The first article in this issue  (by Arend Remmers) explains that the tabernacle points forward (to the church) and upward (to heaven). It then goes on to explore the latter of these two meanings – as does the article by Jeff Brett that follows it. Here, we are concerned with the other direction: the tabernacle as pointing forward to the church.
Most of the previous articles in this series (‘Shadows of the Church’) looked at women in the Old Testament as types of the church (Isha, Rebecca, Asenath, etc.). We also looked at the feast of weeks (Lev. 23) and at the priestly family (Aaron and his sons) as foreshadowing that company of believers, the church, which could only be formed and revealed once Christ had died, risen, ascended and had sent the Holy Spirit to form believers into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). With the tabernacle we come to a different type of shadow of the church. Clearly, the thought here is that God dwells among His people: ‘And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them’ (Ex. 25:8).
If the picture of the bride of Christ is connected with the thoughts of pure and undivided affection, the thought of the house or dwelling place of God is connected with attributes which are quite different but just as relevant:
- The order to be observed in the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15)
- The display of the glory of God and honour given to Him (Psalm 26:8) (‘glory’ in JND, ‘honour’ in AV)
- The holiness that becomes the presence of God (Psalm 93:5).
Two of the three references above are from the Old Testament, and, in the first instance, refer to the sanctuary at the time, that is the temple. However, the church of God is called the ‘habitation of God in the Spirit’ (N Tr.). If holiness and display of glory were paramount in the context of God’s material dwelling place in the Old Testament, how much more in connection with His ‘spiritual house’ (1 Peter 2:5) in the New.
These features also come out in the description of the wilderness tabernacle in Exodus 25-40.
Everything had to be made according to the pattern God had showed Moses on the mountain: ‘According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it’ (25:9) – see also verse 40. In the last two chapters of Exodus which report how the tabernacle was set up we read the phrase ‘as Jehovah had commanded Moses’. This phrase occurs 14 times in these two chapters alone.
Today, we can make two types of mistakes in respect of church order. The first one is to ignore God-given instructions (see 1 Cor. 11 and 14), the second is to add human ‘order’ by determining things the word of God leaves open. Examples here would be ordination, liturgies, prescriptions regulating who participates and/or what can be said and when during assembly meetings.
Display of the glory of God
All the materials of the tabernacle speak of the glories of Christ. But the one material that dominated God’s dwelling place at the time was gold – which speaks of divine glory (divine righteousness is only one of the facets of divine glory). First of all, gold (or ‘pure gold’) was used for the ark: its lid, its rings, its staves, the cherubim. Then the table of shewbread had to be overlaid with gold and its rings, its dishes and bowls were of gold. The candlestick was of gold, including its knops and branches, the tongs and snuffdishes. And these are only the references in chapter 25! Reading on, one discovers that gold was used for many other things in connection with the tabernacle: the 50 tacks (or clasps) of gold (to hold the curtains together), the overlay of the boards, the rings, the bars, the four pillars and their hooks (ch. 26). Gold was also used for the ephod, the girdle, the ouches, the chains, the breastplate, its rings and the bells (ch. 28). Then there is the altar of incense overlaid with gold, including its staves and rings, and horns, and then a crown of pure gold.
If one is impressed with the extent to which this precious metal was used (one kg of gold costs over £ 15,000 today) it only brings home to us how important it is in God’s eyes that glory is brought to Him in the church. The ministry that is characteristic for the church period ‘excels in glory’ (2 Cor. 3:9). The glory of Christ and His work is such that we should not glory at all except in Him and His work (Gal. 6:14). We are for the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:12.14), and it says explicitly of the church: ‘to him be glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus unto all generations of the age of ages. Amen’ (Eph. 3:21). In Revelation 21 the church (during the millennium) is still described as having ‘the glory of God’ (v. 11). This should encourage us in respect of assembly meetings to focus on the glory of God as revealed in Christ. We like to see large meetings and to hear pleasant singing (and these things are good) but what matters most is that His glory is seen.
The tabernacle consisted of two parts, both characterised by holiness: there was the ‘holy’ and the ‘holy of holies’ (Ex. 26:33). A recurrent phrase in the tabernacle chapters of Exodus is ‘the holy place’. Aaron and His sons had to wear ‘holy garments’ (Ex. 28:2-4). Engraved on a plate of gold on Aaron’s mitre were the words ‘Holiness to the Lord’ (28:36). Then there were the ‘holy things’, ‘hallowed’ by the children of Israel as ‘holy gifts’ (28:38). And so we could go on: the word ‘holy’ occurs 70 times in Exodus, and 64 of these occurrences are in the tabernacle section (chapters 25-40).
In Christianity God is revealed as a God of love. His love has been shed forth into our hearts and we should act in love towards fellow believers. In order to exercise true love (as opposed to amiability) we need to take account of God’s holiness: ‘for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye’ (1 Cor. 3:17).
In addition to the three features of Gods dwelling place discussed above (order, glory, holiness) there are a number of further parallels between the tabernacle and the church, which we have only space to list briefly:
Redemption and deliverance: the tabernacle could only be built once God’s people had been redeemed by the Passover lamb and delivered from Egypt. So the church could only be formed after Christ’s work of redemption had been accomplished and accepted as such in the resurrection, ascension and exaltation of Christ at God’s right hand, from where the Holy Spirit was sent (Acts 2:33).
Unity: golden tacks (or clasps) were used to hold the curtains together ‘that the tabernacle may be one whole’ (26:6). How much more this is true of the church that it is one whole: we have been joined into one body, a truth not known in Old Testament times – and we should act accordingly, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3).
Gifts: whereas all the people were invited to (and did) contribute, there were some who were specially gifted to perform the difficult work of crafting the instruments and other items: Bezaleel and Aholiab (Ex. 35: 29-35). So it is today: all members of the body have a task as joints of supply (Eph. 4:16) but some among them have received special gifts (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11).
His presence: when the tabernacle was completed ‘according to the pattern’ the cloud filled the house (Ex. 40:34). Until today, there is the promise of the Lord’s presence where two or three are gathered unto His name (Matt. 18:20).
Surely this list is not exhaustive. The reader will discover further parallels. May these shadows help us to discern and follow God’s mind in respect of assembly life today.