Tonight we study the Tabernacle because it is the single subject to which the Bible devotes more chapters than to any other. The Tabernacle was invented, planned, and designed by God to give us an insight into worship at the very Throne of God.
Let’s go there by way of Hebrews 12:22-24. Please stand and seek our God as He speaks to us.
The Scriptures tell us that in the Church “you have come” (right now!) to these seven sublime realities:
- To the City of God, our final destination
- To myriads of angels, our faithful servants
- To fellow-believers, our fellow pilgrims
- To God, our focus of worship
- To the Church Triumphant, our faithful examples
- To Jesus, our beautiful Savior
- To forgiveness, our greatest possession!
Heaven as described in the books of Revelation and Ezekiel, brings to our minds a picture of angels—millions of angels—“ten thousand times ten thousand”—massed around the circular shore of a waveless sea of glass that reflects those countless hosts from its mirrored surface.
- Looking around we can count twenty-four thrones set in a circle, each seating a celestial man wearing a crown.
- Then inside that ring of thrones are four magnificent seraphim. Each has a distinct visage—a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle—and yet every inch of each of them is covered with eyes. Rather than grotesque, the effect is gorgeous. Fire moves back and forth among them, and the creatures speed to and fro like flashes of lightning. The sound of their whirring wings roars across the expanse, but above that rises their call:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. (Revelation 4:8)
- Above us and over the heads of the living creatures hangs an awesome expanse—sparkling like ice, providing a jewel-like setting for the emerald throne. On the throne sits one who has the appearance of glowing jasper and carnelian. Then appears “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne” (5:6). He takes the scroll from the right hand of him who sits on the throne, and all fall prostrate before him—the four great angels, the twenty-four elders, and the millions around the sea—and most of all, us! And we sing with them:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! (5:12).
Worship is a presentation of our gifts to God. In Matthew when we read that these wise men “presented unto Him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh,” we need to pause and consider the significance of these gifts. Gold speaks of Deity, as a study of the Tabernacle makes plain. Frankincense gives forth its perfume only as it is brought into contact with fire. Myrrh speaks of suffering, and is associated with the death and burial of our Lord. Thus these wise men, by the gifts they presented to Him, expressed first, their faith in His essential and eternal Deity; second, their appreciation of the fragrance of His sinless life which should ascend, as a sweet perfume, to His Father; and third, their estimation of the virtue and value of His vicarious sufferings, by which the redemption of humanity should be accomplished.
Temple: Rev. 7.15; 11.19; 14.15,17; 15.5,6,8; 16.1, 17; 21.22
Golden Incense Altar: 8.3; 8.5; 9.13
Only two chapters in the Bible are devoted to the creation story, whereas some fifty chapters focus on the Tabernacle (see especially Ex. 25-40). The Tabernacle is important and demands attention in our study, because it is a giant portrait of Jesus Christ. Everywhere you look in the Tabernacle you can see Him.
- THE COURTYARD OF THE TABERNACLE was one hundred fifty feet long and seventy-five feet wide. Its single gate, on the east side, was thirty feet wide and seven and a half feet high, allowing a large number of people to enter at the same time. It is a graphic picture of Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way” and “I am the door.” Just as there was only one entrance to the Tabernacle, there is only one way to God-the only Way and the only Door, Jesus Christ. Christianity is exclusive, not because Christians make it so but because God has made it so. Throughout the centuries, of course, Christians have made the earthly church exclusive in many wrong ways. But God has intentionally made His spiritual, eternal church exclusive. It can be entered only through Jesus Christ.
- The first article of furniture in the outer court was THE BRONZE ALTAR. It was made of acacia wood sheathed with bronze. It was seven and a half feet square, stood four and a half feet off the ground, and was topped with a bronze grate. The coals were placed underneath the grate and the sacrifice was placed on top. On the four corners of the altar were horns, to which the animal was bound when it was being sacrificed. The bronze altar is again a perfect picture of Jesus Christ, who Himself was a sacrifice for sin.
