Of Copies and Realities
We are fleshy people. I don’t mean that as an insult, it’s just the truth. What I mean by “fleshy” is not anything about our bodies in and of themselves, but the fact that we desire to – and indeed, by nature, must – see things, feel things, smell, touch, and, when appropriate, taste things. We are a “touchy-feely” people, if not when it comes to emotions, at least when it comes to … well, things. Just put a “Caution – Wet Paint” sign on a wall and watch what happens when people walk by.
God ordered the Israelites to erect the tabernacle, the place of His abiding presence. I don’t say “symbol,” for the last part of the chapter leaves no doubt that God’s glory, His presence, was there. The tabernacle was the central place of Israelite worship. Here, God spoke to Moses; here, the ark of the covenant rested (the ornate chest in which the Law inscribed by God’s very finger on tablets of stone lay); here, was the table with the bread of presence, and the lampstand. Just outside was the altar for burnt offerings. Here, the glory of God camped with the people in a cloud by day, in a fire by night. The Israelites knew that the Lord was with them. A few centuries later, after the nomadic Israelites had settled in the Promised Land, a grand temple was erected in Jerusalem, replacing the tabernacle, and providing a new home for the ark.
John 1:14 tells us: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Greek word for “dwelt” means literally, “pitched a tent,” which is exactly what a tabernacle is. Thus, to describe our Lord’s coming, John says that he “tented” or “tabernacled” with us. The first temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., and the second temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70 (as our Lord prophesied, Matthew 24:2), and, of course, the original tabernacle had long been lost. But speaking of his body, our Lord said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19-22). Of course, he was referring to his passion and resurrection.
These ancient edifices and furnishings were built at God’s command, and served their purpose. They were copies that foreshadowed the good things to come concerning Christ (Hebrews 9). They were types that prepared the people of God for the realities, the blessings that are now ours in Christ Jesus, upon whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11). But if you really want to get excited, see Revelation 21:9-22:5 for a glimpse of even more wonderful realities that await the people of God.