Finally, there was an area behind a thick veil (Ex. 26:33), which was the Most Holy Place, where only the high priest could enter. There was the ark of covenant, which housed the final altar, the mercy seat, where blood was sprinkled to make atonement for the sins of God’s people. There it was said, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Ex. 25:22).
Prayer was seen in the altar of incense, the Lord’s Supper was seen in the table with the bread of the Presence, the light shone as did the Word of God, and the basin and the baptismal both displayed the need for washing. Yet, the contrast would not be felt mainly in the grand ornamentation of the furniture and the tabernacle tent but rather in the separation of the people from the presence of God. Only priests would enter the Holy Place for communion and prayer, and only one high priest would enter the Most Holy Place. Much of old covenant worship happened away from the sight of the people, with a “dividing wall,” as it were, between God and His sinful people.
Seeing the parallels of the means of grace in tabernacle worship and new covenant worship gives us a greater appreciation of all that Christ won for us in His mediation, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us: the High Priest of the order of Melchizedek—Jesus (Heb. 7:17)—entered the Most Holy Place, into the presence of God, to make atonement with His own blood on the mercy seat (Heb. 9:21). Do we appreciate the access we have now that was previously off limits in the Holy Place? Do we appreciate that we are invited to a table to dine with God, and not merely by proxy with a priest behind a curtain? Do we appreciate that prayer is mediated by Christ, so we all can approach the “altar of incense,” as it were, in prayer in Jesus’ name? “The true light, which gives light to everyone,” not just the priests, “was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Not only that, but we are told we have greater access because the curtain of separation was torn in two, from top to bottom, when Jesus breathed His last (Mark 15:38).
With all the parallels, there’s also a remarkable contrast between tabernacle worship and new covenant worship. We see the distance of the tabernacle and the restricted means there and the intimate access we have with God in Christ. We have access to sit at the table and commune with God personally in the Lord’s Supper. We can have access to God in prayer without mere human mediation, as we come to our High Priest who is God Himself. We see the light of God in Jesus Christ, and His Word is better than the pale light of the lampstand.
God has always had mediums, or means of grace, to communicate Himself to His people. But rather than looking to the old grandeur of the tabernacle with longing, we should remember that all those things pointed forward to Christ and the greater fellowship to be had between God and His people in new covenant worship. When we come together, with sheer joy, let us hear the Word, come to the table, and offer prayers as those who have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:14).