You are touring the tabernacle in ancient Israel. You have entered through the great east gate, passed by the sacrificial altar and approached the door of the sanctuary itself. Now you step inside the holy place.
This is a dazzling, awe-inspiring place. The walls are covered in gold. On each wall is an important furnishing for the priesthood, also made of pure gold. The far side of the room is a stunningly beautiful tapestry.
You turn and look right. On the north side of the holy place, you see the table of the showbread (Exodus 26:35).
This smallish, beautiful rectangular table is made of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold. It measures 3 or 4 feet long, a couple of feet wide, and 2½ to 3 feet high (depending on the length of a cubit).
Read Exodus 25:29 to see the tools and utensils God commanded to be used with this table. Dishes, spoons, pitchers, bowls—this is tableware that you use for a meal! “To cover withal” is translated in the margin “to pour out withal.”The Revised Standard Version reads, “its flagons and bowls with which to pour libations.” The showbread was served with a drink offering, or wine—again, just like a meal.
Continue in verse 30. These loaves of bread were to be set before God always. When Solomon built the temple, he called this “the continual shewbread” (2 Chronicles 2:4; rsv: “the bread of the presence”). The Hebrew literally means “bread of the face.” This bread was continually in God’s presence, before His face.
Josephus is probably right in saying that the showbread was unleavened. Compare the description of how to make this bread in Leviticus 24:5 with the wave loaves offered on Pentecost in Leviticus 23:17. The amount of flour was the same, but the wave loaves specifically “shall be baked with leaven,” unlike the showbread. Also, this bread was eaten by the priests after it had been sitting out for eight days. Had it been leavened, it probably wouldn’t have been very palatable by that point.
Notice the amount made in Leviticus 24:5. Twelve cakes—and they were quite large. Verse 6 says they were arranged on the table in two rows or piles of six (probably piles, considering how big they were, and how small the table was). This might be similar to the onyx stones on the shoulders of the priest, which had the names of six tribes inscribed on one and six on the other. The number 12 comes up a lot with the tabernacle. These 12 cakes, like the 12 stones in the breastplate of the priest, likely signified the 12 tribes of Israel.
Remember, the holy place typifies the second heaven, the starry universe above Earth’s atmosphere. God actually designed these heavens using the number 12: There are 12 lunar cycles (months) in a year; 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night in the rotation of the Earth. Josephus says the 12 showbread loaves pointed to the 12 principle star constellations.
Continue reading in verse 8. The Israelites provided the flour. The Kohathites baked and arranged it (1 Chronicles 9:32). They made and brought fresh loaves every Sabbath.
The priests consumed this special meal on the day in which God put His presence! God’s people today should have special communion with Him on the Sabbath day. We must partake of that weekly spiritual meal, taking Christ into ourselves in a special way on this day. This is a priestly privilege God makes available to everyone in His Church.
God had a lot in mind when He placed this extraordinary fixture in the holy place and ordained this detailed service. We are certain to receive a far more thorough explanation from God and Christ in the future.
Across the room from the showbread table, on the south wall of the holy place, you see the lampstand. Its shaft rises up through the middle and holds a candle on top. Three more candle stems branch out from each side, making seven flames in a row. Though they are all part of a single candlestick, God calls them “seven lamps.” When this special lamp was made, God specified that these branches be decorated with almond flowers, and that the whole lamp be made from a single piece of pure, beaten gold.
Notice the instructions in Leviticus 24:2. This oil was beaten as opposed to pressed; this was the purest, finest oil there was. Just as they provided the flour for the showbread, the people of Israel also supplied the oil for the lamps. They really did have a part in this service! In our spiritual lives today, the oil of the Holy Spirit comes from God. But we do have our part in yielding to it and keeping its supply flowing. In having the people provide the oil, perhaps God is emphasizing the role that we ourselves play in the spiritual growth process.
Continue reading verses 3-4. The priest had to take care of these lamps and ensure they were always burning. Likewise, God’s priests today must ensure the lamp is continually burning in God’s spiritual temple today.
