Geometry and Prophecy in the Wilderness
“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and all its furniture, so you shall make it.”
– Exodus 25:8-9
How interesting is it that YHWH God, transcendent creator of time and space and matter and the creaturely mind, should be concerned about a tent in the wilderness. That is what the tabernacle was, a tent of goatskin and other materials, set up by a nomadic community as they wandered through the desert. Doesn’t it seem strange that the Almighty Triune God would be so specific, commanding that the tabernacle be created “exactly as I show you”? Well, there’s no use hiding it, on first glance, it is strange. However, we have come to know that nothing God does is meaningless, and if He invests such significance in the tabernacle, He must have something very significant to communicate through the tabernacle. In today’s post I want to consider just one of the (many) glorious, Christ-exalting allusions that God has so expertly woven into the structure of this “goat-skin tent”.
To start off let me say that I am indebted to my professor, Jason DeRouchie (who is, in turn, indebted to his professor, Daniel Block), for bringing the exactness of the tabernacle dimensions to my attention. Now, take a look at the rough sketch of the tabernacle design above. You can see that the entire complex is a rectangle that divides into two perfect square sections, 75’ x 75.’ This would not be all that significant if God had not been so adamant that the tabernacle had to be created exactly as He had revealed it. Because of this, we know that every foot and inch and dimension and color is laden with meaning (as is the case with all creation!).
In examining the two squares more closely, you’ll notice that there is something directly in the center of each of them. The object in the center on the right is the altar. This is where the burnt sacrifices were made that would atone for the sins of the people and, in this way, enable God to continue to dwell in their midst without destroying them by the presence of His holiness.
In the center of the left square section we see the Ark of the Covenant. This was the most holy object in Jewish religion and functioned as a symbolic “throne” for YHWH (Exodus 25:22). It was over the golden cover of the Ark (the “mercy seat”) that the presence of God would reside and upon this cover that the blood of the sacrificed animals would be sprinkled on the Day of Atonement in order to cover / remove / atone for the sins of the people.
So, what we see upon an initial examination of this diagram is that there are two perfect and identical squares that make up the tabernacle. In the center of one is the throne of YHWH, and in the center of the other is the altar of sacrifice where sins are symbolically punished in the death of a substitute. It might be noted – though it is not the focus of my post today – that in order for someone to draw near to the presence of God, they (or their substitute) would need to pass through the fire of the altar. Blood had to be shed, sins had to be dealt with, if anyone would approach God. But, as glorious as that is, it’s not what I want to draw our attention to right now.
What I want us to consider is the “geometric prophecy” that the tabernacle presents to us. By its very dimensions it forms a link in our minds between the throne of YHWH and the altar of sacrifice. We cannot look at the God-given pattern of this tent without seeing the connection between the two.
“But,” a Jew in Moses’ day might have said, “what connection could their possibly be between the unapproachably holy throne of the Living God and the altar of fire and stone, bronze and blood where our sins are atoned for?” Indeed, during the Old Covenant age it would have been hard to see a connection at all (other than that the altar enables approach to the throne). But that is why I called this a geometric prophecy…the pattern of the tabernacle pointed forward, pointed to a glory that had not fully come in Moses’ day. And when would this glory, the fulfillment of the tabernacle’s prophecy, when would it be fulfilled?
It would be fulfilled when the piercing cry of hammer on nail rang through the outskirts of Jerusalem. It would be fulfilled when human hands drove the crude creations of their hands through the hands of their Creator. It would be fulfilled when YHWH incarnate was lifted up on a cross of roughhewn wood and a mocking sign was affixed over His head, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
At the cross, the unthinkable happened. YHWH God – in the person of the Son – descended from His throne, clothed Himself in flesh, and laid Himself down on the altar. The same God whose presence bathed the Holy of Holies in glory, the same God who sat enthroned on the mercy seat in unapproachable light….that same God left the tent, came down into the courtyard, and placed Himself in the midst of the fires of the altar…..GOD became the LAMB.
The blood of bulls and goats, the centuries of sprinkled gore, the millions of animal bodies ascending in flame on the altar could not cover sin….could not tear the veil….could not usher us safely into the throne room. No, the King Himself had to descend. God Himself had to be bound with cords to the altar. And by His own blood, He has extinguished the fires of wrath and drowned the accusations of His people’s sins.
And notice this as well. When the King of kings left His throne and took up His place on Calvary’s altar, He made the altar a throne. Christ is revealed as the True King upon the cross. Who but the King does what is necessary for His people, even at infinite cost to Himself; who but the King loves the Lord His God with His entire being and loves His creatures as Himself; who but the King could trample the ancient serpent into the dust and break every yoke of oppression; Who but the King could overcome the Leviathan Death and ensures His Bride’s eternal joy in Himself. Who but YHWH Himself, the True King, could overthrow all opposition to Himself in a deluge of dying love? Let there be no mistake, the Cross is the Throne of our Lord and our God….
The Altar – Throne of our Lord and God
But before we end, I want to (all too) briefly point us to one more fulfillment of the tabernacle’s geometric prophecy. Of course, we know that the King did not remain on the Altar. He paid the price and rose again in victory three days later. Then, in glory and majesty, He ascended to the Father and is even now reigning over all authorities and awaiting the day of His return. However, in the book of Revelation, we are given a glimpse of the True Beginning, the New Heavens and New Earth. In that age the radiance of God’s Name will flood the universe through the reign of His incarnate Son, and in chapter 22:1 we read this description of God’s final throne:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
What I want us to notice is the name of the throne….it is “the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Jesus Christ is and will eternally be the LAMB, the Slain-and-Risen King, and it is as the Lamb that He will reign on the throne of God. Now, “Lamb” evokes the imagery of sacrifice and altar, does it not? It seems to me that in this final image of God’s throne, we see the perfect and climactic union of the throne and the altar.
Christian, for all of eternity, our Lord and our God will reign as the Slain-and-Risen Lamb from the Altar-Throne of the New Jerusalem. Oh, we will never forget the cross, we will never forget the sacrifice, we will never forget that the only reason we are able to rejoice, the only reason we are able to sing, the only reason every longing of our heart is satisfied in our God, is because YHWH is the God of Love, who reigns over all things from the Throne and the Altar.
Glory to our God who makes Himself known in His Son, the King of kings and Lamb who was Slain.