The Heavenly Tabernacle

In Hebrews 8, the author begins a discussion of the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ. In so doing, he mentions the tabernacle that the Israelites used for worship after they left Egypt. A few words used to describe this tent are worthy of note, not so much for their theological significance, but for their philosophical significance.

The three words are pattern, shadow, and copy. Hebrews 8:5 states that the earthly priests, “serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” And he quotes from Exodus when God said to Moses, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

Moses saw, as it were the blueprints for the tabernacle when he was on Mt. Sinai. It was something he was shown—it was something revealed. This is exactly the idea behind the word pattern. The blueprint was the pattern, and the tabernacle which Moses had constructed was the copy—the tangible copy of the true reality (9:24). A shadow, however, is slightly different. A shadow is not an exact representation or likeness. It is close enough to tell what it is, but far enough that it cannot be called a copy.

Hebrews 11:3 adds to this flow of thought. That which is seen (the creation, the tangible copy) was not made out of things that are visible. That is, they were made from thing which we cannot see. This verse does not teach that God created the universe from nothing. Rather, the pattern has not been revealed to us.

The significance of this interpretation is that the author teaches us that a transcendent reality exists. Moses knew if the tabernacle was right because it corresponded to the true pattern. Without the pattern, truth cannot exist.