Christians often use the example of the tabernacle as a justification for their worship of Jesus. The missionary contends that just as God came to dwell in the tabernacle, allowing His people to direct worship towards Him by bowing towards the Holy of Holies – so it is with Jesus, they claim. They argue that the infinite God came to dwell in Jesus’ finite body and therefore there is nothing wrong with the Christians directing their worship towards Jesus.
This fallacy of this argument is readily apparent. The tabernacle had no personality of its own. The tabernacle was an inanimate building within which God’s presence came to dwell. No one ever confused the tabernacle with God. No one ever claimed that the tabernacle was a second person in a triune godhead. Everyone understood that there are two separate entities here; the tabernacle and God, and no one ever confused the two or fused the two together.
Jesus, on the other hand, was a human being with a human personality. Christians acknowledge as much. No one ever claimed that the body of Jesus was an empty shell that served as a resting place for an entity that was completely unrelated to his body. When the body of Jesus was crucified, Christians acknowledge that he suffered – not in the sense of the suffering that a person experiences when his house is destroyed, but in the sense of the pain that a person experiences when his own body is hurt. A popular Christian credo asserts that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. No one ever dreamed of making the claim that the tabernacle was both fully physical structure and fully divine.
The comparison that Christians make between the tabernacle and Jesus doesn’t work. It is no more than a poor excuse for the justification of idolatry.
But what was the tabernacle? What do we mean when we say that God came to dwell in the tabernacle built by Moses or in Solomon’ Temple?
Perhaps we can understand the concept of God dwelling in the tabernacle when we understand the concept of God dwelling amongst the people of Israel. We find that the people of Israel are also called God’s sanctuary (Leviticus 20:3). The Scriptures describe God’s relationship to Israel with the same terms that the Scriptures describe God’s relationship with the Temple: “My name is called upon nation/house/city” (1Kings 8:23, Daniel 9:18,19, 2Chronicles 7:14). The association between God and the Temple is similar to the association between God and the people of Israel. Both of these are eternal choices that God made as to how He identifies Himself to mankind.
The term that the Scriptures use to describe God’s relationship with Israel and with the Temple (- “His name is called upon them”) is also used to describe the relationship between a husband and wife in the context of marriage (Isaiah 4:1). Marriage is more than just a relationship between a man and a woman. A man and a woman could share a secret relationship, but we would never call that relationship by the term: “Marriage”. It is only when the two parties agree to tie their identities together for all to know that we can then say that they are married.
The same applies to God’s choice of Israel and the Temple. When God chose Israel, He did not just enter into a relationship with them. He tied Himself to them in such a way that henceforth He identifies Himself towards all of mankind as the God of Israel and Israel identifies herself as the people of God. This was not something that was done secretly between God and Israel. God made His choice of Israel public to all who were able to see at the time – i.e. the Egyptians. The entire nation of Egypt saw the Nile turn into blood for seven days. They all saw the unparalleled plagues which culminated with the splitting of the sea. Since then, God has allowed no other nation to lay claim to anything that can even remotely compare to the Exodus and the revelation at Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:33,34). God points to the uniqueness of this claim as a sign that God’s covenant – His marriage, with the people of Israel still stands – to the end of time.
Indeed, since them, when people think of the Creator of all existence, they associate Him with the people of Israel. And when people see Jewish people worshiping their God, everyone knows who it si that is being worshiped – the One Creator of all.
The same applies to the Temple in Jerusalem. God didn’t just simply choose a place for His people to worship. He made this choice public knowledge. He tied His identity to this place. He calls the Temple: “My House”. From the time that God chose the Temple in Jerusalem, He calls Himself; “The one who dwells in Zion” (Joel 4:17) and the Temple is called the house of God (Psalm 122:9).
The association between God and the Temple in Jerusalem is an eternal association that still stands (Psalm 78:69, 132:14). When Jews pray towards the site of the temple everyone knows who they are praying to and when the Temple in Jerusalem is mentioned (such as when people speak of the Channuka miracle) everyone knows that this was the dwelling place of the Creator of heaven and earth.
The way that God made the choice of His house public knowledge is through His people; Israel. Once it is already established that this nation is His bride, then when they unanimously acknowledge that this place was graced by the presence of their God – the world knows that the Creator of heaven and earth came to dwell here.
Now that the Temple is destroyed and Israel is in exile, God’s honor is diminished in the eyes of the world. People understand that it is God’s house that is in ruins and that it is His people that are scattered in foreign lands. The Messianic vision of the prophets foresaw a time when God returns to dwell in His house and sanctifies His people – openly – to the eyes of all mankind (Ezekiel 37:28). Because then, and only then, will all mankind truly recognize that there is no power aside from the One Creator of heaven and earth (Isaiah 40:5, Psalm 102:16).