Is There A Tabernacle In Heaven?

Question: The Lord said to Moses, “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Exod 25:40). This is something that the New Testament picks up on too, “The place where they serve is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’” (Heb 8:5). So is there a tabernacle, or temple in heaven that Moses copied? What’s the point of the tabernacle now that we don’t have one?

Answer: The Old Testament tabernacle and temple teach us some important lessons. (The tabernacle was replaced by the temple in Solomon’s time.)

Paul speaks of the temple in the turbulent times of the last days when the man of sin' is revealed: “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess 2:4). 

So please bear with me for a short while and we'll see how the tabernacle and temple fit in to our lives now.

We are told in Scripture to guard our hearts with thoroughness: “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow springs of life” (Prov 4:23). Jesus spoke of the importance of our hearts, not meaning our physical hearts, but the central essence of our being. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander” (Matt 15:19). 

Christ will cleanse out hearts and sweep them clean, but let’s take great care: “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order” (Luke 11:24–25). Yes, Jesus will sweep the temple of our heart and render it “clean”. A place fit for the Lord of heaven and earth to dwell in. 

So just as the tabernacle and the two temples of the Old Testament were used to offer sacrifices we learn in the New Testament that we are now the living stones that make up the temple: For, "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5). A spiritual house, wherein God can dwell, "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Eph 3:17).

Yes, we are a spiritual house, but we must take care who we open the door to. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him” (Rev 3:20). Our hearts are of immense importance because they are a temple in which God dwells.

The Apostle Paul wants us to grasp the importance of this point asking, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). 

Paul drums this into us in a number of ways: “the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then…” (Rom 8:9). 

Human beings are made for God to dwell within them. “Let us make man in our image” (Gen 1:26). Our bodies are sacred temples in which God can dwell by his Spirit. 

But we know that not all people have God’s Spirit in the temple of their hearts, and indeed the “man of sin” will set himself up in the place that the Lord alone should occupy. The “man of sin” will attempt to occupy that central seat in men’s hearts that is due to God alone. He will win the hearts and minds of many people. 

Paul tells us to watch, be prepared and don’t be deceived: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thess 2:3). 

Jesus also warned us not to be deceived.

Paul goes into details: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie” (2 Thess 2:9). 

So we ask the Lord to help us protect that place reserved for God, the temple of our hearts, that we may not be deceived and give a place in our hearts to the enemy. “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work” (2 Thess 2:16–17). 

"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). 

God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Gen 1:26). The Lord wanted us in his image, “in our image”. We are made for God, not anyone else. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev 4:11). But the enemy wants to conform us to his image and in his likeness, he wants to take a seat that is not rightfully his. Satan wants his place in the human heart, and it’s a place that’s reserved for God alone.

The importance of our human heart is not easy to grasp; the Scriptures inform us: “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (Eccle 3:11). The heart of man is the place where God wants to be, a fitting place, or at least it should be. A humble heart is a heart that God is prepared to reside in, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit” (Isa 57:15). But conversely, “Everyone who is proud in heart is detestable to the LORD” (Prov 16:5).

God was in the tabernacle and temple of old, and was worshipped there by the people, and is now in his children’s hearts and worshipped by his children. For Solomon explained that the temple he made was a symbol. “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built” (1 Kings 8:27). 

So we understand that the tabernacle and temple were a pattern, or a shadow, explaining heavenly things: "the example and shadow of heavenly things" (Heb 8:5).

The Old Testament has much to teach us about the new covenant, we see the shadows in the tabernacle and temple, but in the new covenant our hearts are the place where the symbolism points to. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jer 31:33). In Thessalonians the antichrist is mentioned—a usurper of God's authority in the hearts of men and women. That place reserved for God alone. The holy place washed clean by the blood of Christ Jesus. So we watch for the enemy’s schemes, he tries to hook men and take a place in their hearts. “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16). 

We keep watch and listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, for the lawless one will be seen for what he is by those who have Christ reigning in their hearts. “The lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thess 2:8).

The prophet Daniel throws light on the man of sin: “With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him” (Dan 11:32). 

