-12; cf. Ps.78:17-22). God provided perfect temporal protection for man (the security of the garden for Adam, the leadership of Aaron and Moses for the Israelites), but man rejected this gracious provision (Adam by failing to heed God's warning, the Israelites by challenging Moses and Aaron's right to lead [the rod that budded]: Gen.2:17; Num.16:41). God provided perfect spiritual provision for man (the tree of life for Adam, the Law for the Israelites), but man rejected this gracious provision (Adam by violating God's verbal warning, the Israelites by violating God's written law [the stone tablets]: Gen.3:11; Ex.32). The inclusion of a symbol of each of these three essential categories of human rejection of divine provision (physical, temporal [for freedom of choice], and spiritual) directly within the ark is a highly significant representation of Jesus "bearing our sin in His body" (1Pet.2:24; cf. Matt.26:26; Rom.7:4; 1Cor.11:24; Heb.10:10).

For this reason it is not surprising that the ark is also described as the "ark of the covenant", for it is the death of Jesus Christ which fulfills God's earlier covenant of anticipation (for no such covenant/testament is valid apart from a death: Heb.9:15-18), while inaugurating a New Covenant of forgiveness through the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Lamb, our Savior (Matt.26:28; 1Cor.11:25; cf. Is.42:6). Christ bore the curse of the first covenant (Gal.3:13), that He might abolish the barrier of sin and reconcile us to God through His body, sacrificed on our behalf (Col.1:22). And this symbolism is reflected by the contents of the ark, with the blood spilled upon the mercy seat which covers it, graphically and effectively representing His sacrifice for sin. In spite of man's rejection and rebellion, God would provide salvation (and subsequently has), a fitting testimony to His inimitable and unsearchable grace which this, the ark of the Testimony, so effectively teaches (cf. Ex.25:16; 40:20-21). Through His sacrifice, moreover, Jesus has renewed all of these provisions in spite of man's initial rejection of them. For He is the Bread of Life (cf. the manna) in whom we shall never hunger again (Jn.6:25-58; Rev.2:17); and He is the Branch (cf. the budding staff) whose perfect Kingdom shall never end wherein we shall dwell for all eternity (Is.4:2-6; Rev.3:21); and He is the Fulfiller of the Law and the Word of God (cf. the tablets of the Law inscribed with the words of God) with whom we shall enjoy sweet fellowship forevermore (Rom.10:4; Rev.3:12). Jesus sacrificed Himself for these and for all the sins of all mankind, that all mankind might be blessed with this eternal life through faith in Him – the most blessed of all promises, and clearly taught by the symbolism of the ark.

This symbolism of the ark helps to explain why there is no counterpart for it per se immediately visible in the heavenly temple: the mercy seat's counterpart is present in the Father's throne, with the glorious presence of the Father Himself corresponding to the Shechinah glory of the tabernacle. But the ark represented the Son, and the Son too is already present, seated at the Father's right hand "in the center of the throne" (the very place we expect to find the ark, contiguous with the "mercy seat", that is, the throne: Rev.5:6). Therefore, just as the Shechinah glory finds its true antitype only in the Father Himself, so the ark, the most important symbol of the Son, finds its true antitype only in the Son Himself (so that the symbol is not missed: cf. Jer.3:16-17). When our Lord does make His first appearance in the heavenly temple in chapter five, it is appropriate that it be as the victorious "Lamb as having been slain", for it is through His sacrifice that He has won the right to "open the book", and bring on the final events which will lead to the establishment of His kingdom (cf. Rev.5:9-10).(16)

Continued at "The Throne of God" (in part 2B of Coming Tribulation).

 

(From part 6 of Coming Tribulation: "New Jerusalem")

 


2. The Illustration of the Tabernacle:

The layout and furniture of the tabernacle are thus patterns or types, "a copy and shadow of the things in heaven" (Heb.8:5). Time does not permit a thorough discussion of all the symbolism and detail of the law here, but a brief discussion will be useful, for the tabernacle is itself a picture of the present "Eden", that is, the third heaven where God is currently in manifest residence (Lk.23:43).

