One of the most spectacular and clearest pictures of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament is the tent in the wilderness, what is commonly called the tabernacle. The Bible takes a lot of time to describe this tabernacle – it starts in Exodus 25 and finishes in Exodus 40. That is a lot of space to describe a tent. But this tent was no ordinary tent. It was not built in any old way, it was built in a very specific way:
8 “Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. 9 You must build this Tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the pattern I will show you. (Exodus 25.8-9 NLT)
In the New Covenant we find these verses quoted and we find out why God was so specific on what He was building:
They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven. For when Moses was getting ready to build the Tabernacle, God gave him this warning: “Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain (Hebrews 8.5 NLT)
The Old Testament tabernacle in the wilderness was built specifically because it was a precise copy of something heavenly. This tabernacle is so important to the Old Testament, it has more chapters describing it than Abraham or David have describing their life! Why? It is a picture of Jesus, one of the clearest pictures of Jesus in the Bible. It is a visual picture of salvation that anyone can see. It shows we need someone to approach God in our place, it shows us that blood is essential to make a sinner righteous, it shows that God wants to live in the midst of His people. It is a very powerful image.
We know the tabernacle is a picture of the work of Jesus, and we know that Jesus became flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1.14). Jesus Christ was no ordinary human, He was God become flesh, He was God among us. And in the same way, this tent was no ordinary tent, it was the tent God lived in. When we look at the pattern of the tabernacle, we see Jesus in a clear way that helps us understand and appreciate His moving. Just like this tent is where God was, now Jesus is where God is and if you find Jesus you find God! If you see Jesus, you see the Father!
The Tabernacle was only supposed to be temporary, but Jesus Christ is eternally the dwelling place of God. This is the first picture of the tabernacle – the first lesson we learn about Jesus from it – the Tabernacle is the centre of the people of God. The people surrounded the Tabernacle (Numbers 1.50). The most significant event at the tabernacle, the thing that happened day after day, all the time, is the blood sacrifice of animals, pointing to the blood sacrifice of Jesus. This tabernacle was also where the priests were fed. We are all priests of Jesus and we are fed by walking with Jesus, reading the Word and spending time around Him.
There is only one way into the Tabernacle, just one door – and there is only one door to the presence of God – Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. The one door to the Tabernacle was on the east side, which opens to the camp of Judah. To get to the tabernacle, you had to walk through the camp of the tribe of Judah. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah! That was His tribe, He is the lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5.5). There was already a prophetic sign of what tribe Jesus would be from in the Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle was surrounded by a giant curtain, and inside the curtain was the first of three places inside the tabernacle – the outer court. The first thing you would see when you walk in the outer court, through the one door in, would be a giant bronze altar. Moving forward you would see a giant bronze laver, for washing. Then in the middle of the outer court was another tent, divided into two sections, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.
It took a long time to plan and build this Tabernacle. God gave Moses exact dimensions, exact materials to use, exact instructions on what priests should wear, and what items should be in each part of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was truly designed in Heaven by God! Then after Moses gets the instructions, it is built. We find out that:
Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. 4 He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. 5 He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft! (Exodus 31.1-4, NLT)
What have we found out – the Spirit of God enabled people to build the tabernacle, it could not be built without the Spirit of God. Just like Jesus could not be born without the Holy Spirit coming on Mary, the Tabernacle could not be built without the Holy Spirit coming on Bezalel. We need to spend time thanking the Holy Spirit for building the tabernacle in the Old Testament, but also thank Him for the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary and bringing Jesus to birth on earth. We want to remember that God is with us, God is camped in the midst of His people today through Jesus. As Israel marched through the desert, the tent always came with them and was always right in the middle of them. Today, even if two or three are gathered, our Tabernacle is in the midst of us – moving where we move, never forsaking us, never letting us go, never abandoning us. He is with us always, even to the ends of the earth.