1 “Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them. 2 The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the breadth of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall be the same size. 3 Five curtains shall be coupled to one another, and the other five curtains shall be coupled to one another. 4 And you shall make loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set. Likewise you shall make loops on the edge of the outermost curtain in the second set. 5 Fifty loops you shall make on the one curtain, and fifty loops you shall make on the edge of the curtain that is in the second set; the loops shall be opposite one another. 6 And you shall make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains one to the other with the clasps, so that the tabernacle may be a single whole. 7 “You shall also make curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; eleven curtains shall you make. 8 The length of each curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the breadth of each curtain four cubits. The eleven curtains shall be the same size. 9 You shall couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and the sixth curtain you shall double over at the front of the tent. 10 You shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in one set, and fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in the second set. 11 “You shall make fifty clasps of bronze, and put the clasps into the loops, and couple the tent together that it may be a single whole. 12 And the part that remains of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remains, shall hang over the back of the tabernacle. 13 And the extra that remains in the length of the curtains, the cubit on the one side, and the cubit on the other side, shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle, on this side and that side, to cover it. 14 And you shall make for the tent a covering of tanned rams’ skins and a covering of goatskins on top. 15 “You shall make upright frames for the tabernacle of acacia wood. 16 Ten cubits shall be the length of a frame, and a cubit and a half the breadth of each frame. 17 There shall be two tenons in each frame, for fitting together. So shall you do for all the frames of the tabernacle. 18 You shall make the frames for the tabernacle: twenty frames for the south side; 19 and forty bases of silver you shall make under the twenty frames, two bases under one frame for its two tenons, and two bases under the next frame for its two tenons; 20 and for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side twenty frames, 21 and their forty bases of silver, two bases under one frame, and two bases under the next frame. 22 And for the rear of the tabernacle westward you shall make six frames. 23 And you shall make two frames for corners of the tabernacle in the rear; 24 they shall be separate beneath, but joined at the top, at the first ring. Thus shall it be with both of them; they shall form the two corners. 25 And there shall be eight frames, with their bases of silver, sixteen bases; two bases under one frame, and two bases under another frame. 26 “You shall make bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, 27 and five bars for the frames of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the side of the tabernacle at the rear westward. 28 The middle bar, halfway up the frames, shall run from end to end. 29 You shall overlay the frames with gold and shall make their rings of gold for holders for the bars, and you shall overlay the bars with gold. 30 Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain. 31 “And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. 32 And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. 33 And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. 34 You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. 35 And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table, and you shall put the table on the north side. 36 “You shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework. 37 And you shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold. Their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five bases of bronze for them.
It used to be the case that what is known as “the threefold office of Christ” was stressed more than it is today. By this is meant that Jesus is prophet, priest, and king. We still sing of this at times when we sing the third stanza of the hymn, “Praise Him! Praise Him! Jesus, our Blessed Redeemer!”
Praise Him! praise Him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer,
Heavenly portals, loud with hosannahs ring!
Jesus, Savior, reigneth for ever and ever;
Crown Him! crown Him! Prophet and Priest and King!
The idea is also present in some of the early Protestant statements. For instance, in the Hiedelberg Catechism of 1563 we find this question and answer.
1. Why is he called “Christ,” meaning “anointed”?
Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be:
our chief prophet and teacher
who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance;
our only high priest
who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body,
and who continually pleads our cause with the Father;
and our eternal king
who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.
Similarly, we find this in the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1646/7.
Q23. How is Christ our redeemer?
As our redeemer, Christ is a prophet, priest, and king in both His humiliation and His exaltation.
Q24. How is Christ a prophet?
As a prophet, Christ reveals the will of God to us for our salvation by His word and Spirit.
Q25. How is Christ a priest?
As a priest, Christ offered Himself up once as a sacrifice for us to satisfy divine justice and to reconcile us to God, and He continually intercedes for us.
Q26. How is Christ a king?
As a king, Christ brings us under His power, rules and defends us, and restrains and conquers all His and all our enemies.
