You remember the tabernacle from the Old Testament? It was a specially designed tent where God’s presence was. It served as the focal point of the Israelite camp once they left Egypt. In Exodus, God spends three chapters instructing Moses how to build the tabernacle. Then another four chapters recount the construction and fabrication of the furnishings. In Exodus 40, Moses finally sets the thing up. The first ten chapters of Numbers describe how the tribes are to array themselves around the tabernacle in the camp and when they move. The rest of Numbers tells us about the times tabernacle was picked up and moved.
If you gathered from all this that the tabernacle was a big deal, you’d be right. It is far more than just a worship center for a nation of nomads. The tabernacle is one huge object lesson for us, too. We could spend a great deal of time looking at all the intricacies of the tabernacle itself, (and it is almost painful for me not to), but for this tip, I want to focus on the big picture.
Here’s what God said about the tabernacle. “And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat…” Exodus 25:22. The KJV says, “And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat…” I love the word “commune” here. In my mind, it hearkens back to the time in Eden before the Fall, when Adam and God shared an intimate face-to-face relationship.
God chose to meet with us and He chose the tabernacle as the spot where that would happen. It was the visible, tangible sign of God’s presence. The only downside was that it was temporary. Now fast-forward fifteen hundred years.
The Tabernacle and Christmas
In the gospel of John, the apostle immediately establishes that Jesus is divine. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1. Then in verse 14, John continues the story. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory …
The Greek word for “dwelt” is translated all sorts of ways depending on your translation of the Bible, including, “made his home among us,” “lived here with us,” even “moved into the neighborhood.” These all fall short of what John was saying. He used a word that meant to encamp, to pitch a tent, to … tabernacle. That word would have caused his Jewish readers to sit up and take notice and it reinforced his point that God had become man. Christmas marks the time when God tabernacled here with us.
The tangible presence of God was no longer marked by a tent, it was a man.
For Jesus’s lifetime, especially those last three years, God made a point of meeting with us and communing with us. It was the pivotal event in human history. But once again it was temporary. Jesus returned to heaven, and while He gave us His spirit, we no longer have the tangible physical presence of God with us.
That’s all going to change.
The Tabernacle and Heaven
Remember that the tabernacle was an object lesson. In the book of Hebrews, the writer explains that the tabernacle Moses constructed was a copy of the real tabernacle in heaven. John saw it in Revelation 15:5.
Then in Revelation 21:3, John relates, And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
Note the changes. The real tabernacle is:
No longer temporary.
No longer an object lesson.
No longer limited by a human body.
The work Jesus did on the cross destroyed every last barrier preventing us from entering God’s physical presence. Not only that, but He will restore the communion He intended to share with us all along at the consummation of our salvation.
See the connection? The Tabernacle. The Incarnation. Heaven. Each is a key step in the unfolding of our redemption story.
If you want to dig deeper, consider how the Feast of Tabernacles fits into all this. Also consider 2 Peter 1:13 and 2 Corinthians 5:1. I’d love to hear your thoughts!