Pastor David B. Curtis


The Tabernacle

Hebrews 9:1-10

Delivered 05/27/2001

Our author is writing to a group of Hebrew believers who, apparently, soon after their conversion came under a great deal of persecution. They were suffering greatly for their faith in Jesus Christ. And because of this, they were tempted to go back to Judaism in order to escape the persecution. This would be like you backing away from your Christian testimony in order to escape persecution at work, school, or your neighborhood.

They were being tempted to go back to Judaism, back to the Old Covenant with its rituals and temple. So it is our authors purpose in these verses to instruct these Hebrew believers that the Lord Jesus Christ has entered into a tabernacle that is far superior to the earthly one. He has entered into the very presence of God himself on our behalf, and the sacrifice which He has offered and the blood through which he entered that tabernacle is not that of bulls or goats but by his own precious blood.

So it is our author's purpose in these verses to describe to them and us the meaning of the tabernacle and all of its furnishings, and the meaning of the sacrifices in order to contrast them with the tabernacle and sacrifices in which our Lord Jesus Christ ministers.

In our last study, we examined the fact that God had established the New covenant, making the Old covenant obsolete. The writer used Jeremiah 31 to prove that the Old covenant tells of the establishment of the New covenant: "Behold, days are coming,' says the Lord, 'when I will make a New covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah'" (Jeremiah 31:31). It was made clear that the Mosaic Law had been replaced by a new law. No longer was the covenant written on blocks of stone, but God promised that His law would be written on the hearts of His children (Hebrews 8:10).

The new covenant began with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ and was consummated in his second coming. Remember, the new covenant was made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, which is the TRUE Israel of God, the Church.

The question remains, "If the old covenant is obsolete, what use is it? Why don't we just get rid of the Old Testament?" It is true that the old covenant is no longer in operation , but, as for all Scripture, it is still profitable for us. Why? We can study the character of God, and examine the life of God's people under the old covenant. We can see how God rewarded obedience and chastened disobedience. As we are told in:

2 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

Hebrews 9 continues the context laid down in chapter 8 regarding the old covenant. The writer reminds the Hebrews that the old covenant made provisions for religious activity in the physical realm for the nation Israel. In verses 1-5, he remarks on the Old Testament Tabernacle. In verses 6 and 7, he examines the functioning of priests in the tabernacle. In verses 8-10, he illustrates the role of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the tabernacle.

The author wants us to know that the tabernacle was temporary, typical, and illustrious. He encourages the Hebrew believers to move on and not to fall back.

The author continues to build on the Old Testament evidence which prepares us to see the superiority of the New Covenant. Already he has suggested that the first covenant was not faultless (8:7) and was in fact decaying and about to vanish away (8:13). Now, in the beginning of chapter 9, its weaknesses and limitations are to be more clearly shown. The writer begins with a contrast of the Mosaic Covenant and the new covenant in verse 1:

Hebrews 9:1 (NKJV) Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary.

The "first covenant" does not refer to the very first covenant made with Israel, but to the Mosaic Covenant, which is the first covenant in the context of the new covenant. He begins by saying that the first covenant had both "ordinances of divine service", which he expounds upon in verses 6-10. And an "earthly sanctuary", which he expounds upon in verses 2 thru 5.

"Ordinances of divine service"- he means to stress that its rights and ceremonies were instituted by God; this system was not of man's invention, but by divine revelation.

The writer also says the first covenant had an "earthly sanctuary." This is the key of the Mosaic Covenant. It was earthly, with physical instructions for worship. The word "earthly" is the Greek word kosmikos, which means: "mundane". This is in contrast to the "more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation," of verse 11.

Some Christians still do not understand this truth today. How many believers have you heard call the room where we gather to worship the sanctuary? God is in church, but it has nothing to do with the building in which we worship. The new covenant is in direct contrast to the earthly sanctuary of the Mosaic Covenant. Remember, God said He would write His laws on the hearts of His children (Hebrews 8:10). Do you know what the sanctuary of God is today? It is the hearts of believers!

2 Corinthians 6:16 (NKJV) And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people."

During the fulfillment of the old covenant, the Spirit of God was manifested in the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant was under the Cherubim. But today He resides within everyone who comes to believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

This is important because it indicates a marked change in the focal point of worship, bringing it from the physical to the spiritual.

John 4:19-24 (NKJV) The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship." 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 "You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

But there are still many people today who do not feel they can worship God unless they go to a church building, chant a certain prayer, and sing a certain song. If anything in their routine is disturbed, they become flustered and feel that they cannot worship God. It is amazing how believers become locked into systems, rituals, and traditions. We tend to stick to a routine that makes us "feel" like we have worshiped, failing to realize that "feelings" and correct biblical worship have no association with one another.

