Building a Tabernacle for God

You move into a house, new, or new to you, and it begins to reflect your tastes, your personality. What does a house for God look like? Exodus 25:8-9 shows God pointing his people to the pattern he would reveal to Moses on the mountain.

God dwells with you. This theme runs through the Scriptures. In Eden God came down and had fellowship with Adam and Eve, mankind made in his image. The fall disrupted that fellowship. Cherubim with a sword blocked the way to the Tree of Life and the fellowship our first parents had had with God. But God, in his grace, was not satisfied to leave it that way. Jump to the end of Scripture, Revelation 21:15-27, and in the new heavens and earth you have God dwelling with his people. There is no temple, but, as Vos points out, this is not a city without a church, but a city that is a church. This is a theme that runs through the Bible, tying Scripture together. Abraham and the patriarchs built altars, often at locations connected with trees, worshiped God. But now, after the Egyptian slavery, the family has become a nation. God will not longer visit occasionally—he is having his people build a house for him, a place where he will dwell in the midst of his people. Here is where God’s people would gather to offer their worship. “[T]he tabernacle . . . is the place where the people offer their worship to God. It is the palace of the King in which people render Him homage.” (Geerhardus Vos, Biblical theology, p. 168). Later, when God’s people settled in the promised land, the movable Tabernacle was replaced by the larger scale Temple. But both buildings fell short of the reality they represented. Haggai comforted those rebuilding the Temple after the Babylonian exile, that the glory of that house would be greater than that of Solomon’s Temple. Jesus pointed to himself, or better, himself with his people for whom he would die and rise again, as the true Temple. God no longer has a tent, a wooden framework covered with embroidered linen, or a stone building lined with cedar and covered with gold, as the place where he meets us. Rather his Temple is made of living stones. The church corporately and believers individually are, by the Spirit, the dwelling place of God. And it finds its full development in the perfection of the new heavens and earth, the magnificent garden city, like the Most Holy Place, forming a cube.

God condescends to tabernacle with you. Marvel at the way that God accommodates, condescends, to meet with his people. The nation, in the center of whose camp, he had his Tabernacle placed, was a complaining group of ex-slaves. His people lived in tents, so God had his house built as a movable tent. John has Exodus in mind when he says that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15).

Build God’s dwelling. The Tabernacle was built with free will offerings. The pople grasped the graciousness of God. When invited to contribute materials, they had to be stopped, as more than enough was collected. This was not a tax, but an overflow of thanksgiving and praise to God. God has his people build it, but he equipped a couple of men particularly so that they had the skills needed. The Tabernacle was built according to the model that Moses saw during the time he was with God on the mountain. Hebrews describes these earthly things a being patterned after heavenly ones—and he describes Jesus, the great high priest, as conducting his post ascension ministry there in the heavenly tabernacle.

Ultimately, God builds his house to have fellowship with you. God had skilled craftsmen build according to the plan he gave Moses. With God’s help, they could build a magnificent movable place for God to meet with them. But ultimately God builds his house. When David wanted to build a temple for the Lord, he was told that the Lord would build his house—a promise of the coming Messiah. God, by his Spirit, makes his church into a living temple.

Be the holy dwelling that you are. God’s house is a holy place. He calls his house a sanctuary, a holy place. That is the term used to describe the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, as consisting of the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The place where God, who is separate from sinners, makes his dwelling has to be holy. Crucial to the furnishings of the Tabernacle was the altar. There offering was made for the sins of the people as a whole and individually as well. Your Lord can do his work in the heavenly sanctuary because he has shed his own blood for his people, providing the perfect sacrifice. The only way to come to God is by trusting in his Son. You enter the temple of God by faith.

Your holy lives are part of being God’s house. 1 Peter 2 emphasizes the holiness of the people who are formed into God’s living temple. Growth in obedience is crucial to being God’s house. Use the means of grace. Spend time in the Word. Gather, as you, do, to assemble in God’s presence, bringing your homage to him. Why has God not yet brought this age to an end and ushered in the perfect temple of the New Jerusalem? Because he is building, still expanding his house. He does that work through you, his people. The Great Commission is temple-building activity.

How do we first experience God’s tabernacling presence? We do so by believing in Christ, that he died for our sins and rose from the dead, and reigns as the Lord God. God’s Spirit comes into us and dwells in us in a way similar to the way that God dwelled on his throne in the sanctuary of Eden and Israel’s temple. . . . God’s presence will become increasingly manifest to us as we grow by grace in our belief in Christ and and his word and by obeying it. . . . Believers are images of God in his temple who are to reflect his presence and glorious attributes in their thinking, character, speech, and actions.”

[T]he task of the church in being God’s temple, so filled with his presence, is to expand the temple of his presence and fill the earth with that glorious presence until God finally accomplishes this goal completely at the end of time. This is the church’s common, unified mission. May we, by God’s grace, unite around this goal.” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, pp. 646 & 648).

A house takes on the character of those who live in it. Make your life this week reflect the character of the God whose temple you are.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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