- The next piece of furniture in the court was THE LAVER or basin, also made of bronze. In it the priests would wash their hands, and even sometimes their feet, as they went about the bloody services of sacrifice. Here is a picture of Jesus Christ as the cleanser of His people. Once we have received forgiveness for our sins through Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, we still need His daily cleansing that restores fellowship and joy.
- Still moving west across the courtyard, we come to THE TABERNACLE proper-forty-five feet long, fifteen feet wide, and fifteen feet high. The holy place took up two-thirds of this area, which means that the holy of holies was a perfect fifteen-foot cube. Only priests could go into the Holy Place, in which were three pieces of furniture. The writer of Hebrews mentions only two, because, as he says, he cannot speak in detail (9:5).
- The Holy Place. On the left, as the priest entered, was a solid GOLD LAMPSTAND having seven branches, each filled with the purest olive oil. “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” Jesus said (John 9:5). When He left the world, the world was left in darkness, and only for believers is He the light of life. He is the light that directs our paths, the One who, through the Spirit, illumines our minds to understand spiritual truth. He is the One who, by the indwelling Spirit, guides us through the world of darkness. He is our light.
- On the right was THE TABLE on which was THE SACRED BREAD, or show-bread. This table, like the base of the altar, was of acacia wood overlaid with gold. It was three feet long, one and a half feet wide, and two and a quarter feet high. Every Sabbath twelve loaves of fresh bread were set on it, one for each of the twelve tribes. At the end of the week, the priests, and only the priests, were allowed to eat the loaves. Jesus is our sustenance. He is our table of sacred bread. He is the One who feeds us every day, who sustains us with the Word. The Word is not only our food but our light. And the oil is the Spirit of God, who lights the Word for us. The altar of incense pictures Jesus interceding for us, the perfect Sacrifice becoming the perfect Intercessor.
- Farther in and to the center of the Holy Place was THE ALTAR OF INCENSE. It, too, was of gold-overlaid acacia wood, one and one-half feet square and about three feet high. On this altar were placed the burning coals from the bronze altar in the courtyard, where sacrifice was made. These three pieces of furniture also picture Christ. Everything in the outer courtyard was connected with salvation and the cleansing of sins.
- Jesus accomplished His sacrificial work on earth, outside God”s heavenly presence.
- The outer court was accessible to all the people, just as Christ is accessible to all who will come to Him.
- But in His heavenly sanctuary He is shut off from the world, temporarily even from His own people.
- From His heavenly place now, Jesus lights our path (pictured by the golden lampstand), He feeds us (pictured by the table of sacred bread), and He intercedes for us (pictured by the altar of incense).
- The Holy of Holies. Behind the second veil, there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, into which only the high priest could enter, and that but once a year, on the Day of Atonement. In this holiest of earthly places was only one piece of furniture, the ark of the covenant. In it were three very precious articles: a golden jar holding manna, Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant. Made of acacia wood overlaid with gold, it was about three feet nine inches long, two feet three inches wide and two feet high. On the lid was the mercy seat, on which were the cherubim of glory, angelic figures made of solid gold. It was between the wings of those angels, on the mercy seat, that God met men. “And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” (Ex. 25:22). If God and man were to meet it could only have been there. The central, in fact the only, thing in the Holy of Holies was THE ARK, which represents Jesus Christ, the true mercy seat. When we meet Jesus Christ as Savior, we are ushered into the presence of God, into the true Holy of Holies. God no longer communes with men between the wings of cherubim on a gold mercy seat. He communes with men in His Son, by whom the veil was torn in two. Jesus Christ is the mercy seat. Only on the basis of the blood of a goat would God have fellowship with Israel, and only on the basis of the blood of Christ will God have fellowship with men. John, in using the term “propitiation,” in 1 John 2:2, relates Jesus to the mercy seat, since that very word is used for mercy seat in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 25:17.
 Hughes, R. Kent, Preaching the Word: Hebrews Vol 1&2—An Anchor for the Soul, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books) 1998, c1993.
 A. P. Gibbs, Worship, p. 45
MacArthur, John F., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press) 1983.