Skene


‘skene’ simply means ‘a tent’; but if matters were as simple as that, this would be a very short study. In fact, this word in scripture, and particularly in the NT, came to acquire a range of metaphorical and symbolic meanings which make it a fascinating word to examine. It is also the head of a small family of words, related nouns and verbs, which we shall also look at. The English derivatives, ‘scene’ and ‘scenery’ (but not ‘obscene’) owe their existence to Greek theatre, and the Greek word itself in turn seems to be derived from the word ‘skia’, meaning ‘shade’ or ‘shelter’ - a word we will encounter later. Before Greek drama developed into the tragedies for which it is most famous, and was staged in the magnificent theatres whose remains are still today tourist attractions throughout the Hellenic world, it seems that it consisted of essentially religious ceremonies, choric hymns in honour of the gods connected by priestly narrations of their exploits. These would be staged on temporary wooden platforms, perhaps with some kind of ‘skia’ erected over them as a covering. This structure was called a ‘skene’, and the word was carried over into the permanent theatres when drama became a regular feature of Greek civic culture. It now came to refer not to the stage but to the rear wall of the theatre, which was itself unchanging, though ‘scenery’ could be added to it, in the form of temporary screens or structures, as the setting of the play required. There is, I think, no suggestion at all that any of the 20 uses of ‘skene’ in the NT owes anything to this theatrical background. Nevertheless, the history of the Greek ‘skene’, with its development from something essentially temporary and moveable into a fixed and permanent theatre, and yet retaining elements of its former self, is remarkably parallel to the history of the biblical ‘skene’. Furthermore, the paradox that what we see taking place on the ‘skene’ of a theatre appears to be real but in fact is only an imitation - or a shadow - of true reality is one that will feature largely in this study.

(a) Paul: Tent-maker
skenepoies
Acts 18.3

To begin with, however, a tent is simply a tent. The first word we shall look at is, in fact, a very junior member of the family, a compound noun, ‘skenepoies’, meaning ‘a tent-maker’. This word occurs only once, in Acts 18.3, and refers to Paul and his host in Corinth, Aquila. Even this usage, however, is not quite as simple and straightforward as the word itself suggests. Commentators have argued that the basic skill required for tent-making - stitching leather - could well be used for other commercial purposes, and that the urban environment of Corinth might well require such diversification. Still, Paul, as all Jewish rabbis were required to do, practised a manual trade, and used his skills to earn a living during the week so that he could “discuss and persuade” every Sabbath in the synagogue. When Silas and Timothy arrived with a monētary gift from the generous churches of Macedonia (2. Cor.8. 1-2), he was able to “devote himself exclusively to preaching” (v. 5, NIV); but in Ephesus it seems that he returned to his tent-making, for in his moving farewell to the Ephesian elders he calls them to witness that “these hands supplied my needs and the needs of those with me” (Acts 20.34). The tents Paul made, then, were simply tents, literal and of leather. But his practice of plying a trade and using his professional expertise to support his gospel ministry has provided a pattern for modern missionary practice in countries where ‘missionaries’ cannot get visas, but people with professional qualifications can. Such forms of evangelism have come to be known as ‘tent-making ministries’, and have even inspired a book titled “Today’s Tentmakers”. So even here a tent is more than a tent - it is a type. And the fact that Paul was, literally,a tent-maker adds point to his symbolic use of ‘tents’, which we will come to in due course.

(b) Abraham: Tent-dweller
paroikō / katoikō/paroikos

Heb 11.9, Luke 24.18, Matt 2.23, Eph 3.17, Col 1.19, 2.9, Rev 17.8


For our first example of ‘skene’ itself, we move from Paul to Paul’s favourite OT character, Abraham (19 mentions in the epistles - Moses only gets 10!). He is foremost among the great heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11: “by faith he lived as a migrant in the land God had promised him as though it were a foreign land, dwelling in tents” (v.9). There is no doubt that the tents Abraham lived in were simply and literally tents, but the two related verbs that the writer uses in this verse lead us towards the first of our metaphorical tents, and the first of the paradoxes associated with ‘skene’ in the NT. The two verbs are ‘katoikō’ and ‘paroikō’, both compounds of the simple verb ‘oikō’, which means to ‘dwell’ or ‘live in a house’ (‘oikia’ in Greek). ‘katoikō’ is a common verb, used throughout the NT (45 times), meaning to ‘dwell’ or ‘reside’ in a place, to ‘make your home’ there, to ‘settle down’ somewhere (the basic meaning of the preposition ‘kata’ is ‘down’). Its first and last uses in the NT are sufficient to illustrate its meaning. In Matthew 2. 23 Joseph, after returning from Egypt to the land of Israel, “came and settled down into a town called Nazareth” - he made it his home. And in Revelation 17.8, at the re-emergence of the Beast from the abyss, “those who dwell on the earth will be amazed” - though, interestingly, this does not include “those whose names are written in the book of life”, presumably because they are citizens of heaven and merely sojourners on earth, ‘paroikōi’, as we shall see shortly. But first we will look at two theological uses of ‘katoikō’ which are particularly noteworthy. In Ephesians 3.17, Paul, in his magnificent prayer for his readers, prays that “Christ may make his home in your hearts through faith”; and the full import of this awesome prayer is made clear in Colossians, where Paul states that “in Christ the whole fullness (of God) was pleased to make his home” (1.19), and “in Christ the whole fullness of the Godhead makes his bodily home” (2.9). It is amazing enough that God dwelt in Jesus, but the thought that this same Jesus can live in us is truly mind-blowing. But one of the great truths revealed by a study of ‘skene’ is that God wants to live with his people, and in his people; and this truth we shall consider in more detail when we come to look at the incarnation. But the paradox is that those in whom God, through his Holy Spirit, makes his home are no longer ‘at home’ in the world: their true home, as we saw a moment ago, is in heaven. In this world they are ‘paroikōi’; perhaps ‘resident aliens’ would be a reasonable translation. This is the noun, in its plural form, derived from the verb ‘paroikō’, which means to ‘live as a foreigner among’. Abraham made his home in tents (‘katoikō’), but the land in which he lived (‘paroikō’), though promised to him, was not yet his, and he lived there as a foreigner and a migrant. This distinction is also made in the LXX version of Genesis 37.1: “Jacob dwelt (‘katoikō’) in the land where his father had sojourned (‘paroikō’), the land of Canaan”. The only other occurrence of this latter verb in the NT is in Luke 24 18, where Cleopas, on the walk to Emmaus, asks Jesus, without realising that it is Jesus, “are you the only one, even of those just visiting (‘paroikō’) Jerusalem, who doesn’t know what has been going on here these last few days ?” The use of ‘paroikō’ adds sharpness to the point: Cleopas is incredulous that any one, even a stranger, could be ignorant of Jesus’ crucifixion.

(c) Strangers and sojourners
[i] in the OT
paroikia / paroikos / parepidēmos

Acts 13.7, 1 Peter 1.17, Gen 23.4, Lev 25.23, Psalm 39 12-13, 1 Chron 29.14

There are two nouns derived from ‘paroikō’, the personal noun ‘paroikos’, which we have met already, and the abstract noun ‘paroikia’; their AV translations are more convenient, if less familiar: ‘a sojourner’ and ‘a sojourning’. The latter is used by Paul, in its literal sense, in his sermon in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch: “God exalted his people during their sojourning in the land of Egypt” (Acts 13.17); they dwelt there for 400 years, but were never more than resident aliens. This sermon is reminiscent in several ways of Stephen’s long speech before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7, but the similarity which is relevant here is his quotation of Genesis 15. 13-14. This is the third of God’s covenant promises to Abraham: “Your descendants shall be sojourners (‘paroikoi’) in a land not their own --- for 400 years”. Both these uses are literal, but with the only other use of ‘paroikia’ in the NT we enter the (promised!) land of metaphor. Peter in his first letter tells his readers (and we shall find out who they are before long): “Conduct yourselves with godly fear during the time of your sojourning here [in this world]” (1.17). ‘paroikia’ may be rare in the NT, but its descendant, via Latin, is now common in English: ‘parish’ - its Greek origin helps to explain its otherwise puzzling adjectival form ‘parochial’. In this sense it came to mean a group of people living near each other, and so, in ecclesiastical parlance, the sub-division of a deanery. But those who coined the term may have intended it to suggest that parishioners were ‘paroikōi’, merely sojourners in this world, rather than residents. For this is the metaphorical sense that the word, in all its forms, came to acquire, even in the OT (the LXX version, of course). Abraham, opening negotiations to buy the cave of Machpelah as a tomb for his dead wife Sarah (the only piece of the promised land he ever owned - suggesting, perhaps, that the true ‘promised land’ can only be reached by crossing the frontier of death), describes himself (Gen. 23.4) as a ‘paroikos and parepidēmos’ - the latter word merely a longer synonym of the former. He is literally a foreigner in a foreign land; but what of the psalmist, David himself, perhaps, who prays: “Hear my prayer, O Lord, --- for I am a stranger with thee (‘paroikos’) and a sojourner (‘parepidēmos’), as all my fathers were. O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence and be no more” (Psalm 39. 12-13, AV)? No longer are the Israelites slaves in Egypt, or tent-dwellers in the desert; these two words now refer to the true status of all mankind: this world is just a temporary dwelling, just a tent. The evidence of David’s authorship of this psalm is supported by his great speech to the people at the end of 1 Chronicles - and at the end of his life. In response to their generous contributions towards the building of the temple, a task he was bequeathing to his son, Solomon, he prays words that have become familiar in many liturgies: “All things are thine, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee” (I Chron 29 14). But the next verse deserves to be just as well known: “For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as all our fathers were” (‘paroikō’ again, and then its participle; the echo of the psalm is unmistakeable, though whether David is quoting himself, or a later psalmist is quoting him, we cannot be sure). So the paradox continues: the people were now settled prosperously in the promised land, but they were still, in a truer sense, just sojourners. This truth had, in fact, been established long before in Leviticus 25.23. While the Israelites were still tent-dwellers in the wilderness God gave them instructions about the land they would eventually ‘possess’: in the jubilee year all the land would revert to its original ‘owners’, even if they had been forced to sell some of it during the previous 49 years. The rationale for this arrangement follows: “The land shall not be sold on a permanent basis; for the land is mine, and you are strangers (‘proselutoi’, whence ‘proselytes’) and sojourners.” This is why the Jews who gave so generously for the temple were only giving back to God what was already his.


[ii] in the NT: Peter
1 Peter 1.1, 2.11

Having looked briefly at the OT background of ‘sojourning’, we return now to the NT and to Peter’s first letter. Here, too, we see the literal leading to the metaphorical - though the journey is much shorter. The letter is addressed to “the elect, expatriates (‘parepidēmoi’) of the diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1.1). The word ‘diaspora’ (a direct transliteration of the Greek word) was the normal term for those Jews living outside the borders of the land of Israel, ‘scattered’ (its literal meaning) among the gentiles. Such Jews would be as much ‘sojourners’ among the people they lived with as were their forefathers, the patriarchs (hence my translation ‘expatriates’). But it is very likely that Peter was writing not just to Jewish Christians but also to the gentiles who must have constituted a majority of these churches in Asia Minor. These, presumably, were living as citizens in their native lands, so that the NIV’s translation “strangers in the world” (AV just has ‘strangers’, preserving the ambiguity) is, for them, entirely appropriate - and it prepares the ground for the verse we have already looked at (1.17), where he talks of life in this world as “the time of your sojourning here”. Finally, in 2.11, having already used ‘parepidemoi’ and ‘paroikia separately, he now makes his metaphorical purpose entirely clear, and also its OT roots, by combining the two: “My beloved brothers and sisters, I call upon you, as those who are merely strangers and sojourners in this world, to restrain yourselves from the lusts of the flesh.” Peter’s point, of course, is that since Christians do not really belong in this world, but are citizens of heaven, they should not conform to the world’s standards and ‘go native’; they should remember they are tent-dwellers.

[iii] in the NT: Paul
Eph 2.19

The fourth and final use of ‘paroikōs’ in the NT is a surprise and a paradox. Paul makes the same point as Peter, but from a different perspective; he, after all, was ‘minister to the gentiles’, while Peter was ‘minister to the Jews’ (Gal. 2.7-8). In Ephesians 2.14-18, he explains to his gentile readers how, through the cross of Christ, the barrier between Jews and gentiles has been broken down, and both have equal access to God the Father through the one Spirit. Then follows one of Paul’s famous ‘therefores’: “So, therefore, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and members of God’s family” (v.19). ‘Foreigners’ here is ‘xenoi’, from which - or from whom! - we get ‘xenophobia’; ‘strangers’ is ‘paroikōi’. Jews, as we have seen, had been both foreigners and strangers for 400 years in Egypt, and even in their promised land of Israel were still ‘strangers in the world’, but despite this they were still the people of God, however disobedient and rebellious. Gentiles, though, had, as it were, the worst of both worlds: they too were only strangers in this world, however much they tried to settle down and make themselves at home, and, even worse, they had no hope of a home in heaven, since they were also ‘strangers to God’ - until the coming of Christ. So from the perspective of heaven and of God’s eternal purpose, gentiles who were ‘in Christ’ were truly ‘at home’, and no longer ‘strangers to God’.

