Morning Sermon: The Gospel Of The Ark, Table, Lampstand, And Altar Of Incense, Exodus 37 

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 37

“Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half was its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. And he overlaid it with pure gold inside and outside, and made a molding of gold around it. And he cast for it four rings of gold for its four feet, two rings on its one side and two rings on its other side. And he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold and put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark. And he made a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half was its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And he made two cherubim of gold. He made them of hammered work on the two ends of the mercy seat, one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat he made the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat were the faces of the cherubim. He also made the table of acacia wood. Two cubits was its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. And he overlaid it with pure gold, and made a molding of gold around it. And he made a rim around it a handbreadth wide, and made a molding of gold around the rim. He cast for it four rings of gold and fastened the rings to the four corners at its four legs. Close to the frame were the rings, as holders for the poles to carry the table. He made the poles of acacia wood to carry the table, and overlaid them with gold. And he made the vessels of pure gold that were to be on the table, its plates and dishes for incense, and its bowls and flagons with which to pour drink offerings. He also made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work. Its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers were of one piece with it. And there were six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself were four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out of it. Their calyxes and their branches were of one piece with it. The whole of it was a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. And he made its seven lamps and its tongs and its trays of pure gold. He made it and all its utensils out of a talent of pure gold. He made the altar of incense of acacia wood. Its length was a cubit, and its breadth was a cubit. It was square, and two cubits was its height. Its horns were of one piece with it. He overlaid it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And he made a molding of gold around it, and made two rings of gold on it under its molding, on two opposite sides of it, as holders for the poles with which to carry it. And he made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. He made the holy anointing oil also, and the pure fragrant incense, blended as by the perfumer.” (Exodus 37, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Revelation 8:1–5

“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:1–5, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


A biblicist will never come to a full appreciation of the tabernacle that God commanded Israel to make under the Old Covenant. What is a biblicist? Stated simply a biblicist is one who says, if you want me to believe this or that, you must show me a single verse in the Bible that says it. But the Bible is not meant to be read in that way. Truths about God and his dealings with man are spread throughout the pages of Holy Scripture. A careful student of the Bible will gather those truths up and bring them all together to understand what the Bible teaches on a particular subject. And more than this, the Bible tells a story. And like every good story, it contains themes that are developed as the story unfolds. A careful student of the Bible will know the story of the Bible well. He or she will recognize themes and trace their development until they find their fulfillment in Christ, his finished work, and his eternal reward. We should seek to be biblical, brothers and sisters. And by that I mean, we must believe what the Bible teaches, for it is inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and clear. And if we wish to be biblical, we must be careful to avoid the error of biblicism, for it will certainly lead us astray.

Why have I said that “a biblicist will never come to a full appreciation of the tabernacle that God commanded Israel to make under the Old Covenant”? Well, the reason is this. The tabernacle, and later the temple, of Old Covenant Isarel, can only be understood and fully appreciated if they are interpreted within the context of the story of creation, man’s fall into sin, redemption in Christ Jesus, and the consummation of all things at when Christ returns. This story is developed from Geneses 1 through to the end of Revelation 22. It contains many important themes, and the tabernacle or temple is one of them. To consider the instructions that God gave to Israel concerning the building of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-31, or the account of their building of it in Exodus 35-40, apart from the story of creation, of man’s fall into sin, and the promise of redemption through a Redeemer will lead us to a very very narrow understanding of and shallow appreciation for the tabernacle. 

Yes, it is good to know the facts about the tabernacle. It is good to know about its design and dimensions, what it was made of, its furnishings, and how it was to be used under the Old Covenant through the ministry of the priests. Those facts are important. But a careful student of the Bible will also come to recognize that those facts have meaning and significance. 

I have taught you these things in previous sermons, so I will be very brief. What was the significance of the tabernacle? 

First, we must recognize that the tabernacle was designed to be a little replica of God’s creation. 

