By Jamey Tucker
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).Within the Bible a great story is told. In fact, it is the greatest story ever told. It is the story of salvation. And at the heart of the story of salvation is Jesus Christ and his incarnation: “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
The story of salvation begins in Genesis with the tragic revelation that man, because of sin, was banished from God. In the Garden of Eden the first human beings, Adam and Eve, enjoyed a life that was free from all that plagues mankind today — unhappiness, boredom, disease, sin, death, etc.Life for Adam and Eve consisted in the blissful experience of all that was delightful and satisfying and the freedom from the defective and detrimental. Above and beyond the natural delights of the pristine conditions of Eden, was the immense joy that inundated their lives by God dwelling with them. As the Bible opens, God is already seen as a benevolent God, caring for and blessing the first couple with all things delightful, including the giving of himself to them.However, Paradise was lost by Adam’s sin. Adam disregarded the one prohibition given by God. He transgressed the commandment not to eat of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Adam brought condemnation and death into the world as a result of his action and rebellion: “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). The story of salvation begins with God lavishing man with rich blessings and unmitigated happiness and man, in his attempt to live outside of God’s authority, willfully disregarding God and his law. After “the fall,” Adam and Eve are driven away from Eden and banished from Paradise and from the presence of God.
Thankfully, the story of salvation was continued after the banishment from God and Eden. A further development in the story of salvation was the establishment of the nation of Israel as a theocracy. The nation of Israel was chosen by God to be the people that he once again would dwell among. The geographical location where God dwelt with Israel was initially referred to as Canaan and was described metaphorically as a land flowing with milk and honey. In particular, God instructed Israel to build a rectangular, tent-like structure called a tabernacle. The tabernacle had two sections; one larger and the other smaller, separated by a large curtain called the veil. The smaller section, shaped like a cube, was named the “Holiest of all.”
It was here, in the “Holiest of all,” that God graciously visited his people.
The marvel and wonder of God dwelling with his children was in view on the day the tabernacle was raised: “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34, 35). Later, in Leviticus, God reaffirms his willingness to bless Israel with his presence: “And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:11,12).
When Israel was established in the land of Canaan King Solomon built a permanent structure to replace the tabernacle. The permanent building was called the temple. The temple, like the tabernacle, was constructed for God to dwell with the nation: “I will dwell among the children of Israel” (1 Kings 6:13).Similar to the experience at the completion of the tabernacle, God’s glory filled the completed temple: “And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10, 11).
Israel’s history was marred by constant disobedience and rebellion to God. In consequence of Israel’s actions, God delivered the nation into captivity in Babylon several centuries after the tabernacle was completed. The people were exiled and the temple, God’s dwelling place, was destroyed: “And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia” (2 Chronicles 36:19, 20).There are similarities between Israel and Adam. Both lived initially in locations abounding with fertility and productivity. Israel, like Adam, rebelled against God’s word and was banished from the place where God had chosen to manifest himself and his glory.
A New Tabernacle
Part of the story of salvation that is constantly repeated relates to man’s sin and God’s banishment of man for sin. The ultimate sense of banishment is displayed in the horrific punishment upon lost humanity at the end of time when God pronounces: “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23). The other part of the story of salvation that is rehearsed over and over concerns God’s constant intervention to deliver man from sin and the consequences thereof.
The most momentous act of God with reference to the story of salvation was in Christ’s incarnation.
Again, God was present and his glory was displayed when the eternal “Word was made flesh, and dwelt among” his people (John 1:14). On this occasion God manifested himself in the person of Christ—God in the flesh—rather than in a work of human architecture or physical construction.The word translated “dwelt” means “to tabernacle.” In a manner reminiscent of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple, God again abides with his children and his unspeakable glory is displayed in the person of Christ: “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” Through the incarnation of Christ the invisible God and Father is declared. Christ displayed the glory of God in his birth and his death and resurrection in order to redeem banished humanity and to make it possible for God to once again dwell in the midst of his people. At the very heart and center of the story of salvation is the experience of Christ on the cross. It is there on the rugged tree that punishment for sin through banishment is again set before us. For us Christ is abandoned and heard in his piercing cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
An Eternal Tabernacle
The story of salvation ends with its consummation in the last book of the Bible, The Revelation. God’s people are restored and delivered from all the dreadful consequences of sin because of Christ’s willingness to tabernacle among his people in his incarnation and his readiness to suffer abandonment from God. As John describes the consummation of salvation he stacks metaphor upon metaphor to enable believers to appreciate the grandeur he is seeking to describe: “a new heaven and a new earth,” “the holy city,” and “the tabernacle of God.” “The tabernacle of God,” records John, is finally and forever “with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). Dear believer, rejoice in light of an eternal tabernacle where God dwells with his people, made secure and certain by the incarnate Christ!