Hebrews 9:2 (NKJV) For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary;

The word "tabernacle" is the Greek word skene, which means: "a tent, a temporary habitation." The furniture items described were of the original desert tabernacle. That tent was very important. Did you know that there are only two chapters in the Bible that talk about creation, but there are 50 chapters that talk about the tabernacle? The tabernacle is God's portrait of Christ.

These items that were in the tabernacle were replicas of the reality that was coming. He begins by describing the outer tabernacle: "For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one" - the picture is of two tents. In the first tent (the outer tabernacle) sits the furniture. The tabernacle was a huge tent having a courtyard 150 feet long and 75 feet wide. Located on the east side was a single gate which was 30 feet wide and 7 ½ feet high. This is a picture of Jesus Christ who said, "I am the Way"and "I am the door." As there was only one door to the tabernacle, there is only one door to God through Jesus Christ his Son.

As we enter the gate into the courtyard we would first of all come to the Brazen Alter. This alter was made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze. It was 7 ½ feet square and stood 4 ½ feet off the ground. On the top above the coals was a brass grate upon which the sacrifice was placed. Each corner had a horn to which the animal was bound when being sacrificed. The bronze alter is a picture of Jesus Christ, who himself was a sacrifice for sin.

Next was the Laver also made of bronze. The laver allowed the priest to wash his hands and feet as he went about the bloody services of sacrifice. It again pictured the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the cleanser of his people. After we have received forgiveness for sins we still need to go to him for daily cleansing that brings about restoration and full fellowship. Jesus said to the believing disciples:

John 13:8 (NKJV) Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."

Then we come to the tabernacle proper; its dimensions were 45 feet long and 15 feet wide and 15 feet high. The Holy place took up two thirds of it, which meant that the Holy of Holies was a perfect 15 foot cube. What is the significance of this? I'll tell you in a minute.

Upon entering the Holy place, if we were priests, we would find three pieces of furniture;

1. Golden lampstand - it was a seven branched lampstand that burned olive oil. It was beaten out of solid gold. These objects also pictured Jesus Christ.

Everything in the outer court pictured salvation and the cleansing of sins. It separated the sinner on the outside from all within. The door of the tabernacle was entered to worship God, but only after making the proper offerings could he enter the tabernacle to worship.

The lampstand represents Christ not as the light of the world, but as the light of life; only for the believer does he illumine the mind to understand spiritual truth and guide us through the world of darkness.

2. Table of Showbread - the table and loaves are regarded as a unit. This was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. On it every Sabbath the priest laid 12 loaves and at the end of the week, the priests and only the priests were allowed to eat it. This speaks of Jesus Christ as our sustenance. He feeds us every day, sustaining us with his Word.

3. Alter of Incense - was made of acacia wood over laid with gold. On it was placed the burning coals from the brazen alter in the courtyard where sacrifice was made. This is a picture of Jesus Christ the perfect intercessor. The incense and the hot coals produced a rising smoke picturing prayer

You may have noticed that in your Bible the alter of incense is not in verse 2 but in verse 4:

Hebrews 9:4 (NASB) having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron's rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant.

The writer includes the "golden altar of incense" as an item that is included inside the "Holy of Holies," but it is actually in the holy place in front of the second veil. The reason he connects it with the "Holy of Holies" is because the altar of incense is related to the ministry that accompanies the ark of the covenant.

Hebrews 9:3 (NKJV) and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All,

Now we move into the Holy of Holies. The second veil was the veil that was torn by God at the death of Jesus Christ. This veil was designed to be a barrier between the people and God.

As I said earlier, the Holy of Holies was a perfect cube. What is the significance of this? Probably none, unless you understand that the new Jerusalem is also a perfect cube. Let's look at the new Jerusalem:

Revelation 21:1-2 (NKJV) Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Notice that the New Jerusalem is in the new heaven and earth. Now turn to:

Galatians 4:22-26 (NKJV) For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar; 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children; 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Please notice that Paul is talking about two covenants (24), the Old corresponds to Jerusalem which now is - at the time of the writing Jerusalem was still standing, and the Old Covenant was still operative. The New Covenant corresponds to Jerusalem above. In Revelation 21:2, John sees the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from above.

So, the new Jerusalem is in the new heaven and earth, which is the New Covenant. Now notice the dimensions of this new Jerusalem:

Revelation 21:16 (NKJV) The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal.

