Think of the completed picture. Think of the temple (tabernacle) and its articles. Think of the priests and the various functions they performed around the temple, including the sacrifices they offered, the instruments they played, and the songs they sang. Now think of the fact that all of this—the entire picture—is but a shadow of something much greater that was to come. They were never meant to be an end in themselves, but rather a picture of what God intended for His people to be under Christ.
“Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary” (Heb 9:1).
When we start unveiling what the New Testament documents say about God’s people, we begin to see how the picture gets filled in and completed. This need not be a stretch at all, for the Scriptures reference and demonstrate these points.
Jesus is the tabernacle of God among men (John 1:14). His body is the completion of the temple, the house that God promised would be built (2 Sam 7:12-13; cf. Matt 16:18; 1 Pet 2:5; Eph 2:20-21; 1 Cor 3:16). That picture has even more specified fulfillment when we consider some of the articles associated with the house of God:
1. The Lampstand, used to represent Christ’s people, congregations, and should be associated with light (Rev 1:12, 20; cf. Matt 5:14-16).
2. Table of showbread represents fellowship with the Lord. This was the bread of His presence (Exod 25:30; John 6:35-50; Matt 26:26; 1 Cor 10:16-17). Christ is our bread of which we partake to have fellowship with God and one another.
3. The Veil, which was torn, is then said to be the flesh and blood of Christ through which He entered the Most Holy Place (Mark 15:38; Heb 6:19-20; 10:19-21). This gives His people direct access to God’s presence.
4. Incense is used to represent the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8).
5. The High Priest is Jesus Christ (Heb 8:1-2).
Once inside the Most Holy Place, there is the ark with the mercy seat, which is a representation of God’s throne. The presence of God was a primary emphasis with the tabernacle/temple (Exod 29:43-46). Inside the ark, we find:
1. Aaron’s rod, which was proof of God’s chosen priesthood. This is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest (Hebrews)
2. The Commandments. This was the Law and represented the covenant God had made with His people. Now Jesus is our Lawgiver (Jas 1:12), and we are under covenant relationship with Him. His shed blood is call “the blood of the covenant” (Matt 26:28).
3. Manna, which was a reminder of God’s presence and care for the people in the wilderness. Now Jesus is the bread come down from heaven (John 6), demonstrating God’s presence and care in the greatest of ways.
Once a year, the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place in order to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. This atonement happened every year, but was not sufficient ultimately to take away the sins of the people. Therefore, Christ came as the only atoning sacrifice that could accomplish forgiveness (Heb 10:1-10).
What Christians Are
While all of this is fulfilled in Jesus, His people are also a part of this fulfillment. Consider, then, what Christ’s people really are in conjunction with the fuller temple picture:
1. We are the temple of God (Eph 2:20-21; 1 Cor 3:16; 1 Pet 2:5). God’s presence, through His Spirit, is in us and with us.
2. A royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6). We are a kingdom of priests, serving God in His temple.
3. Sacrifices (Rom 12:1-2; 1 Pet 2:5). While Jesus is the great and perfect sacrifice, Christians, too, are both sacrifices and priests offering sacrifices. Doing God’s will (even in supplying needs), Paul, calling upon the language of first covenant sacrifices (cf. Exod. 29:18, 25, 41), wrote that such work is “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18).
4. Instruments of Praise (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Heb 13:15). As God has specified the use of instruments in conjunction with the temple, all Christians now are the instruments of praise. We “make melody in the heart” while offering up the sacrifice of lips.
5. Singers, offering up sacrifice of lips, sharing (Heb 13:15-16; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). There are specified singers appointed at the temple, but now all of God’s people fulfill this role. Praising God with the lips in song remains a God-given blessing in which all should gladly participate. All of these reminds us that we are not involved in a “spectator sport,” but are, rather, to be the willing participants in God’s audience.
Part of the point of Hebrews 9 (indeed all of Hebrews) is that we are no longer worshiping according to the types and shadows of the first covenant. These had a purpose, but they are fulfilled in Christ and His people. They pointed to something greater, better, more perfect. Further, trying to go back to those types and shadows is a step backward, not forward. Trying to justify practices based on the types and shadows of the Law is essentially trying to bypass Jesus Christ Himself in order to go back to the system Jesus came to complete (Matt 5:17; cf. Gal 5:1-6).
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well is important for seeing this completed picture, too. When Jesus referenced “in spirit and truth,” He wasn’t just saying that God wants proper attitudes with truth. God has always wanted that out of His worshipers, so Jesus is contextually talking about something more than that. By saying, “an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (v. 21), He was referencing an entire system that was associated with the city of God and the temple worship.
His point was that God’s people would no longer be worshiping according to the types and shadows of the first covenant. Rather, they would be worshiping according to the spiritual truth that these types and shadows represented (cf. Phil 3:3).
Origen (ca. A.D. 185-254) made this same point in his commentary on this passage: “We too aspire to know how God is spirit as the Son reveals it, and to worship God in the spirit that gives life and not in the letter that kills. We want to honor God in truth and no longer in types, shadows and examples even as the angels do not serve God in examples and the shadow of heavenly realities but in realities that belong to the spiritual and heavenly order” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 13.145-146).
This, then, is why are aren’t offering up sin offerings, animal sacrifices, maintaining a separate priesthood, a physical temple, musical instruments, the burning of the incenses, etc. All of these were part of the temple worship at Jerusalem, the “divine worship and the earthly sanctuary” of the first covenant (Heb 9:1). God’s intention under Christ is for Christians to worship in the spiritual reality that these foreshadowed—in spirit and truth. In other words, we are all of these things.
For Christians, this ought to be exciting because it stresses what we are in Christ. This isn’t about what we “can’t do” (although God has always had restrictions), but is about who we are in completion of the picture God painted in the first covenant. When we see the fuller picture, perhaps we can begin to see why the copies and shadows of the covenant cannot be the justification for physical practices in God’s temple now. Pulling out shadows and treating them as the substance is not what God wants.
The Glory of God
This would be incomplete without recognizing the most important aspect of the tabernacle/temple picture. As instructions were given for the tabernacle, God said, “I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory” (Exod 29:43). When Moses finished the tabernacle, built according to God’s pattern, Scripture says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exod 40:34). This is, ultimately, about the glory of God.
When Jesus came, John says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “Dwelt” is the word for tabernacle. John essentially says, “Jesus tabernacled among us, and we saw His glory.” The glory of God is manifested in the Son of God, as is His presence among the people (John 1:18; Heb 1:1-3).
Now, God’s glory is found in His people as His temple, and Christ’s people are to glorify Him. All that God did was “to the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:6, 12, 14). Christians are to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). Indeed, all that we do, we are to do to God’s glory. Seeing ourselves as God’s dwelling in the Spirit should keep this point vividly before us.
Let’s be what God intended for us to be in Christ, and let’s see the beauty of this imagery as it is fulfilled in Christ and His people. Through this, then, we may bring glory to God as we worship Him “in spirit and truth.” This is what God seeks (John 4:23-24).