Who needs a Time Machine when we have the book of Revelation?!
The fascinating yet frustrating idea of traveling back in time was popularised by H. G. Wells in his story The Time Machine, published in 1895. Since then many books have been written and movies produced around this idea. So, in this spirit, let me ask you a question: If you were able to travel back to Moses’ time (1250 BC), how would you describe the solar system to him? Planets orbiting in three-dimensional space at different trajectories around the Sun! In all probability you would have to construct some sort of physical model and walk him through it. This would give the venerable Moses some idea, but how could he be expected to really grasp the fact that the sun is a star, and that Jupiter is 300 times larger than the earth and 588 million kilometres away? Just by thinking of this we get some idea of the difficulty the people of biblical times must have had in comprehending a revelation of spiritual realities – to this day we still struggle with this. In Moses’ case God helped him understand something of the heavenly dimension by giving him the plans to construct a Tabernacle, a 3D model of a multidimensional realm.
The High Priests were the people in charge of the Tabernacle, and the author of the book of Hebrews wrote about their duties: ’They serve at a sanctuary that 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”.’ (Hebrews 8:5) Here is a plan of the Tabernacle:
The outer court was where the public ministry of the priests took place and contained a huge basin for ritual washing along with an even bigger alter for making the vast number of sacrifices required by the ceremonial law. The first of the two ‘inner’ areas was called the Holy Place and entrance was restricted to priests. This area contained a table on which stood twelve loaves of bread, a seven-branched candelabra known as a Menorah, and a small golden incense altar. A thick curtain separated this area from the most sacred space of all, the Holy of Holies. This cubic area contained only one item, the Ark of the Covenant and only the High Priest could enter on just one day of the year, the Day of Atonement.
Here is what the seven items I have mentioned symbolise for us today:
1. The Outer Court represents the public aspect of the church where all, saved and unsaved alike, have access.
Item 1: The great Brazen Alter of sacrifice = The cross of Calvary where Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God shed His blood for our sin.
Item 2: The Bronze Laver/basin also known as the Bronze Sea = The ritual washing away of sin – water baptism.
2. The Inner court, the Holy Place, represents the membership of the church to which only born again disciples of Jesus have access.
Item 3: The Table and the twelve loaves of bread = the fellowship of the church epitomised in the Lords Supper/Holy Communion.
Item 4: The Golden Menorah = The light of revelation through the Scriptures/Bible.
Item 5: The Golden Incense Alter = The prayers and worship of the believers/church.
Item 6: The curtain through which the Holy of Holies is accessed = The separation between God and man open for us through the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
3. The Holy of Holies represents the place of communion between God and believers.
Item 7: The Ark of the Covenant – a golden throne = The presence of God.
Now, if you read through Revelation 4 carefully you can pick up much of the layout and contents of the Tabernacle. Here is a picture to make this clearer:
The angels form the wall of the outer court, the elders constitute the wall of the Holy Place/Inner Court, and the Living Creatures form the wall to the Holy of Holies. In this inner sanctum is a representation of the Ark of the Covenant/Throne and the presence of God. The seven-lamped Menorah (vs 3) is in the Holy Place and you can pick up a reference to the Incense Alter in Revelation 8:3-4: ‘Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand’. The Bronze Sea is referenced in Revelation 4:6.
What’s missing in this depiction of Heaven? Firstly, the Altar of Sacrifice is not there because the cross of Christ applies only to our earthly realm – it was here on earth that Jesus gave up His life as an atoning sacrifice on the Cross. The Table of Bread is also missing because this is embodied in the fellowship and communion of the church on earth. Heaven comes to earth, to a degree, in the church!
The Tabernacle was the physical model of the heavenly realm and the portrayal in Revelation takes that model into a higher dimension… but it is still not reality. The heavenly realm is multidimensional and timeless, as we understand dimensions and time, and is far beyond our ability to fully comprehend. The depiction in Revelation does however help us to understand a little of the glory that awaits us.
In my next post I am going to describe another layer of meaning built into Revelation which was better understood by the people of John’s time than by us. So, it’s time to revisit this ‘revelation’… next week.