[iv] in the NT: Hebrews
Heb 11.13-16

Our final reference to ‘sojourners’ takes us back to Abraham and the patriarchs, and back to Hebrews - which will become familiar territory, since 10 of the 20 NT references to ‘skene’ are from this book. We are still in chapter 11, the roll-call of the heroes of faith, where verse 9 launched our study of ‘katoikō’ and ‘paroikō’. In verses 13-16 the writer draws out the implications of Abraham’s tent-dwelling lifestyle, and also lays down the outlines for much of our study of ‘skene’. The patriarchs, he says, “all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and welcomed them from afar; they confessed that they were strangers and sojourners (‘xenoi’ and ‘parepidēmoi’) on the earth, and those who say this make it clear that they are searching for a homeland. If by this they meant the homeland from which they had come, they would have had the opportunity to return there. But in fact they were reaching out for a better homeland, a home in heaven. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” We have here, briefly sketched out for us, the whole story of the bible, and, mapped out for us, the universal journey of mankind, from a tent to a city. A tent is essentially temporary and moveable - and so collapsible; the city is “the City with foundations, whose architect and maker is God” (v.10). The writer of Hebrews sees the whole history of the Jewish nation, from Abraham to Solomon, as an allegory, a “Pilgrim’s Progress”, a book whose famous first sentence begins “As I walked through the wilderness of this world”, and which ends triumphantly in the Celestial City.

(d) The Feast of Tabernacles
skēnopēgia
John 7.2, Lev 22.42-3, Neh 8.13-17

We will come to the Jews’ ‘wilderness years’ before long, and to the great tent, the Tabernacle, which characterised them. But first we will look at another ‘junior member’ of the ‘skene’ family of words: ‘skēnopēgia’. This word only occurs once in the NT (John 7.2), but it refers to one of the three great festivals of the Jewish calendar, the ‘Feast of Tabernacles’. This was a harvest festival to celebrate the ‘ingathering’, held in October; instructions for its celebration are given in Leviticus 23. 42-3: “Live in booths” - or “make your home in tents” (‘katoikō’ and ‘skene’, LXX) - "for 7 days. All native-born Israelites are to live in booths, so that your descendants may know that I made the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt”. Nehemiah 8.13-17 records how the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from exile, when they heard read to them by Ezra this passage from the Book of the Law, joyfully celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. The Law told them to “go out into the hill-country and bring back branches from olive trees and wild olive trees --- to make booths”. “So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, and in the courts of the House of the Lord. --- The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them.” It is worth noting here that in the one citation of ‘skenepegia’ in the Classical Greek lexicon, a quotation from Aristotle, it refers to the nest-building skills of the swallow; Nehemiah does not reveal whether the returned exiles were equally skilful in their booth-building. We will come across this link between a tent and a nest again. The purpose of the Feast seems to have been twofold. On the one hand, it was a joyful 8-day celebration of the successful ingathering of the harvest, and of the promise of security it brought for the long winter ahead. But it was also a reminder that their real security lay elsewhere. Camping in the garden may be a big adventure for children, but for their parents it probably does not rank very high on their list of options for a good night out. To “make their home in tents” for a week would remind the Jews that, although they now lived in a city with foundations, and in houses with roofs and courtyards, they were still, like their forefathers, essentially tent-dwellers making their way through ‘the wilderness of this world’. Perhaps, too, as the pliant green branches that they had cut and interleaved with such excitement at the beginning of the week began to turn dry and brown by the end of it, and as the childlike sense of adventure at camping out was gradually worn away by the physical discomfort and practical inconvenience of living in a tent, the experience of the Feast of Tabernacles would have brought home to them how quickly the springtime of life turns to autumn, and how soon winter follows, and so would have reminded them to put their trust and rest their security in a great God rather than a good harvest.

(e) The Tabernacle
kataluma
2 Sam 7.5-6, Luke 2.7, 22.11

The Feast of Tabernacles was, then, at least in part, a reminder of the transience of life, a theme which, throughout the ages, has provided plentiful material for philosophers and poets of all faiths and none. The Tabernacle, however, is central and specific to the Judaeo-Christian revelation. A tent is a symbol of transience, and the first of several paradoxes associated with the Tabernacle is that the eternal God should choose to live in such temporary accommodation. But a tent is also a mobile home. God’s people were on the move in the wilderness, and it is an amazing testimony to God’s love that he wanted to dwell among his people, and was willing to live in a tent to do so. He tells us this himself. When David was firmly established as king in Jerusalem, he wanted to build a temple for God, a permanent dwelling to replace the Tabernacle. He consulted Nathan the prophet, who brought back this word from the Lord: “Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling” (2 Sam 7.5-6). A literal translation of the LXX here is “I was a peripatetic in a lodging and a tent”. The word for ‘lodging’ ('kataluma’) occurs 3 times in the NT, at the beginning and end of Jesus’ life. It is the word usually translated ‘inn’ in Luke 2.7, which had “no room” for Jesus at his birth, and it describes the borrowed room, or ‘lodging’, where the last supper was held (Mark 14.4, Luke 22.11). We will look at John’s account of the incarnation later, but it is worth noting here that the ‘kataluma’ borrowed by Jesus for the last supper, the ‘upper room’, became the meeting-place for the early church; one could almost say that the church met in a tabernacle, and on the Day of Pentecost God filled this tabernacle with the glory of his presence through his Holy Spirit, just as he filled the Tabernacle at Sinai with his glory. But there was one crucial difference - the cross!

(f) The two-tent Tabernacle
[i] a holy God
Heb 9.2,7, Lev 10.1-2, Ex 40.34-5

This leads us to the next paradox of the Tabernacle: a holy God chose to live with a sinful people. Scripture tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4.8), and it was his love which led him to live among his people, and so to give them the assurance of his presence with them during their years in the wilderness. This was the purpose of the Tabernacle, but its pattern tells a different story. Scripture, indeed the same letter, also tells us that “God is light” (1 John 1.5), and that the darkness of sin cannot abide his presence. This solemn truth was reflected in the threefold lay-out of the Tabernacle: an outer court for the people, a holy place for the priests and their sacrifices, and a ‘holy of holies’ exclusively for God himself. Alec Motyer, in his commentary on Exodus, acutely observes that the gaps between the pillars of the entrances to these three sections of the Tabernacle became increasingly narrower, an arrangement which made this paradox visible. Motyer calls it a ‘dilemma’: “the provision of entrances, and yet the implicit erection of a sign that said ‘No admission’”. This arrangement he describes as “in keeping with the ‘thus far and no further’ regulations of the Tabernacle as a whole. But the unapproachable holiness of God was most visibly demonstrated by the curtain, or veil (‘katapetasma’) which separated the holy place from the holy of holies, or, as Hebrews puts it, the first tent from the second tent (9.2,7). Nor was this veil just for show, just a visual aid: it was, as it were, a safety-curtain. We read in Leviticus 10.1-2 how two of Aaron’s sons ventured behind the curtain and “offered unauthorised fire to the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” Exodus 39.1-21 had described in great detail the priestly garments made for Aaron and his sons, and Leviticus 8 recounts the lengthy ceremony of their ordination as priests. Yet even Aaron’s sons could not abide the awesome presence of a holy God - God who is light, and with whom there is no darkness at all. Once again, we may compare this incident with the events of Pentecost, when the fire of God’s holiness fell upon the disciples in their ‘tabernacle’, but instead of striking them dead it filled them with new life and power. This truth is emphasised even more remarkably, perhaps, at the very end of Exodus. For 6 chapters (25-30) Moses had received detailed instructions from God himself for the construction and furnishings of the Tabernacle, and for 6 more chapters, (35-40) Moses has carried them out to the letter. This is the Moses who spent 40 days on Mount Sinai in God’s presence, and came down from the mountain with his face radiant with God’s glory. This is the Moses who built a special tent outside the camp so that he could meet with God, ‘the tent of meeting’, and where “the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (33.11). Yet at the end of the book, when the Tabernacle was set up and fully furnished, so that it was now ‘the Tent of Meeting’, we read: “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. And Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord had filled the Tabernacle” (40.34-5). Here, then, we see the paradox of the Tabernacle: it houses a loving God who wants to be among his people, but also a holy God who is utterly separate from them.

[ii] our great High Priest
'pēgnumi'
Heb 6.19-20, 8.1-2

In another acute observation, based on a study of Numbers 2, Motyer notes that “the Lord’s tent was pitched at the centre of a huge cross”, with three tribes each camped to the East, South West and North. The symbolism of this is certainly appropriate, as the references to the Tabernacle show that it stands at a crossroads both between the old covenant and the new, and between earth and heaven, time and eternity. Let us, then, turn our attention to the NT, and to the 8 references to ‘skene’ in Hebrews 8 and 9. The 2 references in chapter 8 contrast the true ‘skene’ made by God with the man-made, or Moses-made, ‘skene’ in the wilderness (v.2). In chapter 7, the writer has been showing that Jesus is a High Priest, not in the line of Aaron and Levi, for he was of the tribe of Judah, but “after the order of Melchizedek”, the mysterious king of Salem whose encounter with Abraham is recorded in Genesis 14.17-20. We do not need to follow his reasoning in detail here, for we have enough on our hands to elucidate the opening verses of chapter 8. The writer is drawing a parallel between the rituals of the annual ‘Day of Atonement’ (as prescribed in Leviticus 10), and the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ. In the Tabernacle, the High Priest would offer a sacrifice both for his own sins and for the sins of the people, and then take the blood of the sacrificial victim behind the veil, and sprinkle it on the “atonement cover”, or “mercy seat” (AV), to “make atonement for the most holy place” (or “Holy of Holies”) “because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites”. It was only thus that even the High Priest could enter beyond the veil. By contrast, our High Priest, the writer says, “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’s greatness in the heavens, a minister of the Holy of Holies in the true Tabernacle, fixed in place by God, not man”. The verb ‘fixed’ used here (‘pēgnumi’) occurs only this once in the NT, and suggests, perhaps, the permanence of the heavenly ‘tent’ in contrast with the moveable Tabernacle. These two verses are really a direct continuation of the last two verses of chapter 6, with the Melchizedek excursus intervening (it is worth noting that an excursus is a soundly scriptural device!). There we read: “We have a hope for our souls laid out in front of us, sure and strong, reaching beyond the veil, right inside the sanctuary, where Jesus has gone before us on our behalf” (19-20). Like a High Priest, Jesus was “a minister of the sanctuary”, but, unlike his earthly counterparts, he took his seat there, since his sacrificial task was completed - though his intercessory ministry continues to this day, praise be! (7.25) The picture in the writer’s mind seems to be that, on the cross, Jesus was the sacrifice - his passion was a passive role; but after his resurrection and ascension he acted as the High Priest, offering the blood of his own sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary before the mercy-seat of his Father. This explains the otherwise rather enigmatic verse 3: “Every High Priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices, so Jesus, too, must have had an offering to make” (the verb here is in the aorist subjunctive, suggesting a single act, a single offering).

(g) The Tabernacle and the True Tent
Heb 8.5, Ex 35.40

The ‘true tent’, then, is the heavenly ‘Holy of Holies’ before the throne of God. The ‘tent’ in this context must refer to the ‘second tent’ (9.7) beyond the veil, for there can surely be no heavenly equivalent of the ‘first tent’, the place of sacrifice, for in Christ the supreme and final sacrifice has been made, and all the paraphernalia of purification is now redundant, along with the whole tribe of Levitical priests - P 45’s for the lot of them! What, then, of the Mosaic Tabernacle and its rituals, described and prescribed in such repetitive detail in the Book of the Law? Hebrews uses a cluster of similar words to refer to this ‘skene’, three of them in 8.5. The Levitical priests, says the writer, “are ministers of a sanctuary which is only an outline and a shadow of the heavenly sanctuary” - this last word being a shorter version of ‘Holy of Holies’, the ‘second tent’. He supports this statement by quoting the instructions given to Moses (Ex.35.40) when he was about to construct the ‘skene’: “See that you make everything according to the model you were shown on the mountain”. This is a typically bold stroke of OT interpretation. He infers from these words that Moses was not just given verbal instructions as to how to build the Tabernacle, but was also given some kind of vision of how the finished ‘skene’ should look - a model or a plan. Here, then, is another paradox of the Tabernacle: its structure is built according to a divinely revealed plan, with a first tent and a second tent separated by a veil, but it is itself a plan, or an outline, of the true tent in heaven, the Holy of Holies. The writer seizes on this detail of the Exodus account ( a detail, incidentally, also quoted in Stephen’s account of the building of the Tabernacle in Luke 7.44, which we will come to later), implying that Moses was shown a two-dimensional ‘outline’ of the Tabernacle, which then became a three-dimensional (and tripartite) structure on earth; but he then, as it were, reverses the polarity of this process to suggest that the three-dimensional Tabernacle is itself only an outline of the four-dimensional reality in heaven - if heaven has dimensions.

