A PRIEST, A SACRIFICE AND A TABERNACLE

Hebrews 9:1-14

 

When our daughter Sky was born, we were planning to have the delivery through natural childbirth. Nowadays this sort of thing is quite commonplace, but in our era it was considered to be quite an innovation. I was to be in the delivery room with Paula.

As Paula was prepped for the delivery, I was stopped by a door with a big sign which ordered, "KEEP OUT!" Before entering, I was required to go through an elaborate ritual. I had to put on the backwards paper pajamas. I had to spend five minutes washing my hands clear up to my elbows. Why? What was the necessity for all of this? After all, I was fairly well-dressed and sincere. What more was needed? Why did I need to go through all of this? It was because of something that I couldnít even see. Something called GERMS.

There was a place in the Bible life that. It was a place that was restricted - a place with a big "Keep Out" sign. It was a place that only the high priest could enter and then only once a year and then only after an elaborate washing ritual. It was the Holy of Holies. It was the very presence of God. The big "Keep Out" sign was in the form of a great veil that separated this most holy place from the rest of the world.

 

THE EARTHLY SANCTUARY

Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary.

For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place.

Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, 4 having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaronís rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; 5 and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail. (Hebrews 9:1-5).

The Old Testament is very explicit as to how the elements of worship were to be composed. Worship in the Old Testament revolved around the Tabernacle. The word "tabernacle" simply means "tent." It was often known as the "tent of meeting." It was the place where God would come to meet man.

The regulations for the Tabernacle are given in great detail in Exodus 25-27. These three long chapters give detailed instructions as to the dimensions, the composition of the building materials and how they were to be put together. Then if that were not enough, Exodus 35-39 recount in even greater detail how those instructions were carried out point by point.

At first glance, this kind of repetition seems unnecessary. After all, Moses could have merely written, "God told us how to build the Tabernacle and we followed His instructions." That would have been one verse instead of the eight chapters which are devoted to this subject. Why such attention to detail? Was it merely filler that was needed? Was Moses getting paid by the word? Was this a homework assignment which required a certain number of pages? No, I believe that there was a special reason for this great detail. It is because the entire Tabernacle and all of the ordinances therein were a giant picture of Jesus. Letís look at it.

9:2

There was a tabernacle prepared

And the Word became flesh and dwelt [literally "tabernacled"] with us... (John 1:14).

The lampstand

"I am the light of the world..." (John 8:12).

The table and the sacred bread

"I am the bread of life..." (John 6:35).

9:3

The second veil

Represented the body of Jesus.

A golden altar of incense

Represented prayers of intercession.

1. The Tabernacle.

The word "Tabernacle" simply means "tent." The Tabernacle was a portable meeting place - a place where God would meet with His people. It was first established while the Israelites were in the Sinai wilderness. As such, it had to be portable because the Israelites were constantly on the move.

Do you remember what happened when the Tabernacle was completed? The presence of God came and moved into the Tabernacle.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35).

Many years later, the Tabernacle was replaced by a more permanent structure. Although build to the same general specifications, the Temple was made instead of wood and stone. When it was completed, the same thing happened as had happened in the wilderness. The presence of God came.

And it came about when the priests came from the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. (1 Kings 8:10-11).

The thing that made the Tabernacle and the Temple so special was the presence of God. Without that, they were just another building.

The prophet Ezekiel records a number of visions which he had concerning the glory of the Lord. At the beginning of these visions, the glory of the Lord is seen residing within the Temple and specifically between the cherubim (Ezekiel 9:3). As Ezekiel watches, the glory of the Lord moves to the threshold of the Temple (Ezekiel 9:3; 10:3). From there it moves to the east gate (Ezekiel 10:19) and finally out to the mountain which is to the east of the city (Ezekiel 11:23). This was a sign of Godís judgment. The glory of the Lord departed and it was not long after this that the Temple was destroyed.

Here is the point. Do you remember how Jesus came to Jerusalem on the week in which He was crucified? The Biblical account is very specific. He came by way of the Mount of Olives - the mountain directly east of the city; the mountain over which the glory of the Lord had last been seen in Ezekielís vision.

The coming of Jesus to the Temple was the return of the King to His sanctuary. He came cleansing the Temple. But more importantly, He came to provide a cleansing for all men. In this sense, He not only cleansed the Temple, He IS the temple. It is in Him that men are able to approach God.