The outer courtyard signified the earth in which we dwell. The bronze altar on which animal sacrifices were made was like a mountain in the midst of the earth (perhaps it was a reminder of Sinai). The bronze laver containing water for washing signified the sea. In fact, it is called a “sea” in 2 Chronicles 4.  This outer courtyard was where the common people of Israel were invited to assemble. As they walked past the altar and towards the sea, they would have remembered their redemption from Egypt. Remember, they were freed from Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb and through the divided waters of the Red Sea. In this way, their sins were symbolically atoned for and they were cleansed according to the flesh. 

If the outer courtyard signified the earth, that is to say, the dry land and the sea, what did the holy place signify except the heavens above – the realm where the sun, moon, and stars reside as divinely appointed rulers to govern times and seasons? How do we know the holy place signified the heavens above? There are many indicators. The color of the cloth used to cover the tabernacle is one such indicator. The cherubim embroidered into the cloth is another indicator. The angels look down on us from above! And do not forget the lampstand with its seven lights (see Exodus 25:36). This lampstand was to be positioned inside the holy place to the south. Some believe that the seven lights represented the seven great lights in heaven visible to the naked eye – the sun, moon, and five wandering stars, which are planets. Can you imagine what the holy place would have looked like to the priests as they entered to minister? With the curtains closed, it would have been very dark. But those seven lights on the lampstand must have shined so brightly. As the priests left the courtyard and entered the holy place it would have felt to them like the transition from day to night. Through the symbolism of the courtyard and holy place, their eyes would have been lifted from the earth below to the starry heavens above as they passed from the one area of the tabernacle into the other.

So then, if the courtyard signified the earth, and the holy place signified the visible heaven, what did the most holy place signify? It signified the invisible heaven – the heaven of heavens – that is to say, the realm that God created in the beginning that is hidden from us where he manifests his glory before the angels and (now that Christ has risen) the souls of the saints made perfect. That is what the holy of holies signified – the heavenly throneroom of God. Do you remember how Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu along with the seventy elders were given a glimpse of that throneroom? Heaven was opened up to them and they saw through the floor of it, if you will. Exodus 24:10 tells us they went up on the mountain and “they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” The holy of holies signified that realm which is typically invisible to us. It represented the very throneroom of God. In fact, the ark of the covenant that was situated inside the most holy place is referred to in scripture as the footstool of God’s heavenly throne (see 1 Chr. 28:2; Pss. 99:5, 132:7-8; Is. 66:1; Lam. 2:1).  Listen to Psalm 132:7-8. Speaking of the temple of God the psalmist says, “Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool! Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might” (Psalm 132:7–8, ESV). The ark of the covenant that was inside the holy of holies which contained God’s law written by his finger on tables of stone, was God’s footstool. Where then is God’s throne? It is in heaven where he manifests his glory before his angels. As the LORD says in Isaiah 66:1, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1, ESV). Well, according to God’s command, the tabernacle, and later the temple, was the place of God’s rest. It was the place where he manifest his glory in a special way on earth in the midst of Israel under that Old Mosaic Covenant. To enter the holy of holies was to enter into the throne room of God and to worship before his feet. And what was above the ark of the covenant? What was above God’s footstool in the most holy place? Nothing, for no image of God can be made. There were cherubim on the left side and right side of the ark, replicating the heavenly reality. But no image of God was made, God forbid it. Soon we will learn that once the tabernacle was completed, God filled the holy of holies with a manifestation of his glory. In this way, and in this place, heaven and earth were united as one. The holy of holies was a kind of link between the invisible heavens above and the earth below. 

The tabernacle was designed to be a little replica of God’s creation. There is no one verse found in scripture that says this, but there are many, many things said from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22 that help us to see that it was so, if we would only pay attention to the story of redemption and to the theme of the temple of God that is developed within. 