[i] 'skia'
Matt 4.10, Mark 4.32, Heb 10.1
'episkiazō' Acts 5.15, Luke 1.35, Matt 17.5

The word-cluster used here deserves a brief survey of its own. The three words in verse 5, which I have translated ‘outline’, ‘shadow’ and ‘model’ are, in Greek, ‘hupodeigma’, ‘skia’, and ‘tupos’. To these three may be added a fourth, which appears in 9.24, ‘antitupos’, which means much the same as ‘tupos’, and gives us the English ‘antitype’. We will begin with ‘skia’. It is possible that the writer is consciously playing with words here, as ‘skia’ and ‘skene’ come, as we saw earlier, from the same linguistic root, meaning ‘shade or ‘shelter’ (‘skotos’, meaning ‘darkness’, also belongs to this word-group). In the gospels and Acts it is used both literally and metaphorically - the latter in quotations of Isaiah 9.1: “--- the people who sit in darkness (‘skotos’) and in the shadow (‘skia’) of death” (Matt. 4.10. Luke 1.79). Its literal meaning is found in Mark 4.32, a verse mentioned earlier, and to be revisited later, where “the birds of the heaven are able to make their nests under the shade” of the full-grown mustard tree, and also in Acts 5.15, where, in an echo of Jesus’ healing ministry in Gennesaret (Mark 6.56), the rapidly growing church brought out their invalids into the streets “so that as Peter passed by even his shadow might overshadow them”. The related verb used here, ‘episkiazō’, is used in two other interesting contexts: in all three synoptic accounts of the transfiguration, “a cloud overshadowed” Jesus, Moses and Elijah (Matt 17.5, etc.); and at the annunciation Gabriel told Mary “the power of the Almighty will overshadow you” (Luke 1.35). For Luke, then, this verb is associated with the awesome power and presence of God himself, so that it was really his shadow that was falling on the sick and healing them, and Peter was merely the agent who was casting it - but you have to be walking in the light to cast such a shadow! The only two other uses of ‘skia’ in the NT (there are only 7 altogether) are more relevant to our verse, and are also linked to each other: each one is paired with an antithesis. In Colossians 2.13-15 Paul ‘gives them the gospel’ in a wonderful passage on the power of the cross and the forgiveness of sins; then in verse 16 comes one of his famous ‘therefore’s: “therefore let no one condemn you” over any Jewish rituals or festivals; “these things are a shadow of things to come; the substance is the person of Christ”. For Paul, as for the writer of Hebrews, all the requirements of the Mosaic law were ‘foreshadowings’ of Christ, and had now been fulfilled in him, in his sinless life and sacrificial death. A literal translation of the last few words of this verse would be: “but the body (‘sōma’) [is] of Christ”. I have translated ‘sōma’ twice, since in English the antithesis between ‘shadow’ and ‘substance’ is a natural one. For the last example of ‘skia’ we return to Hebrews, where the antithesis is more between the ‘shadowy’ and the clearly visible; and there is another link between the two verses, since both specifically state that the ‘shadow’ is a ‘foreshadowing’ of ‘things to come’ (‘tōn mellontōn’). Hebrews 10.1 is really a summary of the whole typological argument of the previous two chapters: “The law contains a shadow of the good things to come, but not their exact likeness” (‘eikōn’, whence the English ‘icon’). It is worth noting here that Paul twice describes Jesus as the ‘eikōn’ of God, the invisible God made visible in his incarnate Son (2 Cor. 4.4, Col. 1.15).For the Israelites in the wilderness their tents gave them shelter from the blazing sun of the Sinai desert, but God’s tent was a foreshadowing of Christ, in whom his people would, in the fullness of time, find shelter from the blazing fire of God’s wrath.

[ii] 'hupodeigma'
John 13.15, James 5.10, 2 Peter 2.6, Heb 8.5, 9.23

The next word in this cluster is ‘hupodeigma’, an ‘outline’. This is a variation of the Classical Greek ‘paradeigma’, familiar in English from its derivative ‘paradigm’ - and particularly familiar to students of Greek who struggle to learn the paradigms of Greek verbs. A Greek verb can have more than 500 different forms (a statistic it is wise not to reveal to beginners!), but a paradigm provides an outline, or a framework, by which each individual form can be arrived at by adding the appropriate ending. In a less specialised context, a ‘paradigm of virtue’ is a model, or a shining example, and it is in this sense that ‘hupodeigma’ is used in John 13.15 by Jesus himself as he washes his disciples’ feet: “I have given you an example, so that what I have done for you you also should do”. Similarly, James (5.10) tells his readers to “take as your example of endurance in suffering the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord”. ‘Hupodeigma’ can also be used in the opposite sense, not as a shining example but as an awful warning, as in 2 Peter 2.6, where the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is used as “an awful warning of the fate in store for the ungodly”. A more literal translation of ‘the fate in store’ reveals an interesting link with ‘skia’: “of the things to come”, ‘tōn mellontōn’ again, so that one could translate ‘hupodeigma’ here as a ‘foreshadowing’. The other instance is, once again, in Hebrews, where the writer regards the Israelites who perished in the wilderness, and never entered into their ‘rest’ in the promised land, as “an example of disobedience”. Both ‘hupodeigma’ and ‘paradeigma’ are derived from the verb ‘deiknumi’, which means to ‘show’; and just as an example shows you how to behave, or how not to behave, so an ‘outline’ will show you what the finished structure will look like - a ‘blueprint’, perhaps. And it is in this sense that Hebrews uses the word both in 8.5 and again in 9.23. The writer has pointed out how, at its consecration, the Tabernacle and all its sacrificial and purificatory utensils were sprinkled with blood. “So”, he continues, “it was necessary for the outlines of the heavenly Tabernacle to be purified in this way, but the heavenly Tabernacle itself had to be purified by better sacrifices than these” - one of the dozen or so times in Hebrews that the New Covenant is described as ‘better’ or ‘greater’ than the Old. For this writer, then, the Tabernacle in the wilderness was just ‘a rough draft’ of the real thing in heaven.

[iii] tupos: (a) 'imprint', 'idol', 'model'
John 20.25, Acts 7.43, 23.25, Rom 6.17

The third word in this group is ‘tupos’, the most common of them all, both in Classical Greek, where it has a bewildering number of different meanings, and in the NT, where it occurs 15 times in 5 different senses, encroaching on territory occupied by both ‘skia’ and ‘hupodeigma’. It is derived from the verb ‘tuptō’, to ‘hit’, and at its simplest it means ‘the result of a hit’, and so a ‘wound’, or ‘imprint’ or ‘indentation’. It is used twice in this sense in John 20.25, where Thomas says that he will not believe that Jesus has risen from the dead unless “I see in his hands the imprint of the nails, and thrust my finger into their imprint”. From there, ‘tupos’ came to mean a ‘mould’, into which molten metal could be poured, and so to mean principally the product of such a process, a ‘figure’, or ‘statue’ and so an ‘idol’. Thus Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 provides us with a nice irony, as well as another juxtaposition with ‘skene’. Quoting Amos 5.25-7 (from the LXX), he says: “You, house of Israel, took up the tabernacle (‘skene’) of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the idols (‘tupos’) you made so as to worship them” (43). Heathen gods, too, apparently had their tabernacles, portable shrines in which their idols could be carried into battle; so to take up and fight, even if only metaphorically, under the banner of another god was an act of terrible treachery. Stephen underlines the treachery, and the irony, in the next verse, bringing these two words together again, this time in their ‘Hebrews’ sense: “Our fathers had the tent of witness” (i.e. the Tabernacle) “in the wilderness, just as the one who spoke to Moses instructed him to make it according to the model (‘tupos’) he had seen”. A ‘model’ easily becomes an ‘outline’ or pattern’. Luke does not, it seems, know the exact wording of the letter sent by the garrison commander at Jerusalem - Claudius Lysias - to the Roman governor Felix about Paul, but he gives a ‘tupos’, an outline, or ‘the general impression’ (Acts 23. 25-30). And, likewise, Paul referred to the ‘pattern’ of teaching which the Roman church obeyed (6.17). This suggests something rather like a ‘paradigm’, an outline of the basic truths of the gospel which each individual teacher could expound in his own way.

(b) 'example'
Phil 3.17, 1 Thess 6.7, 2 Thess 3.8-9, 1 Tim 4.12

Of the remaining instances of ‘tupos’, five are similar in meaning to ‘hupodeigma’, and can simply be translated ‘example’. While ‘hupodeigma’ is a metaphor derived from architecture, a ‘draft’ or ‘outline’, to which the finished structure should conform, ‘tupos’ is the language of sculpture, and, more specifically, of die-casting, the mould which determines the form of the finished artefact. These five verses introduce us to another word-cluster - though this one we will not pursue any further. In four of these verses ‘tupos’ is linked with the verb ‘genesthai’ (this is the aorist infinitive form, from which are derived ‘genesis’ and ‘genetic’), meaning ‘to become’; and in three of them we find the noun ‘mimētēs’, or its associated verb, meaning ‘an imitator’ (cf. English ‘mimic’). For a Christian to be an example to others, he or she must become one: it is a long process of sanctification, not a sudden ‘conversion’. And this process in turn involves ‘imitating’ the example of others, and principally, of course, the example of Jesus himself. Paul tells the Philippians (3.17): “Become fellow-imitators” (‘summimētai’, a compound form) “of me, and observe those whose manner of life is modelled on us” - or “follows our example” , ‘tupos’). What Paul tells the Philippians to do, the Thessalonians have already done: “You became imitators of me and the Lord Jesus --- so that you yourselves became an example (‘tupos’) to all the believers in Macedonia and Asia” (1 Thess. 1.6-7). In his second letter to them, it is his own example that he talks about: “For you yourselves know how you should imitate us --- we worked night and day so as not to be a burden to you, not because we do not have the right [to be supported by you], but so that we should give ourselves to you as an example (‘tupos’) for you to imitate” (3. 8-9). More briefly, he tells Timothy to “become an example to the faithful”, and then specifies the qualities he should exemplify (1 Tim. 4.12); and in similar words Peter tells the elders in the churches to which he is writing to “become examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5.3). For all Christians, becoming Christlike is a lifelong process. We should all constantly, daily, be modelling and moulding our behaviour on the example of Christ and of godly Christian leaders. But it is also a two-way process: as we imitate the lifestyles of those we look up to, we ourselves become models, or examples, for others to imitate - a responsibility which should be an extra incentive to holiness. Sanctification should not be just a solo spiritual exercise, but a corporate process, a chain-reaction within the body of Christ.

(c) from 'example' to 'type'
'tupikōs' 1 Cor 10.1-11

Our last two instances of ‘tupos’ carry us across the boundary from ‘example’ to ‘type’ in its explicitly biblical sense, and so lead us to the fourth word in our cluster, ‘antitupos’. 1 Corinthians 10.1-11 is a passage similar in several respects to Hebrews 4.1-11, where, as we saw earlier, the Israelites who died in the wilderness were presented as an example (‘hupodeigma’) of disobedience. Paul treats their fate in a similarly ‘typical’ way: “All our forefathers --- were baptized into Moses --- but God was not pleased with most of them, for they were laid low in the wilderness. These things happened as examples for us (‘tupoi’)”. In both these passages, ‘example’ is a perfectly proper translation: both writers are using the Pentateuch narrative as a source of moral and spiritual warning for the contemporary church, a warning against unbelief and immorality. The Israelites may have been God’s people, miraculously rescued from slavery in Egypt, but that did not give them a licence to behave as they pleased or to worship whatever gods they chose. Both passages treat this narrative as all history may be treated, as a lesson for future generations - though, as someone has sagely observed, “men learn nothing from history except that men learn nothing from history”. But Paul is going further in his treatment of the narrative than the writer to the Hebrews: he sees it not just as history (though it certainly is that), but also as allegory, in which the details of the story stand for, or foreshadow, something else, as though God were telling us a parable. So the crossing of the Red Sea represents baptism (v.2), and the ‘supernatural’ food and drink suggests the bread and wine of the communion service (‘supernatural’ is a better translation than ‘spiritual’, as David Prior says in his BST commentary, p. 167); but the most daring element of this interpretation is Paul’s statement that the rock from which water flowed when struck by Moses’ staff was Christ himself, an image which inspired the wonderful hymn “Rock of ages, cleft for me”. But despite all these spiritual privileges, Paul continues, the Israelites fell into sin - idolatry, sexual immorality and murmuring against God - and so many of them died, “killed by the destroying angel” (v. 10, NIV). Then Paul sums up the whole passage: “These things were (or ‘kept on’) happening to them ‘typically’, and were written down for our instruction; for we are privileged to live in the Messianic age, when all these types have been fulfilled”. I have rather freely paraphrased this last clause, which NIV translates rather more accurately, but, I think, less helpfully, “for us on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come”. The word I have translated, very literally, as ‘typically’ is the adverb formed from ‘tupos’ - ‘tupikōs’, and it is here, I believe, that ‘tupos’ crosses the line from ‘example’ to ‘type’. . The difference between history and allegory is metaphor, but the difference between allegory and typology is God’s sovereign control of history - as has often been said, it is ‘his story’; thus typology is both metaphor and prophecy, waiting to be fulfilled in the coming of Christ and the inauguration of the Messianic age. So here Paul sees the stricken rock at Horeb from which flowed water to bring new life to a people dying of thirst (Exodus 17.6) as a type, a visual prophecy, of Christ stricken on the cross to bring the water of life to his people, though he himself was dying in an agony of thirst (John 19.38).