The basic idea of the threefold office of Christ is that all of Jesus’ words and actions fall beneath one of these three offices: Jesus the Prophet, Jesus the Priest, and Jesus the King. In fact, we can say that all of scripture can be read with this in mind since all scripture ultimately points to Jesus. That being the case, we would say that the instructions concerning the building of the tabernacle that we find in Exodus fall primarily beneath the office of Jesus the Priest. This was certainly the understanding of the New Testament writers, and especially of the author of Hebrews, as we will see. Thus, even in a chapter like Exodus 26, which appears at first glance to be largely about curtains and frames, there are profound truths that were preparing the people of God for the coming of the Christ and that, for us, help us understand just what was happening on the cross.
The instructions for the tabernacle remind us that we have been cast out of Eden.
Exodus 26 is a construction chapter, but it is not merely a construction chapter. It is about the building of the tabernacle, but the design of the tabernacle had great meaning. Douglas Stuart writes that, the “Hebrew word for tabernacle is miskan, which means in Hebrews ‘living place’ or ‘dwelling place.’” It was not the only term used for this space, however. Stuart continues:
Understandably, such an important symbolic structure was referred to by more than one term in the original. The most common is miskan, “dwelling place.” But others are used, including miskan Yahweh (“Yahweh’s dwelling place”; e.g., 25:9), or miskan ha’edut (“the Testimony’s dwelling place,” e.g., 38:21, so called because the tabernacle housed the ark that held the Ten Words/Commandments, which were the “testimony” to the whole covenant), and miskan ‘ohel mo’ed (“the dwelling place that is the Tent of Meeting.” E.g., 39:32, referring to the way the tabernacle replaced the earlier “Tent of Meeting”), or simply ‘ohel mo’red (“Tent of meeting,” e.g., 28:43), or bet Yahweh (“Yahweh’s house,” as in 34:26), or qodes (“Holy Place/Sanctuary,” e.g. 38:24), or miqdas (“Holy Place/Sanctuary” as in 25:8).
The tabernacle was “75 feet by 150 feet” and consisted of “three separate zones of holiness: the holy of holies containing the ark; the holy place, outside the veil, which housed the lampstand, the altar of incense and the table of the bread of presence; and the outer court, where the sacrificial altar was placed.” In a sense, then, we might say that as an Israelite entered the tabernacle and moved inward, they moved closer and closer to God by moving closer and closer to the holy of holies.
Much has been made of the fact that the tabernacle in many ways pointed to Eden and to creation. That is true. Yet the design of the holy place and of the holy of holies also reminded the Jews that they were no longer in Eden.
31 “And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. 32 And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver.
The separation of Israel from the relationship that Adam and Eve naturally had with God in Eden was communicated in the sanctuary symbolically in two ways: through curtains and veils and through the presence of cherubim on the veil concealing the holy of holies. These cherubim stitched into the veil reminded Israel of the painful reality that our first parents were cast out of Eden as a result of their sin. We read of this in Genesis 3.
23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
John Milton captured this image creatively and powerfully in Book XII of Paradise Lost.
Th’ Archangel stood, and from the other Hill
To thir fixt Station, all in bright array
The Cherubim descended; on the ground
Gliding meteorous, as Ev’ning Mist
Ris’n from a River o’re the marish glides,
And gathers ground fast at the Labourers heel
Homeward returning. High in Front advanc’t,
The brandisht Sword of God before them blaz’d
Fierce as a Comet; which with torrid heat,
And vapour as the Libyan Air adust,
Began to parch that temperate Clime; whereat
In either hand the hastning Angel caught
Our lingring Parents, and to th’ Eastern Gate
Led them direct, and down the Cliff as fast
To the subjected Plaine; then disappeer’d.
They looking back, all th’ Eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late thir happie seat,
Wav’d over by that flaming Brand, the Gate
With dreadful Faces throng’d and fierie Armes:
Som natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.
This is the image that the veil cherubim brought to mind. Man’s rebellion led to estrangement from God, an estrangement symbolized in the cherubim. The point of the cherubim was to remind Israel time and again that paradise had indeed been lost. Such, too, was the result of the veil and the curtains and the very arrangement of the tabernacle. One did not simply walk into the presence of God unmediated on this side of Eden. We are by nature children of wrath. There is a separation that we cannot deny.
