Holiness in the Tabernacle and the Temple: The Golden Standard

Exodus begins with a man standing on “holy ground,” and concludes with a man putting on “holy garments” to carry out service in the holy place of the most holy house. Whether examining the tabernacle or the temple, both teach us typically God’s “golden standard” of holiness, a standard He still expects in the local assembly today. Paul writes, “The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1Co 3:17).[1]

The Tabernacle – A Golden Standard

A Holy People

Though they didn’t always live up to it, the people of Israel were called “an holy nation” (Exo 19:6), chosen and separated to be a special people unto God. What they were positionally God expected them to be practically. God’s reason for holiness among His people has never changed, and Peter, quoting from Leviticus, writes, “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1Pe 1:16). The holiness of God’s people required two things: a holy man to represent the people before God and a holy sanctuary where he may serve on their behalf, in the presence of God.

The Holy Pattern

An Israelite approaching the tabernacle met a wall of fine twined linen, a picture of righteousness according to Revelation 19:8. But as God reveals the holy pattern to Moses through His Word, He commences in the holiest of all with the ark and the mercy seat, working from the inside out. It is called “the holy ark” (2Ch 35:3) and typifies Christ in His incorruptibility – the “ark of shittim wood” (Exo 25:10), and His deity – overlaid “with pure gold, within and without” (v11). This truth was revealed in the words of the angel to Mary, “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luk 1:35). Today we look not to an earthly ark but to Christ in heaven, still God’s golden standard as He walks in the midst of the “golden lampstands,” shining light on one girt about with a golden girdle and who speaks as “he that is holy” and “he that is true” (Rev 3:7).

The Holy Priesthood

Peter states that holiness begins by “gird[ing] up the loins of your mind” (1Pe 1:13), and it is on the forehead of Aaron the high priest that we find the golden standard in four words engraved on a golden crown: “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (Exo 28:36). Here was a man who looked different, who sounded different and who moved differently from everyone else. The holiness of Aaron is a type of the holiness of Christ, our Great High Priest, who is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb 7:26). The holiness of Aaron’s sons typifies the priesthood of all believers, “an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1Pe 2:5). If there is to be something of the glory and beauty of Christ in us as we serve in the assembly, we will look and sound different, and seek to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom 13:14).

The Holy Presence

When Aaron went within the veil once a year on the Day of Atonement, he put off his high priestly garments so that there was nothing of outward glory. As we go into the holy presence of God, we too must be stripped of self and cleansed from any defilement of the flesh. When Isaiah saw the pre-incarnate glory of Christ, he heard the “golden standard” from the seraphim, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts” (Isa 6:3). He responded, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips” (v5). Paul exhorts Timothy, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1Ti 2:8). God’s holy presence demands holy people with holy hands acting in obedience to His Word.

The Temple – A Glorious Sanctuary

A Holy Meeting

We never read of Solomon building “a temple,” but rather “a house unto God,” called “the most holy house” (2Ch 3:8), in contrast to the other houses he built. God’s glory would only fill one place that God had chosen to place His name, and “Solomon determined to build an house for the name of the LORD” (2:1). Obededom had the ark in his house for three months (2Sa 6), but the shekinah glory of God never dwelt there for it was a house linked to the name of Obededom. While many first-century assemblies met in houses, the sphere of the home and the sphere of the assembly were kept distinct. We too must guard the holiness God assigns to the local assembly, keeping it distinct from the sphere of the home, especially in a world of Zoom where the distinction may be blurred and the uniqueness of Christ in our midst is lost.

A Holy Measurement

Mount Moriah is considered the third most “holy” site in Islam, but not according to God’s “golden standard.” Moriah is holy because God chose it, marked it out in Genesis 22, and the full price was paid by David for the site in 2 Samuel 24:22. The huge brazen altar dominating the entrance to the temple impressed any visitor that this was a people who sacrificed unto one God. When people come among us they should be aware of how much we love to preach, pray and proclaim the death of Christ. The measurement of the altar was 20 cubits square, the exact size of the most holy place, teaching us that the demands of God’s holy righteousness were perfectly satisfied by the dimensions of the brazen altar. Of course, the type always falls short, and we can never measure Calvary and the sufferings of Christ. But we rejoice that, as a result of His finished work, we have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus … a [great] high priest over the house of God” (Heb 10:19-21).

A Holy Message

As the ark was placed in Solomon’s temple, there was only the law left within it; but Peter says that “the word of the Lord endureth for ever” (1Pe 1:25). The Word of God was the blueprint of both tabernacle and temple, and it is still the only way to lay the foundation of Christ in any assembly. Writing to the assembly at Corinth, Paul reminded the saints that the foundation was Christ; therefore, they must take heed how they built thereupon (1Co 3:10). May we always give the holy Scriptures their place in our midst, whether in children’s meetings or gospel work, because it is “the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2Ti 3:15).

A Holy Mark

Throughout the history of the temple from Solomon to Zedekiah, each king left his mark on God’s house. Some, like Ahaz, defiled it and brought the lavers down to street level, while others, like Hezekiah, repaired it and restored the holiness of the house. What mark will we leave on God’s house in our behaviour, attitude and service? May we grasp with renewed zeal that “holiness becometh thine house” (Psa 93:5), so that as priests we may “worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Psa 29:2).

[1] Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.