I sometimes wonder how it must have seemed to the Lord Jesus when He was here on earth to read the Old Testament and see Himself on nearly every page. As He saw the lamb, slain daily in the Temple, and the burning of the sin offering, He knew it pictured what He would experience.
On the Emmaus road, after His resurrection, He, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself. Luke 24:27.
The Tabernacle was God's first dwelling-place on earth. God walked with Adam in the Garden. He visited Abraham at Mamre, but He had no dwelling-place there. In the Tabernacle He had a dwelling-place on earth. After the Tabernacle, it was the Temple. Today, God doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands. He dwells in the individual believer in the form of the Holy Spirit of God and He also says, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20).
We read of a future time, in 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.”
THE ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING -
A shadow of the cross. (Exodus 27:1-8)
All the Tabernacle furnishings were pictures of Christ, the coming Messiah of Israel. The two vessels that stood in the open court visible to all the tribes were the altar of burnt offering and the laver and were made of acacia wood and brass. The items in the Holy Place, which were seen only by the priests, were made of gold, or acacia wood and gold. Those in the Holy of Holies were of gold, or acacia wood and gold.
Brass speaks of God in judgment; gold, of God’s glory. The brass outside pictured God in righteousness dealing with sin: the gold inside spoke of God in Divine glory, communing with the redeemed. The wood speaks of Christ in His humanity.
The vessels in the courtyard picture Christ and the work He accomplished on earth. The altar in the court was the place of sacrifice, picturing the Cross and sacrifice of Christ.
Hebrews 10:6 states "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin" since Christ died on the cross. The only way to God is through the blood of Christ. God demands atonement before the sinner can come to Him.
The fire on the altar never went out. As long as the holiness of God remains, so will the punishment of sin, and the unsaved will dwell forever in the unquenchable flame of that "eternal fire." It’s an awful witness to the holiness of God.
The brazen altar was accessible to all, just as the forgiveness bought at such a price on the cross is available to all.
The grate on the brazen altar was one and a half cubits high, the same height as the Mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. God’s justice and His mercy are of the same dimensions.
The ashes of the animal sacrifice were removed by the priest and scattered in a clean place outside the camp. How vividly all this pointed ahead in time to Christ and the cross.
THE LAVER -
Christ-our cleanser - (Exodus 30:18-21)
The other vessel in the Courtyard was the Laver. It stood between the brazen altar and the door of the Holy Place. No size, shape, or how it was to be transported are given.
The dimensions of other vessels are given but none for the laver. It’s a picture of the grace of God which has no measure.
The laver was filled with water and the priests washed their hands and feet there. A priest was sure to have blood or dirt on his hands from handling the sacrificial animal and he had to walk across the sand to the door of the Holy place so it was an easy matter for the once cleansed hands and feet to contract defilement and be in need of washing. No unclean priest could minister to the Lord on penalty of death.
There were two ceremonial washings of the priests: Moses washed them all over at the door of the tabernacle when they were first consecrated to the office of priest. Then, after they had ministered at the brazen altar, they washed their own hands and feet at the laver before they entered the Holy Place.
Moses' washing of the priests all over is a picture of Jesus as our Great High Priest washing the sinner once for all in His shed blood. The blood shed at the altar of burnt offering speaks of that. But the laver is a picture of Christ as the believer's "Advocate with the Father," washing the believer’s hands and feet from the daily defilement of sin. This maintains our fellowship with Him as His believer-priests. We are first justified by His blood; then we are sanctified through confession of sin and cleansing by "the washing of water through the word." I Corinthians 6:11.
When Jesus washed the disciples' feet, He said to Peter, "He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: (John 13:10).
Brass speaks of judgment. The sin offering was slain at the brazen altar. The brazen serpent in the wilderness pictured Christ bearing our sins on the cross because the serpent is the symbol of sin just as brass is a symbol of judgment. The penalty of sin was judged at the brazen altar and defilement was cleansed and put away at the brazen laver. Our sins were judged at the cross and we are cleansed when we confess our sins daily. 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Only a priests dared wash at the laver and a priest in Israel had to be born into Aaron's family. There was no blood shed at the laver, yet the priests didn’t dare worship without its cleansing. Only one who is born into the family of God can claim the cleansing power of the Word and the Holy Spirit. We can’t approach God except with clean hands and a clean heart. When we confess our sins, He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
THE HOLY PLACE AND THE HOLY OF HOLIES
Dwelling place of God (Exodus 26:33)
The Tabernacle proper was divided into two compartments. The first was called the Holy Place, the second, the "Holy of Holies."
