God has declared his desire to dwell in the midst of his people. We serve an amazing God who is not content to stay in the heavenly realm, separated from his creation. Rather, God wants to be with us. God wants a relationship with us. Therefore, Moses is on the mountain receiving the directions for constructing a sanctuary so that God can dwell in their midst (25:8). This is a pivotal part of the book of Exodus because the final 16 chapters of this book center on the worship of God. The only interruption of this theme of worship is in narrative regarding the golden calf. Yet even this section on the golden calf is a contrast between divinely appointed worship with the worship from humans that is not divinely appointed. As we have noted repeatedly in our study of the book of Exodus, this is a picture book of God’s redemption, showing us what God will do through Christ when he comes.
Key To The Section (25:9)
The key verse for the declarations God gives about the construction of the tabernacle is found in Exodus 25:9. “Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” (Exodus 25:9 ESV)
God says that for God to be with his people and dwell in their midst, this pattern of the tabernacle must be made exactly as God shows it to Moses. The point is restated in Exodus 25:40, “And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.” The construction of the tabernacle was not left up to how Moses felt or what he want to give God. Moses must make the tabernacle just like God showed him. Now the tabernacle was not just something for the people of Israel to see that God was with them. We have pointed out that everything was a picture of what God was going to do through Christ. The writer of Hebrews makes this point as well regarding the tabernacle.
They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV)
Now we have to be careful with this information because it does not seem to be the point that every detail can now be spiritualized into some alternate reality. I do not believe that is the point is for us to over examine every detail and apply it to Christ. If that is what we are supposed to do, we do not have enough information from God to know what all of the pictures are. Rather, what we are going to do is see Christ in the elements that are found in the tabernacle. So this is how we will proceed with our examination of the tabernacle.
The Ark of the Covenant (25:10-22)
The first article described is the ark of the covenant. It is interesting that this is called an ark. There are three arks in the Old Testament and all of them are places of salvation. Noah’s ark is the place of salvation. We read about Moses being placed in an ark by his mother so that he would be saved from the Egyptian decree to kill all the Hebrew baby boys. Now we see this box that Israel is to create is called the ark of the covenant. We get the sense of this in Exodus 25:17 where a mercy seat or atonement cover is placed on the ark. It is here, above the ark of the covenant, above that mercy lid, that God says he will meet Moses (25:22). The symbolism is amazing because we know that God will later tell Israel to put the two tablets of stone inside this ark. Then the atonement cover is placed over those commandments. This is the place of mercy. This is the place of atonement. You will come into the presence of the Lord and find atonement and mercy.
This is directly pictured regarding Jesus in the New Testament. Listen to what the apostle Paul writes to the Romans. I am going to use the NET Bible which reveals this imagery clearer.
For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. (Romans 3:22–25 NET)
Other translations read that God put Jesus forward as a propitiation or sacrifice of atonement. This same Greek word in used in Hebrews to indicated the place of mercy and atonement.
Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now. (Hebrews 9:5 NIV)
Jesus is the place of atonement. What the ark of the covenant represented regarding the mercy seat and the atonement cover is what Jesus is for us. We come to Jesus and we find atonement and mercy.
The Bread of the Presence (25:23-30)
The next article in the tabernacle is the table for the bread of the presence (25:30). The bread represented the presence of God, likely as a reminder of the manna as God was with the people in the wilderness. It is interesting to notice that the bread of the presence is joined to the drink offering in verse 29, which we noticed earlier in Exodus is a picture of a covenant meal. The bread and wine, situated just outside the Most Holy Place, are a continual reminder of the covenant that God, who is just behind the curtain, has made with his people. Here is a picture of continual communion with God. We see this imagery communicated in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus comes and declares himself to be the bread of life (John 6:35). But listen to exactly what Jesus said at that time:
54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:54–56 ESV)
Notice the element of communion with God. We have true life and will never perish so that we are forever with the Lord. So the bread is the bread of his presence. Through the body of Jesus we have everlasting life and can forever be in God’s presence.
