The Ark, the Tabernacle, and the Temple

Note: I made a powerpoint to accompany this lesson, so I could show the class what some of these things looked like. Instead of uploading the powerpoint, I will link to the images I used in this. 

Last week we talked about the Law. Today I want to discuss something that goes hand-in-hand with that and you guys had a lot of questions about last week. That is, the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, and the Temple.

These three things basically all represent the same thing: God’s presence among the people of Israel. Basically physical facilities that could remind the people of their covenant with God and also be a way for people to worship God. To fully explore that we’re going to have to talk about what each of these things is, starting with the Ark of the Covenant.

So what is the Ark of the Covenant? Get your Bibles and let’s turn to Exodus 25:10-22.

10 They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make a molding of gold upon it all around. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, by which to carry the ark. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 You shall put into the ark the covenant that I shall give you.

17 Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its width. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other; of one piece with the mercy seat you shall make the cherubim at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat[e] with their wings. They shall face one to another; the faces of the cherubim shall be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites.

These are God’s instructions to the Israelites on how to build the Ark of the Covenant. Also if you’re wondering what a mercy seat is, it’s basically the lid. I don’t really know why they call it that.This may be hard to follow and imagine so fortunately for you I brought a visual! [Slide 2] I know some of you have seen this movie. This is Raiders of the Lost Ark. In that movie, the lost ark they are looking for is the Ark of the Covenant. And we’ll talk about later why it’s a lost ark, and not something we still have. For this movie, they actually made a fairly accurate replica based on that section we just read. 

So this is what it looks like but what is the Ark of the Covenant? It’s basically like a big chest or piece of luggage. Except that in those verses we just read God said he will appear above the angels in the ark and from their deliver his commandments to Israel. So God is going to appear above this Ark! That’s pretty cool.

The other thing is implied in it’s name: the Ark of the Covenant. It’s a visible and physical reminder of the covenant yes, but it also contains the covenant. Can someone read Exodus 40:20?

20 He took the covenant and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark, and set the mercy seat above the ark;

Basically the stone tablets on which Moses wrote God’s words and brought down from the mountain? They put those in the ark of the covenant. So the actual words, the physical contract more-or-less, is in the Ark of the Covenant.

But it’s not the only thing in there.

Can someone read Exodus 16:33-34?

33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping.

They place a jar of manna in with the covenant. An “omer” is just a Hebrew unit of measurement. Why did they put it in there? I think because God wanted them to have a physical reminder of how he cared for them for their time in the desert, how God literally fed them. So when they doubted God’s power or love, they could see that and think “Oh yeah, remember that time God literally fed us with manna from heaven?”

The last item in the Ark of the Covenant is described in Numbers 17. As you flip there, some context. Basically, one of the Hebrews had enough of Moses and Aaron’s leadership. He was like “Why do these old dudes get to lead us? Aren’t we all equal before God? Why do we have to listen to them? They just want to control us!”

And basically Moses was like “Well, we’ll let God decide who should lead.”

So God told Moses to have each tribe elect someone they wanted to lead them. Then they would present a staff—like a wooden walking staff—with that man’s name carved in it. For the Levites that was Aaron. And God said he would one of them bud—so basically one of these dead staffs of wood would suddenly start having stuff grow on it, something only God could do. Whoever’s staff budded would get to lead.

Can someone read Numbers 17:8-11?

8 When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted. It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 9 Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites; and they looked, and each man took his staff. 10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the covenant, to be kept as a warning to rebels, so that you may make an end of their complaints against me, or else they will die.” 11 Moses did so; just as the Lord commanded him, so he did.

So it was Aaron’s staff that sprouted, Aaron that God chose. And to remind them of that, God instructed Moses to place the budded staff in the Ark of the Covenant, to remind them that God chose Aaron to be the leader.

This section also mentions the tent of the covenant. What is that? Well, remember during this time the Hebrews are wandering through the desert. They have no place to call home. They have no unmoving temple or church they can go to. The Ark was basically the heart of their mobile church, and that mobile church—which those verses called the tent of the covenant—is usually referred to as the Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle is basically a church tent. [Slide 3 ]. Remember the Hebrews are nomads at this point. They do get to the Promised Land, but because they were scared to go inside, they have to wander for 40 years. So for 40 years they’re wandering in the desert. During that time they have this portable temple they can use where they can go worship God and make sacrifices.

