Anciently, God was very detailed in how He should be worshiped by ancient Israel, giving instructions for His tabernacle (Exod. 25-27 and 30). It sat in a courtyard (100 cubits long x 50 cubits wide) enclosed by curtains (Exod. 27:9), with a gate 20 cubits wide at the front.
The courtyard contained an altar of 5 cubits x 5 cubits (Exod. 27:1-8), a laver (bronze basin where priests washed their hands and feet – Exod. 30:18-19).
It also contained a central tent (30 cubits long), which was divided into two sections by a veil, with the front section being the “holy place”(Exod. 26:33), and the section behind the veil called the most holy place, or the holiest of all (Heb. 9:3).
The most holy place represented God’s throne room in heaven. The ark of the covenant, with the wings of the cherubim spread overhead, was in this section (Exod. 25:10-22, 26:33-34). Inside the ark were the tables of stone on which God had written the Ten Commandments. The lid of the ark, which was called the mercy seat, was where the Eternal – the One who later became Jesus Christ – manifested Himself.
Around the tabernacle was a section curtained off from the rest of the Israelite camp. No uncircumcised person was allowed to enter. The circumcised Israelites could enter and offer their sacrifices on the altar provided they were not ceremonially or spiritually unclean.
Yet the Israelites could not enter the tabernacle itself, that was reserved for the Levites (Aaron and his sons, who were divinely chosen priests) – chapter 28. But even they were limited to the front part. Only the high priest could enter the second part, called the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:2). This innermost part of the physical tabernacle represented God’s heavenly throne (Heb. 8:1-2, 9:23-24).
Physical patterned the spiritual
This pattern of worship continued through the Old Testament period, although the tabernacle became a stationary building called the Temple, instead of a mobile tent. The separation of mankind remained in effect with gentiles in the outer court, Israelites in the inner court, Levites in the first part of the Temple and the high priest inside the Holy of Holies once a year.
These restrictions showed how limited access to God was before Christ came. The gentiles, especially, were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
Referring to the limited access even the priests had with God, Paul wrote, “But into the second [part] went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost [Spirit] this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present” (Hebrews 9:9-7).
What is this new and living way that permits direct contact with God without an earthly priesthood? It is important to understand how this bold new entrance to God operates. Each part of the tabernacle represents a spiritual step to gain a closer relationship with God.
Spiritual steps represented
The gentiles were formerly shut off from God’s presence by the curtained wall around the tabernacle. Now, through Christ’s sacrifice, that curtain symbolically has opened to the uncircumcised called by God: “For he is our peace, who hath made both [gentile and Israelite] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [separating the outer and inner courts] between us” (Ephesians 2:14).
Now physical circumcision is not the determining factor, but faith and obedience (I Corinthians 7:19, Galatians 5:6).
Once one is called and has fellowship with the family of faith he, in effect, enters the holy area where God is working with His people. After an Israelite entered this sacred space, he had before him the altar of sacrifice. God’s calling is not enough. If one wants to draw closer to God, he has to accept Christ’s sacrifice through the step of deep repentance (Hebrews 9:13-15).
Close to the tabernacle was a basin where the Levites washed before entering the tabernacle. The next step after repentance is baptism, or the purifying of our sins through immersion in water, a symbolic washing (Hebrews 10:22).
Once inside the first part of the temple, there are three objects before us:
The golden candlestick, which was filled with oil and imparted light. Oil represents the Holy Spirit (Matthew 25:1-3), and God’s Spirit produces spiritual light (Matthew 5:14-16). After baptism is the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit and have even greater access to God.
Next was the table of shewbread, which held 12 loaves of unleavened bread prepared each Sabbath (Leviticus 24:5-9). These loaves represented the 12 tribes then. Now, brethren have access to the spiritual bread of God’s Word (Matthew 4:4) each Sabbath (Acts 17:2, 18:4).
Finally, there was the altar of incense, before the veil, which was lit every morning (Exodus 30:7-8). Incense represents our prayers before God (Revelation 8:3-4). Baptized members are led by God’s Spirit and receive God’s Word on the Sabbath as nourishment. They send their prayers daily before the throne of God to grow closer to Him.
Ark contents also pattern the spiritual
Physically, the Ark of the Covenant was an ark or chest of shittim (acacia) wood two and one-half cubits long, and one and one-half cubits high (5 feet by 3 by 3) overlaid with gold, and embellished with a crown of gold extending around the chest upon the top edge. Four rings of pure gold were set in the four corners, two on one side and two on the other, through which were passed the wooden staves overlaid with gold used in carrying the sacred chest (Exod. 25:10, 37:1-10).
The Ark is also emphasized by Paul in the New Testament (Heb. 9″1-3) because God’s true Church has the same contents today, except on a spiritual level. There is not a physical Promised Land offered, but eternal life.
“And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail” (Revelation 11:19).
This describes God’s temple in heaven. There is an ark of the testament, or covenant, in the midst of lightning and thunderings and earthquakes. The ark in heaven came first. God had Israel build a physical ark patterned after the ark in heaven. It was a symbol of God’s rule on Earth as in heaven.
Solomon built a temple so beautiful, it has never been duplicated on Earth. He had the ark, with two physical cherubs with outstretched wings over the ark, brought to the holy of holies. That is the way it literally is in heaven over God’s throne.
God’s reward for those who persevere and enter into the marriage covenant with Christ!
Three objects inside the ark represent three blessings God gave His covenant people. There was manna; Aaron’s rod, which was a rod of authority permitting him to represent God before Israel; and the tables of stone with the Ten Commandments (Hebrews 9:3-4).
These have spiritual significance for those who keep God’s covenant to the end, typifying the three blessings God promises Christians at Christ’s coming:
- The golden pot with manna represented everlasting life, which only Christ can give (John 6:47-51). He said in Revelation 2:17, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna.”
- Aaron’s rod blossomed to show who God placed in authority (Numbers 17:2-8). The second reward, apart from eternal life, will be a rod of authority to rule over the nations (Revelation 2:26, 20:6).
- Finally, there whe tables of stone with the Ten Commandments. God promises He will write His laws in the hearts of His people (Hebrews 8:10). They will then be able to, and desire to keep God’s laws.
This is the process God designed for mankind to have absolute access to and fellowship with Christ and Him. It is a long process, but with each spiritual step, through the symbols established by the tabernacle, we draw closer to God and to receiving the ultimate reward that awaits us at Christ’s coming.