The Tabernacle of God

“The tabernacle of God is with men.” —Revelation 21:3

CONSISTENCY in the Scriptures can be seen in the many confirmations of Old Testament prophecies in the New Testament. One of the most impressive of Old Testament prophecies is the 46th Psalm. Most Christians remember this prophecy because it contains words of encouragement for all God’s people, especially those living at the end of this age. The psalm deals with the terrible destruction of the present order upon earth but expresses the confidence of the Lord’s people, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” In the middle of the psalm, a foregleam of the millennial blessings is presented, employing three significant pictures. The first picture is of a river: “There is a river.” The second picture is of a city: “the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” The third picture is of a tabernacle: “The Holy Place of the tabernacles of the Most High.” (vs. 4) All three illustrations are found in the 21st and 22nd chapters of Revelation. Their appearance in Revelation is in the reverse order, and our intent is to examine them in that order.

A tabernacle is associated both with a dwelling place and with God. This association is found in Israel’s Tabernacle in the wilderness. It could also be responsible for some modern-day scenes found in many impoverished countries of Europe: a typical village street lined with shabby dwellings and, rising at the end of the street, a large and magnificent church. The contrast is stark and appalling—magnificence in the presence of abject poverty. One wonders how the clergy of these churches could engage in building such ornate and stately edifices in the midst of such dire need. The villagers do not question the matter. They are led to believe that God dwells with them in this church. Little wonder, then, that they contribute all they have to make the church a worthy place in which God can dwell. This is man’s doing, not God’s. God’s instructions to man for the construction of a dwelling place were not to make an ornate and stately structure.

In ancient Biblical times many people were nomads, living in tents. Since a tent was a typical dwelling in the Old Testament, we can understand why God would use such a dwelling for an illustration. The word “tabernacle” in the Old Testament is a translation of two Hebrew words. One word, ohel, means “tent.” The other, mishkan, means “dwelling place.” The word ohel, as expected, has often been translated “tent.” It was first translated “tabernacle” in Exodus. On the other hand, the word mishkan, does not appear until the Book of Exodus.

God gave specific instructions to Moses when he was leading the nation of Israel in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land of Canaan. Among these were instructions for building the Tabernacle in the wilderness. In the past, that is, in the Patriarchal Age, God had dealt with individuals. Now, for the first time, he dealt with an entire nation of people. These were the people he had miraculously delivered from bondage in Egypt and adopted as his own people. As the Prophet Amos was to say later (speaking for God), “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” (Amos 3:2) Israel, by becoming God’s people, received special favors and blessings, among which was the marvelous privilege of having God dwell in their midst. God said to Moses, “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” (Exod. 25:8) Thus it came to pass that the Tabernacle was built as a place for God to dwell with them—not that God would physically dwell with them, but that he would indicate his presence by some remarkable means.

Israel did build this Tabernacle according to the instructions given to Moses in the mount, and God did indicate his presence in remarkable ways. There was in the Most Holy the brilliant light that appeared between the cherubim on the Mercy Seat, when the Tabernacle was set up. Some make reference to this light as the Shekinah light, or glory. It was associated with God’s presence. Later the Prophet Isaiah would tell of the king praying, “God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims.” (Isa. 37:16) The psalmist also uses this same expression, in Psalm 80:1.

But there were more indications of God’s presence. The account of Exodus 40:34-38 tells of the first erection of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, saying: “Then a cloud covered the Tent of the Congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of the Congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the Tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: but if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.”

By the cloud and the pillar of fire, the children of Israel had visible evidence of God’s presence with them. This must have been very assuring. The Tabernacle was a unique experience for Israel. The priests were the intermediaries for the people, and Moses and Aaron communicated with God through the Tabernacle arrangement. God indicated through this visible means that he was present and that he accompanied Israel through the entire forty years of their wilderness journey. Upon their reaching the Promised Land, the Tabernacle continued to be set up and used as the place of communication between God and Israel.