(d) Adam a 'type' of Christ
Rom 5.14, Luke 24.27

Paul treats the story of Adam and the fall in the same way in Romans 5.14, where he describes Adam as “the ‘tupos’ of the one who was to come” - clearly, Jesus Christ. Whereas in our previous passage ‘tupos’ was closely linked to ‘hupodeigma’, here it is linked with ‘skia’. We saw that in both Colossians 2.16-17 and Hebrews 10.1 ‘skia’ is followed by ‘tōn mellontōn’, which is the genitive plural neuter of the present participle of the verb ‘mellō’, which means to ‘be about to be’, and so can be translated ‘things to come’. Here the singular of the participle is used, and the gender must be masculine rather than neuter, though the two forms are the same; thus the meaning is “the one who was to come”, and we could say that Adam ‘foreshadowed’ Christ, or was his ‘prototype’: just as the disobedience of Adam brought death to all people, so the obedience of Christ - who was “obedient even to the point of death” (as Phil. 2.8 should be translated) - made new life available to all people. Such an attitude to the OT could seem excessively imaginative, and it can, indeed, be carried to extremes, when, for instance, every detail of the structure and furnishings of the Tabernacle is forced to yield a symbolic or ‘typical’ meaning. But the principle that Christ is the key to the OT comes from the lips of Christ himself. First, on the walk to Emmaus, he gave those two wonderfully privileged disciples a personal bible study: “beginning from Moses and all the prophets he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24.27); and then he told all the disciples together “that it is necessary that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms should be fulfilled”. “Then”, Luke goes on, “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (44-5).

(e) 'antitupos'
1 Peter 3.21, Heb 9.24

Perhaps it was here that Peter’s mind was opened to see that when Noah and the seven other members of his family in the ark “were saved through water” this was a foreshadowing of “the antitype of baptism which saves you now” (1 Peter 3.21). If the ‘type’ is the stamp, the ‘antitype’ is the impression it makes; if the ‘type’ is the mould, the ‘antitype’ is the artefact that is cast. The Greek preposition ‘anti’ can mean either ‘instead of’ or ‘against’ - worth remembering when considering the meaning of ‘the antichrist’; it should not be confused with the Latin ‘ante’, meaning ‘before’ (as in a.m.). In ‘antitupos’, its force is not so much ‘against’ as ‘corresponding to’, so that an antitype is the ‘counterpart’ or ‘opposite number’ of a type. My lexicon explains it as “something in the Messianic times which answers to the type prefiguring it in the OT”, and then cites our present verse, elucidating it perfectly. The writer to the Hebrews, however, does not seem to have read my lexicon (or perhaps vice versa!), for our final example, the only other occurrence of ‘antitupos’ in the NT, uses it the other way round. We looked earlier, in our study of ‘hupodeigma’, at Hebrews 9.23, which says that “the outlines of the heavenly sanctuary had to be purified by blood sacrifices, but the heavenly sanctuary itself by better sacrifices than these”. Clearly the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the “better sacrifice”, but there are two other contrasts set up here: the ‘outline’, or perhaps ‘imitation’ sanctuary on earth, and the true sanctuary in heaven. The next verse restates these antitheses in slightly different terms: “For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, the ‘antitype’ of the true sanctuary, but he entered heaven itself, so that he now appears before the face of God on our behalf”. Here it is the OT, man-made, sanctuary which is the antitype, and the heavenly sanctuary the ‘type’. This usage may not be in accordance with Peter’s (or with my lexicon), but it is at least self-consistent, for the writer has already (in 8.5) shown that Moses built the Tabernacle in accordance with the ‘tupos’ shown to him on Mount Sinai.

So we have managed to find our way back to the verse from which we set out on this excursion into outlines, models and examples - back to Hebrews and to the Tabernacle. This brief tour - or detour - has shown us that, for the writer of Hebrews, the Tabernacle is not just a piece of ancient and irrelevant history, but a key-stage in God’s plan of salvation, and a key to a fuller understanding of that plan. For him, in short, the Tabernacle is not just a tent but also a type: it is much more significant than it first appears. We might, perhaps, (reverently, I hope) think of the Tabernacle as God’s tardis, infinitely bigger on the inside than on the outside; and the veil (‘katapetasma’) separating the outer ‘first tent’ from the inner sanctuary might be seen as a portal leading from time to eternity and from earth to heaven, the ‘true sanctuary’. In the next chapter (10. 19-22) we find that this portal has now been opened, by the blood of Christ’s sacrifice, to all who put their trust in him, for Jesus has made “a new and living way for us through the veil” into the very presence of God himself, a way which the writer encourages us ‘to boldly go’. I have used here the imagery and language of the wilder fantasies of science fiction because the idea that sinful men and women like us can enter the awesome presence of a holy and almighty God seems too good to be true; but it is, in actual fact, gloriously true: it is God’s truth, gospel truth.

(h) The Tabernacle: a parable of the New Covenant
(i) the parable of the closed curtain
Heb 9.9
'parabolē'

My translation of verse 20 in the above passage was, in fact, incomplete, for in another bold piece of typology (though ‘tupos’ is not used) the writer says of the veil “that is, the veil of Christ’s flesh”. We will return to this idea when we come to consider the incarnation, but for now we must backtrack to Hebrews 9 and to the ‘skene’ of the Tabernacle. We have seen that the Tabernacle was set up, appropriately, at the centre of the cross-shaped formation of the twelve tribes of Israel in their desert encampment, and that the Tabernacle could be seen as standing at the crossroads between earth and heaven, time and eternity. The next theme which the writer develops is the superiority of the new covenant to the old: three different words are used for ‘better’ in 8.6, whose central statement is that “Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant”. Most of the rest of the chapter is a quotation from Jeremiah (31.31-4) promising a new covenant, which God would not have needed to do, the writer shrewdly observes, if the old covenant had been perfect. It then becomes clear in chapter 9 that the Tabernacle stands at the crossroads also between the two covenants, and so introduces us to another striking paradox: the Tabernacle is both the epitome of the old covenant, and, at the same time, a parable of the new (9.9 - the Greek word translated ‘illustration’ in NIV is ‘parabolē’). The essence of the old covenant was the law, and the Tabernacle could be seen as the law made visible. Its construction was the exact and detailed fulfilment of God’s commandment to Moses on Mount Sinai, a perfect keeping of the law - a point hammered home by the succession of more-or-less word-for-word repetitions of God’s instructions in chapters 25-30 in the account of the construction of the Tabernacle in chapters 35-9. Moreover, the daily rituals of sacrifice and purification performed in the Tabernacle enacted the ceremonials of the law; and, most significant of all, at the most sacred centre of the Tabernacle, behind the veil, inside the Holy of Holies, within the Ark of the (old) Covenant, were the engraved tablets of the law itself (9.4). Yet the very existence of the Tabernacle was an expression of its imperfection. A tent is, as we have seen, by definition temporary, so that the old covenant was a provisional arrangement, not God’s final plan of salvation. And the very repetition of the sacrificial rituals day by day showed the inadequacy of animal sacrifices, since they “did not have the power to make the worshipper perfect in his conscience” (9.9).

(ii) the parable of the Day of Atonement
Heb 13.10-14

In particular, the writer says, the annual day of atonement, the one day of the year on which the High Priest could enter the second tent, God’s very presence, was merely “a demonstration by the Holy Spirit that the way into the Holy of Holies had not yet been made open as long as the first tent was still functioning” (v.8). The ultimate purpose of the sacrifices, daily and annual, performed in the ‘first tent’ was to serve as a ‘parable’ of the perfect sacrifice that was to come. This, of course, as we have seen, and as verses 11-12 make clear, was the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, both Lamb of God and High Priest. This ‘parable’, the writer says, was especially relevant “for the particular time that has come upon us”; he was writing at a time when that “one perfect and sufficient sacrifice” had been offered on the cross, but animal sacrifices continued to be made in a Judaism which had rejected its Christ. This leads us to the last occurrence of ‘skene’ in Hebrews, 13.10. Here the writer gives a final exhortation to his readers, converts from Judaism, not to be enticed back into Jewish rituals; our hearts, he says, should be strengthened by God’s grace, not by “ceremonial foods” (NIV). “For we Christians can feed from the altar of Christ’s sacrifice for us; but those priests who still serve in the Tabernacle have no right to eat of this spiritual food.” To continue to offer sacrifices in the Temple was to deny Christ. Conversely, to follow Christ meant, for a Jew, abandoning the old covenant practices and rituals of Judaism. Hebrews expresses this point with another bold use of typology. Talk of “eating from the altar” reminds the writer that the Tabernacle priests were allowed to eat the remains of sacrificial victims, but not of sin offerings, especially not on the Day of Atonement: these remains were to be “completely burnt up outside the camp” (v.11, Lev. 16.27). This regulation he sees as a foreshadowing of the death of Christ, the ultimate and all-sufficient sin offering, who “died outside the gate” of the city of Jerusalem, the contemporary equivalent of the Israelite ‘camp’. Here we come to another paradox. In 10.22 (echoing 4.16) he urges his readers “let us approach” God’s sanctuary via the Tabernacle, through the curtain which Christ has opened for us by his blood; now, in 13.13. he urges “so let us go out to Jesus, outside the camp, bearing his reproach”. The Tabernacle in the desert was a parable full of rich truth and prophetic significance, but now its typology has been fulfilled - we live in the age of the antitype! - and its continuing practices, as manifested in the Temple in Jerusalem, must be rejected, even if that meant, for Jews, bearing the stigma of rejection themselves. And just as the earthly, man-made Tabernacle was contrasted with its counterpart, so is the holy city of Jerusalem: “For here we have no abiding city; we are eagerly looking for the city which is to come” - the New Jerusalem, which we will reach eventually!

(i) from Tabernacle to Temple
(a)
'skēnōma'
Acts 7.46-7, 1 Kings 2.28-9, Ps 15.1, 43.3, 84.1

We now move back in the NT to Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, though forward in time - the time when the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness have passed, and they have entered their promised inheritance in the land of Canaan; the Judges have been succeeded by Kings, Saul by David, and David by his son Solomon. David, as we have seen, had wanted to build a Temple for God to dwell in, but the prophet Nathan had brought back God’s reply that this would be Solomon’s task. Stephen summarises this in verses 46-7: “David found favour before God, and asked that he might provide a tent for the God of Jacob; but it was Solomon who built a house for him”. The word for ‘tent’ in v.46 (‘dwelling-place’, NIV) is ‘skēnōma’, a member of the ‘skene’ family we have not met before, but which occurs twice more in the NT, in a metaphorical sense which we will come to later. But its use in the LXX is suggestive. In 1 Kings 2.28 Joab flees from King Solomon “to the tent (‘skēnōma’) of the Lord”, and clasps the horns of the altar in supplication. But in the next verse it is reported to Solomon that “Joab has fled to the tent (‘skene’) of the Lord”. Clearly, the two words here are identical in meaning. In the Psalms, however, the word seems to suggest, as it were, a ‘half-way house’ between Tabernacle and Temple, and between God’s earthly dwelling-place among his people and his heavenly home. Psalm 15 begins: “Lord, who will dwell (‘paroikō’, ‘sojourn’) in your ‘skēnōma’, and who will pitch his tent ('kataskene’, another member of the ‘skene’ family) on your holy mountain ?” The rest of the psalm then describes the holiness needed to enter the presence of the Lord. The ‘holy mountain’ may suggest either Sinai, where the Tabernacle was shown to Moses in ‘outline’, or Mount Sion in Jerusalem, where the Temple would be built; but David seems more concerned to share fellowship with God than with any earthly structure. The ‘skēnōma’ and the ‘holy mountain’ are once again linked in Psalm 43.3: “Send out your light and your truth; they have guided me and led me to your holy mountain and into your ‘skēnōma’”. This Psalm is not Davidic, but we hear his words again in Psalm 26.8: “Lord, I love the beauty of your house, the place which is the ‘skēnōma’ of your glory”. This, too, is echoed in the non-Davidic Psalm 84, which begins “How much-loved is your dwelling-place (‘skēnōma’), O Lord”. In all these instances ‘skēnōma’ is used in the plural, which further suggests that the psalmists are using the language of the Tabernacle and the Temple to express their love for the Lord and their longing to enjoy his presence. It is possible that these uses of ‘skēnōma’ influenced Luke’s use of language in Acts 7. 46-7. Stephen, though a Greek-speaker, presumably addressed the Sanhedrin in Aramaic, and in any case Luke must have been reconstructing his speech from the memories of those who heard it (it must have made a big impression!). We have already noted in the immediately preceding verses his ironic repetition of ‘skene’ and ‘tupos’; in both these passages the subtlety of the actual wording must be due to his own artistry rather than to Stephen’s oratory. In these, subsequent, verses there seems to be a deliberate contrast between the ‘skēnōma’ which David wanted to build and the ‘house’ (‘oikos’) which Solomon actually built. For this ‘house’ would be a Tabernacle in its essential purpose and its basic design - portico, holy place, curtain, holy of holies, i.e. the ‘first tent’ and ‘second tent’ pattern of Hebrews 9 - and a Temple in its eminence on Mount Sion, its magnificence and its permanence.