Entrance into the tabernacle is not permissible without first passing the altar (where the blood sacrifices depict the saving work of Christ on our behalf in various ways; cf. certain cases where there is an actual placing of the hand on the victims head) and the laver (where the symbolic washing away of sin on the basis of the sacrificial work of Christ is clear enough; cf. baptism). The only way to get into the tabernacle (heaven) is through the blood (of Christ) and appropriate cleansing (forgiveness on the basis of Christ's sacrifice). The rituals ordained for the high priest on the Day of Atonement give an especially vivid picture of the restoration of a way into the presence of God, into the Eden-delight of His company. He is behind the veil that separates the holy place from the holy of holies, a place entered only once a year by the high priest in a picture of the ascension of Jesus Christ to the throne room of the Father. The blood of the sacrifice represents Christ's work, while the "mercy seat" with its two golden cherubs represents the Father's throne (described in 1st Chronicles 28:18 as a "chariot", the form of the throne of the Lord as we know from e.g., Ezek.1:4-28), and His acceptance of Christ's work. It is also significant to note that the veil separating the holy place from the holy of holies, replete with embroidered cherubim (the protectors of the holiness of God from anything profane), was split from top to bottom immediately after the death of our Lord opened the way for us back into fellowship with the Father (Matt.27:51):

(19) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence in this entrance of ours into the [heavenly] holy of holies by the blood of Jesus, (20) an entryway through the [heavenly] veil [of separation] which is new(17) and alive and which He has consecrated for us, that is [through the sacrifice] of His flesh (cf. Heb.10:10; 10:18), (21) and since we have [this] great high priest over the household of God, let us approach [the throne of grace (cf. Heb.4:16) to pray] with a truthful heart in complete faith, (22) our hearts sprinkled [clean] of [any] bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water [of the Word (cf. Eph.5:26)].
Hebrews 10:19-22

In the passage above, the writer of Hebrews makes clear the analogy between the tabernacle and the throne room of heaven. The earthly holy of holies, where the mercy seat resides atop the ark of the covenant, is an unambiguous type of the Father's throne, and therefore a symbol of the presence of the Father. Until the efficacious sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His Son, there was no admittance for sinful man into His holy presence, but now all who accept Jesus Christ do have that access on the basis of the work of the one who "split the veil" sacrificing His own body on our behalf. Before the sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension and session of Jesus Christ at the right hand of the Father (Ps.110:1; Rom.8:34; Eph.1:21-22; Phil.2:9; Heb.1:3; 12:2; 1Pet.3:22), those who died in the Lord were conveyed not to heaven, but to "Abraham's bosom", the pleasurable part of sheol located beneath the earth (Lk.16:19-31; and cf. 1Sam.2:6; 28:15; 1Ki.2:6; Job 11:8; Ps.139:8; Is.7:11). By His victory at the cross, however, Christ won a literal "access" into the Father's presence, so that paradise is now to be found in the third heaven (1Pet.3:18-19):

I know a man, [a believer] in Christ – fourteen years earlier such a one was snatched up to the third heaven (in his body perhaps, or out of it, I don't know – God knows). And I know that this man (in his body perhaps, or out of it, I don't know – God knows) was snatched up to paradise, and heard inexpressible words which are not permissible for a man to speak.
2nd Corinthians 12:2-4

The tabernacle, then, is a picture of the third heaven, with the ark and its mercy seat representing the throne of the Father in the holy of holies (cf. Rev.5:11-12), and with the veil and its embroidered cherubim representing the separation between God and mankind which was rent in two by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ (Matt.27:51; Mk.15:38; Lk.23:45; cf. Heb.10:20).

