I started a new course from Online Bible College this week, titled Types and Shadows. The lessons in this course discuss things from the Old Testament that model New Testament truths. An example would be Adam as a personal type of Christ – both act as representative figures, in that their actions have repercussions for all of humanity. Therefore a type is a model or some form of a foreshadowing element that points toward Jesus and the New Testament. Today’s lesson discussed the Tabernacle of Moses as a type of Christ and as a type of the Church.
What is the Tabernacle?
The tabernacle of Moses was the first tabernacle prescribed by God for the Israelites to build. In the King James Version, you actually see it called the “tabernacle”, while in the New International Version, it’s often translated “tent” (see Exodus 29:42). The Hebrew word translated “tabernacle” or “tent” here is ohel, which literally means “dwelling” or “dwelling place.” The purpose of the tabernacle, then, was inherent in it’s name – it was to be where God dwelt among His people. This is made evident in Exodus 25:8, where God tells Moses “…have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”
This idea of God dwelling among his creation is not something that He talked about only with the tabernacle. In fact, in all of Scripture, we see that this was God’s desire from the beginning and is His desire in the end. In Leviticus 26:11-12, in speaking of the tabernacle, God said “I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.” Interestingly, the Bible talks of God walking among his creation in Genesis 3, where it says “…the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (v. 8). And in Revelation 21, where it is describing the eternal setting in which God’s people will live forever, the Apostle John hears a loud voice say “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (v. 3). No doubt, dwelling with His creation is God’s goal, and the tabernacle was how He chose to do so as he formed the nation of Israel in the desert after they left Egypt.
The Structure of the Tabernacle
The tabernacle had an absolute structure, and God was very explicit with Moses about every little detail. He told Moses, “make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Exodus 25:9, emphasis added). The reason for this was that the tabernacle was, as my lesson put it, “a mirror reflection of a heavenly reality.” Hebrews 8:4-5 explains: “…there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’ ” (emphasis added). Whether the throne room of God looks exactly like what the tabernacle was commanded to look like, I can’t say. Physical realities and spiritual realities don’t always line up the way our finite minds might think. But we know that, in some way, every structural detail of the tabernacle models a spiritual reality in heaven.
These structural details include 3 main compartments and several fixtures spread throughout. This diagram comes from my lesson:
As you can see, the Outer Court contained the Brazen Altar and the Laver. Inside of the outer court were two more areas, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (often called the Holy of Holies). These areas were curtained off so that those in the outer court could not enter or see in. The Holy Place contains 3 fixtures: the table of shewbread (also called the bread of presence), the lampstand, and the altar of incense. Between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place was another curtain, or veil. The Most Holy Place contained the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Law on the stone tables, a golden pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded. Each fixture in the tabernacle had specific functions, and many of those functions have New Testament illustrations that correspond to them (but would not necessarily be considered a Biblical type, since a New Testament reference doesn’t exist).
- Brazen Altar – the altar of sacrifice, where the Israelites offered sacrifices for atonement; illustrates Christ’s death on the cross, a sacrifice made once for all
- Laver – a basin of water where the priests washed themselves before entering the Holy Place; illustrates New Testament baptism and, perhaps, the “washing with water through the word” (see Ephesians 5:26)
- Table of Shewbread – the bread of presence was 12 loaves of continually replenished bread in the Holy Place, eaten only by the priests; illustrates the Word of God coming continually and daily into our lives
- Lampstand – the menorah, a seven-branched lampstand, provided light in the enclosed Holy Place; illustrates that the people of God are to be the light of the world, and that the Holy Spirit is to fuel us as oil fuels the lampstand
- Altar of Incense – table placed right in front of the veil into the Most Holy Place, where incense was burned before the Lord; illustrates prayers to God (see Psalm 141:2, Revelation 5:8, Revelation 8:3-4)
- Ark of the Covenant – the small box in the Most Holy Place, covered by a lid with cherubim (guardian angels) statues on top; illustrates the presence of God with His people – truly dwelling among them
New Testament Fulfillment
As with all Old Testament types, the tabernacle and all of the fixtures within are fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus himself likened his body to the Temple (a later, permanent form of the tabernacle – see John 2:19-22). John 1:14, in speaking of Christ, says “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus, therefore, was God dwelling among His people once again. Jesus’ purpose was to reconcile God and man, so that God could once again and for all time dwell with His creation. On top of Christ fulfilling this type, we as the Church, the Body of Christ, also fulfill the type of the tabernacle. In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul writes
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
My lesson summed this up by saying “As the Body of Christ, we are a spiritual Tabernacle that houses the presence of God, revealing his glory to the world.”