By Mathew Gilbert
T. Desmond Alexander once wrote, “The tabernacle links heaven and earth.” In all the ways God brings his presence to his people, there are two main examples in the Old Testament—the tabernacle and the temple. They are similar in design and construction with the main difference being that one is a tent and the other is a building. Alexander would later write that through the many elements in the tabernacle, especially the ark of the covenant, “this is where the divine king’s feet touch the earth.” In the tabernacle, God comes to earth to be with his people.
The presence of God is one of the Bible’s major themes. Going all the way back to the Garden of Eden we see that the greatest loss as a result of the first sin was not a perfect place, but a perfect relationship with a perfect God. The tabernacle and the temple are both ways the Lord established for his people to meet with him. But neither the tabernacle nor the temple were enough to satisfy the Lord’s wrath against sin or the longing of the human heart. Our hearts will never rest until we are in his presence.
The presence of God that Moses and the Israelites enjoyed through the tabernacle was only temporary. And even with God dwelling with his people, only a select few were ever able to fully experience the presence of God in the Most Holy Place. But the tabernacle pointed to a much greater reality. It pointed to the ultimate meeting of heaven and earth in the person of Jesus Christ.
In John 1, Jesus is described as both the eternal Word who brought forth the world who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-3, 14). Jesus is both fully God and fully man. He was with God even before the beginning. In him is the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. But the eternal Son and Word of God came to earth as a man.
In the person Jesus Christ, God comes to meet with us. John uses the same word Moses did when talking about the tabernacle in Exodus 25:8. Dwell. It is another word for “live.” The tabernacle was the means God would live with his people. But its purpose was to point us to Jesus who is the ultimate presence of God on earth. Jesus brings us close to God unlike anything or anyone else.
Through Jesus, the presence of God will be extended to the whole world. He uses his people–in whom the very presence of God dwells through the Holy Spirit–to spread his glory. Every time you share the gospel with someone, you take part in God’s mission to fill the earth with his presence and glory. Believers who live in a joyless and purposeless existence fail to embrace their full identity in Christ. In Christ, you are a living, breathing, walking tabernacle. The presence of God dwells within you. This should both encourage and empower you.
The presence of God should encourage you.
To see your own value. Christ did not die for you because you are valuable, as if you lured him to yourself by some admirable qualities. But, Christ did die for you! And the Spirit of the living God lives in you. God in you is an insatiable tonic for the poison of self-degradation.
To see God’s love for you. Doubting God’s love for us is a key tenet to ancient serpentine theology. The snake is alive and well today planting seeds of doubt into the heart of every believer. The problem with his ploy is the heart he is seeking to deceive has been transformed by the living and loving God who has taken up residence. Nothing and no one can remove God’s love from you. And the greatest evidence of this is in the fact that God dwells in you.
The presence of God in you should also empower you.
To greater obedience. With God in you, sin is both defeated and dethroned on the seat of your heart. Sin’s enticement is not match for God in you. You are fighting from a position of sure victory when you step into the ring with sin.
To greater boldness. With God in you, fear of vulnerability and is swallowed up by bold and sacrificial neighbor-love. You can confidently love those who will not love you back. You can sacrifice your time, money, resources, and energy for the sake of others knowing that any loss is truly gain with God in you.
The indwelling presence of God literally changes everything–about the way you view the world and about the way you live in the world.
Access to the presence of God is forever open because of who Jesus is and what Jesus did. In Christ, the curtain is torn and the presence of God is available to all who cling to Christ. At great cost to himself, God brings those who have rejected his presence back into his presence. One day, we will have full access to God’s presence with no sin to mess that up. And it is all due to the Christ who became flesh and dwelt among us. Because Jesus humbled himself to dwell with us in this fallen world, all who trust in him will dwell with him in glory.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.