The holy place, the larger of the two rooms in the tabernacle, is also representative of the fellowship between God and sanctified believers in paradise. Like a new garden of Eden, there believers who have passed over to be with the Lord enjoy the inexpressible pleasure of fellowship with the Trinity (cf. Ex.29:44-45), an event foreshadowed by the three articles contained in the holy place (Ex.25:23-40; 30:1-10). After accepting Christ's sacrifice at the altar on our behalf and after being cleansed from our sins at the laver through His work, we enter the holy place containing the golden table, the golden lampstand, and the golden altar of incense (gold being a symbol of divinity). In one sense, these three articles are reminiscent of the blessed provisions of the tree of life enjoyed by Adam and Eve in the garden before the fall: the shape of the golden lampstand recalls the appearance of the tree of life (Ex.25:33-34)(18); the bread of the presence on the golden table recalls its fruit (compare the twelve loaves of Lev.24:5-9 with the twelve crops of Rev.22:2; and cf. the analogies of manna and communion); and the incense from the golden altar recalls its fragrance. But it is in their depiction of Jesus Christ, the true "tree of life" (Jn.15:1-8; Rom.11:17-24), that these three articles have their most profound significance; in heaven, we are destined to enjoy the benefits of the tree of life (Rev.2:7; 22:14 & 19) because of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who died on a tree to give us access to the eternal life the tree of life represents (1Pet.2:24):

  • The Bread: The "bread of presence" on the golden table is a picture of Christ the Bread of Life (Jn.6:35: "I am the bread of life") being offered by the Father (Jn.3:16).
     

  • The Light: The light emanating from the golden lampstand is a picture of Christ the Light of the world (Jn.8:12: "I am the light of the world) being empowered by the Holy Spirit (Is.11:2; Rev.1:4; and cf. Lk.4:18, the anointing oil of the Spirit).
     

  • The Aroma: The incense rising from the golden altar directly before the veil of the holy of holies is a picture of Christ in resurrection ascending to heaven (Jn.11:25: "I am the resurrection and the life") having provided through His sacrifice a fragrant aroma of salvation most acceptable to the Father (Eph.5:2; cf. Heb.1:3).

All of us blessed to die in the Lord are privileged to enter and abide in the tabernacle-paradise of God, where we shall begin to enjoy the His fellowship forever more. These three articles also speak to God's eternal provision for us in the paradise to come: 1) the bread speaks of physical sustenance and life, eternal life; 2) the light speaks of spiritual illumination and truth, divine truth; 3) the incense speaks of physical and spiritual joy, everlasting joy. In the tabernacle of heaven, all our needs will be provided for as we fellowship with the Trinity for all eternity because of the sacrifice of Jesus and our decision to follow Him in this life. Thus the tabernacle is effective shorthand for the eternal bliss that should be our focus in this life, as well as the means to achieving it through acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ.

As illustrated by the tabernacle, therefore, Eden (or paradise) is the place where God fellowships with sanctified mankind. It is a place of delight because there is no greater joy than communing with God apart from sin and the troubles of the world we now know. But despite the trials and tribulations that are inevitable for believers in the devil's world, it is also important to note that in this place that is certainly no paradise, God has nevertheless always made it possible for those who would seek Him to "walk with Him" (Gen.5:24). Moreover, in the days of Israel, He dwelt amongst the congregation of believers (Ex.25:8), and today He and His Son dwell in the hearts of those who have believed and so received His Holy Spirit (Jn.14:23; 1Cor.3:16-17; 6:19; 2Cor.6:16). Our fellowship with God now is a foretaste of the bliss and delight of the restored Eden to come, when "the dwelling of God" shall "come to men" (Rev.21:3 & 21:22). It remains to consider in a comprehensive manner all the manifestations of Eden-paradise, in order to lay a sure foundation for our discussion of the original fall of one of God's creatures from that perfect fellowship, namely that of Satan.

Continued at "The Seven Edens" (in part 1 of the Satanic Rebellion)


Notes:

5. This principle, true of salvation, also holds good for the cleansing of our sin through confession, and the laver was indeed used for symbolic cleansing (compare Ex.30:19-21 with Jn.13:1-20, where in both cases only the hands and feet are washed; cf. 1Jn.1:9).

6. Symbolism of the colors is according to M.F. Unger, Commentary on the Old Testament (Chicago 1981) v.1, p.135. These features are also true of the inner veil (Ex.26:31).

7. See The Satanic Rebellion: Background to the Tribulation: Part 1, "Satan's Rebellion and Fall", section II.6, "The Seven Edens".

