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How does the Tabernacle Foreshadow Yeshua the Messiah?

The Tabernacle –A Type and Shadow of Yeshua

The word ‘tabernacle’ means a dwelling place and is exclusively confined to the thought of this structure being God’s dwelling place (Exod. 25:8).[i] In the same way, during Yeshua’s (Jesus) earthly ministry, the Word became flesh and tabernacled, or dwelt among us (John 1:14). God commanded Moses to build a tabernacle of specific design and of exact proportions. The contents, furniture and even the colours and the materials of the tabernacle were purposely designated as a shadow and type of the coming Messiah. Let us take a whistle stop tour of the tabernacle and commence by entering through the narrow gate.

Entering the Tabernacle

Only the High Priest would have entered through the gate, which was the only entrance. Similarly the Lord Jesus is the only way to the Father and there is salvation in none other than Him and there is no other name under heaven which men may be saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the door of the sheep and knows those who are His and said ‘I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture’ (John 10:9).The High Priest would make a sacrifice at the brazen altar and wash themselves at the laver before proceeding into the Holy Place and finally the Holy of Holies. The High Priest would approach the gate with his approach offering and the gate was a foreshadowing of the finished work of Messiah.

Today instead of approaching the mercy seat sprinkled with blood in the holy of holies, because of God’s grace and mercy and by His sacrifice once and for all, a believer can approach our holy God by boldly approaching His throne. (Heb. 4:12). Sadly too often nowadays, this promise is sometimes taken for granted. Some commentaries say the High Priest had a cord tied around his ankle, in the event that if he died, he could be dragged out and those hauling the Priest out would remain unscathed, if the High Priest failed to meet God under His holy requirements.

The Colours of the Gate

The gate of the court was overhung with blue, purple, scarlet and fine twined linen. ‘The fine twined linen prefigures the spotless purity of His walk and character; while the blue, purple and scarlet represent Him as ‘the Lord from heaven’ who is to reign according to the divine counsels, but whose royalty is to be the result of His sufferings. Thus we have the spotless Man, a heavenly Man, a royal Man, a suffering Man’.[ii]

These aspects also relate to attributes of Jesus portrayed in the four gospels.  Matthew has been described as the royal gospel since the focus is on His kingly credentials, Mark the suffering Servant (Mark 10:45), Luke the practical nature and perfect Man and John’s gospel the heavenly Man and Son of God.

In revelation 1, John had a vision of Yeshua whereby ‘His head and hairs were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes like a flame of fire’ (Rev. 1:14). Similarly at the marriage supper of the Lamb His bride shall be dressed in ‘fine linen, clean and white’ (Rev. 19:8). Noticeably brides wear white on their wedding day, as a symbol of unadulterated purity and commitment to their husband before God.

Purple represents purity and kingship. Jesus was crowned with thorns and clothed in purple and saluted in mock worship by the soldiers. The order of these colours never varies. Since the purple rests between the blue and red, this teaches us another aspect of his nature, fully God and fully Man. Having suffered so severely for us, He is able to understand our needs and is able to continuously intercede on our behalf to the Father.

The scarlet represents the earth and our carnal nature. Remember the name ‘Adam’ means red, earth, dust, clay and man. When we do things our way, we fall into the nature of the first Adam. God famously reasoned with Judah that ‘though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool’ (Isa. 1:8). Notice the double emphasis confirming the certainty of God’s word! In contrast to the first Adam, the second Man Jesus is the Lord from heaven. As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly’ (1 Cor: 15:48).

The Brazen Altar

On the journey to the Holy of Holies, we firstly encounter the brazen altar. This was constructed of acacia wood and was covered in bronze and is a type of Messiah, as our substitute and sacrifice. Biblically speaking, wood normally pictures humanity; however acacia or shittim wood is incorruptible. The greatest miracle was the resurrection of Yeshua of whom it was prophesied in Psalm 16:10 ‘for you will not leave my soul in Sheol; nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption’. Jesus rose from the dead, took the punishment through his propitiation that should have been ours, and has given His followers an incorruptible inheritance. Only the perfect sacrifice of the perfect Saviour who knew no sin but became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21) could satisfy the Father’s wrath and reconcile us to Him.

