This article introduces the importance of the tabernacle by pointing out that God gave it to his people to teach them about himself, but also that the tabernacle carried a prophetic message.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2008. 3 pages.

The World’s Largest “Visual Aid”

If you went to a primitive people with little or no educa­tion and with little or no knowledge of God, how would you begin to teach them the way of salvation? What lessons would you begin with? What teaching methods would you use? To make things even more difficult, imagine there was no Bible available — not even one book of Scripture. What would you do in that situation? Then, as if you were not facing enough problems, you are informed that there are over two million people to teach, they live in a desert, and they are constantly on the move. “That’s impossible!” you exclaim. Well, as Jesus said in another situation, “With men it is impos­sible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).

God faced this exact situation when the children of Israel came out of Egypt and were encamped in the desert at the base of Mount Sinai. Two million displaced Israelites, mostly uneducated, spiritually Egyptianized, and not one book of Scripture between them! Genesis had not even been written yet. What was the Lord’s solution to this seeming impossibility? It was, “Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). God started a building project. He ordered the construction of the Tabernacle and its furniture to serve as a huge “visual aid.” Paul described these “holy places made with hands” as “figures of the true” (Heb. 9:24), or “pictures of truth.” God pictured the truth to preach the truth. This divine method of teaching is sometimes called “typology.” In this article, we will look at four characteristics of typology, and in subsequent articles, we will look at the “types,” or the pictures themselves.

Simple Pictures🔗

If your young child asked you, “Daddy, what is a rocket?” you wouldn’t contact NASA and ask them to send you the technical specifications of a rocket. No, you would sit down and draw a simple picture. You show rather than tell. Your drawing does not say everything there is to say about a rocket, but it does say something — something that is true, understandable, and memorable. By putting it in simple picture form, you communicate truth in a far more effective way than all of NASA’s volumes would in this situation.

When a young Israelite girl asked, “Daddy, what is God?” her father couldn’t pull out a catechism or a systematic theology. They didn’t exist. No, her father would say something like, “Hannah, hold my hand and I’ll take you through the camp to God’s tent, and I will show you what God is like.” There, he would show rather than tell. God’s tent, the Tabernacle, did not say everything there was to say about God, but it said something — something that was true, understandable, and memorable. It was Israel’s first “Bible” and it showed them God and His way of sal­vation in a series of simple, steppingstone pictures.

Important Pictures🔗

When you pick up your newspaper, what do you read first? The most important stories are those with major head­lines and significant space is devoted to them throughout the newspaper. There are other stories summarized in digest form on the sidebars. They too are important enough to be included in the paper, but not as important as the main headline stories. Usually you read the main head­line stories, the ones with most space devoted to them. You trust the editor’s judgment on what is the most important news.

When we pick up our Bibles, while acknowledging that all its contents are important, we may also ask what is especially important. One way of deciding this is by looking at how much space is allocated to the various stories. For example, the creation of the world has about two chapters. That’s clearly important. But, how many chapters are given to the Tabernacle? Half of Exodus and all of Leviticus are devoted to it. And then, when the Tabernacle becomes more permanent in the form of the Temple, even more chapters are given to it. What is the “Editor” saying to us? He is saying, “This is very, very, very important. This is one of the chief ways I reveal Myself.” Indeed, God reveals far more of Himself through the Tabernacle than through the creation. And, if we trust the “Editor,” our preaching and witnessing would reflect that far more. when “The Word was made flesh and dwelt (literally, “tabernacled” or “tented”) among us ... full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Theological Pictures🔗

The main question the Israelite asked when looking at the Tabernacle was, “What does this teach me about God?” The Tabernacle, its furniture, and rituals painted theological pictures (Heb. 8:5; 9:11). These “figures of the true” or “pictures of truth” were God-centered. If your only Bible was the Tabernacle, and you yearned to know about God, would you not have spent many hours in and around it? Would you not have asked the priests who served there to instruct you and share with you the light God had given them? Would you not have sought out the fellowship of like-minded seekers — and “finders”— that they might do you good? Would you not have prayed to the Lord to open the eyes of your understanding?

God recognized that theological truth in sentence form would be very difficult for the Israelites to grasp. So, He gave them theological truth in sensory form. Every touch, sight, sound, smell, and even taste conveyed truth about God’s character and, as we shall see in later articles, especially about the truth of His mercy and grace. This is the most vital truth to grasp about the Tabernacle. It set forth in picture form the only way of salvation. No Israelite was ever saved by making the Tabernacle, serving in the Tabernacle, or trusting in the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle never saved anyone. What it pictured did.

Prophetic Pictures🔗

While the Tabernacle revealed much about God and His way of salvation, there was also an inbuilt inadequacy. There was a divinely intended insufficiency in the Tab­ernacle and its service (Heb. 9:8). God designed it in such a way that, while it taught much, it also taught that there was much more to learn. The author of Hebrews highlights how the Tabernacle not only revealed God to the Israelites but also created a longing and a hope for an even greater future revelation of God and His way of sal­vation. Thus, the Tabernacle served the present but also pointed to the future. It pictured truth for the present but also predicted more truth for the future. Wherever the Israelite looked in the Tabernacle, his response would be, “That’s true, but there is a fuller revelation of that truth to come. God has shown the way of salvation, but there is a more glorious manifestation of salvation to come.” The psalmists and the prophets give insight into the thoughts and desires of the spiritual Israelites as they meditate on the Tabernacle. Time and again, they take Tabernacle vocabulary on their lips and use it to express hope that an even greater Tabernacle of God would yet appear. In this way, Messiah-centered faith, hope, and expectation were cultivated. Eventually it was satisfied

Study Questions🔗

  1. How did Christ explain the Tabernacle as a prophetic picture of Himself (Matt. 12:6; John 2:19- 21; Luke 24:27)?
  2. Study 1 Peter 1:10-12 and answer the following questions:
  1. Moses was the “model” prophet (Deut. 18:15). Was he a prophet of legalism and condemnation or of grace and salvation (v. 10)? Why?
  2. What spirit was in the prophets (v. 11)?
  3. What two aspects of Christ’s person and work did they predict (v. 11)?
  4. Why didn’t the prophets understand every­thing they preached (v. 12)?
  5. How can we see more in the Old Testament than the Old Testament prophets did (v. 12)?
  1. What Psalms use Tabernacle vocabulary to predict Christ’s person and work?
  2. How did Old Testament characters get to heaven (Matt. 8:11)? Was it by works, by faith, or by a mixture of the two? If faith was involved, was it in God in general, or in the Messiah in particular? Consult John 8:56, 14:6, 17:3; Acts 4:12; Heb. 11; 1 Tim. 2:5; Eph. 2:9; Rom. 3:2.
  3. Read Hebrews 7-9. What verses highlight,
  1. The spiritual usefulness of the Tabernacle and its services,
  2. The spiritual “deficiencies” of the Tabernacle and its services.
  1. Do you think mission work to primitive peoples should start with the building of a model Tabernacle? Why or why not?
  2. Does the balance of your spiritual diet reflect the balance of Scripture?
  3. Memorize the following definition of a type: “A type is a prophetic picture of Christ’s person and work. It is a real person, place, object, event, etc., which God ordained to act as a predictive pattern or resemblance of Christ’s person and work.”
  4. How can Christians use the Tabernacle in their own devotional lives?

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