8. See The Satanic Rebellion: Background to the Tribulation: Part 1, "Satan's Rebellion and Fall", II.5.b, "The Illustration of the Tabernacle".

9. Literally, "newly slain".

10. The twelve loaves show that He is sufficient for all: one loaf for each of the tribes of Israel, with Israel itself representing the entire future Body of Christ (see part 5 of The Satanic Rebellion: Background to the Tribulation: "Judgment, Restoration and Replacement", section II.8.b.i, "The Uniqueness of Israel").

11. As the Word is immaterial and divine in every way, so the lampstand, representing the light of the gospel in the Person of Christ, contains no earthly element (i.e., all gold, no acacia wood). Likely for this same reason, the lampstand lacks the golden "crown" (zer) which the altar and table possess, since this "crown" is indicative of the reign of the Messiah "in the flesh".

12. Significantly, the table in the tabernacle was also placed "below" the altar, that is, farther away from the veil, just as from John's perspective these believers are closer to him than to the altar, the import of "below" in Revelation 6:9 (cf. Ex.40:22-28).

13. The same is also most likely true of the second temple of Zerubbabel (cf. Ezra 6:3), later "rebuilt" by Herod. Of this temple, before its reconstruction, we have only the description in Cyrus' letter (in the citation above), of which the critical phrase is "let the foundations (i.e., of the first temple) be repaired" (so NASB, Koeler-Baumgartner's Lexicon, C.F. Keil's Commentary, omn. in loc.). This would have preserved the original dimensions of width and breadth (and one must assume that the same height was preserved as well, producing the same cube shape). The specific width and height given later in the letter in neither case determine the internal dimensions (just as Solomon's temple was "thirty cubits high" overall, but the holy of holies only twenty cubits high, a fact that can only be interpreted to mean that the preservation of the cubical shape of the tabernacle's holy of holies was deliberate: compare 1Ki.6:2 with 1Ki.6:20). If Josephus is to be believed, Herod's modifications resulted in a "raising of the roof" of the inner sanctum to thirty cubits, thus defacing the cube (and how typical of unbelieving "worship" of God to replace truth and true symbol with a meaningless, even a defiling sort of ornamentation).

14. In this imagery, moreover, the relationship of Moses to Christ on earth parallels that of Jesus and the Father in heaven: cf. Ex.25:22: "there . . . I [Jesus representing the Father] will meet with you [Moses a type of Christ; cf. Deut.18:18; Heb.3:1-6]; there are many points of typological symbolism between Moses and Christ in scripture.

15. Jesus, of course, offered up His life, not literally His blood, and in the book of Hebrews great care is taken to avoid giving this misleading impression (cf. Heb.8:3: "something to offer"). For "the blood of Christ" is a symbol of Jesus' sacrifice just as "the Lamb of God" is a title symbolic of His sacrifice. The analogy is of sacrificial animals as types of Jesus, and animal blood as types of His death on the cross. We are not to take Jesus' "blood" in this figure as literal anymore than we are to consider Him a literal "lamb" (i.e., animals represent Christ; animal blood represents Christ's spiritual death for us; cf. Jn.1:29; 1Cor.11:23-26). The aim of avoiding such heresy is one reason why John takes such great pains to show that Jesus did not bleed to death, but "gave up His spirit" while the blood was yet in His body (Jn.19:33-35; cf. Matt.27:50; Mk.15:37; Lk.23:46; Jn.19:30; 1Jn.5:6-8). See also Peter's Epistles #9: "Salvation through Faith, and the Blood of Christ".

16. The ark itself will appear in the heavenly temple later at Revelation 11:19, but as a symbol of the true temple and worship of God and the impending judgment upon the anti-God religion which the beast has centered in the earthly temple (the rightful place of the ark; see in loc.).

17. Literally, "newly slain" or "freshly slaughtered".

18. The lampstand or menorah is meant to represent the almond, the ultimate of the "best fruits of the land" (Gen.43:11), and, significantly, the form taken by Aaron's rod when it budded (Num.17:8).

 


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