Tent Pitched by God

Jesus now intercedes without ceasing on behalf of his people in the True Tabernacle in the heavens, one not made with human hands.

Tent under stars - Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash
The gospel of
 John presents Jesus as the true Tabernacle, the place where God dwells. Unlike the ancient tent with its inner sanctuary that only the high priest could enter, His glory is manifested for all men to behold in His Son. No longer is His presence limited by physical walls, geographic boundaries, or calendrical cycles. In Christ, the Father is worshipped anywhere and anytime “in spirit and truth” - [Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash].

Thus, what was foreshadowed in the Tabernacle finds its fulfillment and substance in Jesus Christ, the “word made flesh.”

The epistle to the Hebrews also presents the true significance of the Tabernacle but from a different perspective. Jesus is not the tent itself but the greater high priest who now ministers in the true and greater Tabernacle “not made with hands.”

IN HEBREWS

According to Hebrews, the Son “sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” The allusion to Psalm 110:1 not only applies to his enthronement as king over the cosmos but also to his appointment as the Great High Priest who now mediates for his people in the “real tabernacle” in the very presence of God - (Hebrews 1:3-4, 8:1).

The image is based not on the Temple in the city of Jerusalem, but on the “tent” or “tabernacle” that Israel carried during its sojourn in the wilderness. This is clear not only from the use of the Greek noun, skéné or “tent,” but also by the description - “which the Lord pitched.” One “builds” a temple complex, but a tent is “pitched” after each move.

The distinction is important since the epistle stresses the transitoriness of the earthly “sanctuary” in contrast to the permanence of its heavenly counterpart.

And this use invalidates arguments used to date the epistle based on its references to Temple in Jerusalem since the letter nowhere refers to that building. All references to the “sanctuary” refer to the Tabernacle, not the complex constructed by Herod.

And as our High Priest, Jesus is the “minister of the sanctuary.” The Greek term rendered “minister” here is leitourgos, a noun used for “public servants,” those who served the people whether in religious rituals or governmental capacity. A term like “priestly service” would also make the letter’s point, but leitourgos points to one who ministers on behalf of the people, a public servant.

And the Son serves in the “sanctuary.” This translates the noun naos, which, in the New Testament, normally refers to the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle or Temple, the “most holy place” or Holy of Holies.

TRUE TENT

But in this sentence structure, “sanctuary” and “real tent” refer to one and the same thing, and “pitched” is in the singular number since only one structure is “pitched by the Lord.” In other words, the “sanctuary” or “holy place” and the “tent” are one and the same. The old distinction between the inner and outer courts of the Tabernacle does not exist in the “true Tabernacle.” This becomes clearer in chapter 9 of the epistle.

And the ancient Tabernacle was a mere “copy and shadow” of the true and greater Tabernacle where our High Priest now ministers. And the author cites Scripture to demonstrate this reality. After all, Moses was commanded to construct a copy of the heavenly sanctuary shown to him by Yahweh – (Hebrews 8:3-5).

Moreover, Moses did not see the actual heavenly sanctuary but its “pattern.” In short, Moses made a copy of a copy. This is not said to denigrate Moses or anything that God gave to Israel, but to stress the vast superiority of the Son over all that preceded him.

At this point, the epistle introduces the subject of the “new covenant” promised in the book of Jeremiah. Just as Jesus holds a superior priesthood and ministers in the “real tent,” so he also offers better sacrifices and inaugurated a “better covenant.”

The references to the “former covenant” refer not to the one made with Abraham, but to the Mosaic legislation that included the Aaronic priesthood, animal sacrifices, the Tabernacle, and all its various rituals. The very fact that the “new covenant” has been installed means the old system, including its “ordinances of divine service,” is rendered obsolete – (Hebrews 8:7-9:1).

FIRST TENT

The author then treats the ancient Tabernacle as if it consisted of two separate tents. In the old structure, there was the outer court, the “first” tent that housed the “lampstand, the table, and the showbread,” namely, the “Holy place.” Beyond the “veil” or “curtain” was the inner sanctuary, the “second tent,” the “Holy of holies.” It contained the “golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant.”

The priests ministered daily in the “first” tent, making offerings and animal sacrifices. However, only the high priest could enter the “second” or inner tent, and only once each year on the Day of Atonement – (Hebrews 9:2-7).

Bridge under stars - Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash
[Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash]

Thus, the structure of the old Tabernacle demonstrated graphically that the “way into the Holy of holies” remained obscure while the outer court remained “standing.” Only the High Priest could access it (“
the Holy Spirit this signifying”).

But the Tabernacle with this twofold structure is a “figure,” a “type and shadow” in the present age of something far larger, more profound, and permanent. The goal of God’s redemptive plan was not for every Israelite to enter the inner sanctuary in the earthly sanctuary, but to attain access to the “throne of grace” in the true and greater “Tabernacle” in the heavens. The sacrifices and rituals of the old system could never achieve the “purification of sins” necessary to enter the sanctuary or make the individual worshipper “complete” and his conscious clean.

In contrast to the old system, as our High Priest over the “coming good things,” Jesus approached the divine throne through the “greater and more complete tabernacle, one not made with hands, not of this creation,” and he did so “once for all” and applied his own blood to remove the stain of sin.

With him now ministering “evermore” as the High Priest of his people, every member of the new covenant community has free access to the “throne of grace.”

Unlike the old Tabernacle with its multiple offerings and sacrifices, Jesus enterer the true and greater “Tabernacle” in the heavens, one “pitched” by God Himself and not by man, and he remains there forever, where he mediates and makes intercession day-in and day-out on behalf of his people.

To now abandon all that the Son has provided and return to such a vastly inferior and temporary sanctuary, and an obsolete system of animal sacrifices that will never be able to achieve the “purification of sins,” would be foolhardy in the extreme.



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