Much later, the Tabernacle was replaced by the Temple, which Solomon built. It was great, mighty, and beautiful. David had desired to build it and had gathered materials for its construction, but God had told him this honor was not to be his, saying: “Whereas I have not dwelt in any house since the time that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all the places wherein I have walked with all the children of Israel spake I a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying, Why build ye not me an house of cedar?” (II Sam. 7:6,7) “And when thy [David’s] days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (II Sam. 7:12,13) Israel had the assurance of God’s presence, not only in the Tabernacle, but also in the Temple. When the Temple was built, there appeared in the Most Holy, between the cherubim, that brilliant light.

The Apostle Paul reveals to us that all of Israel’s experiences were ensamples unto us (I Cor. 10:11), as types and shadows “of good things to come.” (Heb. 10:1) There are many marvelous spiritual lessons in the Tabernacle in the wilderness. A basic lesson is the one of God’s dwelling with men. Of course, God does not dwell in a temple made with hands. The Apostle Paul made this point clear when, on seeing the great temples in Athens, he said to the Athenians on Mars’ Hill, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (Acts 17:24) Likewise, Jesus said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:24

It would be unreasonable for us to think that God dwelt in Solomon’s Temple or in Israel’s Tabernacle. These were pictures of grander and nobler things. Thus, when God told Israel he would dwell with them, it meant he would indicate his guiding direction and presence by some remarkable and unmistakable means and would favor them, even as an honorable and noble person might favor us by dwelling in our home.

The concept of God dwelling with men and men dwelling with God can be more clearly understood by considering scriptures such as Psalm 90:1, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” The psalmist is speaking for the Christ class, who are able to say this to God because they sincerely desire to dwell with him. But how can it be said that God is “our dwelling place,” or conversely, that the Christ class is God’s dwelling place? Another scripture that can bring light on this concept is found in the message to the church at Laodicea. Jesus said to the Laodicean church: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20) We know he did not mean he would literally stand at the door of their (or our) home and knock: He knocks at the door of our heart. When we permit him to enter, it means that we permit his principles, ideals, and desires to become ours. We accept him fully as our Savior and follow in his footsteps. We dwell together in unity and harmony with him.

So also the sentiments of Psalm 90:1 bespeak unity and harmony with God, and the desire for righteousness. The concept of God and men dwelling together represents this goal of unity in all the principles of righteousness.

People of simple faith, like the villagers in some European towns, find it difficult to understand that God does not need a dwelling place as we do. Rather, it is God who supplies our needs, including a place to dwell. The purpose of God’s dwelling with men is that men might be blessed by him.

In Revelation 21 (the chapter telling of the great millennial blessings) we find this same illustration of the tabernacle. No doubt it was taken from Israel’s experiences, and it reminds us of how God told Israel that he would dwell with them. But notice how great the benefits for man are because of this event. “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”—vss. 3,4

This description of God’s dwelling with men refers to the future. It is noteworthy that the language of Revelation 21:3 is so similar to that of Leviticus 26:11,12, which says: “And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” So also God will lead the world of mankind into the promised land of his kingdom, just as he led Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. When this event becomes a reality, then every feature of the Tabernacle in the wilderness will have been fulfilled. While speaking of the Tabernacle of the Israelites, the Apostle Paul describes a “true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” (Heb. 8:2) The Tabernacle in the wilderness was intended to supply pictures that would help us to understand better the divine plan of the ages.

A tent is a temporary dwelling. People who travel from place to place live in tents, because such dwellings are portable and can be put up and taken down with ease. So also the Tabernacle in the wilderness. It was a tent and it was portable.

The Tabernacle in the wilderness has been the object of much study by God’s people. They have discovered that there is meaning intended in every item of furniture, construction features, measurements, clothing, and rituals. The Apostle Paul speaks of this Tabernacle as being a “shadow of heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5), and he says that the pattern God provided in this Tabernacle was a picture of “better sacrifices.”—Heb. 9:23

The rituals carried out in the Tabernacle are intended to portray the better sacrifices of Christ and the church during the Gospel Age. The use of a tent, or tabernacle, was to emphasize that the arrangement pictured was temporary—it would not continue forever.

