In their wandering in the wilderness, the children of Israel were not alone. God was with them. The tabernacle stood as the place where the people would come to meet with God. Truly God was all around them, and He could not be contained by tents or dwellings. He chose to meet with them at the tabernacle.
God gave them specific instructions on how to build the tabernacle. The various aspects of the tabernacle point straight to Jesus. If you look closely, you’ll see pictures of Jesus represented in the different parts of the tabernacle.
8 “They are to make a sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell among them. 9 You must make it according to all that I show you—the pattern of the tabernacle as well as the pattern of all its furnishings.”
11 But the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation).
14 The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The outer courtyard of the tabernacle was surrounded by a tent wall, and it had only one gate in which you could enter. Everyone was invited to come in, but you could only enter though that one way. Jesus is the one way to God. He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).
The bronze altar
Animal sacrifices were made upon the bronze altar inside the tabernacle courtyard. Families would bring a lamb or ram to sacrifice to the Lord. The animal died to pay the penalty for the sins of the people. They literally put their hands on the animal and the father would assist the priest in the sacrifice of the animal, showing that the family was identifying with the animal as the sacrifice for their sins.
Jesus became the once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sin (Hebrews 9:22-28). He died on the cross that we might be forgiven. We do not have to perform animal sacrifices anymore. We put our faith and trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
A basin of water stood in the courtyard for ceremonial cleansing. The priests used the basin to wash their hands clean. Jesus is the one who washes us clean (Hebrew 10:21-22). If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
One doorway led inside the tent that was inside the courtyard. Inside this tent was the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, which we will get to in a moment. Jesus is the door for His sheep (John 10:2-9). He knows His sheep by name, and they come in through the door.
The golden lampstand
A lampstand stood inside the Holy Place, giving light to this dark room. This lampstand was made of pure gold. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). He gives light so that all may see. Anyone who trusts in Him will come out of spiritual darkness and will come into the light of life.
The table of bread
On a table in the Holy Place, there were twelve loaves of bread, each loaf representing one of the tribes of Israel. Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:33-35). Spiritually speaking, all who trust in Jesus will never be lacking in provision. Jesus is our daily bread. He is the bread of life.
The altar of incense
The sweet-smelling altar of incense issued a fragrance that filled the air. This lovely aroma represented the prayers of the people. Jesus is our high priest and intercessor (Hebrews 7:25-26). He was literally God-in-the-flesh, and when we pray to Him and pray through Him, we are praying straight to God. We do not have to pray to or through anyone else. When you pray, God hears, and He answers according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was a very thick curtain/veil. The high priest only went beyond the veil once each year on the Day of Atonement. The veil symbolized the distance between sinful man and a holy God. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would wash himself, put on special garments, bring incense to cover his eyes from seeing God, and bring blood to sprinkle upon the altar to offer as a sacrifice for the sin of the people.
When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom, symbolizing the fact that people now have direct access to God through Him.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), 21 and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
The Most Holy Place
Beyond the curtain/veil was the Most Holy Place, also known as the Holy of Holies. As we just described, this was a very special place. The ark of the covenant stayed there. When the high priest came in to that place on the Day of Atonement, he sprinkled the blood on the atonement cover, which was on top of the ark of the covenant. Inside the ark of the covenant were the ten commandments, Aaron’s staff, and a sampling of the manna that God had provided as food for them in the desert. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus entered the Most Holy Place and became the high priest AND the sacrifice for our sin.
1 Now the first covenant also had regulations for ministry and an earthly sanctuary. 2 For a tabernacle was set up, and in the first room, which is called the holy place, were the lampstand, the table, and the presentation loaves. 3 Behind the second curtain, the tabernacle was called the most holy place. 4 It contained the gold altar of incense and the ark of the covenant, covered with gold on all sides, in which there was a gold jar containing the manna, Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 The cherubim of glory were above it overshadowing the mercy seat. It is not possible to speak about these things in detail right now.
6 With these things set up this way, the priests enter the first room repeatedly, performing their ministry. 7 But the high priest alone enters the second room, and he does that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit was making it clear that the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed while the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 This is a symbol for the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience. 10 They are physical regulations and only deal with food, drink, and various washings imposed until the time of restoration.
11 But the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), 12 He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.
How incredible is God’s Word. Hidden in plain sight in the Old Testament is this amazing picture of Jesus. He is our tabernacle. He literally “pitched His tent” among us. When we see the tabernacle, we see Jesus!