The brazen altar, covered with bronze, speaks of judgement. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent on a raised pole and those who looked at it would live. Only Jesus can deliver us from the bite of sin and as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14; c.f. Num. 21:9).

Looking into the Laver

The next item is the laver where interestingly no dimensions were specified since brass speaks of judgement and the judgement upon us was boundless. The laver was fashioned of bronze and is a type of our cleansing and was needed for preparation and service in the holy place. The hands and feet were washed so as not to defile the holy of holies which reminds of Peter asking Jesus not only to wash his feet, but also his hands and head (John 13:9)!

The laver is made of mirrors. Before the Lord’s supper we are summoned to examine ourselves. The natural man according to James that hears but doesn’t do the word of God is compared with someone who observes his face in a mirror, departs and then immediately forgets what sort of man he is (James 1:23-24). At the moment we see through a dim glass, but will see Him face to face, we have an unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord (1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 3:18).

The Table of Showbread

The table of showbread is a type of Messiah as the bread of life. ‘And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life. He that comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst’ (John 6:35). Isaiah spoke of the salvation to come asking rhetorically ‘Why do you spend your money on that which is not bread (Isa. 55:2)? Furthermore, the twelve loaves were made without leaven. Leaven symbolizes sin, so the unleavened showbread is a picture of the sinless Saviour of whom we can come to without money or price and in whom is abundant life.

The Menorah

The menorah comprises seven lamps with branches. The number seven in scripture constantly speaks of perfection and the branch in the centre is greater and more pronounced than the three on either side. Yeshua is the rod out of the stem of Jesse, from which the branch grew out of its roots (Isa. 11:2). He is also the vine and his followers are the branches and without Him we can do nothing (John 15:15).

The oil in the lamps speaks of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We need the oil of the Spirit to be guided by Him. God’s word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105) and without the oil there would be no light in the temple. In the New Jerusalem, there will be no need for either sun or moon, since the Lamb is its light!

The Golden or Incense altar

The incense altar is a type of Messiah as our intercessor and advocate. The gold represents deity, hence the three prophetic gifts given to Jesus at His birth signifying His kingship, deity and suffering. This particular compound of incense was forbidden unless used specifically for holy purposes for the Lord (Exod. 30:37-38).

Incense is also a symbol of prayer. David prayed ‘Let my prayer be set before you as incense, the lifting up of my hands as evening sacrifice’ (Psalm 141:2). Yeshua is also able to intercede on our behalf at the right hand of the Father.

The Veil

The instant our Saviour yielded His Spirit, the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom. No human hand tore the veil since a human hand would not be sufficient. The veil was rent from top to bottom, not vice versa; since our salvation is a gift He has given us and is something that could never be accomplished through our strivings, even in a lifetime of lifetimes. The derivation of the Hebrew word veil means to break or separate and now through one offering Jesus has forever perfected them that are being sanctified’ (Heb.10:14).

The Cherubim

The Cherubim formed a canopy over the mercy seat which is a type of Messiah as our propitiation. Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world and is the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world (1 John 2:2; John 1:29). The cherubim are always connected with God’s presence and holiness (Psalm 80:1; 61:4). The cherubim were entrusted with guarding the Garden of Eden and the Holy of Holies. In Ezekiel 1 they have the four faces of the lion, ox, man and eagle as a type of the attributes of the Messiah, again reflected in the four gospels.

The Ark of the Covenant

The contents of the Ark of the Covenant testify of God’s provision for His people. The tablets of stone contained the law and knowledge of sin. Yeshua is the lawgiver and He also fulfilled the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). The golden pot contained manna, whilst Jesus fed the four and five thousand and is the Bread of Life.

Lastly Aaron’s rod blossomed. This indicated the High Priest to be chosen and the budding of Aaron’s rod is a picture of the resurrection. Jesus resurrection proved that he is the High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).

The Great High Priest

The former earthly tabernacle has been replaced by our great High Priest. The Lord Jesus through His single offering provided eternal salvation, bringing us close to the Father. The price has been paid and He has purchased our atonement. ‘Not with the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, he entered the Most Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption’. (Heb. 9:12).

[1] Henry Soltau The Tabernacle The Priesthood And The Offerings (Kregel, Grand Rapids: 1972), 36 [1] C.H Mackintosh Notes on the Pentateuch (Loizeaux Brothers, New York: 1972), 244