Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The New Temple

Mark 14:58 "[Christ said,] I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.”

I have recently become convinced that one of our greatest weaknesses as modern-day Christians (I dare say the greatest weakness) is our failure to truly understand the Old Testament Scriptures. We’ll gladly read the story of David slaying Goliath or Joshua and the siege of Jericho, but when it comes to the more tedious writings and stipulations that are recorded between those great tales of war and triumph, many of us either read with confusion and a giant question mark (“How could this possibly be relevant to me?”), or we simply skip over those passages entirely.

Take the Tabernacle for example. How many of you considered the layout of the Mosaic Tabernacle this morning in your daily devotions? Not many, I presume. And yet, God gave Moses such an extremely detailed floor plan for how to build the Tabernacle (the tent where God’s presence would dwell) that 5 whole chapters of our Bible are dedicated to its record. The whole creation account is told in less than two chapters. Why would God do that? What can we possibly learn from 5 obscure chapters about a tent?

Before we look at how the Tabernacle is relevant in New Testament (NT) times, it’s important that we first understand how the Tabernacle was significant in the Old Testament (OT). The Tabernacle was the sanctuary of God; it was the holy place where God “tabernacled” (“dwelt”) among His people, the Israelites, during their years of wandering. Representatively, God humbled himself to sojourn with His people through the desert until they reached the Promised Land, where the temple would be built as a more permanent structure (the Tabernacle was a tent and thus a mobile sanctuary).

The furniture of the Tabernacle was set up in such a way as to require the worshipper to perform a series of rituals of cleansing and sacrifice before atonement could be made on his behalf (see diagram). Even after such pain-staking efforts, no one was allowed into the Holy of Holies except the High Priest– and even he was only permitted access once a year on the Day of Atonement. And so the first lesson we learn from the Tabernacle in Exodus is that God humbled himself, came to earth to sojourn with His people through a “dry and weary land where there was no water” (Ps. 63:1), and, by His presence, to lead them into the Promised Land of rest where an imperishable temple-house would be built in His name. (Sound familiar?)

But the lessons of the Tabernacle don’t stop there: consider the furnishings of the Tabernacle where the worshipper was required to perform rituals of cleansing and sacrifice (listed here in progression from the “Outer Courts” into the “Holiest Place”):

  1. Altar of Sacrifice: Before entering even the outer courts, a bloody sacrifice must be offered.
  2. Laver: In the outer courts the worshipper must wash his body with water.
  3. Lampstand: Inside the Holy Place, the 7-branch lampstand filled the sanctuary with light.
  4. Table of Shewbread: 12 loaves of bread on a table to represent God’s provision.
  5. Altar of Incense: Where the High Priestly prayer was offered on behalf of the worshipper.
  6. The Veil: Separated man from the “Holiest Place” where God’s presence dwelt.
  7. The Ark of the Covenant: Contained the stone tablets of the Law of Moses; God “sits enthroned above the cherubim”; the place where atonement was made and the sins of man were put away.

Remarkable details! But for what purpose? As holy as it was, we know that the Tabernacle was defiled, abolished, and then replaced by Solomon’s Temple. But even the Temple was defiled by a wicked and corrupt priesthood and was ultimately destroyed in the fall of Jerusalem in AD70. How can it be that these limited and corruptible rituals of worship could satisfy the “holy and incorruptible” God?

Could it be that the Tabernacle and Temple were instituted by God to teach His people that their depraved souls need more than the washing of water to make them truly clean? Could it be that the bloody sacrifices and atonement offerings were powerless to justify anyone in the sight of God (Gal. 3)? Could it be that these temporal systems were meant to instruct God’s children to look forward to a better “Temple” that was yet to come?

John presents Christ as the God-Man who came to earth and “tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Even the literary structure of his book is intended to show us that Christ was more than just a new Tabernacle whereby men could offer atonement, but John teaches us that Christ was the true Tabernacle even from the beginning– the perfect fulfillment of those imperfect systems that came before. Christ is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) and who offered Himself on the Altar of the cross (John 3); the Laver whose “living water” washes you completely- body and soul (John 4); the Lampstand, the “light of the world” who alone is able to keep you from dwelling in darkness (John 8 & 9); the Table of Shewbread, your provision, even your “Bread of Life” (John 6); He is also your great “High Priest” (Heb. 4:14), interceding in prayer for you at the Altar of Incense (John 17); Christ tore the “Veil” of His body so that you were permitted full access to God’s Holiest presence (John 18 & 19). Truly our God is the God of spiritual Israel, “enthroned above the cherubim,” who has written His Law not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh– even the hearts of men (2 Sam. 6:2; 2 Cor. 3:3). See also Hebrews 9 & 10.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” - 1 Cor. 6:19

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