The perpetual flame on the altar of sacrifice represented God’s presence in the Work being done (see Part 23 in this series). This is really another—perhaps purer—symbol of the same thing. We must keep the oil of God’s Spirit flowing. By that continuous oil, the flame can continuously burn. We do God’s Work not by our power, but by God’s Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). “Today we have a lamp in God’s Church. And God wants us to keep the lamp burning!” Gerald Flurry wrote. “If you have that lamp, you will be receiving present truth and revelation from Jesus Christ” (Philadelphia News, November 1998).
Read Revelation 1:12. These “candlesticks,” or lamps, are the seven Church eras (see verse 20). Continue reading in verse 13. “Here Christ is pictured as being in the middle of the seven Church eras or lamps. He is the pillar and bowl that fuels the seven lamps,” Mr. Flurry wrote. “How many people truly see the great power behind God’s true Church? This is where we get the spiritual fuel that makes our lamp burn. … What is a lamp without oil? Worthless. We must learn that lesson now or we can’t rule in God’s Kingdom” (Ezekiel: The End-Time Prophet).
These seven lamps actually point to something even more awesome. Check out the description of God’s heavenly throne room in Revelation 4:5. Right before God’s throne, seven lamps of fire burn! “There are seven lamps before God’s throne. They were there before the Church eras were here,” Mr. Flurry wrote. “The Philadelphia lamp in the Laodicean era today is a type of one of those seven lamps before God’s throne! We give light to the world because we, like the moon, reflect the sun’s, or God’s, glory. That’s what we do as the lamp of God. We must keep it burning with Mystery of the Ages and the little book” (The Royal Book of Revelation).
Our work is a type of one of the lamps in God’s throne room! The lampstand in the tabernacle pointed to this awesome spiritual reality. Those lamps existed in God’s throne room first—and in order to illustrate that spiritual reality, He had the Israelites place a seven-branched lampstand in the tabernacle!
“The lamps are also seven spirits. God’s Spirit needs to motivate and animate us! There is power there to animate the people of the Lord God Almighty! Christ says He holds, or governs, the seven angels. He governs the head of all those eras as they submit to Him. That’s why it doesn’t take a lot of people to do the Work of God. All we have to do is have this omnipotent God behind us, providing us with the power to do this Work, and nobody can stop us!” (Prophesy Again).
The Incense Altar
Turning from the lampstand toward the west, you see the third furnishing in this room, the altar. God’s commission to the Philadelphia Church of God, and Mr. Flurry in particular, is to “Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein” (Revelation 11:1). The “altar” represents the ministry.
Though the physical tabernacle and temple were patterned after the heavenly temple, there was a key difference. These physical structures had two altars, including the sacrificial altar outside the sanctuary, and the incense altar in this room. However, there is no sacrificial altar in the heavenly temple. Those sacrifices were physical and temporary, used to point the people to Christ—and then were done away. The heavenly temple does, however, have an altar.
Read about this altar in Revelation 8:3. This is a golden altar before God’s throne, where our prayers are offered to God. God put an exact type of it in the tabernacle! (See also Isaiah 6:6.) This incense altar stood directly before the ark and the mercy seat, which represented God’s throne—but was separated from it by the veil. And throughout the Bible, incense—finely beaten spices that are burned to create a pleasing aroma—is likened to prayer.
This altar is also referred to as the “golden altar.” Mr. Flurry wrote, “God uses the ministry, or altar, to direct the spiritual lives of the saints. The ministers are responsible to see that the saints are approaching God, motivated by the Holy Spirit. They are to help God’s people now spiritually. … The ministers’ job is to direct the kind of spiritual sacrifices made on the golden altar! The greatest, most magnificent job ever given to any man! And God watches it with the closest scrutiny. The incense altar is a type of the holiest place in the universe. Spiritually, it also represents the ministers serving the great God!” (Royal Vision, May-June 1998). That is what God is referring to when He calls His ministry “the altar.”
“The royal ministry must lead the people in building the golden character of God,” Mr. Flurry continued. “That is why mankind was created. The ministry must lead God’s people in building their entire lives around the incense altar! Our primary focus in life must be on how we talk to God in prayer! That is our number one priority. That is how we grow in God’s royal Family.” This is a priestly duty! Consider: For any of us to kneel down and speak to God in prayer—to be able to make an offering to God before the incense altar—is a noble, exalted, priestly privilege!