In addition to this, I have taught you that the tabernacle also signified the garden of Eden which Adam was cast out of because of his disobedience. More specifically, the holy place signified the garden, and the most holy place signified Eden, the mountain of the Lord. You see, just as the tabernacle consisted of three parts, so too the earthly realm that God made in the beginning consisted of three parts. There was the earth and seas in general, and this corresponded to the courtyard of the tabernacle. And we know that God planted a garden in the midst of the earth. There he placed Adam, the prophet, priest, and king, along with his wife. They were to keep it the garden. They were to worship and serve God. They were to expand it. And in the midst of the garden, there were two trees – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. This was the place where Adam, the federal head of the human race, along with his wife Eve, worshiped and served the Lord. This was where they enjoyed sweet communion with the God of heaven. And this corresponded to the holy place of the tabernacle. Only the priests were to enter. There they were to minister on behalf of the people as mediators between God and man. The decor of the holy place echoed the garden of Eden. The most obvious echo was the lampstand which was shaped like a tree with fruit on its branches in each stage of development. This was a replica of the tree of life. Eden itself was a mountain and the garden of Eden was near its base. That is what Genesis 2:10 describes when it says, “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers” (Genesis 2:10, ESV). I think it is right to consider Eden to be the mountain of the LORD. There the LORD manifest his glory, and from there he came to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden, and Adam was invited to ascend the mountain of the LORD. This is what Ezekiel 28 describes. In that text, judgment is pronounced on the King of Tyre using the imagery of Edenic and of Adam’s (or perhaps Satan’s) fall into sin. Listen carefully to the oracle: “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings [this should remind you of the garb of the priests of Israel and the precious stones that were set on the breast piece; see Exodus 28:17ff] . On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezekiel 28:12–16, ESV). In Eden, there was not only a garden, but a mountain too, and there the glory of God was manifest. There Adam walked. And from there Adam fell. And I am saying that the most holy place of the tabernacle corresponded to the mountain of God, which was his throne, from which the river of life flowed. It watered the garden. And there it divided into four rivers and spread throughout the whole earth. If you wish to gain a clear picture of this, then read Genesis 2 and afterward go to Revelation 22, wherein we find this description of the new heavens and earth: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1–2, ESV). Why was there a veil separating the holy place from the most holy place in the tabernacle of Israel? Because the sin of Adam, and our sin in him, had separated man from God. And the way into God’s presence had not yet been opened up by the Christ, the seed of the woman, the son of Abraham, the son of David, the Son of God, the second Adam who was appointed to do this work. And what happened to that veil in the temple when Christ accomplished our redemption? It was torn in two from top to bottom.

So you can see, then, that this little tabernacle that Israel was commanded to make was a miniature model of the cosmos – of earth, heaven, and the heaven of heaven. It was also an echo of Eden and of what was lost when Adam broke the covenant that was made with him by eating the forbidden tree. And I should also remind you that the tabernacle was a picture of the new heavens and earth which Christ, the second Adam, earned through his obedience. The priesthood and the sacrifices that were offered there in the tabernacle prefigured Christ and his work. The very presence of the tabernacle within Old Covenant proclaimed the good news. Though Adam was expelled from the garden temple of Eden, and though he failed to enter God’s eternal temple (into glory and rest), God did not abandon sinful humanity, but promised to bring his eternal temple (his eternal kingdom) in another way, namely, through the Messiah of Israel, the second and greater Adam.

How can one structure signify so many things? Well, it can do so because all of these things are intimately related to each other. The original creation, Eden, and the new heavens and earth which Adam failed to earn, but that Christ has earned through his obedient life and sacrificial death, are intimately related to each other. They are all different aspects of the story of God’s creation, of man’s fall into sin by the breaking of the covenant, of salvation in Christ, and the new heavens and earth which he has earned. The tabernacle of Israel signified all of these things as it pointed back in time, up into heaven, and forward to Christ, his work and his reward, for that Old Covenant vantage point. It is truly marvelous to consider. A biblicistic approach to the scriptures will not uncover this beauty. But if we read the scriptures as a story with themes that develop progressively with time, then we will come to appreciate the marvelously good news proclaimed by the tabernacle and its furnishing. 

Today we will briefly consider four items that furnished the tabernacle: the ark of the covenant, the table of showbread, the lampstand, and the altar of incense. We have considered these items in detail before in the instructions that God gave to Moses for the construction of them on the mountain. Today, we will consider them more generally and ask the question, how did they proclaim good news concerning the salvation that God would bring to fallen men and women through the Messiah and the Covenant of Grace which he mediates?   


