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4 Things to Know About the Tabernacle

God gives Moses the blueprints for His tabernacle: there would be an ark of testimony, a table for the showbread, a gold lampstand, a wooden structure with curtains and a veil to separate the Holy of Holies, a bronze altar, and an outer court.

And God is specific about all of this. Exodus 25:9 says, “According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.” (Exodus 25:9)

God says that for Him to be with his people and dwell in their midst, this pattern of the tabernacle must be made exactly as God shows it to Moses.

Again in Exodus 25:40 He says, “And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.” 

God is specific! And where God is specific, we need to listen. There isn’t room for us to substitute if He is clear about the way He wants something done.

The construction of the tabernacle was not left up to how Moses felt or what he wanted to give God. Moses must make the tabernacle just like God showed him. Why? Because even though the tabernacle was going to teach the Israelites a lot about their relationship with God then, it was also always meant to point forward and be a prophesy of what was to come.

So how did the tabernacle point forward?

The Ark

Exodus 25:10-22 gives instructions for the ark of the testimony: “an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around. … And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which God would give them.”

God also prescribes poles that would be used to carry the ark. Because it was holy, no one was to directly touch it. If you did, you would die. The Lord also describes a mercy seat with two cherubim of gold carved on either side. Between these two cherubim is where God would speak, their wings covering His glory.

The Ark was to store the Ten Commandments, as well as a jar of manna, Aaron’s staff, and the bronze snake. These were all physical reminders of God’s law, His miracles, and His provision.

There are three arks in the Old Testament: Noah’s ark, a place of salvation from the flood; Moses’ ark, a place of safety his mother saved him from the genocide; and now this ark of the covenant. Each ark represented salvation, an image that’s repeated in the New Testament.

Paul writes to the Romans, “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed.” (Romans 3:22–25, NET)

Other translations read that God put Jesus forward as a propitiation or sacrifice of atonement. It’s the same Greek word that is used in Hebrews to talk about the place of mercy and atonement. Jesus is the place of atonement. What the ark of the covenant represented with the mercy seat is what Jesus is for us. When we come to Jesus, we find mercy.

The Table for the Showbread

Next we have the Table for the Showbread in Exodus 25:23-30. “You shall also make a table of acacia wood And you shall set the showbread on the table before Me always.”

How did the Table for the Showbread point forward to Jesus?

The bread always represented the presence of God, just like the manna did in the wilderness.

But now there’s a new significance too. Just before God gives Moses these instructions, because of the institution of this covenant, Moses, Aaron, his sons, and 70 of Israel’s elders were able to see God and eat and drink a covenant meal in His presence. Now, the bread and wine, situated just outside the Most Holy Place, are a continual reminder of the covenant that God, who is just behind the curtain, has made with his people. It’s a picture of continual communion with God.

When Jesus comes, He declares Himself to be the bread of life.

We understand that title to point to His provision and sufficiency, but listen to exactly what Jesus said at that time: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:54–56)

That’s not just about provision! That’s about relationship. It’s about communion with God.

Through Jesus we have true life and will never perish so that we are forever with the Lord.

This table of the showbread points forward to the communion we have with God through the Bread of Life Jesus. Through the body of Jesus, we have everlasting life and can forever be in God’s presence.

The Gold Lampstand

Verses 31 through 40 describe the Gold Lampstand, made of pure gold, having six branches coming out from it. Practically speaking, the tabernacle would be dark. There were no windows and it was covered in curtains, so this piece would provide a distinct light in the tabernacle.

How does that point forward?

Light has always been a picture of God. “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” (1 John 1:5)

John opens his gospel describing Jesus as the light that gives light to everyone (John 1:9). Jesus declared in John 8:12 that He is the light of the world and whoever follows Him will have the light of life. Light brings life and Jesus is the light that shows us the way to the presence of the Lord.

The Curtain

Keep going into chapter 26 and we get a detailed list of instructions for the tabernacle itself, including the blue, purple, and scarlet curtains that would cover it. Then verse 33 commands that another curtain, a special curtain should be made, this one of thick woven linen. It would separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, the area of the tabernacle where the ark of the covenant was to be placed.

The priests could come into the Holy Place but not the Most Holy Place. In a way, the tabernacle is now a model of Mount Sinai. Only Moses was allowed to go up into the cloud into the presence of the Lord. Seventy-three others were allowed to come up some of the mountain and the rest of Israel remained at the foot.

Now the tabernacle allowed only the high priest one time a year to go into the presence of God to make atonement. The priests could enter the Holy Place for service to God and the rest of Israel remained outside of the tabernacle completely.

How does that point forward to Jesus?

Matthew 27:50-51 says, And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split.”

When Jesus died, the curtain split in the temple. Priests were always working in the temple and now suddenly the Most Holy Place becomes visible. Now the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19–22)

The purpose of the curtain was a separation between God and the people and through Jesus, the separation is gone. We can boldly enter the presence of God because Jesus has gone before us and opened the way for us.

That’s what the writer of Hebrews says: “They serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:5)

The pattern God gives Moses pointed to Jesus!


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