(b) cheiropoiētos

Acts 7.48, Is 66.1-2, Eph 2.11, Col 2.11, Heb 9. 11, 24, 2 Cor 5.1, Mark 14.58, John 2.19

At this point (v.48), Stephen - or Luke - introduces another important NT word which is worth a brief study of its own. Having mentioned the building of God’s ‘house’ by Solomon, he immediately adds “but the Most High does not live (‘katoikō’) in houses made by human hands”, and then quotes in support of this statement Isaiah 66. 1-2: “The heaven is my throne, the earth my footstool: what kind of house (‘oikos’) will you build for me? --- Is it not my hand which has made all these?” The single Greek word translated ‘made by human hands’ is ‘cheiropoiētos’, a compound adjective formed from ‘cheir’, ‘a hand’, and the verb ‘poiō’, to ‘make’. This word occurs six times in the NT, and it also has a negative version, which occurs three times, ‘acheiropoiētos’. Two of the uses of the positive form (though each used in a negative context) occur in Hebrews 9, and so we have encountered them already. In each instance, the contrast is being made between the earthly, ‘man-made’ sanctuary in the Tabernacle, and the heavenly sanctuary in which Christ, as High Priest, offered to God the blood of his own sacrifice. Paul uses both versions of the word, once each, to refer to circumcision - in the same chapter, 2, and the same verse, 11, of two different letters. He tells the Ephesians to “remember that you, gentiles by birth, and called the ‘uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘circumcision’, the circumcision performed on the flesh by human hands, were once far from Christ”; and he tells the Colossians that “in Christ also you were circumcised with a circumcision ‘not-performed-by-human-hand’”. In each case, he is making the contrast between the physical rite of circumcision required by Mosaic law, and ‘spiritual circumcision’, the shedding of the old nature (‘the flesh’) in “the circumcision of Christ”. This for the Christian is symbolized by baptism, a contrast implicit in Ephesians but clearly stated in Colossians 2.11-12. The subject of circumcision is not directly relevant to our study, but these verses show that the two versions of our word are used to make a similar distinction to that made in Hebrews 9: there, between the earthly and the heavenly, here, between the physical and the spiritual. Three of the remaining four occurrences of these two words are particularly helpful, since they point forward to uses of ‘skene’ that we will be examining later, but which I will trail briefly here. Paul uses ‘acheiropoiētos’ on one other occasion: 2 Corinthians 5.1. In the latter part of chapter 4 Paul describes the stress and suffering he endures in his apostolic ministry to the churches, but these, he says, are “light and momentary troubles” compared with “the eternal glory” to come (4.17, NIV). Then, once again, he makes a distinction of the kind we have seen twice already: “we do not look at what can be seen, but what cannot be seen” - not the earthly but the heavenly, not the physical but the spiritual. Chapter 5 then begins: “For we know that if this earthly tent (‘skenes’, a variant form of ‘skene’) which is our home (‘oikos’) is taken down, we have a home from God, an eternal home in the heavens, not-made-by-human-hands”. This introduces us to the NT use of the tent as a metaphor of the human body, our mobile (some more than others !) but essentially temporary home on earth - a metaphor that is a pointed reminder that we are all ‘strangers and pilgrims’ making our nomadic way through the ‘wilderness of this world’. Our other ‘foreshadowing’ comes in Mark 14.58, the other verse in the NT which contains both the positive and negative forms of the word. At Jesus’ trial, some false witnesses testified that “we heard him saying, ‘I will destroy (or ‘take down’, the same word as the one used by Paul in our last verse) this temple built-by-human-hands, and within three days I will build another, not-made-by-human-hands’”. This refers to John 2.19: Jesus has thrown out the monēy-changers and merchants from the Temple, and is then asked by the Jews for a sign to validate his authority for acting in this way. He replies: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”. The word ‘destroy’ here is the simple ‘luō’ rather than its compound ‘kataluō’ which we have seen in our two previous examples; and the verb ‘egeiro’, to ‘raise up’, is regularly used of the raising of Jesus from the dead (e.g. Matt. 27. 63, 64; 28. 6,7). Clearly, Jesus is talking here of his resurrection, the ultimate sign of his divine authority, so that “this temple” refers to his physical human body which on the third day would be raised from the tomb as a resurrection body, ‘not-made-with-human-hands’. The human body is not only a tent, but can also become a temple, as we shall see.

(c) Jesus - Stephen - Paul
Acts 6.13-14, 7.58-60, 17.24-5, Luke 23.34, 46

This accusation brought against Jesus at his trial is echoed at Stephen’s trial before the Sanhedrin, and so leads us back to his long speech in Acts 7. It has often been noted how Stephen’s death, the first martyrdom, in several respects echoes the death of his Lord and Saviour, Jesus. Like Jesus, he was taken “outside the city” to his death (7.58); his prayer “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” recalls Jesus’ final words (Luke 23. 46); and his shouting out “with a loud voice” (cf. Matt. 27.46, Mark 15.34): “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (v.59) recalls Jesus’ prayer to his Father in Luke 23.34. Less often noticed is how Luke has set up this parallel at the end of chapter 6. Stephen, too, was a victim of “false witnesses” (v. 13), who said: “We have heard him saying that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy (‘kataluō’) this place”. It seems that Stephen had been reflecting on Jesus’ words, and concluded that the Temple was no more a permanent part of God’s plan for his people than the Tabernacle had been, since “God does not live in buildings made-by-human-hands”. We know that Paul (then known as Saul) was a witness of Stephen’s death (7.58), so he probably heard his speech as well, and our final instance of ‘cheiropoiētos’ comes from his lips, as recorded by Luke. In his sermon to the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers on the Areopagus at Athens, Paul, taking as his starting-point the altar he had seen in the city with the inscription “To the unknown god”, preaches to them the God of creation: “The God who made (‘poiō’) the world and everything in it, being from the beginning Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell (‘katoikō’) in temples made-by-human-hands as though he needed anything from us, since it is he who gives to the whole of his creation life and breath and everything”. (Acts 17.24-5)

(d) Tabrnacle and Temple: a parallel
1 Kings 6.13, 8.10-11, 27

We can now return to the building of Solomon’s Temple as a replacement for Moses’ Tabernacle. This Temple was twice as big and many times more splendid than the Tabernacle, but still presents us with the same paradox. God promised Solomon (1 Kings 6.13) “I will live among the Israelites” in the Temple he was building; but even as Solomon was uttering his prayer of dedication at the opening ceremony of the finished work, he was struck by the realisation that his magnificent building was far too small for such a great God: “But will God really dwell (‘katoikō’, LXX) on earth? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you, how much less this Temple I have built.” (1 Kings 8.27) Not only was God too great to dwell in this Temple, he was also too holy to dwell with men. Here there is a striking parallel with what happened at the dedication of the Tabernacle at the end of Exodus (40. 34-5). Then, the cloud of God’s glory filled the Tent of Meeting so that not even Moses could enter; now, when the priests had finally installed the Ark of the Covenant in the sanctuary of the Temple, “the cloud filled the Temple of the Lord, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the Temple” (8. 10-11). Once again, there seems to be, if we may speak of God in such human terms, a tension within the Godhead between his heart, which longs to be with his people, and his eyes, which are “too pure to look on evil” (Hab. 1.13) - between the God who is love and the God who is light.

(j) the Temple: as temporary as the Tabernacle
(a) the Temple gates closed
Acts 21.30, 1 Kings 9.3

But there is another paradox here that also needs exploring. The move from Tabernacle to Temple represents a move from transience to permanence. The Tabernacle was ideally suited to a nomadic people looking forward to the day when God would lead them into the promised land - it was mobile and temporary, and God, as he himself said, was graciously pleased to live in a tent among his people (2 Sam.7.6). Now, though, 480 years after the exodus, they were a settled people occupying a land that was theirs; they had a king living in a palace in a great city, and it was fitting that God should live in a great temple, a permanent residence among his people. After the consecration of the Temple, God said to Solomon: “I have consecrated this Temple, which you have built, by putting my name there for ever. My eyes and my heart will always be there” (1 Kings 9.3 - so we may speak of God in such human terms!). In the event, however, the Tabernacle seems to have lasted, in some form or other, longer than the Temple: the Tabernacle, as we have seen, for 480 years, the Temple for less than 400, completed in about 950 BC but destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The second Temple was built 70 years later, but was then destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The destruction of the first Temple was God’s judgement on his people for their failure to abide by the Old Covenant; the destruction of the second was God’s demonstration that the New Covenant had made redundant a Temple ‘made-by-human-hands’. Stephen seems to have been the first to realise that the Temple was no longer the centre of the religious universe, the place where, uniquely, God was to be located. I suggested earlier that he may have been pondering the significance of Jesus’ use of the Temple as a metaphor for his own human body. Perhaps he concluded that, since this metaphorical ‘temple’ had now indeed been destroyed and raised from the dead in a new form, a resurrection body, so the actual Temple had been destroyed, in God’s purpose if not yet in history, and replaced by a spiritual temple, not-made-by-human-hands, namely, the body of the church, God’s New Covenant people. In the first 6 chapters of Acts the early church continued, by force of habit, perhaps, to gravitate towards the Temple; but after Stephen’s speech and subsequent martyrdom, with the widespread scattering of the believers under persecution, the Temple slips into the background - until Paul’s appearance there in chapter 21 provokes a riot: “the whole city was aroused, and people came running from all directions. Seeing Paul, they dragged him from the Temple, and immediately the gates were shut.” (v.30) Some have seen the closing of the Temple gates here as symbolic: God finally shutting down a building and a sacrificial system that had been redundant ever since the crucifixion. At that time its redundancy had been signalled by the symbolic tearing from top to bottom of the veil barring access to the sanctuary - of which, more later. All that was now needed was to send in the demolition squad: the Romans were good at that!

(b) the Temple's replacement
1 Kings 8.29

But if the Temple is now obsolete and destroyed, how has it been replaced? Does God no longer long to dwell with his people? Has he finally given up on us, and retreated to heaven and ‘closed the gates’? ‘mē genoito’, as Paul would say: ‘Heaven forbid !’ Solomon himself, all unwittingly, in his prayer at its dedication gives us a clue as to how the Temple would be replaced. The keynote of this prayer is expressed in verse 29 of 1 Kings 8: “May your eyes be open towards this Temple night and day, this place of which you said ‘my Name shall be there’, so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays towards this place.” Then follows a series of hypothetical situations (though, in the event, many of them became all too real) in which the Israelites would need to pray for God’s forgiveness, protection or deliverance; in each one, Solomon asks that God will “hear from heaven, your dwelling-place (‘katoikōsis’, LXX) when they pray towards this Temple”. Solomon knew, as we have seen, that God’s permanent dwelling-place was in heaven, not in a temple made-by-human-hands; yet God had promised that his name would be there, even though an earthly building could not even begin to accommodate all his greatness. So to pray ‘towards the Temple’ was to pray in God’s name, just as Christians now pray to a sovereign God enthroned in heaven in the name of his incarnate Son, Jesus. It is Jesus who has replaced the Temple, and the Tabernacle, and made them both obsolete, and so it is to his incarnation that we must now proceed.