The Tabernacle is described in detailed in Exodus 25-31. This includes descriptions of the Ark of the Covenant, which is placed in the tabernacle when it’s set up, to the dimensions of the tent, to what exactly the priests had to wear. [Slide 4]

You can see here that the Ark of the Covenant is placed inside the Tabernacle behind a veil in the “Most Holy Place.” So imagine this set up like a tent that’s gated in. If you go through the gate you see an alter and a tent. If you go in the tent, you’re still separated from the most holy place by a veil. And behind that veil God would come in the form of smoke. Only certain people were allowed in these different parts. While some priests could enter the courtyard, they couldn’t enter the tent. Some could enter the tent, but most would not be allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest would be allowed to do that.

I want to be very clear on something here. The Tabernacle was more than a church. I’m sure you hear in church service and maybe from adults that a church is just a building. A church itself is no more or less holy than anything else. But the Tabernacle was different. The Tabernacle was where God dwelled.

And the same was true of the Temple.

You see the Tabernacle was basically a temporary measure while the people wandered and had no permanent home, while they were outside the Promised Land. Eventually—much later—when the Hebrews settled in Canaan and were established there, they built a Temple. [Slide 5: Image 1Image 2 and Image 3] We will get to this story much later, because it’s not built until King Solomon is King of Israel and we’re still pretty far away from that happening in our study.

You’ll hear this Temple referred to most often as Solomon’s Temple, but it can also be referred to as the First Temple or just the Temple. The temple had a very similar internal set up to the Tabernacle in that they were still varying levels of who was allowed well and in the innermost part was still the holy of holies behind a veil where the Ark of the Covenant was (Slide 6). This Temple was literally viewed as the place on earth where God lived.

Of course God was not just limited to the temple. God could and did speak to people outside of the Tabernacle and Temple. For one example of that let’s turn to an interesting story in Numbers.

In this story in Numbers, the context is basically that the Israelites have not yet entered the Promised Land but are wandering around in the area just east of the Jordan. They keep running into other people groups and for various reasons having to fight them. Basically to those other tribes, the Israelites look like a scary invading army who might try to take all their land. So they just kept having all these battles and because God was with them and on their side, they kept living.

There was this one guy named Balak who is basically the leader of a specific people group, and he is terrified of the Israelites coming in and destroying his people. So he decides his best bet is to call to the number one sorcerer in the land, a guy named Balaam.

Now Balaam actually thinks God is super powerful. Now when I say he believed in God I don’t want you to confuse him with someone who worshipped or loved God. Basically Balaam was a sorcerer who believed in many gods, and that they were all real, and that includes our God—the God of the Israelites. He also thought the God of the Israelites was super powerful, could defeat them all, and therefore didn’t want to go against him,

However, in the end his leader Balak pressures Balaam into coming to him anyway. God is not very happy about this situation. Alright can someone read Numbers 22:22-27?

22 God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 The donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck it again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 

So Balaam is heading out and riding his donkey. And because God wants his anger at Balaam and his king to be known—because his king basically wants Balaam to curse God’s chosen people—God puts an angel in his way three times. Each time the donkey sees the angel but Balaam doesn’t. So the donkey turns off the road, or runs into a wall, or finally just cowers where she is so that they don’t run into what must be a terrifying angel.

Balaam doesn’t see the angel. He just thinks his donkey is being willful and disobedient. So he just keeps beating her trying to make her move on.

Can someone read Numbers 22:28-31?

28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!” 30 But the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face.

God makes it so the donkey can speak! That’s pretty miraculous! And she’s like “Why do you keep beating me?” And instead of dying of shock like I would of, Balaam instead says, “Because you keep messing up! And I’m so angry I might kill you.” And then the donkey is basically like “When have I ever failed you before?” And Balaam is forced to concede the point that—well—she’s been a good donkey.

Then God opens Balaam’s eyes and he sees the angel! And he’s terrified and falls to the ground before this angel.

Now can someone read Numbers 22:32-35?

32 The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now therefore, if it is displeasing to you, I will return home.” 35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but speak only what I tell you to speak.” So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak.

The Angel is basically like “if your donkey hadn’t stopped you I would have killed you. So your donkey saved your life.” And Balaam realizes that God must really not want him to go. But really God could’ve killed Balaam at any moment. He didn’t have to let the donkey see the angel to stop him from running into it. He didn’t have to let the donkey talk. And he certainly didn’t have to let the angel explain himself. But God chooses to do these things because he’s trying to teach this foreign sorcerer about him so when Balaam goes before his king he’ll refuse to raise a hand against the Israelites.

In the end Balaam goes to his king and he speaks God’s words to the king.

So why are we talking about in this story? Well because in this story God uses a donkey to speak to a foreign sorcerer. He then uses that foreign sorcerer to speak to his king. God can and does use anything and anyone to speak to people. He did then during the time of Moses and he does now. So why all this business with the Tabernacle and Temple where only certain people were allowed to go in to see God?

Because they were different. They meant something different. The Tabernacle and Temple were like God’s home on Earth, a place he would always be and where you could visit him. They were physical reminders of God and his constant presence on this earth.  

