Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their GodRevelation 21:3, NKJV
Since my youth, I’ve been fascinated by the ancient biblical tabernacle and the first temple of the Israelites. I’ve spent countless hours studying and building scaled models. While many readers skip over these seemingly boring sections of scripture, I find in them an elaborate design of profound beauty and mystery that captures my imagination. I am struck with the wonder of God’s self-disclosure and incredible abiding grace by which He dwells among His people. Discovering God’s intimate desire to dwell with me and His longing to incorporate humanity into His loving communion touches me at the deepest level of my being.
Why is God’s dwelling so strongly emphasized in the Bible? God’s commitment to and desire for nearness is forged in the language of redemption and relationship. He desires to dwell with us (Exodus 25:8) and chooses to come near to create such desire in us. In the Bible, God dwells in a tabernacle or tent. This is His incarnation—His dwelling among the people—and how God chooses to commune with us and make Himself known. God taking the human form of Jesus grows from this original longing of the divine to dwell among us. Indeed, the incarnation story reflects the concept of the tabernacle. John’s gospel declares, “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14, NKJV), suggesting that God has become tangible by coming down to our level, taking on all the brokenness of the human condition, and lifting us up. God dwells in Jesus, the Word made flesh. In the person of Jesus, God is human enough to understand us and yet divine to redeem and fully reconcile us.
Other stories about God, such as those from classical theism, portray God as remote from humanity. These, however, are not as compelling as the story of incarnation. I believe that God’s tabernacle—as an earthly and heavenly reality—provides a better framework for explaining the meaning of contemporary life and offers realistic hope for the future. The story of the tabernacle conveys profound insights about God’s intent, aims, and role in history. It presents a central grand theme for understanding everything: God’s desire to be with people.
Creation and humanity are not meaningless. God has become a part of His own creation. The story that emerges is God’s longing to dwell amid people on earth and through them, fill the entire world with His glory. God demonstrates a pattern of dwelling among us, showing His intense love for the world on a cosmic scale. This picture of heaven and earth (the divine and human together) is important to understanding the saving interactions through which God relates to our world, which include His every effort to reveal Himself from the dawn of creation to the world’s conclusion.
The ancient tabernacle is often considered an archaic way to conceive of God that belongs to an old generation—a discarded conception unworthy of incorporating into our theological perspective. Forgotten is the Jesus who reveals Himself at Sinai. Today’s Christians rarely learn about the ancient pattern, and they generally don’t know much about it. There is a tendency to dismiss it altogether due to theological arrogance. Most have lost this backstory.
The tabernacle, however, presents a grand love story, and you’re included in it. In fact, it includes every soul living on earth. It presents a divine perspective on the earthly situation and directly affects the story’s overall trajectory. It not only is central to the meaning of history but also presents human identity and vocation as image bearers for the divine. It offers us a solution to the evil and pain of the world, as God’s judgment and humans’ final destiny are also built into the story.
I cannot find a better narrative for explaining the meaning of history and the mysteries of life. The story takes shape in Exodus, when God commits His people to build the tabernacle. Why does He do this? Through Moses, the answer comes: “that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Don’t overlook this point! The tabernacle was constructed for one simple purpose: God dwelling among us. That’s what it’s all about! There is nothing on earth that can better satisfy our deep longings for love and nearness than a relationship of intimacy and desire.
All our dreams for a better world are reflected in this story, including our desires for justice, for a love that endures, and for the restoration of life itself. God dwells on earth in very mysterious ways. Experiencing His presence is the aim and apex of all the symbolism found within the tabernacle. God’s desire to be with humanity becomes the guiding context for understanding all the actions through which He relates to our world. He desires us! His purpose is to dwell with us and to once again make the cosmos His temple.
The story of incarnation is based on this backstory (the place where heaven and earth meet), which guides our understanding of God’s way of restoring heaven and earth. Incarnation is a way of seeing God. It communicates meaningful answers about His character and the plans He has to be accessible to us. It offers us hope through a heavenly perspective on an earthly situation. In a very real way, heaven and earth are interconnected, and we are caught up in this expansive cosmic narrative that will someday culminate in a climax for the whole world—making it again the place where God walks among us.
God passionately desires to intensely dwell with us so that He may accomplish His purposes in the world. The incredible grace of God by which He dwells among His people manifests most profoundly in the joining of divinity and humanity through the person of Jesus, who “made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14, NIV). God’s early movements to draw closer have been intensifying throughout history, and His tabernacle project to dwell among His sons and daughters offers a way to understand how He relates to our world. It shows God’s intimate longing to draw nearer to us. It is truly a heartwarming message about closeness to a gracious and loving God.
I take the story of incarnation seriously. God has taken my humanity and restored it for the life that I will have in fellowship with Him. God wants to make His presence felt among us and continues to mediate our humanity. This love story culminates in a new heaven and earth, reunited in an eternal embrace. The dwelling of God will be with His people, and the cosmos will be His tabernacle (Revelation 21, 22). This world will become God’s home, and the intensity of His presence will fill it completely. Let’s celebrate the story of incarnation for a world that desperately needs it—to become a people among whom God dwells.
Craig Ashton Jr.