Have you ever wondered why God does not simply manifest Himself to man in such a way that would make His existence and character more obvious to us? Why couldn't He just appear before us or write His commands in the sky for all to read? The truth is that even if God did something that might seem more obvious to us, there would still be some who would not believe. In fact, God has manifested Himself in many ways that are quite obvious and multitudes have refused to believe it: Creation (Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20), Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), and Christ (John 1:1-14; Hebrews 1:1-3; 1 John 1:1-3). In reality we must realize that He is infinitely wiser than we are and He has chosen the best ways to reveal Himself to man (a way that involves faith). This too we must comprehend - we are not able in any way to know about God on our own but He must teach us little by little.
Now, we have a significant advantage over those in the past to know about God. Imagine living before there was a Bible written and before God's plan for the Messiah was fully revealed in the first coming of Jesus. This was the situation with the children of Israel at the time when God delivered them from Egypt. They had gotten a taste of His awesome power, His faithfulness to them, and His mercy; but God's covenant people needed to be taught more, especially concerning salvation and how man could approach Him. But, how could God teach them more fully of Himself? In His perfect wisdom, He chose often to teach the Israelites using symbols and types. A type is a thing that serves as a pattern or example for some other thing (the antitype). For example, Joseph is often said to be a type of Christ because he was a pattern or example of Christ.
Shortly after God gave the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel, He instituted perhaps one of the greatest types found in the Old Testament - the Tabernacle. Our text shows that God commanded the Israelites to gather materials to be used to make a tabernacle or tent in which God would dwell. God would use this simple tent, which the Israelites could see and relate to, as a pattern and example of some higher spiritual things in order to teach them. We likewise may learn much from the Tabernacle, and with our more perfect knowledge of Christ we may even exceed their ability to comprehend these great truths. In this first lesson, we will study the purpose behind the building of the Tabernacle and learn some wonderful truths about salvation and man's ability to come nigh unto God.
Imagine what the Israelites must have thought when they heard the news that they were going to build a tabernacle for God, and then to hear the reason - "And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God" (Exodus 29:45). Surely from just this news they would come to better understand God and their position with Him.
Perhaps first they would come to realize the great love that God had for them. David asked, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4). What is man compared to the God of Heaven? What is man in comparison to the vast universe? Yet it is true - God is mindful of us. Consider such a love that would cause God, the creator and possessor of all heaven and earth, to desire to come and dwell among His people. Moses would later write in Deuteronomy 7:7-8 that God did not choose Israel because they were great in number but because He loved them!
An agnostic denies that God can be known. There surely could not have been an agnostic in the camp of the Israelites! For God said that at the Tabernacle, "I will meet with the children of Israel" (Exodus 29:43). It was at the door of the Tabernacle that God spoke to Moses "face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Exodus 33:11). One of the most frequent names applied to the Tabernacle is the "Tabernacle of the congregation" which means "tent of meeting". Certainly every Israelite must have seen that the Tabernacle made access to God not only possible but easy for now He was right there in their midst (Numbers 2).
Though God was to dwell among them, perhaps the Israelites could see that not everything was right. After all, as a Spirit, why would God need to have a tent in which to live? As we shall see in future lessons, God was accessible but only by certain representatives - the priests. Also, they had to come with the blood of an animal having no blemishes or imperfections. This was all done by the design of God to teach them that man was separated from the Holy God because of sin and only through the blood of an innocent and perfect life could they gain access to Him. We shall see this in greater detail as we progress in our study, but this impression must have began just in the basic considerations of the Tabernacle.
Finally, we may fully believe that the Israelites would learn too that God had to come to them because they were not able to come to Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us (1 John 4:10). In addition, Moses was clearly instructed to build the Tabernacle after the pattern that God had shown him (Exodus 25:9). So, not only was access to God made possible through God, but it was also going to be wholly on God's terms and in His way!
In John 2:19-21, Jesus told the Jews "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up", but "he spake of the temple of his body" (the Temple was merely the more permanent form of the Tabernacle). From this we may understand that the Tabernacle is a type of Christ. How well the Israelites in the days of Moses understood this we do not know though it seems that the disciples did not even grasp hold of it until after the resurrection. Then, at least, they began to realize that the body of Christ was a tabernacle in which God lived. Certainly the apostle John understood (see John 1:1, 14 and 1 John 1:1-3).
How much clearer does this reveal the love of God when we realize that He chose the form of a man to dwell in (Philippians 2:6-9)? Not only that, at the incarnation God was forever united with the body of a man! What an amazing love! Then too we can better appreciate the accessibility of God in that He is like us. How much easier it seems to talk with someone of your own kind with a mouth, eyes, and face. How much better is it to be able to talk with someone who has experienced the same temptations and sufferings (Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:15). We can understand better the sin that separates God and man when we consider the pain and torment that this human tabernacle had to undergo because of our sin. The inability of man too becomes more evident as we consider that no ordinary man could obtain salvation for the seed of Adam - this could only be achieved by the God-man, Jesus.
Paul said twice in his first epistle to the Corinthians that the believer is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). From this we may now understand that the Tabernacle is also a type of the Christian. As surely as God dwelt in the Tabernacle so dwells He now within every believer. Jesus told His disciples in the passage from John 14:9-17 that just as He was in the Father and the Father was in Him, so would the Holy Spirit of God dwell in each believer.
What an awesome prospect to consider that the Almighty God dwells within us. Certainly this sheds greater light on the necessity of a re-birth and the need for personal holiness. If one was to have the privilege of having some king or great dignitary come to their home, there is no doubt that they would go to great lengths to ensure that their house was immaculate. Could we possibly do less for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?
We must consider too that when God was dwelling in the Tabernacle, there was no doubt of His presence. Exodus 40:38 says that it was visible to all the house of Israel. Verse 35 of that same chapter describes a time when Moses was not able to enter the Tabernacle because the glory of the Lord had filled it. That he was not able to enter was not because he lacked permission, but because the presence of the Lord was too overwhelming for him (see also 1 Kings 8:11). Christian, is it obvious to others that you are the tabernacle of the Most High God? Does His glory shine forth to those around you?
Finally we must add that the Tabernacle is a type of our future state in eternity. Part of God's eternal plan is to dwell with His children. In Revelation 21:3, John heard a great voice in 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". We may not completely understand how the earthly Tabernacle built by the children of Israel was a pattern for a heavenly Temple (Hebrews 8:2,5; Revelation 11:19). We may not completely understand exactly what our life will be like in the future, but we at can least use the simple truths found in the Tabernacle to help our feeble understanding. We know anyway that we will dwell together with God just as sure as the Israelites did.
One striking feature of the future is that there will be no Temple for John says, "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it". Thus we may know this for sure - the separation that exists now between God and man, as illustrated in the Tabernacle, will be gone forever. There will be no imperfections in our fellowship with and access to God. The world will be filled with His Glory and everything shall be Holy.