There’s more to the little tent in the wilderness than meets the eye. How did the Israelites view the Tabernacle, and why is the concept of God’s dwelling so prominently emphasized in scripture?
The short answer is that God desired to dwell in the people’s midst. The Israelites were thus commanded to build a sanctuary according to God’s heavenly design—to create a sacred space on earth, so God could dwell among them (Exodus 25:8). Upon their completing and consecrating its many parts, glory descended and filled the Tabernacle completely (Exodus 40:34–35). The promise remained certain—the whole earth would be filled with the glory of God (Numbers 14:21; Psalms 72:19; Habakkuk 2:14).
John foretells the close of history, when the earth will be filled with glory again and the explosion of that impact will be felt across the whole world: “After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory.”(Revelation 18:1, NKJV, emphasis mine)
The earth is illuminated with glory again. This is remarkable, for you can be sure that God doesn’t show Himself in such spectacular ways on a whim. Such carefully planned events have specific settings. God’s desire and purpose to dwell among us remains, but an enemy occupies the territory that God desires to inhabit. The opening lines of Revelation 18 reveal a few things that set the scene. The great angel who ranks in strength and authority makes his descent from heaven. He comes to earth from God Himself to deliver an important message. He is so glorious that his brightness is described as spreading everywhere, filling the earth.
The earth is illuminated less by the physical brightness of this million-watt bulb, however, than by the revelation of who God is. Jesus is called the brightness of God’s glory; it is His light that pierces the darkness (Hebrews 1:1–4). God also dwelt in Jesus, who came to realize God’s glory on earth and show us His ways. Light and glory are characteristic features of God’s love and goodness. The illumination of the earth is thus a revelation of the loving character of God, which supports the truth about Him and will eventually drive back all that is false.
False witnesses who claim to speak for God have captured the hearts of many men and women. Whole nations have been tricked, taken captive by demonic sophistries. God wants to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to know Him. To be sure, the context includes judgment against everything false or debasing, but the reference to glory filling the earth is a positive proclamation of relationship. God’s desire is to dwell with all His children. Hence, as New Testament scholar Sigve Tonstad states in his book Revelation, “God speaks to the whole world as though all human beings are ‘my people’ (p. 259). The call is addressed to those who dwell on the earth and “My people” are a final remnant that is constituted by the call.
Many good and honest souls have accepted religious explanations that are not true, but they will have their minds “illuminated” by a flash of truth-telling. The true understanding of God is found amidst numerous circulating false claims, and the world must be informed to understand the difference (Revelation 18:4–5). Realigning loyalties requires that the subtle yet deadly deceptions of men and nations be broken before the curtain is drawn (Revelation 18:23).
God will resolve the competing voices. People will not only recognize the lies but also comprehend the truth. The end is not tragedy but glory illuminating the earth—a cosmic reality that is ultimately fulfilled at the conclusion of history. God desires to dwell among His sons and daughters and make the earth a dwelling place for His glory (Revelation 21–22). He is calling us even now to manifest His glory and make our light shine before men (Matthew 5:16). The world is starving for a revelation of God, and we are to become the screen onto which the revelation of God’s glory is projected for the world.
The goal of life is to live in a way that shows others God is glorified. Most important is experiencing God’s love and inviting His presence to dwell with us. The more we embrace the light of His glory—the splendid expression of God’s loving character—the more we gain an understanding of Him, which is the proclamation that will finally illuminate the world.
Craig Ashton Jr.