The Story: The Tabernacle, Worship, and the Christian, Part 2 (The Pattern and the Book of Hebrews)

Although Tabernacle imagery appears in several places in the New Testament, the most prominent place is the book of Hebrews. We need to start in chapter 8 —

(Heb 8:5 ESV)  5 The [priests who served at the tabernacle] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

Astonishingly, this verse is often cited as a proof text for the idea that Christians should copy a pattern. After all, it’s argued, Moses was told to copy a pattern.

But this argument ignores the entirety of the book of Hebrews. The whole thing. Because Hebrews is built on a series of arguments that Jesus is superior to the Mosaic system. Hence, the writer is arguing that Moses’ following a pattern is evidence of inferiority and insufficiency.

The point is, and the Hebrews writer will come back to this (and so will we), that we should prefer the original to the copy, and Moses copied the original when he built the Tabernacle. Copying a pattern, you see, is like copying an antique — the copy does not have the same value as the original, no matter how well you do it.

The author next quotes an important passage from Jeremiah 31 —

(Heb 8:7-12 ESV)  7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.  8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,  9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.  10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

Jeremiah prophesies that God will provide a “new” (kainos, not neos) covenant. And then makes the same contrast that we found in Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6 — “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.” God will take responsibility for changing the hearts of his people. No longer will they have to try to obey on their own.

Clearly, Jeremiah is speaking of the Spirit —

(2Co 3:5-6 ESV)  5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,  6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

And so, the Hebrews writer contrasts the new covenant with the old on these very terms.

(Heb 9:1 NET) Now the first covenant, in fact, had regulations for worship and its earthly sanctuary.

“Sanctuary” means “holy place” and is surely a reference to where sacrifices were made and accepted, just outside the Holy of Holies.

The author argues that the old covenant — quickly becoming obsolete — “had regulations for worship and its earthly sanctuary.” He then details some of these regulations in the next few verses.

Of course, his point has to be that the presence of these regulations proves the inferiority of the old covenant, because this is the over-arching argument of the book.

(Heb 9:11-12 ESV)  11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent [Tabernacle] (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)  12 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. …

(Heb 9:23-24 ESV) 23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

Notice the contrast in v. 11. Moses’ Tabernacle was made with hands and was ritually cleansed “by means of the blood of goats and calves.” However, the true Tabernacle — the one in heaven — was not made with human hands and was cleansed by the blood of Christ himself.

That is, the Tabernacle made according to the pattern — copying the one in heaven — is necessarily inferior to the original.

One thing is clear. Those who argue from Hebrews that copying a pattern is the path to pleasing God have missed the point of the book — and chapters 8 and 9. Rather, the author is emphasizing that the old covenant, built on copying a pattern, is inferior and obsolete, being replaced by a better place of worship, a better sanctuary, a better Holy of Holies — in heaven.

If this is so, then where does the church worship? Well, not on Mt. Gerizim and not on Mt. Moriah (Jerusalem). We worship in heaven — which is a surprising result but clearly what he’s saying.

Let’s skip ahead a bit —

(Heb 12:18-21 ESV)  18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest  19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.  20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”  21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”

Again, the author draws a contrast. The old covenant is built on Israel’s experience at Mt. Sinai. He reminds us how terrified the Israelites were at the foot of the mountain.

(Heb 12:22-24 ESV)  22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The writer speaks of a new Jerusalem, stored in heaven for the church. The true worship of God occurs in heaven, not on earth. This is the new Tabernacle, where Jesus’ offers his own blood as sacrifice and where the objects used in worship are completely clean and pure.

This is the worship of God we read about in Revelation going on right now.

(Rev 4:8-11 ESV) 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”  9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever,  10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,  11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

So what does this mean?

(Heb 12:25-29 ESV)  25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.  26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”  27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken — that is, things that have been made — in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.  28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  29 for our God is a consuming fire.

If the old covenant was given in terror, imagine what it would be like to reject the new covenant, paid for with a much higher price, much more precious blood!

Therefore, “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”

What is that? Well, that’s the next post …

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