Notice one of the priest’s responsibilities in Exodus 30:7. One of his first duties upon arriving at the tabernacle every morning was to burn incense as he went about trimming the lamps and filling them with oil. Preparing and burning incense was a priority at the beginning of each day.
Continue reading in verse 8. Burning incense was also part of the priest’s duties every evening as he went about lighting the lamps. At the beginning and end of each day, when he woke up in the morning and before he went to bed at night, this was one of the priest’s main priorities! But in addition to this emphasis on morning and evening, God also calls it “a perpetual incense”—meaning constant. Likewise we are instructed to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Read God’s instructions in Exodus 30:9. God was very particular about what was offered on the incense altar. His instructions had to be followed exactly.
Incense burned in the tabernacle was not haphazardly, carelessly thrown together; God did not want a hodgepodge of herbs and spices thrown together and burned. There was a specific recipe, and it had to be meticulously prepared! Formulating this holy incense was work. Read God’s instruction in verse 34. You could liken this detailed recipe for incense to the guidance Christ gave for our prayers in Matthew 6:5-15. God is specific about how He wants us to pray!
Note God’s description in Exodus 30:35. God told the priests to hone and perfect their ability to make incense. They were to make it an art! Likewise, God wants His people today to hone and perfect our prayers. He wants His priests to labor to develop the art of prayer.
God continues His instructions in verse 36. If incense was not beaten fine, it wouldn’t burn and ascend as a cloud. The priest had to work hard and take time to grind down the spices. Similarly, to be most effective, our prayers must be beaten down and made detailed and specific. “How sweet are your daily sacrifices?” Stephen Flurry asked.“Are they beaten as fine as incense—so specific that they are like handfuls of dust?” (Royal Vision, July-August 2007).
Read the warning in verses 37-38. Not just anyone could make this incense! It was specific to the priests, and it belonged to God. The priests were not to make the incense for themselves. Incense made for selfish purposes was an abomination to God!
Remember from the high priest’s ritual on the Day of Atonement that the incense was needed for the priest’s protection. When he went into the holy of holies, he had to take incense with him, put hot coals on the ground and pour incense on the coals so he was enshrouded by a cloud of sweet-smelling incense. If he wasn’t, he would die! (Leviticus 16:13). The same is true for us: A strong prayer life is a matter of survival for God’s people. To receive God’s protection, we must be sending up a cloud of incense. The more dangerous the time, the thicker our cloud of incense needs to be.
Revelation 5 says those golden vials in God’s throne room are “full of incense.” There are angels responsible for handling and monitoring our prayers. They have a big job, but it is our responsibility to ensure the vials are full of incense. We must prepare our daily incense meticulously, and burn it morning and night!
After exploring the tabernacle and encountering the table of showbread, the lampstand and the incense altar inside the holy place, you now turn toward the holy of holies. Separating you from it, creating the western wall of the holy place and dividing the tabernacle in two, is a special piece of fabric. Read about it in Exodus 26:31-33.
This veil divided the sanctuary into two rooms. Veil literally means “to separate.” This modern age fails to even recognize the difference between holy and profane! Today’s churches invite the savage world right into their sanctuaries. But God not only distinguishes between clean and unclean, holy and unholy (read more in Part 7 of this series)—He even makes a distinction between holyand most holy! This thick curtain was a barrier separating God from the sinful Israelites and preventing them from viewing His glory. The presence of God was not open for anyone and everyone to see or enter anytime they felt inclined.
The Bible doesn’t specifically mention it, but most sources say the veil was positioned at two thirds of the sanctuary’s length—meaning the holy place was a rectangle (20 cubits by 10 cubits), and the holy of holies was a square (10 by 10). Even that suggests the difference between the imperfection of the place “belonging” to the priests for prayer and other duties, and the perfection of the place belonging to God. If you factor in the height of the sanctuary—also 10 cubits—the veil would have been a 15-foot square (if a cubit is 1½ feet; other sources say it was a little more than 2 feet). That means the holy of holies would have been a perfect cube.