The New Jerusalem is a perfect cube just as the Holy of Holies was. The Holy of Holies was God's dwelling place and so is the New Jerusalem:

Revelation 21:3 (NKJV) And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

In the New Covenant, which is the new Jerusalem, God dwells with his people. Believers, we live in the New Covenant, thus we are in the new Jerusalem which is in the new heavens and earth. Now, let's go back to Hebrews.

The "Holy of Holies" is the place where God manifested His presence, and the high priest only visited once per year on the Day of Atonement. As one may recall, this is the day that the priest made sacrifice for his sin and the sins of the people. This is also the place where the ark of the covenant was kept.

Hebrews 9:4 (NKJV) which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant;

Inside the Holy of Holies was a single piece of furniture - the ark of the covenant. The ark was a box made of acacia wood overlaid with gold and was about 3 feet 9 inches by 2 feet 3 inches wide and about 2 feet high. The wood and gold picture the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ. This is the box that the Philistines stole in battle and later returned. This is the box that Uzah touched and died. What happened to the ark? Nobody knows. When Solomon's temple was destroyed in 587 B.C. it disappeared. There are many traditions about what happened to it.

Why did it disappear? I think for the same reason that we don't have any of the original autographs of the Bible - to prevent idolatry!

Philippians 3:3 (NKJV) For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,

Our worship is spiritual. If the ark was around today men would be worshiping it.

As you can see, there are some items in the Holy of Holies along with the ark of the covenant. First, there is a golden jar of "manna." This manna was supernaturally preserved by God, because manna usually became rotten within one day. This was to be a reminder to Israel of God's provision for them.

Secondly, there was "Aaron's rod," which demonstrated God's choice of Aaron and his family in the priesthood. And, of course, this was a very significant part of Judaism.

Finally, there were the "tables of the covenant." These tables were the ten commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai - hence it was called the "ark of the covenant". Breakers of the law were breakers of the covenant.

Remember that the furniture items described were of the original desert tabernacle. Later, in Solomon's temple about 940 B.C., the only things in the ark were the tables of stone.

1 Kings 8:9 (NKJV) Nothing was in the ark except the two tablets of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.

When Israel returned from Babylonian captivity and rebuilt the temple, Herod's temple, which was destroyed in A.D. 70, the Holy of Holies remained empty - only the stone of foundation was there.

The writer continues his description of the tabernacle in verse 5;

Hebrews 9:5 (NKJV) and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

These two cherubim overshadowed the mercy seat, the place where the blood was sprinkled on the day of atonement to make propitiation for the sins of the nation. The "mercy seat" was a slab of pure gold which fitted over the top of the ark of the covenant. God said:

Exodus 25:22 (NKJV) "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.

The words "mercy seat" are from the Greek noun hilasterion, which means: "the removal of wrath by the offering of a sacrifice." The mercy seat was interposed between the tables of law contained in the ark, by which the sinner stood condemned and the glory of God's holy presence. An uncovered ark is a throne of judgment. This might explain a very difficult Old Testament passage.

1 Samuel 6:19-20 (NKJV) Then He struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck fifty thousand and seventy men of the people, and the people lamented because the LORD had struck the people with a great slaughter. 20 And the men of Beth Shemesh said, "Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God? And to whom shall it go up from us?"

In order for them to look into the ark, the mercy seat had to be removed. If you saw the movie, Indiana Jones, you may remember the scene where they took the mercy seat off of the ark, and all who looked into it died. In removing the mercy seat, they exposed the law; and apart from the mercy seat, the law is death to all who break it. The Lord Jesus Christ is our mercy seat. He stands between the sinner who violated the law and a holy God.

Notice what the author says at the end of verse 5: "Of these things we cannot now speak in detail." - he leaves us with the impression that he could have enlarged at some length on their symbolism had he chose to do so. But he chose not to, he didn't want us to miss his main point that the tabernacle and its furnishings were temporary, they were earthly, and they were illustrative. They were not ends in themselves, they were designed to point to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now in verses 6 -10 he picks up the thought of "ordinances of divine service" from verse 1. In describing this service, he will strongly underline its temporary and inferior character. These verses utilize the idea of the limited access to the Holy of Holies as proof that something better lay ahead.

Hebrews 9:6 (NKJV) Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services.

All the priests were going in and out of the outer tabernacle on a regular basis to perform three ritual duties: 1. They tended from morning till evening to the golden lampstand to ensure that its lamps were kept without interruption (Ex. 27:20); 2. The burning of incense on the alter of incense each morning and evening when the lamps were dressed (Lev. 30:7); 3. The weekly replacement, on every Sabbath day, of the loaves of the table of showbread (Lev. 24:8). Any member of the priesthood could perform these functions.

