The Biblical Tabernacle is the forerunner of the Jewish temples and it had such great importance in God's redemptive program that God used 50 chapters in the Bible explaining the pattern, construction, and it’s service. All the furniture and fixtures in it were pictures or types of the Messiah of Israel yet to come, and of the redemption for sinful man by His sacrificial death. All the temples that followed contained those same items, the brazen altar, the brazen laver, the golden lampstand, the table of showbread, and a section set apart by the veil called the Holy of Holies which contained the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat. All these were pictures of the coming Christ and His redemptive sacrifice for sinful mankind.
In Exodus 25:8 the Tabernacle is called "a sanctuary," or a place set apart for a holy God. In Exodus 25:9, a "Tabernacle" meaning it was the dwelling place of God among His people. In Exodus 26:36 it’s a “Tent," meaning it was a temporary dwelling place of God. God was not always going to deal with man the way He was at that time. In Exodus 29:42 it was called "the tabernacle of the congregation" because it was where God met with His people. And in Exodus 38:21 it’s called "the tabernacle of testimony" because the ark of the covenant containing the tables of the Law was located there in the Holy of Holies.
For almost 500 years the Tabernacle served as a sanctuary where God could dwell among His people and where His people would know He was with them. Exodus 40:34-38. “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35: And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36: And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: 37: But if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. 38: For the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.”
Throughout history, Israel has had a problem with idol worship. The Tabernacle with the cloud and the fire was a visual reminder to serve the One true God. The fact that idol worshippers lived all around them contributed to the temptation. They may have reasoned that, after all, hadn’t God called father Abraham when he was still an idol worshiper?
God made Himself accessible to the Israelites here on earth in the Tabernacle but only in holiness. A sinful people could only come before a holy God through a high priest and only with a blood sacrifice. It was a graphic picture of God's plan for Israel’s redemption. Everything about the Tabernacle, from the brazen altar where blood sacrifices were offered for sin to the high priest who sprinkled the blood of that sacrifice on the mercy seat, pointed to God's plan for redemption of the sinner. The fact that the people could only approach God through a blood atonement and a mediating high priest pointed forward to the ministry of Jesus their Messiah and the Savior for the world. In Him we have a high priest and the perfect blood sacrifice and access to God for anyone who will put their trust in Him.
The Old Testament actually mentions three Tabernacles. The first was established at the base of Mt. Sinai after the sin of the golden calf incident.
A tent was pitched outside the camp and was called “the tabernacle of the congregation.” There was no ritual and no priesthood at this tabernacle. The people went out to “seek the Lord.” Exodus 33:7. "And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp."
The Tabernacle we’re most familiar with was erected shortly after this and in accordance with directions God gave Moses on Mt. Sinai. It lasted, at least in part, for almost 500 years.
The last Tabernacle to be erected was a tent set up by David to house the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem. 1 Chronicles 15:1. "And David made him houses in the city of David, and prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched for it a tent."
However, the old tabernacle remained at Gibeon until the days of Solomon along with the bronze altar where sacrifices for sin were offered. 2 Chronicles 1:3: "So Solomon, and all the congregation with him, went to the high place that was at Gibeon; for there was the tabernacle of the congregation of God, which Moses the servant of the LORD had made in the wilderness." This is the last mention of the Tabernacle itself. Solomon’s Temple superseded it.
In all the facts connected with the Tabernacle the original thought reappears. It is the place where man met with God.
During the conquest of Canaan the Tabernacle was moved to wherever Israel was camped. When the conquest was over, it was placed at Shiloh. Joshua 18:1. “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there. And the land was subdued before them.”
It remained in Shiloh during the period of the Judges. The Ark was captured by the Philistines in the time of Eli and later returned to Kirath-Jerim, 10 miles west of Jerusalem. Under Samuel’s guidance, worship was mainly at Mizpah.
In David's early days, when he was a fugitive from Saul, the show bread was kept at Nob. The story of how David took the showbread to feed his men is found in
1 Samuel 21.
At the close of David’s reign the Tabernacle was still at Gibeon, just northwest of Jerusalem a few miles. At that time it still housed the altar of burnt offering.