(k) the Incarnation
skene
Luke 1.31, Matt 1.21-23, Is 7.14, 2 Cor 4.6

Yes, God does indeed still want to dwell among his people and have fellowship with them. This has been his desire from the very beginning, from the sixth day of creation. In Eden, before the fall, man and woman could stand before a holy God naked and unashamed in unhindered fellowship, as God in person “walked in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3.8). But after the fall God came to them not in fellowship but in judgement, and the relationship was changed for ever. Nevertheless, God was still calling and seeking a people to be his own. Abraham was obedient to that call, and lived much of his life, as we have seen, as a tent-dweller in a foreign land, sustained by God’s promise of a future inheritance, so that he is truly the father of all who have faith in God’s word. The Israelites in the wilderness were sustained by God’s presence among them, but, as the Tabernacle has shown us, he was present but unapproachable. The Temple merely represented the same truth more splendidly and more permanently; but both were still just temporary measures until the unfolding of God’s perfect plan. This had been foreshadowed throughout the OT, but was finally announced by the Archangel Gabriel, not to kings or prophets or priests in Jerusalem, but to a teenage girl in a country village: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus” (Luke 1.31). The angel also brings this message to Mary’s husband-to-be, the village carpenter, with the same instruction to “call his name ‘Jesus’”. This is recorded by Matthew, who sees this miracle of the virgin birth as the fulfilment of a prophecy by Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they will call his name ‘Emmanuel’”. This name Matthew helpfully translates for those whose Hebrew is not up to it: “God with us” (Matt. 1. 21-3, Isaiah 7.14). So once again, as in the Garden of Eden, God comes among his people in person, though now in the person of his incarnate Son. It is John who, as it were, coins the term ‘incarnation’. He begins his gospel by describing Jesus as the co-eternal Word, and then, in verse 14, he writes: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory” (AV - what else?). But it is the verb John uses here, translated ‘dwelt’, that is our main concern: the verb ‘skene’. This word is used only by John in the NT (its 4 other uses are in Revelation), and means, literally, to ‘pitch a tent’, or to ‘live in a tent’ - or a tabernacle. What a wealth of Jewish history and OT scripture John evokes by his use of this one word! It reminds us of Abraham “living in tents” (Heb. 11.9) in the land promised to him as though it were a foreign land; John has just said of Jesus that “he came to his own home, and his own people did not receive him” (v.11). It reminds us, too, of the Tabernacle, which, in a sense, embodied the presence of Emmanuel with his people in the wilderness; but they could only see his glory in a cloud which kept them at a distance, while for us, “God made his light to shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4.6). The God whose “eyes are too pure to look on evil” is incarnate in Jesus who was known as “the friend of sinners” (Hab. 1.13, Matt. 12.19). And it reminds us, thirdly, of the metaphorical use of ‘skene’ that we looked at a little earlier: the ‘flesh’ that Jesus ‘became’ was a human body which, like a tent, is only a temporary dwelling, and all too vulnerable to the ‘slings and arrows’ which life hurls against it - not to mention whips and nails. When God wanted to be with his people in the wilderness when they were literally living in tents, he too became a tent-dweller, and dwelt among them in the Tabernacle pitched at the crossroads of their encampment. But in the fullness of time, at the crossroads of history, God wanted all mankind, and not just the Jews, to be part of his family; all mankind live in tents, the tent of the human body, and so God, too, lived among us in such a tent - a tent which was torn apart and taken down long before it was worn out by the normal wear and tear of life.

(l) veiled in flesh
(a) the protecting veil
'katapetasma', 'apokaluptō'
Heb 6.19, 9.3, 10.20, Matt 16.16-17, 1 John 3.2

This leads us to revisit Hebrews 10.20, and this time to think about the end of the verse, which I omitted the first time round. The writer says that we now have the confidence, through Christ’s sacrifice for us, to enter into the ‘Holy of Holies’, God’s very presence, “by the new and living way which he has opened up for us through the veil, that is, through his flesh”. It is this last, supposedly explanatory, phrase that is so rich in suggestion, yet so hard to pin down. It was, presumably, this verse which led Wesley to write in his great Christmas hymn ‘Hark, the herald angels sing’ the line “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see”. Jesus’ human form in a sense veiled the full glory and awesome holiness of his deity, so that to look at he was a man like any other, and it needed the eye of faith to discern the Godhead within his manhood. When Peter made his great declaration of faith, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus replied that it was “my Father in heaven who revealed it to you” - literally, ‘removed the veil for you’ (the verb is ‘apocalupto’, whence ‘apocalypse’ - Matt. 16.16-7). If we see the veil in the Tabernacle, and then in the Temple, simply as a massive ‘No Entry’ sign on the road to God, then it seems a strange image to apply to Jesus’ humanity, since he came to reveal God to us, and claimed to be “the way --- no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6). But perhaps we should view the veil from the other side, and so see it more as a ‘safety curtain’ to shield the priests in the ‘first tent’ from the blinding brightness of God’s glory, the God who is “in light inaccessible hid from our eyes”, to quote another great hymn. Hebrews uses the word ‘veil’, or 'curtain', (in Greek, ‘katapetasma’, literally something that 'stretches out downwards') on two other occasions. In 9.3 he is simply describing the Mosaic Tabernacle: after his description of the ‘first tent’ and its furnishings he says “behind the second veil is the tent called the Holy of Holies". We have seen how ‘skene’ came to be used as a metaphor of the human body. If we link these two ideas, we might say that in Tabernacle terms the ‘first tent’ is the human body, and that the veil which separates us from God’s presence is our very humanity, fallen and failing and unfit for heaven. This black picture is relieved by the next (though earlier) reference to ‘katapetasma’, 6.19, which we have already looked at. Because of God’s promise we have hope, hope like an anchor which can hold us firm in all the storms of life. But to hold us securely, our anchor must be firmly embedded, and this verse tells us that our anchor “reaches inside the veil”, and that we can be doubly sure of it, not only because of God’s promise, but also because “Jesus has entered there, going on ahead of us on our behalf”. To change the image slightly, he is like an expert rock-climber with a group of beginners, going up the cliff-face ahead of them to show that the rope is secure. If we now combine this verse with the third reference to ‘katapetasma’ (10.20), our launch-pad for this line of thought, we see that to pass through the ‘first tent’ is to leave behind our earthly, physical humanity, just as a rock-climber must leave ‘terra firma’ beneath him. The veil, then, represents the barrier between earth and heaven, between man and God, and to pass through it is a picture of death, the death Jesus had to pass through on his way inside the veil into his Father’s presence. A curtain (the other common translation of ‘katapetasma’), like a door, can be thought of either as a barrier or as a gateway; likewise, death can be seen either as a dead end, or as a gateway to a new beginning. None of us knows exactly what lies behind this veil (that is what veils are for!), but Christians have the ‘sure and certain hope of the resurrection’ as their anchor, because Christ has gone before us. It is John who, perhaps, expresses both the uncertainty and the hope more vividly than anyone: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. We know that when Jesus is revealed we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3.2). What a ‘revelation’ that will be!

(b) the torn veil

Matt 27.51, Mark 15.38, Luke 23.45, 2.Cor 3.13, Heb 10.22

This line of thought is further strengthened by the other three uses of ‘katapetasma’ in the NT. In each of the synoptic gospels it is recorded that “the veil of the Temple was split” (the verb is ‘schizō’, from which is derived our ‘schism’). Matthew and Mark place this event immediately after Jesus has “given up his spirit” (Matthew) or “breathed his last” (Mark - and Luke), and use identical language, though in a slightly different order; and Matthew draws attention to the importance of this ‘split’ by beginning with ‘idou’ - ‘behold!’ or ‘look!’: “The veil of the Temple was split into two from the top to the bottom” (Matt. 27 51, Mark 15.38). Luke places this event immediately before Jesus’ death, and in his excitement becomes telegrammatic: literally, “and was split the veil of the Temple - middle!” (23.45) The mystery of the incarnation, God living on earth as a man, is ultimately unfathomable and inexplicable, but the Tabernacle, God’s ‘skene’, provides us with a picture to help us. The human body is like a tent, a temporary home on earth in which all mankind live. In the OT God lived among his people in the Tabernacle, but separate from them in the sanctuary ‘beyond the veil’. At the incarnation Jesus took on human form and ‘tented’ among us, God with his people not just as a cloud of glory but as a man like us. But he was not like us in all respects: he was without sin. So while like all men he lived, as it were, in the ‘first tent’, for him the veil was only a one-way barrier, not separating him from God his Father, with whom he continued to enjoy perfect fellowship, but preserving and protecting his fellow men from the unbearable light of his full Godhead. We might, perhaps, see a faint foreshadowing of this in Moses: after 40 days on Mount Sinai in the very presence of God he had to ‘veil’ his face when he returned to the Israelites to protect them from the residual glow of glory which still shone there (Ex. 34. 29-35, 2 Cor. 3.13). On the cross, the tent of Jesus’ human body was torn and destroyed, and this destruction was graphically and dramatically (‘look!', ‘behold!') illustrated by the tearing of the curtain in the Temple. No more was Jesus confined by the limitations of a physical human body; in death he had passed ‘through the veil’, the veil of his humanity (“his flesh”) into the heavenly sanctuary: the veil was no more, for Jesus’ resurrection body was not subject to the limitations of the flesh. But the symbolism is even more wonderful than this. On the cross, during those three hours of terrible darkness, Jesus, for the only time in eternity, was cut off from the presence of his Father as he became “sin for us”: the curtain was closed against him, and it was in this agony of separation that he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (2 Cor. 5.21, Matt. 27.45-6). But at the end of those three hours he spoke again: “It is finished!”: man’s sin had been fully paid for, and so the curtain in the Temple was torn down, since Jesus’ fellowship with his Father had been restored. In his final word from the cross (Luke 23.46) he once again addresses God, as he always had done, as “Father” - “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. He did not just slip back into his Father’s presence through a gap in the curtain, like an actor taking a bow; the whole curtain was torn down - “from top to bottom”, “in the middle”, so by God himself, since this was something only he could do. We have seen already that Jesus entered the sanctuary as our “forerunner” (Heb. 6.20), so that where he has gone we may go too. When Jesus called his disciples to “follow me”, that was not just a challenge but also an invitation: those who follow Jesus in life may follow him in death, too, stepping through the torn curtain, just as he did, into the very presence of our heavenly Father. For Jesus was not like some well-meaning millionaire spending a night on the streets with the homeless in ‘cardboard city’ (perhaps the humblest form of tent), and then returning to his comfortable home and a hot bath - and a warm feeling of self-satisfaction. Jesus invites us back to his heavenly home to live with him - and leaves the front door open for us! The “No Entry” sign barring the way into the ‘second tent’ has been taken down at last, and all who are ‘in Christ’ have the right of access, in this life in prayer and worship, and after death with a resurrection body like Jesus. “Therefore”, says the writer to the Hebrews (he too, like Paul, has some great ‘therefore’s), “let us come into the presence of God with a true heart and in full assurance of faith” (10.22).

(m) the Transfiguration
(a) 'three tents'
'metamorphoumai'/ 'morphē' /' morphēsis'
Matt 17.4, Mark 7.5, Luke 9.33

If, then, Jesus’ human form was the Tabernacle in which God was present among his people, and his physical body could be thought of as the veil in the Tabernacle which concealed his divine glory from the world, and protected the world from it, there was one occasion on which this veil slipped a little, and let through a chink of that glorious light. This was, of course, what we call the transfiguration, recorded in all three synoptic gospels. It is significant, I believe, that it is these three accounts that contain three of the four occurrences of ‘skene’ in the gospels. The three accounts differ slightly, with Luke, in particular, supplying some interesting detail not given by the other two; but all three report, almost identically, the words of Peter (who else?), who, in the stress of the moment, blurts out “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if you want” - in Matthew only - “let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matt. 17.4, Mark 9.5, Luke 9.33). Matthew charitably forbears to comment on Peter’s suggestion (group loyalty to a fellow member of the twelve?), but Mark and Luke both add: “for he did not know what he was saying” - or “what to say”. Why, then, is this mindless saying recorded in all three accounts, when it appears to be an irrelevance? One possibility is that, like Peter’s denial, recorded in all four gospels, it is something that Peter himself often returned to in his teaching and preaching, and wanted recorded as a sign of his own foolishness and fallibility now that he was the (earthly) head of the church, just as Paul used to recall his former persecution of the church to emphasise that “it is by the grace of God that I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15.10). But perhaps there is another reason as well: maybe they came to realise that this suggestion that they make three ‘tents’, or ‘booths’, was actually full of interesting ironies. These we will now explore.

(b) why 'three tents'?

