In comparing and contrasting the earthly representations found in the tabernacle (tent of meeting) with heavenly realities, the author of Hebrews uses the expression "copies of the heavenly things" (v.23) and "copies of the true things" (v.24). By using "heavenly" with "true" interchangeably, the author makes it clear that the earthly tabernacle is just a visible representation of the invisible reality that is from heaven. In the tabernacle, we have an "object lesson" about how we can experience heavenly realities today.
In other words, experiencing heaven realities is like entering the Tabernacle: the tabernacle shows us the things that must be in place in our lives to experience heavenly realities. There are seven elements in the Tabernacle that shows the path to a heavenly experience (see diagram above):
- Curtain Enclosure/Entrance: This is a 7 ft (2.3 m) high curtain fence enclosure placed all around the tabernacle with an entrance. This means that those who are outside cannot see what's inside. They have to enter by the entrance at the far end of the rectangular fence. This suggests that there is only one way to experience the heavenly realities. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) but by me" (John 14:6). There is only one way into the heavenly realm of the Father--and that is through His Son.
- Brazen Altar: Once we pass the entrance, we come face to face with the brazen altar. The brazen altar is a 7.5 feet (2.5 m) square about 4.5 feet (1.5 m) deep. Animals like sheep and bulls are slaughtered and burnt on the altar as sacrifices to the Lord. Here we have a picture of Christ as the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Jesus as the atoning sacrifice is an eternal (timeless) fact, that took place "since the foundation of the world" (v.26). Though the revelation in history occurred 2000 years ago, it was from God's perspective an eternal reality when God first placed an animal skin over Adam and Eve as covering for their sins: "He is the one who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not based on our works but on his own purpose and grace, granted to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made visible through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 1:9-10). Before time was even created, Christ's atoning sacrifice was already an eternal fact that opened a pathway into God's presence through faith--wherever and whenever faith in God is found. But this eternal fact was made visible only at Calvary.
- Brazen Laver: This is a concave basin filled with water. This is where the priests wash their hands and their feet before they enter the tent of meeting (holy places). It suggests that it is not enough to be forgiven of our sins--we need to be cleansed of it through the "washing of water with the word" (Eph. 5:26). Jesus himself has said, "Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you" (John 15:3). It's possible that after a person has come to faith in Christ (forgiven) that he or she still falls into sin. The way back to being clean is by confessing our sins according to God's word: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). So, by the promise in God's word, we are made clean again from all unrighteousness. So once we are forgiven and cleansed, we are ready to enter the holy places of God (tent of meeting or temple), representing God's heavenly realities. No un-forgiven and un-cleansed can enter into God's presence: "Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood" (Rev 22:14-15).
- Lampstand: To get into the holy place, we need to pass through the outer veil of the tent of meeting, This outer veil shuts off natural sunlight from entering the holy place. The holy place itself is lighted up by the golden lampstand, which is kept burning as it is the only light-source in the holy place. This lampstand is filled with oil which represents the Holy Spirit. When Zechariah saw the lampstand in a vision, the angel explains the meaning in Zechariah 4:6: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts." To experience heavenly realities, we need to be illumined by the Holy Spirit. Apart from the light and revelation of the Spirit, we will remain in darkness about God. The lampstand contains oil but the wick needs to be trimmed daily and the oil need to be topped up to keep the flame burning. So, if we want to experience heavenly realities, we need to be filled with the Spirit daily and put away all carnal habits and desires that quench or grieve the Holy Spirit. .
- Table of Showbread: On the right side of the golden lampstand is the table of showbread. The table measures 3 feet by 1.5 feet (2 m x 0.5 m). Its height is about 2 ft 3 in. On the table are 12 loaves of bread, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. The bread loaves are left in the Lord's presence for a week before they are eaten by the priests themselves. Then new freshly-baked bread is laid on the table again. The act of eating the bread in the Lord's presence speaks of God's invitation to us to have a meal of fellowship with Him. It also reminds us of the Lord's Supper. It tells us the importance of coming before the Lord's presence and fellowship with Him by partaking the bread of life, which is the Word of God: "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Jesus also said, "I am the Bread of life" (John 6:35). As we fellowship with Christ in His Word and the Holy Communion, He imparts His life to us to sustain us.
- Altar of Incense: The altar of incense has a top square platform measuring 1.5 feet on all sides. It is 3 feet high. The priests burn incense on it, and the fragrance smoke fills the holy place. The incense is a symbol of the prayers of God's people: it is a sweet fragrance to the Lord when His people pray: "And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Rev 5:8). As the altar is just in front of veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of holies, it suggests that when we offer prayers (petitions, intercession, thanksgiving or praise), we are drawn nearest to the Presence of God. Furthermore, our prayers create a fragrance of worship that is pleasing to God: "Let my prayer be counted as incense before you" (Psalm 141:2). When God's people lift their voices to pray and praise, the whole environment becomes holy and heavenly.
- Ark of the Covenant: The Ark is a box that measures 3 ft 9 in long and 2 ft 3 in wide and high. It contains manna, Aaron's staff and two tablets of stone of the Ten Commandments. It represents the presence of God and the Glory of God rests upon the mercy seat.The manna reminds us of God's provision, Aaron's staff reminds us of God's authority and the Ten Commandments reminds us of God's holiness. When we come into God's glorious presence, we will experience God's provision, authority and holiness in our work and ministry. Once we have entered into the very presence of God, it will transform our life and ministry.