In the last book of the Apocrypha, Second Maccabees, chapter 2, and verses 4-8, it states that Jeremiah took the Ark of the Covenant and the remains of the Tabernacle and hid them in a cavern when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. That was around 590 B.C. It states that it’s hiding place has never been found, and never will be, until the Messiah sets up His kingdom and restores the glory of Israel.
After Israel was established in the land, David, the "man after God's own heart," wanted to build a temple for the Lord, but David had blood on his hands from many wars and God wouldn’t allow him to do that. God would, however, allow his son Solomon to build it.
David was allowed to collect much of the money and material that later went into the building of what came to be known as Solomon's Temple.
God’s instructions were to build the Temple in Jerusalem, the city where He would place His name and where His people would come to worship.
At the dedication of this temple, the Shekinah Cloud appeared, assuring them that the protecting hand of God was still on the nation Israel. 1 Kings 8:10-11. “And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11: So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.”
Later, in the apostate days toward the end of their rule by kings, the nation of Judah thought they were invincible as long as the Temple was standing. They paid no attention to the warnings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, even after the northern kingdom called Israel was taken captive by Assyria and after some of those in Judah were taken into the Babylonian captivity. Finally, Solomon’s Temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar around 590 B.C. and the remaining people taken captive to Babylon.
Babylon was captured by Persia and after seventy years of the Jewish captivity, a decree by a Persian monarch was found authorizing the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls and the Temple.
This Temple, built under the direction of Zerubbabel and a high priest named Joshua, was much smaller and less ornate than the Temple of Solomon. Some of the older men who returned from Babylon after 70 years of captivity and who had evidently seen the splendor of Solomon’s Temple as young men or boys were so disappointed when they saw the new Temple that they just sat down and cried.
This Temple served until it was desecrated by a Syrian ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, around 167 B.C. He desecrated this temple in a way that made it unfit for Jewish worship.
The Antichrist will desecrate the Temple standing during the Tribulation in a similar way.
About forty years before Christ, Herod the Great rebuilt Zerubbabel’s temple. It was known during New Testament days as Herod's Temple and was where Jesus was circumcised, where He taught at age 12, and the one He cleansed. The Romans destroyed it in AD 70. Matthew 24:2 contains the Lord’s prophecy that this Temple would be destroyed: “And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Exact fulfillment of that prophecy came during the time of Titus, the Roman general who laid siege to the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Although he gave orders that the Temple should not be destroyed, the Jews burned it rather than allow it to fall into pagan hands. Today the temple mount is occupied by Gentiles, Muslims who built a mosque there called the "Dome of the Rock."
The Jews started returning to the land of Palestine in 1948 and it’s rumored they have started collecting materials for rebuilding the Temple. The ground where the Jews want to build is now occupied by the Moslem shrine, the Dome of the Rock.
The Dome of the Rock is said to stand where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God and where Solomon’s Temple stood.
It’s hard to substantiate any of these rebuilding rumors, but it is known that breeding a strain of red heifers for sacrifices is well underway. Rest assured, when Israel sends a call to the Jews all over the world that the Temple rebuilding is to start, the money and manpower will pour into Jerusalem and it’s estimated the Temple could be built in 9 to 18 months.
At present, two major things stand in the way for the Jews; one is a signing of a covenant with the Antichrist giving them access to the Temple Mount which the Gentile Arabs now control, and the other is permission from the Moslems to rebuild where the Dome of the Rock now stands.
Recently a godly Jewish engineer, Asher Kauffman, did extensive work to locate exactly where the ancient temple stood. He proved to the satisfaction of a great many people that the temple was not built on the spot where the Dome of the Rock stands. It actually stood just north of the Dome in what is still an open area, occupied only by a small Moslem shrine. If he is right, and there is a lot of evidence that confirms this, it would be possible for the Jewish temple to be built there without destroying the Dome of the Rock.