The Gold Lampstand (25:31-40)
Third, instructions are given for a lampstand to be made of pure gold, having six branches coming out from it. This would provide light in the tabernacle. The tabernacle would be dark (there are no windows) if there was not a lamp to provide light to the priests in the tabernacle. Light has always been a picture of God. Light is the presence of God. God is light and there is no darkness in him at all (1 John 1:5). John opens his gospel describing Jesus as the light that gives light to everyone (John 1:9). Jesus declared in John 8:12 that he is the light of the world and whoever follows him will have the light of life. Light brings life and Jesus is the light that shows us the way to the presence of the Lord.
The Tabernacle (26:1-37)
Chapter 26 describes the materials for the constructing of the tabernacle. Please notice again the emphasis made in verse 30. “Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain.” Nothing must deviate from God’s express direction and pattern.
There is an aspect of the tabernacle that we need to pay close attention to, which is found in verse 33. A curtain was made to separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place and the ark of the covenant was put in the Most Holy Place. This curtain was made of thick woven linen and it highlighted the inaccessibility of God. The priests could come into the Holy Place but not the Most Holy Place. The tabernacle becomes a model of Mount Sinai. Only Moses was allowed to go up into the cloud into the presence of the Lord. Seventy-three others were allowed to come up some of the mountain and the rest of Israel remained at the foot. So now the tabernacle allowed only the high priest one time a year to go into the presence of God to make atonement. The priests could enter the Holy Place for service to God and the rest of Israel remained outside of the tabernacle completely.
The New Testament implications are powerful when it comes to the work of Jesus. Listen to what happens when Jesus gives up his life on the cross.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. (Matthew 27:50–51 ESV)
The curtain split in the temple. Priests were always working in the temple and now suddenly the Most Holy Place becomes visible. The meaning is taught to us by the writer of Hebrews.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22 ESV)
The purpose of the curtain was a separation between God and the people. Now that curtain has been opened through the body of Jesus so that we can draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. We can enter the Most Holy Place, the presence of God, because Jesus has gone before us and opened the way for us.
Other Articles In The Tabernacle (27:1-21)
Next, the bronze altar is to be constructed. Please notice verse 8, “As it has been shown you on the mountain, so shall it be made.” Hebrews 13:10 describes Jesus as our altar by which we are able to be made holy. Then we read about the courtyard of the tabernacle in 27:9-19. The section ends with the oil that must be used for the lampstand (27:20-21). Pure olive oil must be brought for the light with the priests tending daily to the lamp. God invites to come to his light and eat with him, to be in his presence. God is always home and God is always there. The tabernacle is an amazing picture of the relationship of God with his people.
As amazing as all of these concepts are, there is one major concept that the New Testament keys upon in the relationship between Jesus and the tabernacle.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11–12 ESV)
The tabernacle is pictured as the place where only the high priest has access to the presence of God to make atonement. We cannot enter because we are sinful. So Christ appears, but does not enter the physical tabernacle constructed by Moses, but enters the holy places in heaven with his own blood. What Jesus does in dying for us, raising from the dead, and ascending to the Father is go before the throne of God with his own blood to make atonement for us. This was the point of going into the tabernacle, as we saw in Exodus 25:17. It is the place of atonement, the place of saving. Jesus goes into the presence of God on our behalf, using his blood, to put on the mercy lid, which secures our eternal redemption.
In this section of Hebrews 9-10 this is the author’s point. You cannot make atonement. Not only can you not make atonement, the high priest making atonement on your behalf shows a flaw because it must be done every year. There is something imperfect about the blood of animals being used by a human, sinful high priest. But God made the tabernacle scene so that you would see this truth. All of this is to picture what God would do. God will come in the flesh so that he can use his own blood which is perfect so that a final act of atonement can be made by our great high priest one final time.
24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:24–28 ESV)
Jesus goes into the holy places of heaven, tearing down the curtain that separated us from God, so that through his own blood we can be with God and God and dwell with us. What can we say about our Lord who cares so much for us that he would do all of this so that he could live with us?