God’s dealings with Israel showed that he desired to dwell among humanity, have fellowship with, and receive worship from them. For this reason, he instructed Moses, in Exodus 25, to build a tabernacle within which the Shekinah glory would dwell as God’s presence in the chosen nation. When Moses erected the structure, the supernatural presence of God descended into the holiest place to abide on the mercy seat. Israel was the only nation then to have the Almighty dwelling among them. This set-up was a shadow of what the LORD would do in the New Testament.
Structure of the Tabernacle
In the book of Exodus, in chapters 36 through 38, the Bible explains the structure and its finer details. There was the wall of the court, which enclosed the two chambers of the actual tabernacle. Access into the compound was through the only gate on the eastern side. On the inside of the court, outside the two chambers, were a brazen altar for sacrifices and a basin for washing by priests before and after handling animal sacrifices.
After the first veil was the holy place, which contained the golden candlestick of seven branches, the shewbread table and the golden altar of incense. Beyond the next veil was the holiest place, which had the Ark of the Covenant, whose lid was the mercy seat. There was also a golden pot of manna and Aaron’s rod. Above the mercy seat were two cherubim on opposite directions looking down at it. It was on the mercy seat, between the two cherubim, that the presence of the LORD dwelt.
The priests usually went into the holy place after the first veil to accomplish their service; offering bread on the table, adding oil to the bowl of the 7-branched candlestick to keep it burning and offering incense on the golden altar. The book of Hebrews chapter 9 outlines this. However, the high priest alone went into the holiest place once a year to offer sin sacrifices for the entire nation of Israel. On the 10th day of the seventh month, he offered these sacrifices before the sacred presence of the LORD. A look at Leviticus 16 shows precisely how the high priest carried out the work.
Temple in the Promised Land
The children of Israel had need of a permanent worship place in the Promised Land. In the wilderness, they could only have a collapsible structure as they were on the journey to Canaan. Thus, in the Land of Promise, David mooted the idea of a permanent worship place. He bought the ground, drew the plans, and prepared material.
Solomon, David’s son, implemented the inspiration of his father and constructed the temple. It was an elaborate structure compared with the makeshift building in the wilderness. However, the pattern remained as Moses gave it, and so did the priestly services. When Solomon offered the prayer of dedication, in second Chronicles chapter 5, the glory of God descended in a great way. Once again, Israel had the presence of God dwelling among them.
Jesus the Living Temple
When Jesus came to earth, the order changed for he became the living temple. In John 2:19-21, Jesus talked of his own body as being the temple. He was he was able to raise the temple after three days, pointing to the death of that body and its resurrection. God is a Spirit, and had to come into a human vessel to relate with humanity. Indeed, Colossians 2:9 states that Jesus is the fullness of the Godhead bodily. The glory of God was now in Christ; no wonder he could receive worship from his disciples.
The ultimate plan of God was to have an abiding place within humanity, and this started in Jesus. Stephen said in Acts chapter seven that God does not live in manmade structures. God desired to have a living earthly tabernacle.
From Pentecost Onward
On the day of Pentecost, a rushing mighty wind came into the upper room; tongues of fire appeared and filled every individual in the group of 120. The Pillar of Fire divided portions of itself to those who had accepted Christ. Thus, in the physical absence of Christ, the disciples became the living temple of God. The era of wooden or stone structures was over.
The true baptism of the Holy Spirit in a believer makes them God’s earthly dwelling place. In Ephesians 2:19-22, scripture states that believers are God’s habitation through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The book of first Corinthians 6:19-20 says that the Christian’s body is the Holy Spirit’s temple. In addition, they become priests to offer spiritual sacrifices, as Hebrews 13:15 teaches.
Where Exactly Does God Abide in People?
Like the tent of meeting in the wilderness, the human being is a three-fold creature. The Bible, in Thessalonians 5:23, states that a person has a spirit, a soul, and a body. The body corresponds to the part of the tabernacle outside the veil, which had the brazen altar and the basin. A human being’s spirit is the next realm after the body; it houses emotional senses. The spirit corresponds to the holy place that had the candlestick, shewbread table, and altar of incense.
God’s Spirit does not abide in those two places but he does deal with them. Like in the Old Testament, the presence of the LORD goes into the innermost chamber, the soul. The human soul has a void within it that God means to fill with his Spirit. Those who receive this Spirit in them become covenant individuals just as Israel was covenant nation.
The soul of a Christian is the dwelling place of the Shekinah glory in the New Testament. When the Holy Spirit fills the soul, the glory of God abides. It is imperative that every true Christian possesses this experience. As first peter chapter 2 states, we become a holy priesthood.