The Heavenly Tabernacle
“It was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these” (v. 23).- Hebrews 9:11–28
Throughout Israel’s time in the wilderness on into the reign of King David and the first part of Solomon’s period on the throne, the tabernacle served the people of God as the place where He would receive sacrifices and make His presence manifest in a special way. Yet as suitable as the tabernacle was for these purposes, it was never meant to be a permanent sanctuary. First of all it was a tent (Num. 1:47–51), which by its very nature is a temporary dwelling. Secondly, even though the Lord did accept the blood of the animals offered there as a covering for sin, the repetition of sacrifice gave evidence that what was done in the tabernacle was not enough to solve the problem of Israel’s wickedness. Something more permanent than the tabernacle would have to be involved in the final atonement for sin.
Of course, this latter point is one of the main messages of the book of Hebrews, which says Israel’s tabernacle was merely a copy or shadow of the true tabernacle in heaven (8:1–7). Lasting atonement could only be accomplished if another high priest would enter this tabernacle with a perfect atoning sacrifice. The blood of bulls and goats at best brought about a temporary and external cleansing; the blood of the Son of God alone purifies “our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:11–14).
As long as the tabernacle and its counterpart the temple stood, the people of Israel were reminded that sin had not yet been conclusively dealt with. Imagine what it was like to be ancient Israelites who saw only the outside of the tabernacle, who knew that there was no way they could enter the presence of their covenant Lord — Yahweh, the one, true creator God. Like the repeated sacrifices, the curtains of the tabernacle and temple that stood between the Most Holy Place and the people taught them that they remained unclean. With no final assurance on account of the barriers to communion with God, like William Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth they must have said about their sin: “Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!” and felt no permanent relief.
But Christ entered “into heaven itself” forever, achieving the permanent atonement that alone can clean the conscience and render us just in the sight of the Father (Heb. 9:15–28). The tabernacle has been torn down and no longer needs to remind us of our separation from the Almighty, for Jesus has reconciled us to Him forever.
Those who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation need not be burdened with an overwhelming sense of guilt, since Jesus has removed the cause of our guilt, giving us peace with God the Father (Rom. 5:1–2). There is no sin too great that He will not forgive when we confess it before Him, so let us walk in repentance and be assured that in Christ God is no longer set on condemning we who love Him.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 1:4–8
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343