Tabernacle Worship

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.

Hebrews 9:1-5

Chapter 9 opens with a brief description of the Old Testament Tabernacle and its contents which would have been quite familiar to the Jewish readers of this letter. As you can see, it is not the author’s purpose here to go into any great detail on this subject, for he is heading in a more important direction, however, I’ve included a chart that will compare the tabernacle contents with their New Testament counterparts:

OT Tabernacle New Covenant counterpart
Altar of burnt offering The cross and death of Jesus
Basin Baptism
Holy Place The church
Lamp The Word and the Holy Spirit
Table Fellowship between God and Man
Bread Lord’s Supper
Altar of incense Prayer
Veil Body of Christ
Ark Presence of God
Manna God’s provision
Staff Leaders of God’s choice
Tablets God’s law
Cherubim Ministering angels of God
Atonement cover Reconciliation to God

When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

Hebrews 9:6-10

Verses 6-7 continue with the author’s brief description of the scene in the tabernacle, culminating in the annual entrance of the high priest into the Most Holy Place; notice that he had an offering for his own sins, as well as for all of the people.  I point this out because it is a tell-tale sign that the ministry of Jesus is completely different than that of the Old Covenant priests, and should convey to us that Jesus is not and will never be an Old Covenant priest.

Verse 8 marks the point where the author shifts from his description of the tabernacle into his application of this information.  See the words “the Holy Spirit was showing by this…”?  The author is telling us that as long as the Old Covenant was in effect, the reality of Jesus was not yet in force.  Please take note that the opposite is also true: Now that Jesus has finished His work, the Old Covenant is no longer in effect, and never will be again. Why do I keep pointing this out?  Because millions of our dear brothers and sisters in Christ are looking forward to the day when the Old Covenant Temple is rebuilt, and the Old Covenant sacrificial system is once again practiced, with the understanding that Jesus Himself will one day be that high priest who enters the Most Holy Place… and that simply cannot be!

Look at the next verse: “This is an illustration for the present time…”  All of the things that went on in the Temple were illustrations, even the Temple itself was an illustration. An illustration represents the reality pictured, but an illustration is never the reality itself.  The gifts and offerings in the old Temple worship could never clear the conscience of the worshippers, because they could never take sin away, for in the final analysis, they only involve earthly things. Now pay careful attention to what he says next: external regulations applying until the time of the new order. These are very interesting “external regulations” for they have an expiration date attached; how can that be? Yes, I’ve even had a comment or two along these lines… how can something “everlasting” be over?

Let’s think… these Temple ceremonies and sacrifices are meant to illustrate something. They illustrate an eternal truth that Man needs salvation from sin.  When that salvation was accomplished once for all time by Jesus on the cross, the illustration is not longer necessary, but the truth they once illustrated remains: Man needs salvation from sin, only now, we have found it in the work of Jesus on the cross.

You see, that wasn’t really so hard to understand, was it? The illustration that was the Old Covenant is over because the eternal reality of what it illustrated has come to pass… simple.

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12 thoughts on “Tabernacle Worship”

  1. 2 Cor 5:17 comes to mind: “… the old has gone, the new has come!”
    Yet, so many want to “put new wine in old wineskins.” (Mt 9:17, Mk 2:22, Lk 5:37) Jesus even points out that some won’t even give the new any consideration, saying “the old is better.” (Lk 5:39)

  2. I’ve been thinking for a while that the temple services illustrate what Jesus say about the narrow way. Atonement came only through the Levitical priesthood, only by the sacrifices appointed by God’s word, any variation from that was to bring disaster upon oneself. In this way, the temple points to Jesus as the only way, the narrow way. No one comes to the father except by Him.

  3. “Now that Jesus has finished His work, the Old Covenant is no longer in effect, and never will be again….”

    So glad you brought this out. I don’t think that those who believe in a rebuilt temple have really thought this through. It wouldn’t make any sense for God to bring the shadow of things back when we have the real thing! It would nullify what Christ did. I think it comes from the “everlasting” wording of the Old Covenant practices in the OT and the unfulfilled prophecies, but there’s better explanations for that than saying we’re going back to the old.

    Another point you’ve brought out before on this that’s important here is that the Jesus’ “new” isn’t even of the same order as the old! It’s not based on the animal-sacrificing Levitical system at all. It’s according to Melchizedek (bread and wine, not bulls and goats). So, not only is the covenant that Jesus brought better, with better promises, it’s of a different order, based on faith and trust (Abraham), not on sacrificial ritual.

    Hebrews is an important book because it the only place in Scripture where we find these deep mysteries disclosed. Thanks for sharing these things. Blessings.

    1. Thank you Mel, I couldn’t agree more. Yes sir, Hebrews is the book that ties everything together, old and new, so that we can see what God is doing, in a way that enables us to make sense of the very deep things… No wonder few today teach it!

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