In the end, Solomon’s temple was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians. During this event, it seems the Ark of the Covenant was lost. Possibly the Babylonians took it because we know from many verses in the Bible that they basically ransacked the Temple and took anything gold or worth money, and that would certainly include the ark. The ark is not explicitly mentioned as something the Babylonians took, however, so some people think that it might have been hidden away before the Babylonians reached the Temple. We may never know. This is why the Ark is referred to as the Lost Ark. Literally no one knows what happened to it or where it is.

A second temple was later built—and that is the temple that Jesus visited during his time on earth. [Slide 7] This temple was built during Old Testament times, lasted through Jesus’s time, and then was destroyed by the Romans in around 70 AD. This temple was built to be identical to the first, because the temples weren’t just built to be aesthetically pleasing. Like the ark and the Tabernacle, the instructions for the Temple are in the Bible and were required to be built in a specific way. The major difference between the first Temple and the second was that the Ark of the Covenant was not in the second temple.

The Wailing Wall (slide 8) is one of the few remaining bits of the Temple that still exists today. The Wailing Wall was the Western Wall of the Temple courtyard.

So why is there no new Temple? You would think that after World War II, when Israel was given back to the Jewish people—as a safe place they could go after the Holocaust, the first thing they would want to do is rebuild the temple, right? After all, without the temple they can’t make the sacrifices that are Biblically required of them. If you ever wonder why Jewish people don’t still make sacrifices, that is why. They must make sacrifices on the alter in the temple, and there is no temple today. Therefore, they can’t do this important act of their faith. So why don’t they rebuild the temple?

Well, because nothing is ever that simple. There are many Biblical requirements that must be followed to rebuild the Temple—many of which we can’t meet today. Such as the high priest being a descendant of Aaron. The alter must also be placed in the exact same physical location it was before, and we know longer know that to the same accuracy. But another big issue is the Dome of the Rock.

Do you guys see the gold dome in that picture? That is the Dome of the Rock. It is one of the holy sites of Islam. Many people believe that the Dome of the Rock is built where the Temple originally was. So to rebuild the Temple in the exact same place would require it being moved, and that would be an act of war. (Note: Emphasize that this is NOT because of any stereotypical view they may have of Muslims, but rather because knocking down someone's holy site is just really really not cool. That site is holy in Islam and therefore must be treated as such. And to knock it down would be the equivalent of walking up to someone and punching them in the face and stabbing them in the back at the same time.)

Now some Jewish people believe that there will be a Third Temple. That a Messiah will come who will be able to negotiate all the political differences, sniff out the true location of the alter, and who is of the bloodline of Aaron. This Messiah might be Elijah come back or Moses or some other such thing. Not all Jewish people believe this, because Judaism is a diverse faith where people interpret things differently.

And this idea of a Third Temple and the Messiah coming is not all that far off from what Christians believe. We believe Jesus is the Messiah, but when Jesus first came the Temple still existed. Islam didn’t yet exist as a religion. There was no dispute to be settled. However, the book of Revelations points to a second coming of Jesus. Is it possible that when Jesus comes back the temple will be rebuilt? It’s definitely possible. There are things in the Bible that point to the presence of a third temple to come.

However, it’s not something we as Christians often think about or dwell on. Why? Why don’t we care about this place where God literally lived. You would think we’d want to rebuild God’s house? Right???

But when Jesus came to this earth and died and was resurrected everything changed.  I want you guys to turn to Mark 15:33-38. Remember Mark is in the New Testament and it’s the second Gospel.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

When Jesus died the veil was torn. (Turn back to slide 6). The veil, the thing that separated the part of the temple where God literally was from the rest of the temple, the rest of the world. Yes high priests could go back there, but even then, they didn’t do it very often. Just once a year to offer the highest sacrifices. Now that veil was torn.

Obviously God could move on either side of the veil if he wanted to, so what does this mean? It’s a symbol, a symbol of what Jesus just did. He brought down the separation between God and man. He was God among us, God made incarnate who walked among us and experienced everything we did. Now because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit we all have access to God all the time.

Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before “your body is a temple.” And I’m sure you’ve heard it in a glib way, that is basically just like “respect yourself and your body, your body is a temple.” But have you ever thought about that? Thought about what that means? Your body is a temple. The temple is the place where God lives. God lives in you. The Holy Spirit resides in all Christians. We don’t need to go to a special place to see God, we have God with us all the time. Each one of us is part of the Temple. God resides in each one of us. That’s why we need to respect our bodies and not defile them, because when you do that you are disrespecting God’s house.

We are the Body of Christ. We are God’s house. And that’s why to Christians the church is just the building. We are the church.