The sanctuary is the most extensive illustration of the plan of salvation found in Scripture. A thorough study by scholars will find embedded in the structure, priesthood, sacrifices, cleansings, and festivals more than 200 symbols and types. This article reveals Christ in the sanctuary building.
To show His delight in being near His people, Jehovah suggested to Moses, "Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them" (Ex. 25:8; cf. 29:45).
Modeled on the heavenly sanctuary, the tabernacle on earth was Israel's textbook of God's redemptive activities. A study of its types and symbols revealed the functions to be carried out by Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary, "which the Lord pitched, and not man" (Heb. 8:2).
Jehovah had displayed His mighty power to the ancient nations and freed His people from their cruel Egyptian masters. By cloud and fire Jehovah led His sons and daughters across the Red Sea into the seclusion of the desert, providing bread and water and shelter for their daily needs.
When they camped at Horeb, the Master Teacher, none other than Christ, educated them amid the mountain solitudes. He summoned their leader, Moses, to Sinai's summit for special instructions.
On the mountaintop the Father and the Son stood side by side, within a circle of eternal light into which no human might enter unbidden. They proclaimed Their law to Moses in the language of humanity.
Moses spoke with God as with a friend (see Ex. 33:11). Can you imagine what a talk they had? I imagine that through Christ the Father talked of what was closest to His heart─the gift of His Son for the salvation of His lost family. Jesus unfolded the steps He would take to redeem the rebellious and restore fellowship.
During six weeks of communion, the Great Teacher revealed to Moses each phase of His plan for human salvation. To clarify these truths for after generations, He embedded them in the lovely model of the tabernacle. This structure should stand in the heart of Israel's camp. By means of its enclosed court and symbolic furnishings, sacrifices and festivals, He provided vehicles for truths otherwise incomprehensible. It would hold the oracle of the law.
David understood (Ps. 29:9, margin), and Paul later agreed (Heb. 8:lff.), that every facet of the sanctuary was designed to glorify God. The sanctuary would keep before His people the hope that one day Christ would stand in His celestial tabernacle as their advocate and judge, and by His death save penitent souls from eternal death.
God commanded Moses to construct this pavilion using the most lavish materials and best talents of the people. Moses received precise plans for making this tent of meeting (Ex. 25:40) that was to be the hub of Israel's daily life, and patterned after the heavenly tabernacle (Heb. 8:5).
The Israelite's gifts for the tabernacle were freewill. So, too, is the plan of salvation a sacrifice and gift of love.
In the same spirit in which the people of Israel contributed materials and talents for the tabernacle, the virgin mother surrendered herself to form the body of the Son of man, the true tabernacle (see Luke 1:34-38).
"author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). There was likewise only one entry veil to both apartments of the sanctuary.
The Tabernacle: The Holy Place and the Most Holy Place
The tabernacle, located 10 cubits from the court's western wall, was divided into two apartments (the holy place and the Most Holy Place) by a veil that hung from four golden pillars.
1. Christ, the light of the world. In Scripture God has often chosen fire or light to represent Himself (Heb. 12:29; John 1:8). Since the sanctuary was without windows, the source of illumination in the holy place was the seven-branched candlestick, representing Christ, the light of the world. When the glorious and bright Shekinah (God's presence) resided in the Second Apartment, where the ark of the covenant was kept (the Most Holy Place), its radiance spilled into the holy place.
After the Fall the Lord "tabernacled" in Eden's flaming sword to express His love and constancy in accepting and guiding His first family. "He placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep [preserve] the way of the tree of life" (Gen. 3:24). Placed means "put in a tent," from which comes the Hebrew word shekinah. The way to the tree of life must be traveled by every saint who would eat its fruit to enjoy immortality. To help them on their journey, the Spirit has provided the sword of inspired light (see Heb. 4:12). Christ, the "light of the world" (John 8:12), tabernacled among us (John 1:14), reflecting the glory of God (Heb. 1:3).
These symbols of the presence of the Angel of the Lord united with the radiance glowing between the cherubim on the mercy seat-throne. The people called this the Shekinah, to describe "the One who dwells in a tent."
Other samples of light and fire representing God's presence can be found in the Bible:
a. The leading light of the cloud by day and fire by night brooding above the tabernacle (see Ex. 40:38), as the Spirit had done over the waters at Creation (Gen. 1:2).
b. The bow of many-colored splendor slashing the dark stormy clouds after the flood (Gen. 9:8- 17).
c. The burning bush (Ex. 3:1-6).
d. The fire coming down on the sacrifice at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:24, 30-40).
e. The tongues of fire at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
2. The 12 loves of bread and the goblets of unfermented wine. Christ is the bread of life (John 6:35); "he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life" (verse 54, RSV; read verses 53-58).
3. The altar of incense. The merits and intercession of Christ rose with the prayers of the saints (see Rev. 8:4).
4. The floor—the bare earth. The Lord placed His shrine as close to the ground as possible to call attention to His condescension. He loved His people so much that He wished to lodge as close to them as He could reach.
5. The portability of early sanctuary. God designed the tabernacle to be dismantled and reerected easily. During the 40 years of wilderness wandering the Israelites moved it some 50 times. The luminous symbol of Christ's presence soared high above the people at the head of the procession, telling them when to move and when to camp. The tabernacle was also a type of the Christian church. His church today is to live for Him in the wilderness of daily life.
6. The ark of the covenant. The ark symbolized God's throne and was the most important symbol of His presence. The ark was the only piece of furniture in the Most Holy Place.
7. The ultimate reality. The life and death of Jesus are the ultimate reality that the sanctuary illustrated.
The Cure for Sin: Divine Sacrifice
The Lord provided forgiveness of sin, and restoration. Pointing to the real Sacrifice through the animal sacrifices, He assured the people that "the priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them" (Lev. 4:20). These victims represented the death of Jesus, "in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:7).
God promised a Redeemer, a sinless substitute who would take the sinner's place and bear the death penalty for his guilt. Heaven would accept His sacrifice, and impute the robe of righteousness to the pardoned sinner. A Royal Priest would mediate and restore the repentant to covenant fellowship. The luminous way to the tree of life would be kept open for all who chose to walk in it. The serpent's head would be crushed. These gospel truths streamed like beams of the rising sun from the opening of the drama of redemption, reaching noontime glory with the Sun of righteousness dispelling the darkness of the fallen world at Calvary and on the Resurrection day!
Leslie Hardinge, Ph.D., pastored churches in England and Scotland and most recently in Glendale, California. He taught theology in several Adventist colleges and was president/dean of the Adventist Theological Seminary in the Far East. The following is adapted from his book With Jesus in His Sanctuary, American Cassette Ministries, P.O. Box 922, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17108-0922.