The Ark Of The Covenant

First, let us consider the ark of the covenant. The ark was a rectangular chest 45” wide by 27” deep by 27” tall. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid inside and out with pure gold. There was a molding around it, and on its top was placed a lid made of pure gold. This lid was called the mercy seat. And on the left and right sides of the mercy seat were angels with their wings spread over the mercy seat towards the middle. 

Here are the things that I want you to know about the ark of the covenant. 

One, know that it was placed inside the most holy place. It was fitting, therefore, that it was made out of the finest materials. Gold was used because it was precious and also to represent and reflect the radiant glory of God. 

Two, the ark is referred to in the scriptures as God’s footstool. I have already cited Psalm 132:7-8. Listen now to 1 Chronicles 28:2:  “Then King David rose to his feet and said: ‘Hear me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building,” etc. David would not build the temple, for he was a man of war. In other words, he would not build it for the kingdom was not settled or at rest under his rule. His son Solomon would build it. But the important thing to notice here is that the “ark of the covenant of the LORD” is in this passage referred to as  “the footstool of our God.” So then, the ark of the covenant (which contained God’s law) and the holy of holies in which it was placed represented God’s throne, the place of his sovereign rule and rest. As I have said already, heaven (the invisible heavens) is said to be God’s throne (that is where he manifests his glory before the angels) and the earth his footstool. What is the significance of the ark being called his footstool, then? Well, it was in Old Covenant Israel that God’s throne and kingdom were especially manifest. God is Lord Most High. He is Sovereign over all. And yet we know that God’s eternal kingdom was in a unique way prefigured in Old Covenant Israel. The ark was the earthly footstool of God’s heavenly throne,  and so it is not surprising that it is also called the ark of the covenant, for it contained God’s covenant law.

Three, I wish to draw special attention to the name of the lid of the ark – it was called the mercy seat. Isn’t that marvelous? The angels on the left and right of the mercy seat signified the angels in heaven that surround God’s throne and give him eternal praise. But the place where God’s feet rested on earth (spiritually speaking) was called the mercy seat. And this corresponds to what God revealed to Moses concerning himself. “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped” (Exodus 34:6–8, ESV). When we think of the holy of of holies and the ark of the covenant contained within, it ought to remind us that God is merciful. Though mankind has rebelled against him, he showed mercy. He withheld the full outpouring of his wrath. By his mercy and grace, he determined to establish his eternal kingdom and temple. This was prefigured in Old Covenant Israel in many ways. This would be accomplished by the work of the Messiah through his life death, burial, and resurrection. 

In these ways, the ark of the covenant proclaimed good news. God had not abandoned humanity in sin. He is present with us still, ruling and reigning. More than this, he is establishing his eternal kingdom, which is his eternal temple. This he did through Isarel and through her Messiah, for the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. We see all of this with great clarity now that Christ has come, but these truths were proclaimed beforehand, even though the tabernacle in general, and the ark of the covenant in particular. 


The Table Of Showbread

Let us now consider the table of showbread, which is also called the table for the bread of the presence, as described in 37:10-16. The design of it was described in 25:23-30. Its dimensions were 36” wide by 18” deep by 27” tall. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. 

What did it signify? Well, the twelve loaves of bread that were laid upon it daily signified many things. They were a reminder of God’s general provision for all of creation. They were a reminder of the way in which the Lord had fed Israel in the wilderness with mana from heaven. Certainly, the twelve loaves signified the twelve tribes of Israel. And when the priests ate the bread as representatives of the people, it signified God’s special care for them, and his special communion with them in the covenant he made with them through Moses. And certainly, this bread of the presence anticipated the coming of Christ, the true bread who has come down from heaven.  

So then, the Old Covenant Israel had a sacramental table of bread set before them. It preached to them. It directed their minds to the past, to God in heaven above, and to the future. And we, the New Covenant people of God, also have a sacramental table set before us. It preaches to us as it directs our minds to the past to remember the work of redemption  that has been accomplished. It directs our minds heavenward to remember the Provider God and Christ, the bread of heaven who came down for us and has ascended to the Father’s right hand in victory. And this sacramental table does also direct our minds to the future as we long for the marriage supper of the lamb in the new heavens and earth. These tables – the old one and the new one – preach. They proclaim good news concerning salvation through faith in Christ and the New Covenant he mediates. 