Now the plot thickens. In Revelation 11 we find two startling predictions. First, Israel is going to revert to the Old Testament form of worship and build the temple apart from the Messiah. The fact is they are constructing a temple of rejection of Jesus Christ. They don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah and they reject the New Testament teaching that the body of the believer in Christ is the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
The second startling prediction is this: God has ordered a space to be left for the Gentiles on the temple mount.
Turn to Revelation 11:1-2. “And there was given me (the Apostle John) a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. 2: But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.”
Notice that this chapter starts with a still future temple in Jerusalem and ends with a temple presently in heaven. Verse 19: "And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament:"
Centuries ago, God commanded Ezekiel (Ezekiel 40-44) to measure a Temple long after it had been destroyed by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel prophesied the desecration of a temple when it was still nonexistent. Obviously, those Old Testament prophets wrote about a future temple so it follows that the temple John saw in his vision in Revelation 11 is this Temple that will be built during the Tribulation and be desecrated by the Antichrist.
In verse 2, John is told to measure the temple and the altar but to exclude the outer court because it is given to the Gentiles. It’s also clear from the mention of "the holy city" that this temple is in Jerusalem. At the present there is no temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus also spoke of this Tribulation Temple yet to be built and of the Man of Sin, the antichrist, in Matthew 24:15. He said that the sign of the last days would be “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place,” and verse 21: “then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
The holy place is the temple and the abomination of desolation Daniel wrote of is a description of the ministry of the antichrist. In the middle of the Tribulation period, just as Daniel had predicted and Jesus confirms, a temple in Jerusalem will be desecrated by the Antichrist. In order for this to be fulfilled the Temple has to be built.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul wrote "he will sit in the temple, magnifying himself as God," In the middle of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will defy God by sitting in the Temple and presenting himself to the world as God.
Now for the final temple.
Revelation 11:19: "And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament:” Don't look around for Indiana Jones! He was searching for the ark Moses made which was a copy of the true ark of the covenant which is in heaven. It is a guarantee that God hasn’t forgotten His people Israel.
Revelation 15:5: “And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:” The testimony is His Covenant with Israel. God will keep a covenant with anyone who will enter into a covenant with Him and that includes those who have entered into the “new covenant” thorough the blood of Christ.
What we see here is the heavenly tabernacle where the ark of the testimony is kept. Inside the ark are the tables of stone. Both the earthly tabernacle and the earthly tables of stone were duplicates of the originals in Heaven. God showed them to Moses to use as a pattern for the earthly counterparts.
Exodus 25:8-9. “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. 9: According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it."
Acts 7:44. “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.”
So there is a tabernacle in heaven at present, and God showed it to Moses when he was on Mount Sinai and Moses was to make an exact copy of that tabernacle.
Even the heavenly temple is symbolic because it pictures the true dwelling place of God.
At the end of the Revelation we find out that the true dwelling-place of God is with man! We already quoted Paul that believers are the temple of God. Believers will inhabit the ultimate dwelling-place of God, with God, as described by John in Revelation 21.
Revelation 21:3. “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.”
After the present heaven and earth are burned up, God is going to establish the New Heaven and the New Earth as His dwelling place with all the saved of all time for all eternity.
In Revelation 21:22-23, John describes a city in the New Earth called the New Jerusalem. “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. 23: And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”
God has given us a tremendous privilege just to read the last chapters of the history of the earth! You can read exactly what is going to happen and where it is all leads.
The heavenly temple symbolizes the enormous dignity that God has conferred on all believers that we should ultimately and for all time be with Him in His dwelling place.
The Old Testament Tabernacle and Temples were merely patterns or symbols. No person was permitted to enter those earthly dwelling places of God except the high priest. He entered once a year with blood for an atonement for sin, once for himself and again for the people.
But now, Christ, as our High Priest, has opened the way to God for the believer. He is our blood sacrifice and our High Priest that makes us holy in the sight of a holy God. And the saved of all time are destined to share the dwelling place of God in heaven for eternity.