Understanding the Tabernacle and it’s Application in our Sunday services
At Covenant Life Fellowship, the program and format of our Sunday morning services are not what most would consider conventional. Many congregations in many denominations refer to their worship center as a “House of God”. It is our belief that if we are going to attempt to create a model of God’s house, we should use His floor plan.
Our sanctuary reflects the Tabernacle that God instructed Moses to build. While we do not hold reverent any of the stations of our sanctuary, we see what we have constructed as more of a classroom model leading to a deeper understanding of what God intended fellowship with Him to be. There is much to learn from the Tabernacle that God designed for communion with Him.
The Tabernacle of Moses and the rebuilding of the Temple by Solomon are often perceived as only for the Jews. But that same God, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, the God of Adam – the same God we follow today designed the Tabernacle for communion with His people. As the New Covenant church we are grafted in to the same Nation. The following is an overview that outlines the key elements in the Tabernacle and what we believe they mean to us as the modern church:
There were three passageways incorporated into the Tabernacle Moses was instructed to build. The first was a Gate known as the Narrow Gate and literally called The Way. The Gate itself was 30’ across but covered by an angled curtain. Entrance required squeezing through the narrow openings at each end. When Christ says of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). Christ is referring to the Tabernacle and Himself as being the only true passage.
The Way was a Gate that granted access to the courtyard surrounding the Tabernacle. Second was a Door into the Holy Place called the Truth. And finally, a Veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies and the Mercy seat of God Himself was called the Life.
Christ remains the only path by which we can return into the presence of God.
Application: The courtyard was open to anyone. The courtyard was ‘come as you are’. A place for sacrifice and cleansing. A place of learning and sanctification. Anyone could enter the courtyard, but the Tabernacle itself was only open to God’s priests. Even these priests had to prepare themselves each and every time before they entered into this Holy place.
Near the Gate of the Tabernacle courtyard was a Bronze Altar. This Altar was used for flesh sacrifice. Citizens of Israel would bring sacrifices into the courtyard where the priests would assist them in offering those sacrifices.
Christ was the ultimate and perfect sacrifice. Therefore we no longer sacrifice the flesh of animals at the Altar. We are instead are charged with taking up our own cross and dying to our own flesh. Luke 9:23-24 “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”. From Genesis to Revelation, flesh was created for one purpose – to be sacrificed.
We are to cast off that flesh daily and sacrifice our lives so that Christ may live through us. Romans 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Under the New Covenant, the Bronze Altar still serves a purpose. Those who have been set apart must crucify their flesh daily.
Application: At Covenant Life, we don’t end with an altar call, we begin with it. Through opening prayer and worship in music we invite all who have entered to prepare themselves to come into the presence of God. The altar is open and we invite the congregation to prayerfully search their hearts as they ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what needs to be crucified in preparation of entering into God’s presence.
Near the Tabernacle stood the Bronze Laver. The priests would first assist others with their sacrifices at the Bronze Altar. Then, since nothing unclean could enter the Tabernacle, this laver was used by the priests to clean the sacrifice. They would then wash their hands and feet before re-entering the Holy Place with the sacrifice.
The priests had already been set apart, sanctified, cleaned. Christ references this in John 13:10 “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean”. The priests would have needed to wash themselves of the things of the fallen world that would have soiled their hands and feet.
Under the New Covenant, we too are priests. 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION,”. We have been set apart, sanctified, bathed and cleansed in Baptism of the Spirit and redeemed by the blood of Christ. It is now Christ, the High Priest who cleanses our sacrifice and makes it sufficient.
Application: The Bronze Laver serves to remind us that our sacrifice is made sufficient by Christ and that we need to ensure that we enter the Holy place cleansed from anything unclean that may have attached itself to us. The Bronze Laver symbolizes two things; Firstly, the cleaning of our sacrifices – It is Christ, the High Priest that cleans our sacrifice of self and makes our sacrifices sufficient. In this we understand the importance of that daily sacrifice – If there is no sacrifice, there is nothing to be made sufficient. Secondly, as a Nation of priests, we must also be mindful to ensure that while we still remain in a fallen world and serving others by helping them with their own sacrifices, nothing unclean attaches itself to us and nothing unclean is brought into the Holy place.