A prayer of CH Spurgeon was, “Be with us, Jesus, and in the silence of our heart, let us hear the voice of thy love.” Christians throughout the ages have recognised that our hearts are the place wherein God resides by his Spirit.

“God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts” (2 Cor 4:6).

The Bible explains, in a number of ways, how God resides within us, and how he places his law within us: “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor 3:3). 

We are the living stones, in which God resides. A spiritual house: “God's building” (1 Cor 3:9). God's Spirit lives in each believer individually and collectively—Christians often say, "the church" is the people, not the building. 

Our bodies are made from the dust of the earth: “I am the same as you in God’s sight; I too am a piece of clay” (Job 33:6), and yet God is able to use these clay bodies: “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Cor 4:7). Jesus is the light of the world and will occupy our hearts if we open them: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him” (Rev 3:20). Jesus brings the light of the glory of God and we have his light within our hearts. From deep within us we have God’s presence and his light shining. Or put another way, we have the living streams of pure crystal water flowing in the depths of our being. “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38). By this Jesus meant the Spirit. We begin to get the picture of the amazing work that God is doing in creation, using the heart of human beings for his glory. 

We begin to see our bodies in a different way. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor 6:19–20). We hear some believers saying our body is a sacred sanctuary or a temple dedicated to God, and we understand what they mean. Matthew Henry says, “The body is for the Lord; is to be an instrument of righteousness to holiness.” So we pray, “help us dear Lord to honour you with our bodies which belong to you.”

The pictures in the Old Testament reveal the temple of God. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isa 6:1). God’s train fills the temple—his Spirit fills each one of us.

The train of God’s vesture is light and glory: “The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment” (Ps 104:2). His temple shines as a result. That we may be in contact with the edge of his garment is a wonderful light-giving experience. And Jesus told us to let that light shine, we don’t hide it under a vase but let it shine. We are signs that God is building his temple. For the Lord is building his temple: “It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne” (Zec 6:13).

The Lord is building his church—The Apostle Paul came into contact with the light of God and was rendered blind for three days. But what a change it made to Paul. Paul, now filled with God’s Spirit, was a changed man. No longer a hard-hearted hater of Christians but a Christian himself, and a prolific proclaimer of the gospel too—A part of the temple of God. We also have received the deposit of God’s Spirit, God’s glory reaches us too: “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Eph 1:13–14).

We see the Holy Spirit manifest in our lives in many ways, when we speak in tongues we see an outward manifestation of his presence, and when the fruit of the Spirit begins to grow within us we see that our hearts are reaching out to the light, as a plant in good soil reaches out for the sunlight. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16). 

Yes, the Lord’s train fills his temple of which we are a part. It reaches us. When we call out, when we seek him, his train will touch us. “He reached down from on high and took hold of me” (Ps 18:16). Christians throughout the ages have remarked on the wonders of being touched by God’s presence within them: 

“Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,

the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches even me.

There are a number of aspects regarding the tabernacle and temple to consider including the ark of the covenant: “There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel” (1 Kings 8:9). 

The ark of the covenant was placed in the tabernacle and later in the temple of Solomon. The ark never made it to the second temple built in the time of Zerubbabel. And yet the second temple was prophesied to be greater than the first: “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts” (Hag 2:9). 

And yet we read, “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid” (Ezra 3:12). Those who remembered the glory of the temple that Solomon built, and then saw how far inferior this new temple was likely to be, wept with a loud voice. But the new temple, though less in size and grandeur, would be honoured with the presence of Jesus. “Suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple” (Mal 3:1).

And the Lord Jesus did go to his temple, though the ark was not there at that time, God’s law was still heard: “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple” (Lk 21:37).

The temple didn’t last long after that, “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’” (Matt 24:1–2). 

Which brings us to our present age, so where now does the law of God reside? “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds” (Heb 10:16). We no longer have a man-made physical temple wherein God resides. Paul made this plain to the Athenians, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands” (Acts 17:24). The Lord now dwells with those who have his law in their hearts. As God’s presence filled the temple area where the ark that contained the law was, so now, he dwells with those who have been made in the image of Christ. “In Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit” (Eph 2:22).

"In him" is the key to the revelation of the tabernacle and temple of old. 

“Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory” (Heb 3:6).