The Tabernacle: A Picture of Jesus' Ministry

Here”s a summary view of the tabernacle, with some of its rich symbolism.

Its Physical Description

The overall tabernacle was 150 feet by 75 feet. It was separated from the rest of the community by set of curtains that were 7 feet high. The area within the curtains was called the outer court and it”s where sinners brought their sacrifices. The main items listed below were encountered as the high priest traveled from the entrance to the Holy of Holies.

The Entrance was on the east side through a 30 foot wide tapestry with angels woven into it.

The Bronze Altar was the first item to come upon after entering. It”s where the high priest performed laying-on-of-hands –and an innocent life was ceremonially presented to God as a substitute for the sinner.

The Bronze Basin (or Laver) was the next item. It”s where the priests washed their hands and feet –representing cleansing themselves from the contamination of the world in which they lived. It was used for ceremonially washing away sin before approaching God in all His holiness.

The Tent was 30 feet by 15 feet –and 15 feet high– divided into two parts by the veil. The entry –again on the east side– led first into the Holy Place. It contained a few items of furniture –the golden lampstand, the table of showbread and the golden altar of incense. After passing through the Holy Place, there was the Holy of Holies containing only the ark and its cover.

The Golden Lampstand (or Menorah) was within the Holy Place –on the left side– was the lampstand. It had seven lights that were fueled by olive oil. The lampstand was golden to indicate that it was pure (uncorrupted by the world and sin). Its light allowed the priests to maneuver in the Holy Place.

The Table of Showbread is where the twelve loaves of showbread (one for each tribe) were placed each day to indicate that mankind could routinely fellowship with God. The table was on the right side of the Holy Place. You might remember from Exodus 24 (noted in Hebrews chapter four) that Moses, Aaron and 72 others went up on the mountain and had a meal before God.

The Golden Altar of Incense was in the middle, toward the west side, of the Holy Place. Incense was offered when the sacrifices were brought –in the morning and evening– and it burned continually as a sweet aroma to God.

The Veil separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The Holy Place could be entered by the ordinary priest during his time of service. But the Holy of Holies could only be entered by the High Priest –and then only once a year –on the day of Atonement. It”s where God came down to meet with the High Priest.

The Ark of the Covenant was made of wood and covered in gold. Its contents were the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, Aaron”s rod that budded and the golden jar of manna. There was a golden cover that had two angels over it. This was the mercy seat on which the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled.

The Underlying Meaning

Directional orientation is significant throughout the Bible. East portrays the beginning –and west portrays the end. (It”s even reflected in the direction in which the sun travels.) In Revelation 22:13, Jesus” says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” And Hebrews 12:2 refers to Jesus as “the author and perfecter of faith.” He started and completed everything necessary for salvation. It”s all intentionally ordered.

The tabernacle”s entrance on the east and the Holy of Holies on the west shows the sequential order of what Jesus accomplished here on earth.

The Entrance into the courtyard pictured angels –they were the ones who announced His birth.

The Bronze Altar is where burnt sacrifices were made– was on a mound of earth; it represents Jesus” altar –the cross– where He was sacrificed up on the hill Golgotha.

The Bronze Basin was a place of washing. It symbolizes the “baptism of death” that Jesus underwent to remove sin.

The Tent represents His body –the Holy Place foreshadows His time on earth –the Holy of Holies is heaven, where He took His blood and where He lives today.

The Golden Lampstand describes Jesus as the light of men –their salvation. It has seven lights –one for each of the seven millennia during which He has been and will be the light the world (five have occurred, one is coming to a close, and one –the thousand years that He will reign on earth– is yet to come). The oil represents His Holy Spirit.

The Table of Showbread foretold Jesus” ministry with the twelve tribes and also His last Passover meal that he ate with the twelve.

The Golden Altar of Incense depicts Jesus” unceasing prayers of intercession –showing His total reliance on His Father and compassion for His followers.

The Veil –that once separated unrighteous men from holy God– is gone. Now, all who are saved have been made righteous and have free access to God. The reason? Because Jesus –the Son of God– carried His own blood into heaven. The veil was ripped top-down by God Himself to remove the barrier.

The Ark of the Covenant is especially rich in symbolism. The wooden box represents Jesus” earthly body. It was covered in pure gold to show He was also fully God. He was the One who fulfilled the Law (the tablets of stone), who was cut down and then came to life again (Aaron”s rod was cut from an almond tree that later sprouted leaves and bore fruit), and who is the daily bread for fellowshipping with God. The bloody cover –the mercy seat– pictures the slab on which He was laid in the tomb. The angels on the mercy seat are those who were folding His grave clothes on Resurrection Sunday morning.