Under God’s instruction, the priests were adorned with white linen attire. This was to show them as set apart and Holy to God as well as to serve as a reminder of their commitment to the Lord. They would wear these garments even as they were transitioning from the courtyard into the Holy Place, (Exodus 28). Today we believe that in addition, this symbolizes another very important and very prominent significance, the covering of Christ. The white linen represents the purity of Christ who now covers each of us as His priests.
The high priest himself wore many elaborate pieces including the Breastplate of Judgment and a Gold Seal on his forehead that read ‘Holy to the Lord’. As we know, Christ is our High Priest. He wears the Breastplate of Judgment as well as all of the pieces ordained for His position.
As His church, we too are a Nation of His priests. As all of the priests in the Tabernacle, we are to be set apart. To remind us of this purpose, this calling, we wear a linen sash while in the courtyard and in the Holy Place as representatives of our Lord.
This is not meant to serve as a garment of honor, but as a garment of service and responsibility.
Application: The job of the priests in the courtyard was to offer guidance and assistance to all who entered. The priests assisted others in the courtyard with their sacrifices. They tended the fire of the Bronze Altar and removed the remains of the burnt offering which they then cleaned in the Bronze Laver before bringing into the Holy Place. And they performed all of these duties wearing white linen robes. The white robe not only signified the covering of Christ which was their source of purity and transformation, the white robe ensured that while these priests were constantly dealing with the slaying of animals, the soot, ash and smoke of fire, and cleansing of the remaining sacrifice, that they were zealous about ensuring that they themselves did not get anything on them.
For us, this serves as a powerful visual reminder – that while we are called to serve in this world, it will require steadfast commitment to ensure that we ourselves remain clean. As a reminder, we encourage those that profess the covering of Christ to put on the white stoles provided. The stole is fashioned from white linen lined in silver. The silver around the lining reminds us that while we are covered by the purity of Christ, we are still being transformed into His full image. A transformation that will not be made complete until His return. By wearing the stole we remind ourselves and profess to others that we have Christ in us and therefore we ourselves are not bankrupt. And by wearing the stole we remind ourselves and others that we are in the courtyard not to be served, but to serve.
Leading from the courtyard into the Tabernacle was the Door, (the Truth). This Door sat behind 5 Pillars. The 5 Pillars represented the 5 Books of Moses, the Torah. These books are also known as the Law. To enter the Holy Place, a priest must first die to self in the sacrifice of flesh and will, his sacrifice must be cleansed and made sufficient by the High Priest, then he must be willing to fully submit himself in obedience to God.
So many have misunderstood the meaning of the Law. Often the choice is not to submit to God in obedience, but instead to attempt to master for ourselves the Law. This understanding is what motivated so much of Paul’s teachings. The Law is good because Law exposes flesh and therefore sin. Romans 3:20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Since Law exposes flesh (sin), and nothing impure can enter the Holy Place, the Law quite literally exposes any remaining un-sacrificed flesh at the Door.
While we are not under the Law, we are under obligation to Christ in obedience to Him and therefore to all that He commands.
Application: Piercing beyond the doorway thru the 5 Pillars is critical. It is not in the courtyard, but in the Holy Place that we find Christ’s church. To enter the Holy Place we are called first to sacrifice, second to be cleansed by Christ making our sacrifice sufficient and thirdly, to submit to God in obedience. Not in attempting to master the law but in full submission to Christ as both our Lord and Savior.
Inside the Holy Place near the Door stood the Menorah. Known as the Eternal Light, the Menorah was an oil lamp that was designed so it could remain lit at all times. While all of the other furnishings in the Temple itself were constructed of wood then covered in gold, the Menorah was constructed from a single piece of solid gold.
The Menorah was forged from a single talent of gold, (A gold brick weighing approximately 75 pounds). The gold was not cast but hammered into form. The oil used to illuminate the lamps or seven crowns of the Menorah was made from beaten olives. Representing Christ in both its form and function, these lights were angled in a way to focus their light directly on the Table of Shewbread.
Christ says in John 10:7-10 “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Application: The Menorah profoundly represents Christ as our Lord and Savior. He is the eternal light that leads the way to salvation. He is the light, the only light in the Tabernacle. And we as the church walk in that light.
