"Tabernacle Shadows"

When Moses was in the Mountain of God with Yahweh he was given instructions and architectural plans to a Tabernacle of worship where the Almightyís Presence would reside with Israel. The Angel of Yahweh said: "And they must make a sanctuary for me, as I must tabernacle in the midst of them. According to all that I am showing you as the pattern of the tabernacle and pattern of all its furnishings, that is the way you are to make it." (Exodus 25:8, 9 NWT) Little did Moses discern regarding that single word "pattern." For what he was to build as a tabernacle of worship would act as a prophetic shadow of future realities.

Over a millennium and a half later the Jewish rabbi Paul of Tarsus was to pick up on this word "pattern" and explain what the tabernacle of Moses fore-shadowed. This explanation appears in the Letter to the Hebrews (Jews), chapters 8 to 10. Several times Paul notes that the tabernacle was a "pattern" of a spiritual true tent. Not only was the Mosaic tabernacle a shadow but so also was the priesthood and the sacrifices involved. Note how Paul explains this "solid food ... hard to understand." (Hebrews 5:14; 2 Peter 3:16)

Hebrews 8:1, 2 "Now as to the things being discussed this is the main point: We have such a high priest [Jesus Christ] as this, and he has sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a servant to (worshippers) at the Holy Places and of the true Tabernacle, which the Lord [Yahweh] put up, and not man." Paul makes it clear that our Lord the Nazarene, now glorified in heaven -- ruling at Godís right hand -- is a priestly worker or servant who serves for the benefit of Christian worshippers who have come to a spiritual Tabernacle with its holy places.

Hebrews 8:5, 6 -- "(These contemporary Jewish Levitical priests) are rendering sacred service in a hyper-diagram and shadow of the heavenly things. Just so Moses, when about to complete the Tabernacle, was divinely warned: For says He: ĎSee that you make all things after their type [pattern] that was shown to you in the mountain.í But now Jesus has obtained a more excellent priestly work, so that he is also the mediator of a correspondingly better covenant, which has been legally established upon better promises." For the word "pattern" Paul uses the Greek TYPON, or, "type."

Translators render the Greek TYPON as model, example, design, or pattern. The English word "type" is understood to mean an "outline ... (something) that represents or symbolizes another." (Websters) Elsewhere Paul writes about features of Jewish worship: "Those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ." (Colossians 2:17) And, so, Paul continues to explain what the various features of the Mosaic tabernacle picture or foreshadow. (Hebrews 10:1)

Hebrews 9:1-5 -- "For its part, then, the former [covenant] used to have righteous requirements regarding (tabernacle) worship and a holy place of this material world. For there was constructed a first tent [compartment] in which were the lampstand and also the table and the display of the loaves; and it is called the ĎHolyí. But beyond the second curtain was the tent-room called the ĎHolies of holiesí. This (room) had a golden censer and the ark of the covenant completely overlaid with gold, in which were the golden jar having the manna and the rod of Aaron that sprouted and the tablets of the covenant; but up above it were the glorious cherubim overshadowing the propitiatory. "

Paul continues in Hebrews 9:6, 7 to describe what he had mentioned earlier in verse 5, "After these things had been constructed this way, the priests enter the first tent-room [the Holy] at all times to perform worship services; but into the second [room] the high priest alone enters once a year, not without blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of ignorance of the people." Paul here now links the Tabernacle with the annual Day of Atonement held in the autumn. This particular festival is described in the Book of Leviticus chapter sixteen. (See below)

Hebrews 9:8-10 has Paul now giving an inspired interpretation of matters: "Thus the holy Pneuma makes it evident that the way into the Holies had not yet been revealed while the first Tabernacle was standing. This very Tabernacle is a parable for the present season, and in keeping with (this Tabernacle of the material world) both gifts and sacrifices are offered. However, these (sacrifices) are not able to make the worshipper perfect regarding the conscience, but have to do only with foods and drinks and various baptisms. They were righteous requirements dealing with the flesh and were imposed until the right season to set completely straighten things out."

What does Paul mean by "the way into the Holies"? Judging from what is to follow, it must be that way which Christ as high priest was to experience when he ascended to heaven, entering a celestial Tabernacle, and thereafter offering the value of his blood and sacrificed body. Though Paul could be referring to the way into the two holies of the Perfect Tabernacle, he may just as well be using the plural for the "holies of holies," that is, the Most Holy second room. This is what he goes to describe.

Hebrews 9:11-14 -- "But, when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass, by means of the greater and more perfect Tabernacle not of human origin, that is, not of this creation, he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls [from the Day of Atonement], but with his own blood, once for all time into the holies and (there) obtained an ageless release (for us). For if [on the Day of Atonement] the blood of goats and of bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctifies to the extent of fleshly cleanliness, how much more will the blood of the Christ, who by means of an ageless spirit offered himself without blemish to the God, cleanse our consciences from dead works that we may offer a true form of worship to a living God?" The blood of the Atonement Day bulls and goats foreshadow or point forward as types to the reality in the blood of Christ.

Hebrews 9:22-26 -- "Yes, nearly all things are cleansed with blood according to the Law, and unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place. Therefore it was necessary that the (earthly) diagrams of celestial things should be cleansed by these means, but the celestial things themselves with sacrifices that are better than such sacrifices. For Christ entered, not into holies of human origin -- anti-types of realities -- but into the very heavens, now to appear on our behalf before the Face of the God. Neither is it in order that he should offer himself over and over (year in and year out), as indeed the high priest enters into the holies (annually on the Day of Atonement) without his own blood. Otherwise, (Christ) would have to suffer (death) often from the beginning of the world." Again, Paul has in mind the Jewish Day of Atonement as the anti-type in this new spiritual (heavenly) Tabernacle. He may infer that the blood of the bulls and goats sacrificed on this annual festival of the Jews points to the blood of Christís own sacrifice.