Hebrews 9:7 (NKJV) But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance;

"But" (contrast) - only the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies and only one day out of the year. Again, this is a reference to the Day of Atonement. This was the one day a year when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and offered a sacrifice for his sins and the sins of the people of Israel.

Notice that there was a distinction in the sins of the people of Israel. There were willful sins, and "sins of people committed in ignorance." This ties into the book of Hebrews to the warning passages that caution the Jews about committing the willful sin of rebellion and blasphemy against God. Numbers 15:27-28 and 30 illustrate the distinction between these two types of sin.

Numbers 15:27-28 (NKJV) 'And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. 28 'So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the LORD, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.

Contrast those instructions with those given for willful disobedience:

Numbers 15:30 (NKJV) 'But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people.

This ties into the warning passages we have studied in Hebrews as well. Those who defiantly reject Christ suffered his temporal wrath in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Hebrews 9:8 (NKJV) the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.

In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who is responsible for the record given to us of the old covenant. And the significance of the outer tabernacle being divided and separated from the inner tabernacle was that the way into the presence of God had not yet been given. The Jews were continually reminded, by the physical presence of the tabernacle, that they were not allowed to enter into the presence of God.

The words "while the first tabernacle was still standing" might better be translated, "while the first tabernacle still has any standing" - while the Old Covenant was still in force. As long as the Old Covenant was still in effect men did not have access to the presence of God. Prior to Jesus' second coming, at which he destroyed the temple and the Old Covenant, no one went to Heaven. Jesus said:

John 3:13 (NKJV) "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.

Prior to Jesus' second coming in AD 70, all who died went to a holding place of the dead and waited for the atoning work of Christ and the resurrection from the dead. Until Christ paid for man's sin, he could not go into God's presence.

That we have access to the presence of God is still a misunderstood truth today. People build up all kinds of intermediaries, such as Mary, or the different "saints." They go through various rituals which they think will bring them closer to God. When people practice these kinds of things, they are doing nothing more than operating under the old covenant. They have failed to realize that the veil has been torn down, and we now have access to God, Himself, through the salvation provided in Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:9 (NKJV) It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience;

The word "symbolic" is from the Greek word parabole, meaning: "a parable, an object lesson, a religious play." The whole Old Covenant system, with its rituals and ceremonies and priesthood and tabernacle, was an object lesson.

The writer continues in verse 9; " which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience;" We have already seen this flaw with the old covenant-it could not bring perfection to the people who were involved. One will note that the perfection mentioned is in the area of "conscience." The Old Testament saint could never have the sense of forgiveness that you and I can have today. When we believe today that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and put our trust in Him, we are forgiven for all eternity. An Old Testament saint, however, could never have the sense of eternal forgiveness. Why? He was constantly having to offer sacrifices for his sin. His conscience was never assured that he was forgiven by God.

The old covenant could not provide internal cleansing and perfection since it was:

Hebrews 9:10 (NKJV) concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.

The old covenant consisted only of physical activity, and physical activity cannot provide the inner, spiritual cleansing that we have with the new covenant. This is why people who believe that you must be baptized, practice good works, or perform some other ritual in order to be saved are operating under the old covenant. They are practicing physical activity in an effort to be forgiven.

People who are still trying to bring the old covenant into practice today have not taken into consideration the end of verse 10. The old covenant was not to be put into practice forever. It was only to be used "until" God brought a "time of reformation."When the new order, or covenant, was completed and fully in place, the old temple would be destroyed and its worship would cease. This occurred in A.D. 70, only five years after this book was written. That approaching day of judgement and destruction became a world-wide age changing event.

In commenting on the "time of reformation", one writer said, "When did God open the curtain? The instant our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. At that point in time, the old covenant became obsolete." Did it really? Then what does Hebrews 8:13 mean?

Hebrews 8:13 (NKJV) In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

This was about 35 years after the curtain was torn and the author says that the Old Covenant "is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." The Old Covenant did not become obsolete until the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.

All these outward things couldn't affect the conscience. The guilt of conscience can only be purged by the blood of Jesus Christ, which all the Old Covenant pointed to. The tabernacle and the day of atonement was a preview of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only through Him, we are clean, pure, guiltless.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

We have been given the righteousness of God; positionally, we are righteous, and therefore, we have access to God. We are his temple, we dwell in His presence! The shadow is all gone, and we dwell in the reality.

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