The golden altar of incense, the table of shew-bread, and the golden candlestick stood in the Holy Place. No man was allowed to serve there except a consecrated priest. All the people had access to the outer court to bring their offerings to the brazen altar but only a priest could go inside the Holy Place to the golden altar of incense.
Believers of the present age have a unique blessing. God considers each a consecrated priest. In Israel, the priesthood was vested in the family of Aaron of the tribe of Levi.
Natural birth into that family was the only way of sharing its privileges.
In the present dispensation of grace it’s exactly the opposite. By natural birth we’re all shut out from God, but by spiritual birth, the priesthood is the birthright of all believers. 1 Peter 2:9. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people."
The Courtyard entrance was wide and was for everyone, the door of the Holy place was narrow and was only for the priests. The Gospel is for the world, and the gate is wide open to everyone. The door to the House of God is narrow and it’s privileges and blessings are only for those who accept Christ as their Savior.
THE ALTAR OF INCENSE
Christ-our Advocate with the Father (Exodus 30:1-10)
The Golden Altar of incense inside the Holy Place was made of acacia wood and gold, and had a crown of gold around the top.
This altar and the brazen altar were entirely different. The brazen altar in the courtyard was made of acacia wood and brass. The altar in the Holy Place was made of acacia wood and gold. The brazen altar was the place of sacrifice with continual bloodshed there, while on the golden altar of incense, incense was burned continually, indicating worship of God.
The glories of Christ appear in both altars. Christ on the cross in the altar of burnt-offering; Christ risen and glorified in the altar of incense. Down here He took our place in death and judgment. In heaven He lives for us in the presence of God, interceding for us.
God's earthly place of worship was first the Tabernacle, later the Temples, but since the Cross, God has maintained no earthly structure for worship. Christ is the altar, believers are priests, and heaven is the place of worship.
The incense pictures the prayers of His saints praising Him as it goes up to God.
The fire for the altar of incense was to be taken from the altar of sacrifice. No strange fire and no strange incense was allowed.
Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, offered strange fire and died before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1). They were true priests. They had true incense; but they used strange fire, not the fire from the brazen altar which came down from Heaven (Leviticus 9:24).
This strange fire can be likened to the false doctrine spread by the cults of today.
THE TABLE OF SHEWBREAD -
Christ - “The Bread of Life” (Exodus 25:23-30)
The Table of Shrewbread with its twelve loaves of bread stood inside the Holy Place on the north side, across from the golden candlestick.
It was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold, with a border of gold around the top and a second band of gold around it lower. Twelve loaves of bread, made of fine flour and sprinkled with frankincense lay on the table in two rows of six each.
Each Sabbath the priest replaced them with twelve fresh loaves and the loaves he removed became food for the priest.
The twelve tribes each had their representative loaf and the priests fed on the bread. Today, our Savior sees all believers as priests, feeding on the “Living Bread” and we are represented continually before God by our “Great Advocate.”
The gold band that kept the shewbread on the table while the Levites carried the Tabernacle through the wilderness pictures Christ as He goes with the believer and keeps us while we’re on our wilderness journey through this world.
At the altar, the priest was a giver, but at the table of shewbread he was both a giver and a receiver. Each Sabbath he came with fresh shewbread to present before God, and each Sabbath he received the bread to eat as if from God’s hand. Presenting the new loaves pictures our worship of Christ and the loaves received by the priest illustrate Christ as our Living Bread on which our souls may feed.
When we gather around the Lord's table on the Lord's day to eat the Lord's Supper we are like Mephibosheth of old, we’re called to "eat bread as one of the king's sons." 2 Samuel 9:13
THE GOLDEN CANDLESTICK -
Christ-the true Light (Exodus 25:31-39)
The third and last vessel in the Holy Place was the Golden Candlestick, or lampstand. It stood on the south side of the Holy Place, across from the table of shewbread.
It was made of pure gold and had a center shaft and six branches, three on each side. On the end of each branch was a gold lamp that burned pure olive oil. These burned continually to light the Holy Place. It was the only source of light for the priests who served there.