2. The Outer Tabernacle.

The Sanctuary proper was divided into two parts. There was an inner part and an outer part. They were separated by a thick inner veil. The outer Tabernacle was the scene of daily activity. Into this section would come a priest each morning and each evening.

3. The Lampstand.

When we think of the Lampstand, we normally think in terms of a menorah. The Lampstand within the later Temple almost certainly had this appearance. It is shown in such a manner on Titusí Arch of Triumph in Rome which pictures Jewish captives being forced to carry the golden lampstand as a part of the Roman spoils of war.

But the original lampstand in the Tabernacle may have looked quite different. It was formed in the shape of a tree.

Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand and its base and its shaft are to be made of hammered work; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers shall be of one piece with it.

Six branches shall go out from its sides; three branches of the lampstand from its one side and three branches of the lampstand from its other side.

Three cups shall be shaped like almond blossoms in the one branch, a bulb and a flower, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms in the other branch, a bulb and a flower -- so for six branches going out from the lampstand; 34 and in the lampstand four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers. (Exodus 35:31-34).

Notice the reference to bulbs and flowers and almond blossoms. The lampstand represented a living thing. And even the stylized lampstand of later years had the same representation. What did the lampstand represent?

And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13 and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. (Revelation 1:12-13).

Notice that in Johnís vision there is not a single lampstand with seven branches, but seven separate lampstands. This symbolism is explained in verse 20.

As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:20).

Do you see who the lampstands represent? They represent YOU. They represent the churches of God.

The lampstand brought light to the Temple. But the lampstand itself was not the source of the light. The source of the light was the oil which was retained in the various bulbs and cups and flowers on the lampstand. These were oil lamps. The Jews had an annual celebration called Hanukkah - the Feast of Lights. It was a time of commemoration of the cleansing of the Temple in the days of the Maccabees. The story was told of how there had been only enough oil to last for a single day, but how it had miraculously lasted for an entire week until more could be brought.

The lampstand did not provide the light. It only held the oil that provided the light. And in the same way, the church does not in itself provide the light. It is only as the church is filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit that light is provided.

4. The Table and the Sacred Bread.

The table of shewbread was a wooden table overlaid with gold. Onto this table, the priests would lay out 12 loaves of bread. Why twelve? I believe that it was because these also served a double representation.

On the one hand, they look at the One who would be the Bread of Life (John 6:41). Jesus is that One who provides spiritual nourishment for our souls. His body which is broken for us is represented by broken bread which is eaten. It is not by chance that He was born in Bethlehem, a town whose name means "the House of Bread."

On the other hand, these 12 loaves also represent the 12 tribes of Israel - Godís people - the church. We collectively are the body of Christ as we are in union with Him.

5. The second veil.

The reason that this is called the second veil is because there was a first veil. The first veil was located at the door of the Tabernacle. It separated the outside from the inside. Beyond this veil and past the golden lampstand and the table of shewbread was the second veil. It served to separate the Holy Place from the innermost sanctum - the Holy of Holies.

Embroidered on the veil were the images of cherubim. They served as guardians of the veil, keeping even the priests from entering in. They are reminiscent of the cherubim stationed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. They were stationed with a flaming sword in order to keep out all who might enter.

Do you remember what happened to the veil when Jesus died? It was torn from top to bottom (Luke 23:45). The Scriptures do not say who did the tearing, but the fact that it was from top to bottom tells us that it was no human hand that did this. It was the hand of God who was letting us know by this outward sign that the way into the presence of God had been opened.

6. The Holy of Holies.

When you want to emphasis something in Hebrew, you do it by means of repetition. You can find a number of examples of this:

"Truly, truly" (John 3:3).

"Woe, woe" (Ezekiel 16:23).

"The song of songs, which is Solomonís" (SS 1:1).

This was a designation for the most holy place of all. It was the holiest of holies. It was the innermost sanctum of the Tabernacle. Itís dimensions were in the form of a perfect cube measuring 10 cubits by 10 cubits by 10 cubits.

Notice that these are essentially the same dimensions of the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation 21:16. Instead of 10 cubits on a side, it is 12,000 stadia by 12,000 stadia by 12,000 stadia.