Interestingly, when new Jerusalem appears on Earth (Revelation 21:2), it is described as having equal dimensions in length, breadth and height—not just the holy of holies, but the whole holy city! It is12,000 furlongs each way—“the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal” (verse 16). Ernest Martin wrote, “What we view … is a cubed-form city with a wall on its top that surrounds the square platform on which the new Jerusalem will be placed” (The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot).
Passing through the veil to enter the holy of holies was extraordinarily rare and special. Anciently, the high priest could only do so on the Day of Atonement—and he did so with the blood of a sin offering for himself, and then with the blood of the goat representing Christ as a sin offering for the people. You can read about this in Leviticus 16. Jesus Christ, however, entered the holy of holies in heaven with His own blood.
Read Hebrews 10:19, then notice exactly what the veil represented in verse 20. The veil typified the flesh of Jesus Christ—the period He spent as a human being. The veil vividly illustrated that the Word would have to give up His eternal glory and be born in the flesh in order to die for mankind’s sins! Until He did that, this separation would remain between man and God. When Christ died, that veil was ripped top to bottom, opening the way to the holy of holies to God’s people, who have repented and accepted that sacrifice as payment for their sins (Matthew 27:51; Ephesians 2:13-14). Christ removed that separation between us and God!
When we enter through the veil, we enter the holy of holies, a type of the third heaven. “[B]eyond this ‘second heaven’ [typified by the holy place], there was yet a ‘third heaven.’ This … was the heaven of heavens, or in temple terminology, the holy of holies, which equaled God’s celestial abode where His palace and divine precincts were located, which the Apostle Paul called paradise” (ibid).
The Ark and Mercy Seat
Inside the holy of holies—the most special place on Earth—you see the ark of the covenant, with the mercy seat resting on top of it.
In Exodus 25, where God begins supplying details about making the sanctuary, the first thing He describes is the most important—what the whole structure is built around. Read about it in verses 10-11. This was a symbol of God’s presence in this special place in this special nation!
Notice what was placed inside the ark in verse 16. That “testimony” was the Ten Commandments, also called “tables of testimony” (Exodus 31:18; 32:15; 34:29). Consider deeply: Within the holiest place on Earth, inside the holiest object in the holy of holies, the very symbol of God’s presence—you find God’s law! This was a physical copy of the law that represents God’s eternal spiritual law of love! That is who God is. It epitomizes what and how He thinks, how He lives. God is love—the law is love—God is the law! The law is what is in His heart—what is inside Him! That is a beautiful picture. It is a measure of the importance of everything we have studied in this article series.
Later, God commanded they also put within the ark Aaron’s rod, a symbol of God’s government, and a pot of manna, a symbol of God’s revelation. “Of course, there is great symbolism in all of this. God’s people must eat manna, or spiritual food, today. They must be ruled by the Ten Commandments, or the law. That means there has to be government based on the law—symbolized by Aaron’s rod. That government must always emanate from God’s throne. The ark of the covenant is all about God ruling man. God’s Church is His temple today …” (Gerald Flurry, Ezekiel: The End-Time Prophet; emphasis added). God’s law, government and revelation are the ways God directs and guides and rules His people. “There was a physical ark anciently, and there is a spiritual ark today. The contents are the same. Ancient Israel obeyed the letter of God’s law. Spiritual Israel, or the Church, keeps the spirit of the law today” (Gerald Flurry, Trumpet, June 1996).
You see many examples where Israel’s priests led the nation with the ark, a physical reminder that God was leading them. When they conquered Jericho, they led with the ark and received miraculous deliverance. When people didn’t treat the ark with proper respect, they died: Uzzah after touching it; over 50,000 others because they looked into it (2 Samuel 6:6-7; 1 Samuel 6:19). It was very holy—human beings weren’t to treat it lightly. “Leaders lived and died. Kings and priests were ordained into office, ruled and died. But the ark always remained.It symbolized God’s presence, which should have been with them always” (ibid).
