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The Tabernacle: Introduction

The Tabernacle: Introduction

What do you think about the Tabernacle? Do you think about the Tabernacle? There is much discussion among Bible interpreters about how to handle this interesting Old Testament structure. Some are accused of going too far. They see ‘types’ [1] of Christ in almost every detail and feature given in the Exodus narrative. Others are criticised for making too little of it. They consign it to a contextual and historical meaning only. That is, they refuse to accept that it has any relevance to believers of this age. As always, the answer lies somewhere between the two. We do not have the liberty to make what we want out of the Tabernacle, but neither do we have permission to ignore it completely. Scripture tells us how to approach the Tabernacle today, and it is to that which we will turn in this series focused on this glorious Old Testament type.

The writer to the Hebrews makes three interesting Statements about the Tabernacle. First, note chapter 9 verses 8-9. It informs us that while the ‘tabernacle was yet standing’ it was ‘a figure for the time then present’ (KJV). The word figure is the same word which is translated elsewhere as parable. In other words, the writer is telling us that the Tabernacle was telling a story, or had a meaning to the people who used it daily. So no ancient Hebrew would have looked at the structure in the wilderness and thought ‘that means nothing to me. It’s only for the future!’ Thus it is correct to say, based on Hebrews 9, that it had an immediate, historical and contextual meaning.

But next, note Hebrews 8:5. It suggests that the Tabernacle, including the priestly system of offerings, was an ‘example and shadow of heavenly things’ (KJV). So there was more to it than just the historical importance. The word example means ‘sign’ or ‘token’ while the use of the word shadow suggests that the cause of the shadow is unseen, at least at that point. So now we learn that the Tabernacle was forward looking; not everything that was bound up in its significance was immediately available to those who used it historically. But a sign or shadow of what? The Hebrew writer tells us that it foreshadowed ‘heavenly things’ or the ‘heavenly sanctuary’ (NET). So the first way in which we have license to use the Tabernacle today is as a picture of heaven.

But, the writer to the Hebrews tells us more. Chapter 10:1 says that it was ‘a shadow of good things to come’ (KJV). Not only do we learn lessons about heaven, but also about good things that God was going to do for His people. At the point that the Tabernacle was given it was to illustrate truths that were yet future. From our vantage point–the climax of the ages (Heb 9:26)–we are entitled to look back and note illustrations of the abundant blessings into which we have been brought.

So in this series we will investigate the different pieces of furniture contained within the Tabernacle and note some pictures of Heaven–a risen Christ in glory depicted by items such as the Table of Shewbread, the Lampstand, the Golden Altar and the Ark of the Covenant–and the pictures of the good things to come–a crucified Christ depicted by items such as the Brazen Altar, the Laver and the Mercy Seat.

Ultimately, it all speaks of Christ. May we be enlivened in our worship of Him again today. The Tabernacle speaks of Him, and we have Biblical authority to view it in that way. To Him be all the glory!

[1] There is an important distinction to be made between a type and a picture. Strictly speaking, a type has an antitype (a fulfillment) found in the New Testament, and some would contend that Scripture must explicitly state it as such. When viewed this way, the scope of typology is limited dramatically to a handful of Old Testament items and is probably unjustifiably narrow. Others would say that if any Old Testament event, character, structure or story can be applied to any New Testament doctrine then it is a type. This is probably unjustifiably broad and is better defined as a picture or an analogy. Analogies are everywhere in scripture and are used just as validly by the New Testament to illustrate truth. One thing is sure; when using typology, we must not use it to create a doctrine that is missing from the New Testament but instead use it to describe one that is already there. For a further investigation of this vital subject, the author suggests reading Chapters 19-21 of David Gooding’s helpful book, The Riches of Divine Wisdom.

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