In these verses Paul mentions "sacrifices" (plural) to cleanse the heavenly or celestial things foreshadowed or pictured by the earthly Tabernacle. Does he mean to infer that "sacrifices" other than that one offered by Christ? Or, is this a latitude of language in which Paul uses the plural "sacrifices" in a poetic or figurative sense to refer to all those "sacrifices" which pointed forward to the one sacrifice? No where in Paulís writings does he teach that the lives of the consecrated Saints are part of the single ransom sacrifice needed to redeem mankind.

Paul continues with references and allusions to other types and shadows and their fulfillment in Christís "suffering."

Hebrews 10:1 -- "For the Law was a shadow of future good -- not the exact image -- (worshippers) who approach (God) can never be perfected by the offering of annual sacrifices." From this and similar remarks by Paul some will find in every feature of the Law some "image" or "shadow" as typical of realities in Christ. Though speculation on this subject of "tabernacle shadows" reaches spectacular proportions by some, there is little inspired basis for such. We cannot go beyond the inspired interpretations of the Nazarene and his god-breathed disciples who wrote under the influence of the Spirit-Helper.

For example, some would interpret that various sacrifices to go beyond that single suffering of our Lord. They would see in these also the sufferings in a multitude of deaths of the martyrs as additional value in the Ransom. However, Paul makes clear there is only one sacrifice and not a composite one. In Hebrews 10:12-14 he writes, "But (Christ) offered ONE perpetual sacrifice for sins and sat down at the right hand of The God, from then on awaiting until his enemies should be placed as a stool for his feet. For it is by ONE perpetual offering that he has perfected the Saints." Paul sees ONE SACRIFICE and no where infers there are many as part of this one offering.

Additionally, the various features of the Tabernacle with its two rooms and courtyard -- including the contents of the Ark of the Covenant -- are interpreted to have a variety of fulfillments. Some interpret the first compartment, the Holy, to picture the sanctified sonship of a priestly class of Christians separate and distinct from other Christians. They see in the several sacrifices on the Day of Atonement the distribution of Christís ransom upon three groups: anointed Christians, other non-anointed Christians living at the "end of the world," and lastly, mankind in general during the Millennium.

Sometimes persons who interpret the Bible with a certain bias or agenda -- lacking specific Scriptural proof -- resort to these prophetic "dramas" or "shadows" or "types" to bolster what is lacking in their argument. In other words, they work backwards, beginning with a notion and then seek some make shift "outline" in the Law to establish their views.

Since no inspired writer of the Bible gives such details it is pure speculation bordering on presumption to begin to find meanings in every aspect of the Lawís "tabernacle shadows." This does not necessarily mean that a lesson cannot be drawn or illustrated from such things as the Day of Atonement or the daily prayers and offerings within the Holy of the Tabernacle.

Paul may make an inspired allusion to the priestly courtyard of the Tabernacle where were found the Altar of sacrifice and the Basin for cleansing priests and sacrifices. The Revelation also refers to this "courtyard." (Revelation 11:3) Note Paulís subtlety in Hebrews 10:19-22, "Therefore, brothers, with boldness we enter into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus, which he opened for us a new and living way through the curtain, that is, his flesh. And since we have (our own) great priest over the House of The God, let us approach (Him) with a genuine heart, trusting in full confidence, our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and the body washed with pure water."

Paul may allude here to the blood of sprinkling which came from the altar in the courtyard of the priests. He may allude to the cleansing basin in which the priests bathed for sanctified service in the Tabernacle. We may wish to add to this the three features in the Holy first room: the altar of incense (Revelation 8:3), the table of showbread (John 6:51), and the lampstand. (Revelation 1:20; 11:4; see the William Barclay quote under "Faith Perspectives") We may even see in the "hidden manna" an eternal source of spiritual and celestial food for those blessed with priestly services within the Divine Habitat of God. (Revelation 2:17) However, we must not go beyond what the Scriptures themselves give as interpretations on these matters.

We may see in the typical Atonement Day commandments fitting illustrations and lessons of encouragement which may be given loose applications to matters of Christian belief and worship. (See Leviticus chapter 16) So, we may wish to see in the sacrifice of the bull that application of Christís redemptive price as perfecting that spiritual "priesthood." (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:9, 10; 20:4) We may also wish to see in the first goat of the sin offering the application of Christís redemptive price over mankind in general. (1 John 2:2; 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22) We may also wish to see in the "goat for Azazel" that feature of Christís death which is a "sin-bearer" object lesson for us all. (Isaiah 53:4, 5, 10-12)

In all of these types and shadows there is one remaining powerful lesson for each Nazarene Saint: we too must suffer as we daily carry his cross. (Matthew 16:24, 25) Paul concludes his Temple pictures with this encouragement: "We (Christian saints) have an Altar from which those (Jewish priests) who render worship at the Tabernacle have no authority to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is taken into the Holies by the high priest for sin are burned up outside the encampment. By which Jesus also, so that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. You also, now, go out to meet (Christ) outside the encampment, bearing his reproach. ... Through him may we continually offer a sacrifice of praise to the God --- the fruit of our lips which confess his name. Also, be not forgetting doing of good and sharing with others, for the God is very pleased with such sacrifices." (Hebrews 13:10-16)

We cannot fail in our desire to find the meat of Godís Word to miss this point: the two primary features of our spiritual Tabernacle worship: our confession of Jesus Christ; and, our charity toward others. These are the sacrificial offerings which please the Father of our Lord. [NOTE: for more details see Nazarene Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews.]

Friends of the Nazarene Publishing

Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

Back to Index to Biblical Articles