Phil 2.6-7, Matt 17.2, Luke 24.4, Rom 12.2, 2 Cor 3.18, John 1.14

“It is good for us to be here”, Peter said, and this suggests that his motive in offering to make “three tents” was to preserve this unique and amazing experience, terrifying though it was, and to make it permanent. The irony, though, is that, as we have seen, the fundamental feature of a tent is its impermanence. The disciples were called not to live on the mountain-top bathed in God’s glory, but to go back down and take the gospel of the glorified Christ to a dying world - whose most immediate representative was a man with a demon-possessed son. The impulse to build tents, or booths, perhaps stemmed from the Feast of Tabernacles, which we looked at earlier, intended as a yearly reminder to the Israelitesce. The disciples were called not to live on the mountain-top bathed in God' The irony, though, is t of the 40 years they spent in tents as they wandered in the wilderness. Here, then, is another irony, verging on the comic, that Peter should suggest building a tent for Moses to remind him, in case he should have forgotten, of his home in the Sinai desert. No less ironical is the idea that Moses and Elijah, who were presumably present in their resurrection bodies, freed now from the limitations of their physical, earthly ‘tents’, would appreciate being housed in one again. But the profoundest irony concerns the transfiguration itself. Both Matthew and Mark say that “Jesus was transfigured in front of them”. The Greek verb used here could be translated, and almost transliterated, ‘metamorphosed’. This verb is formed from the noun ‘morphē’, which means not only ‘outward appearance’ or ‘form’, but also someone’s ‘inner reality’ or ‘nature’. The word is used twice in Paul’s great passage on the incarnation in Philippians 2 (perhaps a quotation from an early Christian hymn or creed). First, he says that Jesus was “in the ‘morphē’ of God” (v.6), that is, God in his very nature, in his inmost essence; but he goes on to say that “he emptied himself and took the ‘morphē’ of a servant” (v.7) - the suffering servant prophesied by Isaiah - and the “outward appearance”, or “likeness” (two different words in Greek) of a man. It is, perhaps, worth noting that ‘morphē’ itself can be, slightly, metamorphosed: the variant form is ‘morphēsis’, and this, too, Paul uses twice (Rom. 2.20, 2 Tim. 3.5), each time referring to an ‘outer appearance’ (of “knowledge and truth”, and “piety”) which is deceptively different from the inner reality. Paul’s use of a different word in this context gives added point to his use of ‘morphē’ in Philippians 2: Jesus’ outer appearance, his human character, and his essential deity were in perfect harmony - his servanthood a wonderful expression of his Godhead. At the transfiguration, then, what we might call his ‘servant morphē’ was transcended by his divine ‘morphē’, and something of the awesome light of his deity shone through the ‘tent’ or ‘veil’ of his human form. So “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matt. 17.2); “his clothes became glowing white - too much!” (Mark 9.3); and in Luke’s version (9.29) “the appearance of his face was different, and his clothing white like a shaft of lightning”. This last phrase is just a single participle in Greek. Luke uses the same basic verb (to ‘lighten’, as in ‘lightning’) to describe the clothing of the two angels who greeted the women at the tomb on resurrection morning; their clothes, too, ‘shone like lightning’ - but in our passage he compounds the verb with the preposition ‘ex’ to give it ‘extra’ emphasis, for, as Hebrews tells us (1.4) “Jesus is much superior to the angels”. Luke also gives us the valuable detail that the transfiguration happened “while he was praying”: Jesus had, as it were, gone through the veil into his Father’s presence in the heavenly sanctuary, and so was reflecting his light; perhaps this is one of the reasons that he normally “went off to a solitary place” to pray, as in Mark 1.35. But, as we have seen, where Jesus our ‘forerunner’ has gone, we too may follow: we, too, can be ‘transfigured’, or ‘metamorphosed’. Paul uses this word, too, twice. In Romans 12.2 he tells us not to be “conformed to this world”, but to be “‘metamorphosed’ by the renewing of the mind”; and in a passage more directly relevant to the transfiguration and to Jesus at prayer, he states that, unlike the Israelites at Sinai who could not endure the divine radiance of Moses’ face on his return from the mountain, we Christians, as we gaze into the mirror of Christ through the ministry of his Spirit “are being ‘metamorphosed’ from glory to glory” - the glory of the transfigured Christ (2 Cor. 3.18). So Peter’s offer to make a ‘tent’ for Jesus is ironic in at least two ways. A remark is unconsciously ironic when the speaker does not realise the full significance of what he is saying, as Luke remarks of Peter here (9.33). Firstly, he is unwittingly aligning himself with the Israelites at Sinai, who could not endure the radiance of Moses’ face, so that he had to put a veil over it. Jesus has, momentarily, lifted the veil separating the ‘first’ and ‘second’ tents, so that something of the glory of his Father can shine through; it is as though Peter is suggesting that he should go back into ‘his’ tent, and let the veil down again. He has just acknowledged Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16.10), but the full significance of this insight has not yet worked its way into his thinking: Jesus as human friend and teacher is easier to live with and respond to than Jesus as God in all - or even some of - his glory. Still less has he realised that, just as God lived among his people in the wilderness in the Tabernacle, so now he is living among them in the Tabernacle that is Jesus: to offer to build a tent to house a tent shows that, indeed, “he did not know what he was saying”. In the fullness of time, however, and through the illuminating ministry of the Spirit, the apostles came to understand these truths, so that Peter’s words are recorded in the synoptic gospels from the perspective of hindsight. John does not record the transfiguration, but perhaps both his memory of it and his deeper understanding of the ironic significance of Peter’s words are reflected in the verse with which we began this section: “The Word became flesh, and pitched his Tabernacle among us, and [at the transfiguration?] we beheld his glory, the glory of the only-begotten Son, who came from the Father full of grace and truth” (John 1.14).

(n) the Tent of the Body
'skēnos' / 'skēnōma'/ 'analuō' /' analusis'
2 Cor 5.1-4, 2 Tim 4.6, 2 Peter 1.13-14

The metaphor which John uses here, likening the human body to a tent, is also used by Peter and by Paul. It is possible that it originated in reflections on the incarnation, such as John’s just quoted, but it is such a natural comparison to make that it may have been current long before. Paul, as we have already seen, uses the variant noun ‘skēnos’, and Peter uses another variant, ‘skēnōma’, both, perhaps, wanting to avoid confusion with ‘skene’, the Tabernacle. Paul’s two uses of ‘skenes’ occur in quick succession in 2 Corinthians 5. 1-4, where, as we saw earlier, he contrasts the ‘tent’ of a temporary human home with the heavenly home, not-made-by-human-hands, which is waiting for us when our tent is finally taken down. He then adds a second layer of metaphor, likening a tent to ‘clothing’ that is taken off at death, when we put on a new set of clothes, so that we are not naked in God’s presence. Perhaps there is an echo here of Adam and Eve’s guilty awareness of their nakedness before God in the Garden of Eden after their disobedience. Not content with this metaphorical feast, Paul adds a third course, saying that “the mortal is swallowed up by life” (though Greek idiom, rather more logically, talks of ‘swallowing down’). For Paul the tent-maker this (first) metaphor of the body as a tent was a particularly natural one to use, and it is possible to trace it in two other places where the word ‘tent’ does not actually occur. In Philippians 1, after his resoundingly memorable testimony in verse 21, “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain”, he then describes how he is torn between these two impulses: to continue living, so that he can continue ministering to the Philippians, or “to die and be with Christ, which is much more better” (literally!). The word translated ‘die’ here is ‘analuō’. It is only used in one other place in the NT, but it is worth noting that it is related to ‘kataluō’, the verb used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5.1 that I translated ‘take down’. The other use of ‘analuō’ is in Luke 12.36, where Jesus tells his disciples that they are like servants “waiting for their lord to return (‘analuō’) from a wedding”. The essential meaning of the simple verb ‘luō’ is to ‘undo’ or ‘untie’, and ‘analuō is used in Classical Greek to mean to ‘cast off’ a ship from the shore, and so to ‘set sail’ - and to ‘return’. It is possible that this is the image that Paul has in mind here: death is like casting off the moorings which bind us to this world, and setting sail to our heavenly harbour, with Jesus as our pilot. But Paul was a tent-maker, and his experience of long sea voyages was not altogether positive. Another meaning of ‘analuō’ in Classical Greek is to ‘take to pieces’, to ‘undo’, and is used most memorably in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ of Odysseus’ faithful wife Penelope, stealthily ‘unpicking’ at night the tapestry she had woven by day, since she had promised her hated suitors (who thought Odysseus was dead) to choose one of them once the tapestry was completed. Some, therefore, have thought that Paul is here (as in 2 Cor. 5) using the imagery of the bodily ‘tent’ being taken down and packed up (‘kata’ and ‘ana’ are the Greek for ‘down’ and ‘up’ respectively). ‘analuō’ gives us ‘analysis’, a ‘taking to pieces’, and Paul uses this noun in 2 Timothy 4.6 (its only occurrence in the NT), where he says that “the time of my ‘analusis’ is near”. Both AV and NIV translate this as ‘departure’, but perhaps here, too, Paul has a mental image of a tent being taken down and folded up. Peter is more specific when talking of the imminence of his own death. He uses ‘skēnōma’ for ‘tent’, and, like Paul, uses it twice in quick succession, in 2 Peter 1.13-14: “I think it right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up to remember these things” (i.e. vv. 3-9); “for I know that the putting off of my tent will come soon, as the Lord Jesus Christ has shown me”. The word used here for ‘putting off’ is an abstract noun similar to ‘analusis’, namely, ‘apothesis’. This is used only on one other occasion, also by Peter, in his first letter when talking about baptism (the ‘antitype’ of the flood), which he says is not “a putting off of dirt from the body”. For Peter, then, death was the ‘casting off’ of an obsolete and temporary covering, in the same way, perhaps, as a butterfly casts off its chrysalis.

(o) Tents and nests
'kataskene' / 'kataskenesis'
Acts 2.26-7, Matt 13.32, 8.20, Mark 4,32, Luke 9.58

Now that we have looked at two variants of the noun ‘skene’, it might be a good time to consider two compounds of the verb ‘skene’, which we saw so suggestively used by John in his description of the incarnation. The first is ‘kataskene’, which is used four times in the NT, three of them in the same context in the synoptic gospels. These we will look at in a moment, but first, a brief comment on the fourth occurrence. This comes in Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when he quotes from the LXX version of Psalm 16: “My heart rejoices and my tongue leaps for joy, and my flesh will dwell (‘kataskene’) in hope that you will not leave my soul in Hades” (Acts 2.26-7, Psalm 16.9-10) We could well have included this reference in the previous section, since it clearly suggests that the human body (“my flesh”) is, in this life on earth, ‘living in a tent’ (‘kataskene’), but sustained in joyful hope, like Abraham, of a heavenly ‘city with foundations’, and, like Paul, of a heavenly home ‘not-made-with-human-hands’. This verb in turn adds to the ‘skene’ family by giving birth to the noun ‘kataskenesis’, which makes two appearances, and which we shall also look at. The verb is found in all three versions of the parable of the mustard seed, to which Jesus likens the kingdom of God: “the mustard seed is the smallest of the seeds, but when it grows it is bigger than the other plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest (‘kataskene’) in its branches” (Matt. 13.32). The other two versions are very similar, but Mark writes: “it puts out great branches, so that the birds of the air can nest in its shade” (4.32). He might almost be accused of making a pun here (Mark indulging in wordplay? surely not!), since, as we have seen, ‘skene’ is related to ‘skia’, the word for ‘shade’. However that may be, what is clear is that a nest is the avian equivalent of a tent, not mobile, perhaps (except in a high wind!), but certainly temporary. The only mystery is why neither AV (‘lodge’) nor NIV (‘perch’) translates this verb as to ‘nest’. This is particularly perverse since the noun derived from it, ‘kataskenesis’, is used by both Matthew and Luke in Jesus’ reply to the over-enthusiastic would-be disciple (Matthew identifies him as a scribe) who says “I will follow you wherever you go”. Jesus says to him: “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have --- ” ‘lodges’? ‘perches’? No: “nests”, of course; “but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8.20, Luke 9.58). In all these five passages the phrase ‘the birds of the air’ should strictly be translated “the birds of the heaven”, and it is possible that Matthew also is making a verbal point when he alone of the three synoptics refers (as he habitually does) to ‘the kingdom of heaven’ rather that to ‘the kingdom of God’. In the former phrase, ‘heaven’ is singular, while in the latter it is always plural. Whoever, or whatever, these birds represent in the parable, they clearly do not belong to ‘the kingdom of heaven’, even though they are ‘birds of the heaven’, and their ‘nests’ are just as obsolescent and earthbound as the tents which are their human equivalent.