The Lampstand

Let us go now to the lampstand. 

Instructions were given for the construction of this lampstand in Exodus 25:31-40 . Perhaps you have heard this lampstand called the Menorah, which is the Hebrew word translated as “lampstand”. This lampstand was shaped like a tree. It had a trunk, and seven branches – one in the middle and three on each side. The light of this lampstand would illuminate the Holy Place. By this light, the priests would walk and be able to see the tapestry and the bread of the presence. This light was a reminder that in the beginning, God said, let there be light. The lampstand represented the sun, moon, and stars within the tabernacle, which I will argue, was designed to remind the worshiper of the created world. This tree was a strange tree in that it had flowers, buds, and fruit all at once. This is a reminder of God’s continual provision through the cycles of the seasons, springtime and harvest. This tree-shaped lampstand also represented the tree of life that was present in the garden from which man was barred when he fell into sin. 

What was the good news proclaimed by this lampstand? 

One, God, in his mercy, has promised to maintain the natural order of things. This promise ws made in the form of a covenant in the days of Noah. The Lord would never again flood the earth, and while the earth remained seedtime and harvest would be maintained. 

Two, there is in the lampstand a reminder that God had not abandoned his creation but was still present within to illuminate, to bless, and to save. The lamps symbolized the luminaries in heaven – the sun, moon, and stars (the five planets visible to the naked eye). And those luminaries in the sky were designed to remind us of God, Christ, and his elect angels. The visible heaven is a picture of the invisible heaven, and this is why they are called by the same name – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, ESV). Do you think of God, Christ, and the angels when you look up at the sky by day and by night? You should! And when the priests entered the tabernacle they were reminded by the lampstand of the sun, moon, and stars above, of God who in the beginning created the world through the Word, saying, let there be light, and of the promised Messiah, the light of the world. In Isaiah 42:6 the LORD is heard speaking to the Messiah, saying, “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations…” (Isaiah 42:6, ESV). The lampstand in the temple signified all of these things, and in so doing, the lampstand preached.


The Altar Of Incense

Lastly, let us consider the altar of incense. 

This altar was to be made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. It was to be about 18” wide and 18” deep with a height of about 36”. A molding of gold was to be placed around its edges. Horns were to be crafted on its four corners. So then, it resembled the bronze altar in the courtyard upon which animal sacrifices were made, only smaller. No food or drink was to be offered up on this altar, only a certain kind of incense. This altar was to be placed immediately outside of the holy of holies, near the curtain, and inside the holy place. The priest was to burn this special incense in the morning and evening as he tended to the lamp in the holy place which was to burn continuously. Animal blood was to be placed on the horns of the altar once per year. 

What was the significance of this altar? What was the good news that it proclaimed? Well, the incense that was burnt upon this altar signified the prayers of God’s people. The altar was placed in the holy place just outside of the holy of holies. The smoke that rose from the altar would pass through the curtain and into the most holy place. This signifies the prayers of God’s people. We offer them up to God from on earth. And though we do not see him, we have confidence that our prayers come before him, when offered up through faith in the Messiah.  

It is interesting that Hebrews 9:4 speaks of the most holy place as “having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:4, ESV). Why does Hebrews 9:4 say that the holy of holies “had” the altar of incense when in fact it was placed within the holy place where the priests ministered daily? The reason is this: though the altar was positioned in the holy place so that the priests could minister at it daily, it belonged to the holiest place, which signified the heavenly throneroom of God. That is what is meant by “having” in Hebrews 9:4. The most holy place did not contain the altar of incense, but the altar of incense did belong to the most holy place, for it signified the prayers of God’s people rising up to God who is enthroned in heaven. 

Revelation 8:1ff is interesting. John was shown a vision of heaven. And what did he see? “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then [he] saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.” 