Notice what is on top of the ark in Exodus 25:17-20. The root Hebrew word for mercy seat means to cover over—not just in the sense of a lid on a box, but covering in the sense of making propitiation, atonement. During the Atonement ceremony, it was on and before the mercy seat that the high priest would sprinkle the blood of the sin offerings (Leviticus 16:14-15). So “mercy seat” really is a good English-language rendering. “The mercy seat was a symbol of God’s merciful throne. It is called the mercy seat because that’s what it is. We must learn that God always rules with mercy. There is never an exception!” (ibid).
Continue in verses 21-22. God’s voice emanated from between the cherubim above that seat. Remember: Today, the veil is gone, so when you come to the incense altar, you are right there before the ark and mercy seat, where God’s voice is! God communes with His people from there daily!
Take another peek into God’s heavenly throne room in Revelation 11:19. There we see the real ark! “This is God’s temple in heaven. There is an ark of the testament or covenant there, in the midst of lightning and thunderings and earthquakes—a very impressive sight. First, there was the ark in heaven. God had Israel build a physical ark patterned after the ark in heaven. It was a symbol of God’s rule on Earth as in heaven. … There were two physical cherubs with outstretched wings over the ark, or God’s throne. That is the way it literally is in heaven” (ibid).
This verse in Revelation “pictures the ark as playing a key role in Christ’s rule over the nations. This is a prophecy. God is going to administer His law and feed the world with great abundance, physically and spiritually. Almost immediately, the world will be introduced to the ark after Christ returns. God is preparing us now to teach about the ark. We must understand this vital subject. The ark of the covenant is for the whole world” (ibid).
When King David moved the ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6), he positioned it right over the Gihon Spring; thus, “living waters” flowed right from that holiest location! In the
Ezekiel temple, these living waters will flow out to the whole world! (Ezekiel 47).
Notice the prophecy in Jeremiah 3:16. This suggests that sometime soon, the ark will be discovered and put on display where people can “visit it.” Even so, not long after that, people will not talk about it anymore, or even remember it. The ark is just a symbol of God’s rule on Earth. But the time is coming when that rule will actually be here! You no longer need the symbol when the real thing manifests on Earth.
In a sense, the ark is a prophecy of God’s rule on Earth. Read verse 17. Jerusalem itself will be called God’s throne!
‘Show Them All the Laws Thereof’
In recent years, God has been getting the minds of His people focused on the millennial temple prophesied in Ezekiel 40-48. Today, in the hall of administration at the Philadelphia Church of God headquarters, is a model of the Ezekiel temple. (You can read about this in our booklet Ezekiel: The End-Time Prophet.) This temple—like Armstrong Auditorium, God’s physical house today—points us forward to new Jerusalem, and the dazzling future it represents.
Read about Ezekiel’s temple in Ezekiel 43:10. “God commands us to show the world this temple, and the government it represents—in detail!” Mr. Flurry wrote. “Then the people of Israel and the world will see that the way God manages His government is vastly different from anything in the world today. When they see how God’s government will work and how the problems of this world will be solved, in time they will be ashamed of how they have been defiant toward the living God!” (Jerusalem’s Temples).
Notice our responsibility in verse 11. Our job is to support God’s apostle in showing people all the details about this temple—including all its ordinances and laws. How much do you really know about the ordinances and laws of God’s sanctuary? Mr. Flurry said this is a commission we have to complete before the Tribulation! We have to publicize these details in a way that is vivid and memorable enough for it to make a lasting impression.
Read God’s instruction to His prophet in Ezekiel 44:5—and realize that God says the same thing to us. Mark this well! Focus your attention on this! “God wants us to get our minds on the Ezekiel temple,” Mr. Flurry wrote. “God’s very elect have to start planning for this new temple and for the new building program so that we are prepared for it when the Messiah returns. God wants us to have the mindset for it so we will be ready and excited about building it!”
This is the deep meaning behind the tabernacle in Israel. When you hear that word in the future, you can now have a deeper and more awe-inspiring understanding of what that ancient structure meant for Israel, what it means for us, and what it means for the whole world.