The instructions for the tabernacle remind us that we are separated from God by our sin.
What is more, the various curtains of the tabernacle as well as the overall construction of the tabernacle reminded Israel that they were separated from God.
33 And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. 34 You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. 35 And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table, and you shall put the table on the north side.
“And the veil shall separate…” There is the key phrase and there is the bitter truth: we are, by nature, separated from God. The construction of the tabernacle communicated that through its very design. A.W. Pink made this point well when he wrote:
The veil unrent shut man out from God. It spoke of separation from Him because of sin. Between the priests and Jehovah stood this Veil. Between the ordinary worshipper in the outer court and Jehovah stood this Veil. Between the ordinary worshipper in the outer court and Jehovah was a double partition, for he had no access into the holy place; while between the one outside the court was a threefold barrier between him and Jehovah! The whole ritual of Israel’s worship emphasized the distance between God and the creature.
What is more, Tony Merida makes the point that these architectural separations were not only intended to communicate that we cannot naturally walk into the presence of God in our sinfulness. They also communicated something else.
The curtains were constructed, not to keep people out of the presence of God, but to protect the people from God’s presence. There were three divisions: the courtyard, the holy place, and the most holy place. The final separation was a veil into the most holy place where God would meet with them once a year. He was teaching the people that forever they can only approach Him through blood sacrifice at that for now His holiness must be veiled.
This is a great point. Our sinfulness creates enmity between us and God. There is a separation. It means that we cannot naturally go to God unmediated. We need a priest. And it means that outside of an atoning sacrifice for our sins we would receive the judgment of God.
In Hebrews 9, the author described how the construction of the tabernacle meant that there was a separation between God and man.
1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. 6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. 8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
Yes, the priest was able to come before God on behalf of the people, but the fact that, at that point, not everybody could come was obvious and heartbreaking. “The way into the holy place,” wrote the author of Hebrews, “is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing.” The writer of Hebrews was pointing to the natural limitations of the sacrificial system. While the creation of the priesthood and the establishment of the order of worship and sacrifices pointed to the graciousness of God, it was yet incomplete and served to highlight our distance from God.
The instructions for the tabernacle speak of the grace of God, a grace that would be made most visible in Jesus.
Regardless of the limitations of the sacrificial system, however, the tabernacle and the divine prescription for worship and sacrifice did indeed point to the mercy and grace of God. This, more than separation, was the great point of the tabernacle: God is with His people and He comes to them in grace! The priesthood, imperfect and limited though it was, nonetheless pointed to the merciful provision of God for His people to have forgiveness and salvation!
Even so, it pointed to a greater Priest and a greater sacrifice to come. This is what makes the rending of the temple veil at the crucifixion so powerful! Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the event.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. (Matthew 27:50-51)
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (Mark 15:37-38)
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Luke 23:44-45)
If the veil reminded the people of their natural separation from God because of their sinfulness, then the rending of the veil reminded them that, through Christ, they were separated no more! The way is now open into the holy of holies! This is because Jesus made the way into the holy of holies possible, as we read in Hebrews 6.
19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Tellingly, the author of Hebrews says that Jesus went into the holy of holies “as a forerunner on our behalf,” meaning that we would be able to enter as well through His great priestly work. In Hebrews 9, we learn of the superiority of the priestly work of Jesus Christ.
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Thus, the work that Christ accomplished was a work that only Christ, the Son of God, could accomplish. He rent the veil and He walked through the veil bringing His people in His wake. Once again, the writer of Hebrews unpacked this idea beautifully in Hebrews 10.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
The upshot of these amazing words is this: the Savior is now our tabernacle who accomplishes in Himself all that the tabernacle pointed to in its design and function. He is a superior tabernacle, however, for Christ reminds of the nearness of God, not His distance. In Christ, our Priest and our sacrifice, we now come boldly before the throne of grace!
 Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus. The New American Commentary. Vol 2. Gen. Ed., E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), p.583-584.
 John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p.89-90.
 Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus. (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1981), p.234.
 Merida, Tony (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Exodus (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 171). Kindle Edition.