When John was shown a vision of the heavenly throneroom of God, he saw this altar there. Although this altar was positioned in the holy place so that the priests could have daily access to it, it belonged to the most holy place, which was a symbol of God’s heavenly throneroom. This corresponds perfectly to the reality of prayer. Prayers are offered up from on earth, but they penetrate into the invisible heavenly realm, and by this altar and the smoke that rose from it, we are reassured that God hears us. 

That was and is good news. Even under the Old Mosaic Covenant, a way was made to approach God in prayer. The altar of incense preached good news to Israel. But the altar, the incense, and the priests that ministered there also looked forward to a greater priest, a greater mediator, and greater access to the Father through a greater covenant.

 This is the message of the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 9:11-14 says, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” 

And Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

God was gracious to provide a way for the Old Covenant people of God to approach him in worship and in prayer. They were to come trusting in the promises concerning the Messiah. And they were to draw near by means of the tabernacle, through animal sacrifice, and the Aaronic priesthood. Those priests were washed with water, and they ministered on behalf of the people as they offered up sacrifices and prayers to God. They entered the holy place daily. The high priest entered the most holy place yearly. And so though it is true that a way was made, the tabernacle did also communicate that the way to God was not yet opened wide. But now that Christ has come to accomplish our redemption, he has opened the way to God up wide. Christ, our great high priest in the order of Melchizedek, as passed, not into the holy place, nor into the most holy place, but into that place of which the most holy place was a sign, namely heaven itself. He mediates for his people there in the very presence of God. The tabernacle and temple of Old Covenant Isarel were great blessings to the people of God, but they did not open the way to God up wide. No, only Christ could do that. And the tabernacle pointed forward to him through its symbolism.



I’d like to move this sermon to a conclusion now by asking this question: Why should Christians who live now under the New Covenant, and not under the Old, read and study the Old Testament scriptures? Or more specifically, why should Christians study the tabernacle? We are not to worship at the tabernacle or temple. These forms of worship have passed away with the Old Covenant and with the arrival of the New. Why consider these things, then?

Answer: Jesus the Messiah came to fulfill these things. If we wish to understand who Jesus is and what he came to do, we must read and study the Old Testament scriptures which speak of him and anticipate his arrival. 

Stated differently, though it is true that New Testament tells us all about Jesus the Messiah and the work of salvation that he has accomplished, it does not tell us the whole story. In fact, the New Testament assumes that its readers know the first part of the story contained in the Old.  

Stated in yet another way, if we were to read of Christ and the work he has done in the New Testament only, we would have a very limited understanding of him. It is the story of the Old Testament – the story of creation, covenant, fall, and redemption – that makes Christ and his work comprehensible. 

To consider Christ from the New Testament only would be like considering a 3-D image in 2-D way, or a color image in black and white only, or a hi-definition image in low resolution. When we consider the way in which the Old Testament anticipated the arrival of Christ and the accomplishment of his work through promises, prophesies, types, and shadows, our understanding of him in the pages of the New Testament is greatly enhanced. The New Testament does not tell the whole story over again, brothers and sisters,  but simply brings the story to a conclusion. The New Testament is, in a way, the final chapter in a very long and beautifully complex novel. No one would read the final chapter of a novel and expect to have a full appreciation for the story that is told within. And yet so many approach the scriptures in this way. 

Think of how the New Testament speaks of Christ. The New Testament does not say it all for us, but often speaks in code. And the key to the code is the Old Testament. Think of it. The opening verse of the New Testament is this: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1, ESV). If you know the Old Testament even just a little bit, you will understand that Jesus being the son of David, the son of Abraham is very significant. In just a few words, Matthew signals to us that the precious and very great promises made to these men through the covenants that God transacted with them were fulfilled in this Jesus. In just a few words – “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” – a story is told, assuming that we are familiar with the story of Old. 

When we study the Old Testament in general, and the tabernacle and its priesthood in particular, we are ultimately considering Christ and his finished work, for the good news of Jesus Christ was preached through these means long before he was born. These things proclaimed him in a sacramental, typological, and prophetic way, and Jesus Christ came in fulfillment to these things to accomplish our redemption and to bring us to the Father now and for eternity. Brothers and sisters, let us come boldly before the throne of grace.

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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