Table of Shewbread
Just inside the Door to the Holy Place was the Table of Shewbread. The literal meaning of the word is “Bread of the Faces”. This bread was consecrated, set apart. It was considered sanctified and holy as nothing unclean or unholy could come into the Holy Place.
The Shewbread was placed in front of the Menorah so that it was always in the Light. The priests could partake of the Shewbread and any that was left over was burned as it was made fresh daily.
The symbolism of the Shewbread is that it represents the sanctified man. The body of sanctified men that no longer walk in darkness, but stand in the presence of the Eternal Light. Bread also represents a gift from God. Our sanctification is that gift. And like the bread, the gift of our sanctification is made fresh daily.
At this table we present ourselves before Christ as a Holy Nation of His people. Set apart, sanctified, crucified to our flesh and therefore our sin; renewing daily that sacrifice, we die to self, crucify ourselves to the world as we walk in the light of Christ exclusively.
Application: There were 12 loaves of Shewbread on the Table of Shewbread. These 12 loaves represented the 12 tribes, (Nations) of Israel. Under the New Covenant, we as gentiles have been grafted into the Nation of Israel. Not the physical nation, but the Kingdom Nation of God’s People. Bread represents not only the gift of sanctification, but it represents flesh. In this case, flesh that has been sanctified thru sacrifice and cleansing. Christ refers to the bread as His flesh broken for us. The sanctified bread represents the sanctified church that now stands in the light of Christ. Instead of a table, we have an altar where we too can kneel as a church in the light of Christ as sanctified men and women. This is where we find the New Covenant church.
Altar of Incense
In front of the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies sat the Altar of Incense. Constructed of wood and covered in Gold, the altar stood about 3 feet high and was about 1½ feet wide and deep. On the top of the altar were 4 small golden horns called the Horns of Salvation.
Exodus 30:3 “You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and its sides all around, and its horns; and you shall make a gold molding all around for it.”
Using a specific blend of Frankincense, the priest kept this altar burning day and night seven days a week. They would refill the incense and fuel each morning and each night when they trimmed the lights of the lamps.
This was the altar that represented the prayers of the saints that were pleasing to God going up to Him day and night.
Application: The symbolism of the Altar of Incense gives us a tremendous amount of understanding about prayer and Holy Communion. When Solomon rebuilt the Temple, God said in 2 Chronicles 7:15, “Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place.”. This told us that there is a specific place where God pays particular attention to prayers. In the book of James 5:16 it says, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail.” It is in these verses and many others that we find an understanding of why the Altar of Incense, located in the Holy Place, in the presence of the Menorah and the Table of Shewbread, (representing the church and righteous men), was particularly pleasing to God. These prayers represented the prayers of the righteous, Christ’s church. Thru this visual understanding we discover and explore a deeper understanding of prayer and true communion with God.
Ark of the Covenant
Beyond the veil sat the Ark of the Covenant. Inside the Ark was the original 10 Commandments that Moses had smashed, a jar of Manna and the Rod of Aaron which continued to bud (Hebrews 9:4). On top of the Ark was the Mercy Seat also called the Throne of Grace or the Judgment Throne. This was where God would come down and meet with Moses.
After Moses, the veil would only be pierced once a year. After thoroughly cleansing himself both physically and spiritually, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies once a year to sprinkle sacrifice on the Mercy Seat.
When Christ was crucified, the veil was torn. This symbolized, among other things, that the priests, the elect, God’s people would now have continuous access to God. Through Christ there had been made a New Covenant. Through the body and blood of Christ, through his death and resurrection this access back to God was made possible for those who would become His true church.
Application: As the New Covenant church we can add to the Ark of the Covenant the fulfillment of Christ thru His Blood and the redemption of Christ’s Church thru His Body. The Ark of the Covenant remains as a throne. In the book of Revelation it is Christ that will sit on the throne of Grace and of Judgment as all will be judged by their deeds. This is the promise, the covenant, that on the day of judgement, Christ’s Church will be revealed and joined with Him for eternity.
The purpose of the Ark of the Covenant was always meant as the hope of a promise not yet fulfilled; God redeeming for Himself a people that He would call to Himself as an elect and redeem thru a Savior that was to come. Christ is the fulfillment of that promise. And now we are that Tabernacle.