It was a picture of Christ who is the Light of the world and He manifests Himself through the believer as “children of the light."
There were no dimensions given for this lamp, but it was to be beaten out of a single talent of pure gold. Beating the gold into a beautiful finished work pictures the suffering of Christ and the wonderful results it provided for the believer. The unbeaten talent of gold itself was a very plain thing but through the beating process the finished beauty was brought out, including the branches with their lamps and flowers. The lamps point to Christ, the Light of the world and the flowers point to the birth of the Church that was brought about by His sufferings on the cross.
Apart from the beating, there could have been no golden lampstand and apart from the suffering and death of the Son of God there could have been no Church as His Bride.
THE HOLIEST OF ALL -
The Veil - Man’s separation from God - (Exodus 26: 31-33)
The Veil separated the Holy Place from the Holiest of All. As long as the veil remained intact, man was shut out from the immediate presence of God. Once a year, God allowed the high priest to approach Him through the veil with the blood of atonement. The veil and the blood foreshadowed Christ and His death on the cross and the renting of the temple veil that opened the way for man to come before a holy God. In Hebrews 10:19-20, We read "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20: By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;”
This veil foreshadowed the "flesh," or the humanity of the Lord Jesus, "God manifest in the flesh" 1 Timothy 3:16; and John 1:14. "and the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us."
In His humanity, He was the Holy One, He was sinless. Yet He was so near to us that we’re told that "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same." Hebrews 2:14.
No member of the Triune God can ever die, They are eternal, so Jesus had to become man in order that He might die in our stead to redeem us to God.
The veil itself was a beautiful curtain but it barred man from the presence of God. Apart from His death, the fact that Christ became a man wouldn’t have brought the sinner near to God. It is on the grounds of His redeeming sacrifice that a way was opened for man to meet a Holy God.
When Christ died on the cross, the veil was rent, signifying that the way for the believer-priest was opened into the presence of God. Matthew 28:50-51: “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51: And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom;” allowing the believer to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16.
The ARK OF THE COVENANT -
Christ and the un-broken Law - (Exodus 25:10-16)
The only item inside the Holiest of Holy was the Ark of the Covenant with it’s cover called the Mercy Seat. It was a chest made of acacia wood, overlaid inside and out with pure gold. It had a band of gold around the top and a gold ring on all four corners. It was carried by two staves of acacia wood that were overlaid with gold, placed through the gold rings. There were three items in the Ark. The tables of the law, Aaron’s rod that budded and bore almonds, and later on, a golden pot of manna.
Here we see Jesus as both man and God, His humanity in the acacia wood and His deity in the gold, and His perfect obedience to God portrayed by the unbroken tables of the Law.
The Mercy Seat -
“I will commune with thee above the mercy seat”(Exodus 25:17-22)
and The Day of Atonement -
A shadow of the cross and Christ’s return in glory (Leviticus 23:28-38)
The lid of the Ark, called the Mercy-Seat, was made of pure gold, with a cherubim of gold on each end. The wings of the cherubim overshadowed the Ark. They faced each other, looking toward the Mercy-Seat.
On the day of atonement, which was Israel's annual cleansing from sin, the high priest entered through the veil into the Holy of Holies with the blood of a sin-offering. This was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat once, and before it seven times. The Shekinah cloud rested on the blood-stained Mercy-Seat and God said, in Exodus 25:22, “And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat."
The only way a Holy God could dwell amidst a sinful people was by the blood of atonement that was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat.
The only way the sinner can know God’s mercy today is through knowing His Son as Savior on the ground of atonement through the shed blood of Christ.
Every part and parcel of the Tabernacle has a significance, pointing toward Christ and His fulfillment of the plan of redemption for sinful man, planned by God from eternity past.
The furniture in the original Tabernacle later appeared in the Temples, still pointing forward to the coming Messiah of Israel and the Savior for the world, Jesus Christ.
After the sacrifice had been offered at the brazen altar and the priest had washed his hands and feet at the laver of brass, he went into the Holy Place and walked in the light of the golden candlestick which pointed to Christ as the Light of the World.
They ate the shewbread, a picture of Christ as the Bread of Life. They stood before the golden altar of incense and prayed for the people, prophetic of Christ, our Intercessor and Who is our "Advocate with the Father."
Hebrews 10:21, 22. “and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”