The most important sacrifices took place on the Day of Atonement, which, in particular, pictured the Gospel Age. At the conclusion of these sacrifices, the high priest dressed in his glory robes and came out to bless the people of Israel, their sins being remitted for another year. This was a type, showing the manner in which God proposes to bless the people of the world, through The Christ (Head and body), after the Gospel Age sacrifices are completed.

Another picture, shown in the tabernacle mentioned in Revelation 21:3 (which is a reference to the specific arrangement God made to dwell with Israel and to lead them to the Promised Land), is also meant to show a temporary arrangement (as a tent is temporary). We are not to understand, however, that God will cease to guide and direct the children of mankind after the Millennial Age comes to an end. Rather, there is simply an end of the mediatorial work.

There were other sacrifices in connection with the Tabernacle, which were performed on days subsequent to the Day of Atonement. The Israelites brought individual sacrifices to the Tabernacle to show their repentance because of personal sins. These were termed trespass offerings, peace offerings, and sin offerings. It has been suggested that in the kingdom errors will be committed for which the people will be in some measure responsible. For such they must make some amends, accompanied by repentance, before they can again be in harmony with God.

When the blessings of the Millennial Age begin to flow, all will recognize them just as clearly as the Israelites recognized the presence of God when they saw the cloud and pillar of fire. Yet there will be real effort required by all men in order to achieve the state of perfection acceptable to God. The assistance needed is well illustrated by the Tabernacle and its meaning to Israel.

Since mankind is in a fallen and degraded condition, they are unfit to approach God directly. Hence, God has arranged for a Mediator, Christ and the church, to help all mankind achieve the condition of heart whereby they may stand before him on their own. The tabernacle in Revelation 21:3 is a picture of this work. It is not a permanent arrangement. But, during the Millennial Age, Christ and the church will serve as priests to help mankind overcome their weaknesses and imperfections and stand before God. When all have achieved this condition, the need for the mediatorial work will cease. The people will then he ready to go on their own into the ages of glory.

In Leviticus 26:2-13 the blessings the people of the world will receive in the Millennial Age are shown pictorially: “Ye shall keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord. If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time; and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you. And ye shall eat old store, and bring forth the old because of the new. And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.”

But the fulfillment of this prophecy will be more glorious and grand:

The promised rain is a picture of truth.

The abundance of food is a picture of both material and spiritual blessings.

The dwelling in safety is a picture of security—economic and personal.

The promised peace is a picture of not only peace in the land but also peace of heart and mind.

The elimination of fear is a picture of health of mind and security of heart that will come to all.

The driving out of beasts is a picture of the binding of Satan and his cohorts.

The absence of the sword is a picture of the elimination of the fear of death.

The defeating of enemies is a picture of the success in defeating weaknesses of the flesh.

The return of God’s respect foretells a return of mankind to righteousness.

Being fruitful and multiplying means that the world of mankind, as they attain perfection, will become “Israelites indeed,” until the earth is filled with the people of God.

The establishment of a covenant is a picture of the New Covenant being made fully operative at the end of the Millennial Age.

The release from Egyptian bondage is a picture of the release from sin and Satan’s dominion and death.

The qualifications for receiving these blessings included, “Ye shall keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary,” as well as, “Walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them.” (Lev. 26:2,3) And as we have noted before, in the middle of this promise God says: “And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you.

And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.”—Lev. 26:11,12

These words are a foregleam of the time when a great voice will be heard from heaven, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and he their God.”—Rev. 21:3

In Psalm 15:1 the question is asked by David: “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” Another translation (RSV) phrases this question: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?” The first question asks: Whom will God dwell with; that is, what kind of men will he dwell with? And the second question asks: Who will be in God’s kingdom? The answer is given in the succeeding verses of the psalm: “He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoreth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.”

At the end of the Millennial Age the tabernacle of God will have served its purpose; and the world of mankind, fully restored to perfection, will be ready to stand alone before God throughout the ages of glory to follow.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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