Us as the Tabernacle
As the New Covenant church, we now know that Christ is and always was our High Priest. Knowing this, we also understand that Christ did not nullify the significance of the Tabernacle, but fulfilled its true meaning. “Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16.
Application: We do not attempt to reconstruct the Tabernacle, only to understand it. The Tabernacle is no longer made of stone and mortar. But it is important to understand the Tabernacle and the understanding that God put in place for us in its structure. Christ transformed the Tabernacle into flesh and blood. We are now the Tabernacle. And now, all of these principles we learn from the physical Tabernacle can be used to learn what it is to be a Tabernacle of the Holy Spirit.
Tabernacle Walls and Covering
The tabernacle was covered by 4 layers. 3 of the layers were actually part of the Tabernacle itself. The 4th layer was suspended above the Tabernacle and covered the entire structure as a separate layer.
The 1st layer visible from inside the Tabernacle was a white linen cover. The linen would have been quite expensive since white linen was difficult to produce. The white linen was then dyed blue, purple and scarlet. As with the white linen robes of the priests, it represented the covering and purity of Christ. This would be the only covering visible from inside the Tabernacle itself.
The second layer was made of goats hair. It would have been grey or tan in color and probably not too attractive. Understanding that we are now the Tabernacle, we believe that this layer would represent us in our mortal state.
The third layer was made of rams skin dyed red. Sheep herders always had rams to protect the flock. These rams were called ‘shepherds’. If the heard was attacked by a predator, the sheep usually wouldn’t even notice giving the predator opportunity to kill several in the flock. But a ram would attack any predator, even though it would most likely prove fatal to the ram. Although he probably wouldn’t survive the attack, the defense effort of the ram and his self sacrifice would usually raise enough commotion to alert the rest of the flock to the danger giving them opportunity to flee the predator. The ram skin represents Christ as the good shepherd that sacrificed Himself for His flock. The ram skin cover was died red representing the redeeming blood of Christ in His sacrifice.
The outermost layer was pulled over the entire structure and staked outward like a canopy covering. This covering was not actually a part of the tabernacle but a separate covering over the entire structure. This covering was made from sea cow hides. Most likely something similar to walrus hide. The covering would not have been particularly attractive or decorative in any way but more as a utilitarian protection for the actual Tabernacle itself. We believe this covering is a reflection of the church. Not to be designed as flattering or extravagant in and of itself but to protect the true treasure under it’s covering.
The inner walls of the Tabernacle were individual wooden planks that stretched from the ground to the linen ceiling. As with most items inside the Tabernacle, these boards were covered in gold and then held together by wooden dowels also covered in gold. The only part of this structure that was not covered in gold was the base which was a socket that the board rested in. These sockets were made of silver signifying that the sockets were not pure. These actually touched the ground and protected the gold covered planks from the dirt and sand of the ground below.
Application: As we visualize the Tabernacle we see a common theme. The 5 Pillars, the inner walls, the Table of Shewbread, the Alter of Incense, even the Ark of the Covenant were all made of wood and then completely covered in gold. The only exception being the Menorah itself which was made of pure gold. The Menorah beautifully represents Christ and His purity while everything else in the tabernacle represented us in our impurity, (the wood), but being transformed into the image of Christ by His covering, (gold). To the naked eye all of the elements would look like pure gold, (Christ).
The only light inside the Tabernacle would have been the light coming from the Menorah. In a room of reflecting gold the single 7 lamp Menorah would have flooded the reflective room like a house of mirrors. The light from the Menorah would have quite literally filled the room with light.
The coverings, first the inner most covering, the white linen dyed, represents further our transformation into the image of Christ by the covering of Christ. The second layer of goat hair, not visible from the inside or outside, like the wood represents our remaining impurity. Covered on the inside by the transforming purity of Christ and on the outside protected by the blood and sacrifice of Christ as our good shepherd. Inside and out all that could be seen was Christ. Scripture speaks of the ultimate sifting and separation of the sheep and the goats. The image we see is the goat being transformed by Christ into the image of Christ until eventually, the goat no longer remains, only the sheep of Christ’s flock transformed and purified by the grace of God Himself.
Offering of a Shekel
When people entered the courtyard, it was customary for them to make the offering of a shekel. A common Hebrew coin of the time the word shekel literally meant weight or measure. Everyone, rich or poor, were expected to offer a single shekel.