7. The golden altar of incense.

The altar of incense was a cubit wide and a cubit long and two cubits in height. It was overlaid in gold. Although technically it was located outside the veil which separated the holy place from the holy of holies, it was associated with the veil and the ark.

"And you shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you.

"And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps.

"And when Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations." (Exodus 30:6-8).

Incense was offered upon this altar every morning and every evening. This incense created a sweet-smelling aroma. It would sweeten the entire Temple. The smoke of this incense represented the sweet prayers of Godís people ascending to heaven.

8. The Ark of the Covenant

...the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaronís rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; 5 and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail. (Hebrews 9:4-5).

The Ark was the most holy part of the Temple. It was called the ark of the covenant because it held the covenental tablets within. It also held the rod of Aaron which had budded and thereby given evidence that it was Aaronís household who were to serve and the priests of Israel. And it held a golden jar of manna, the food with which God had preserved His people in the wilderness.

 

THE INNER TABERNACLE

Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, 7 but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. (Hebrews 9:6-7).

Priests entered into the Temple every morning and every evening to offer the morning incense and the evening incense. Once a week they would enter to change the bread on the Table of Shewbread. These were acts of prayer and of worship. But these priests were not permitted to go any further than the inner veil. Only one priest was allowed to pass beyond the veil. He was the high priest. And he was only permitted to do so once a year.

It would be on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement that the High Priest would pass through the veil and into the holy of holies. He would approach the Ark of the Covenant. Upon the top of the Ark was a lid of solid gold. This was known as the Mercy Seat. The images of two cherubim face the center of the Ark. They were silent guardians of the presence of God.

The high priest would sprinkle the blood of sacrificed animals upon the Mercy Seat. By this he was providing an atonement for the sins of the entire nation.

 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SACRIFICE

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, 9 which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, 10 since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:8-10).

Now we come to the significance of the ritual which was practiced each year by the Jewish high priest. The fact that the blood of an animal served as a continuing sacrifice meant that the way into the presence of God had not yet been made open.

No mere animalís death could ever take away sins. No mere animalís blood could ever take away guilt. Such rituals were only temporary - looking forward to a time of reformation.

The word translated "symbol" in verse 9 is from the Greek . It is related to our word "parable." You know what a parable is. It is an earthly story thrown up along side a spiritual reality to further illustrate it.

That is was the Tabernacle was all about. The Tabernacle was a physical structure which was built to teach spiritual realities. It was a physical parable of Jesus and the cross. But once you have learned the truth behind the parable, it is inappropriate to reject that truth while holding only to the parable.

 

A BETTER TABERNACLE AND BETTER BLOOD

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12).

Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system. He did what the high priest could only symbolize. He entered into heaven itself.

High Priest

Jesus Christ

A high priest of the old Aaronic priesthood

The High Priest of the good things to come

Entered the Tabernacle made with hands

Entered the greater and more perfect tabernacle

Entered with blood of goats and calves

Entered with His own blood

Every year he had to repeat the same sacrifice

He entered the holy place once for all

Jesus entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle. What is this greater and more perfect Tabernacle?

It is heaven! The earthly tabernacle is merely a copy and a pattern of the heavenly reality. Every picture that we are given in the Bible of heaven is described in terms of the tabernacle and the Temple.

Jesus did something that no other high priest ever did. He entered into heaven itself to minister a sacrifice. He WAS the sacrifice. He ministered as both the priest and the offering. The blood which He offered was His own.

 

A CLEANSING THAT CLEANSES

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13-14).

Now we come to our last comparison. It is a comparison of the weak and the strong. The point is if that which was intrinsically weak was able to accomplish something, then how much more will that which is intrinsically stronger be able to accomplish.

That which is Weak

That which is Stronger

If the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling...

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered Himself...

Sanctifies for the cleansing of the flesh.

Cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

The old system provided an outward cleansing of the flesh - a ritual cleansing. But the New Covenant provides much more. It cleanses from the inside out. It cleanses your conscience. It provides a real and lasting forgiveness. It changes a manís very nature.

Notice the movement of the passage. It goes from death to life. The most that the Law could ever do was to bring about a ritual cleansing. But Christ does so much more. He cleanses you from the inside out. The result is not that you might go out and "live as you please" but rather that you might go out and live as HE pleases ó that you might serve the living God.