(p) the Tent as the Temple of the Holy Spirit
'episkenō, 'monē'

2 Cor 12.7-10, 6.16, John 14.2, 23, 1 Cor 6.19, 3.16, Lev 26.11-12, Ez 37.26-7

The other compound of the verb ‘skene’ is used only once in the NT, but it is a beautiful and significant usage, and it leads us into the next stage of our central theme, God’s desire to be with his people. So far, we have traced this from Eden to Emmanuel, from God walking in the garden to Jesus walking the dusty roads of Judea and Galilee. But once Jesus has returned ‘through the veil’ into his Father’s presence in the heavenly sanctuary, it seems that ‘God is no longer with us’. But that was only for 10 days! On the Day of Pentecost Jesus returned to his disciples, as he had promised, in the person of his Holy Spirit, and it is through him that God now delights to be present, not just among his people but within them individually. The verb we are now focusing on occurs in one of Paul’s most personal passages, 2 Corinthians 12. 7-10, where he talks about his “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me.” (AV) Three times he prayed to the Lord to remove this thorn; the answer was ‘no’ - but a ‘no’ accompanied by one of the most wonderful promises of scripture: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. Cue for a ‘therefore’! “Therefore”, Paul concludes, “I will rejoice all the more in my weaknesses” (plural ‘weaknesses’, so even more grace!) “so that the power of Christ may possess me”. This last verb is ‘episkenō’ and this is its only appearance in the NT; but the lexicon most helpfully cites a usage by the historian Polybius, where it refers to an occupying army “taking possession of the houses of the citizens and living in them”. What in history happens, all too often, by ‘force majeure’ in scripture only happens by personal invitation: in the person of his Holy Spirit Jesus will ‘pitch his tent and make his home’ in the life of any one who invites him in. And here we find a nice echo of scriptural history. We have seen how, as the Israelites moved from the wilderness into the promised land, and evolved from wanderers into settled residents, living not in tents but (many of them) in a great city, so under David’s inspiration and Solomon’s direction the Tabernacle was transformed into a Temple. But, as Solomon had realised and Stephen had said, “the almighty God does not live in buildings made-by-human-hands”: the Temple in Jerusalem had had its day, and now God dwells by his Spirit among his people collectively as the church, and within the heart of each one individually who puts his trust in Jesus. For Jesus promised that “if any one loves me, he will keep my word, and the Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14.23) The Greek word for ‘dwelling’ here is ‘monē’ (pronounced like the artist), derived from the verb ‘meno’, to ‘stay’ or ‘remain’. It is only used in one other pace in the NT, at the beginning of this very chapter, where Jesus reassures his disciples that he is going on ahead of them “to prepare a place for you” (just as the two delegated disciples had gone ahead of Jesus to prepare the upper room for the Passover supper). “In my Father’s house are many ‘dwellings’ (‘monē’)”. If we bring these two uses of ‘monē’ together we can see that Jesus is promising that he and his Father, in the person of the Holy spirit, will make their ‘monē’ in our hearts during this life, but that a ‘monē’ in God’s house in heaven is waiting for us in the next. We might liken this arrangement to a foreign exchange scheme in which we welcome a French teenager to our two-up-two-down terrace house in, say, Slough, and then, in return, find ourselves invited back to his or her palatial chateau on the French riviera. That is the glorious asymmetry of God’s grace! So, to use the well-known imagery of Revelation 3.20, when someone hears Jesus knocking at the door of their life, and opens the door and invites Jesus to take up residence, at once their body is transformed from a tent to a temple - “the temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you”, as Paul expresses it (1 Cor. 6.19). And what is true of each Christian individually is also true of the church collectively, as Paul has already said earlier in the same letter (3. 16): “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God makes his home among you?” In his second letter to Corinth, he expresses the same truth, but sets it in the broader OT context that we have already explored: “for we are the temple of the living God” (6.16). He supports this statement by quoting from two OT promises of God’s presence with his people. The first is from Leviticus, a classical statement of the Old Covenant: obedience to God’s law brings prosperity, disobedience brings disaster. The promise attached to obedience is “I will put my dwelling-place among you --- I will walk among you” (c.f. the Garden of Eden) “and be your God, and you will be my people” (Lev. 26. 11-2, NIV). It is worth noting that LXX here has “I will place my tabernacle (‘skene’) among you”, and NIV recognises this in a footnote. The second verse Paul is quoting is from Ezekiel’s prophecy of a new covenant, an everlasting covenant of peace, where the Levitical promise is repeated in this new, Messianic context: “I will put my sanctuary in their midst, and my tabernacle (‘kataskenesis’ - my ‘nest’!) will be among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people” (Ez. 37. 26-7, LXX). This “new covenant”, the covenant of grace, is now no longer prophecy but glorious reality; God’s people are now the church, and the church is now God’s temple, a temple not-made-with-human-hands, where he delights to dwell.

(q) Everlasting Tents
(a) in Luke
'diaballō' 'parabolē'
Luke 16.1-9

Almost all the remaining instances of the noun ‘skene’ and the verb ‘skene’ (4 of each) are found in Revelation, so - take courage! - the end is in sight. The one exception, an instance of ‘skene’, is an interesting pointer to its use in Revelation, and also, as in so many of its other appearances, an intriguing paradox in itself. It occurs in the parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16. 1-9 - or “the shrewd manager”, as the NIV more charitably describes him - a parable which already has enough problems and paradoxes of its own. The steward is accused of squandering his master’s property. The word ‘accused’ here is ‘diaballō’, which usually means to ‘accuse falsely’ or to ‘slander’; it is the word from which ‘diabolos’ is derived, the title of the Devil, the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12.10, though this is a different word in Greek). Still, the master believes the accusation, and tells the steward to present a full statement of his accounts before being ‘let go’. The steward has no pension, he cannot dig and will not beg: what to do? He calls together all his master’s debtors, and alters his accounts so that they appear to owe much less, “so that, when I am sacked from my stewardship, they may receive me into their homes”. His master, unexpectedly, and paradoxically, congratulates him on his ‘shrewdness’ in forward planning, and Jesus uses the parable as the basis for the following injunction: “You make for yourselves, too, friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness, so that, when it fails, they may receive you into their everlasting tents”. More or less from the beginning of this study we have taken it as axiomatic that a tent is temporary, the symbol of impermanence, of the transience of life on earth, as opposed to the eternity of heaven. Surely ‘everlasting tents’ is a contradiction in terms? A parable is, in essence, a comparison; the Greek word ‘parabolē’ means ‘putting (two things) beside each other’; and a comparison can make its point by drawing attention both to similarities and to dissimilarities. In this parable (as in the parable of the ‘unjust judge’ in chapter 19), the dissimilarities seem to predominate, but there is one striking parallel: the second half of verse 4 and the second half of verse 9 are alike both in structure and in meaning. The steward makes plans “so that when I am deposed from my stewardship they may receive me into their houses” (v.4); and Jesus tells his disciples to use “the mammon of unrighteousness” to make friends for themselves “so that when it fails they may receive you into the (or “their”) everlasting tents”. The similarity is clear: the repeated phrase “so that when” implies forward planning and the recognition that, sooner or later, the window of opportunity will be closed. The difference is expressed in the word “everlasting”: the ‘unjust’, or ‘shrewd’ steward will be received into earthly, and so temporary, homes, but the stewards of God, and so of the gospel message - the message that all are debtors to God through sin, but that all may have their debt fully forgiven through Christ - will find a welcome in tents which will never be taken down and folded up. On earth, houses tend to be more permanent than tents, but a heavenly tent is more permanent than the sturdiest house on earth. The paradox makes the point.

(b) in Revelation
Rev 13.6, 7.15, John 14.20

This paradox also prepares us for the uses of ‘skene’ and ‘skene’ in Revelation - seven altogether, as we might expect! Two verses contain both noun and verb together; we will start with the first of these, and leave the second for our grand finale. At the beginning of chapter 13, John sees a beast “coming up from the sea”; the dragon gives him power and great authority, so that, in verse 6, “he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name and his tabernacle (‘skene’), those dwelling (‘skene’) in heaven”. The tent which, on earth, was a symbol of transience is now ‘an everlasting tent’. On earth, the relentless ticking of the clock is a constant reminder that our tents are wearing away, and will one day collapse - but in heaven there are no clocks! In the same way, the Tabernacle, which in the wilderness represented both God’s presence with his people and his separateness from them, has now become his permanent dwelling-place: the ‘antitype’, we might say, has become the ‘type’ which God showed to Moses on Mount Sinai. But perhaps the most important, and wonderful, feature of this verse (6) is the word that isn’t there, and the comma that is there instead: “to blaspheme --- his tabernacle, those dwelling in heaven”, not “his tabernacle AND those dwelling in heaven”. On earth, God’s Tabernacle kept him apart from his people; in heaven, God’s tabernacle IS his people. A building made-by-human-hands cannot contain the God who made everything, yet God is pleased to regard the hearts of his faithful saints as his heavenly tabernacle. This same truth is expressed by the converse of the ‘tent’ image in another wonderful verse, earlier in the book, 7.15. At the beginning of this passage (v.9), John has seen a much more encouraging vision: “a great multitude that no man could number”, arrayed in white robes and gathered before the throne. In verse 14 John is told by one of the elders that these “are those that came from the great tribulation, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. In the next verse he continues “he who sits on the throne will pitch his tent (the verb ‘skene’) with them - beautifully translated by NIV as “spread his tent over them”. If it is true that the tabernacle that God dwells in is his people, it is also true that the “everlasting tent” that we look forward to is God himself: he is our tabernacle. This paradox, or dual perspective, can be seen throughout the NT. If we hear Jesus knocking at the door of our lives and ask him into our ‘tent’ (Rev 3.20), we find the even greater truth that we are now ‘in Christ’, the phrase which, for Paul, seems to be the definition of a Christian. The most succinct and direct statement of this truth is found on the lips of Jesus himself: “On that day” (the Day of Pentecost?) “you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you” (John 14.20).

( (c) 'wrath'
Rev 12.12

The next example of ‘skene’ occurs 5 chapters later. Like the verse we have just been looking at, it comes shortly after a great hymn of praise to God for his “salvation uccinct and direct statement of this truth is found on the lips of Jesus hiimself:r lives and ask him into our 'vis” (7.10 and 12.10), this time celebrating the victory in the ‘war in heaven’ achieved by Michael and his angels, as a result of which Satan and all his angels are thrown out of heaven. This is, indeed, good news for those living in heaven, so that later in this same hymn we read “rejoice, you heavens, and those who dwell (‘skene’) in them”; but, in view of the previous verse, and with acknowledgements to NIV, we might translate this “rejoice, you heavens, and all you saints over whom God spreads his tabernacle” (v.12). But if the downfall (literally) of Satan is good news for those living in heaven, it is very bad news for those still living on earth: the same verse continues: “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the Devil (‘diabolos’) has come down to you with great wrath”. The stark dichotomy of this verse is an uncomfortable reminder, after so many references to the graciousness of God in this study, of the essential divisiveness of the gospel. Politicians may find it expedient to have a ‘big tent’ in which they ‘graciously’ invite even their opponents to join them ‘for the greater good’. But the greatest good is God, and his ‘big tent’, though very big indeed, has no room for his enemies. ‘Inclusiveness’ is one of the great idols of our age; the heavenly host is gloriously inclusive, as we have seen (7.9), “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, and tribe, and people, and tongue” - but NOT from every creed: those who deny Christ are not included. Verse 12 contains the first mention of ‘wrath’ in Revelation; there are 9 others, but they all refer to God’s righteous anger against a sinful and rebellious world, while here we are simply, if terrifyingly, confronted by the frustrated fury of a defeated Devil.

(r) the Tabernacle of the Testimony
Rev 15.5, Matt 26.39, Ex 40.34-5

This may explain why our next instance of ‘skene’ seems to be a reversion to antitype, as it were, to the earthly Tabernacle in the wilderness, though it is described as “the temple of the tent of witness in heaven” (15.5). God’s temple in heaven is referred to 14 times in Revelation (assuming that 3.12 is such a reference - and numerology, at least, suggests that it is!), but this is the only time it is equated with the Tabernacle (NIV’s translation “the temple, that is, the Tabernacle of the Testimony” is helpful here). In 11.19, as here, “the temple was opened”, so that John could see “the Ark of the Covenant”, which was, of course, a - if not the - central feature of both Tabernacle and Temple. Furthermore, on two occasions in chapter 14 (vv.15 and 27) an angel “came out of the temple”, just as in 15. 5-6, where the temple opens so that “the seven angels having the seven plagues” could emerge. But only here is the temple associated with the Tabernacle. Why? The first and obvious point to make is that it is to remind us that the Temple in Jerusalem always was, as it were, the adult version of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. But why is it here referred to as “the Tabernacle of the Testimony”? This is one of the two titles given to the Tabernacle, the other being “the tent of meeting” (both ‘skene’). “The Testimony” is the phrase used to refer to the two tablets of the law brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai (Ex. 34.29), and then placed in the Ark, so that the Ark itself became known as ‘the Ark of the Testimony’ (Ex. 40. 20-1). This Ark was then placed in the ‘Holy of Holies’, the ‘second tent’. ‘The tent of meeting’ (as we saw earlier) originally referred to a tent Moses pitched outside the camp, where he could meet with the Lord and enquire of him, and where God’s glory could descend without harm to the people. When the Tabernacle was finally set up, this informal title was formally conferred on it, so that it became ‘the Tent of Meeting’ (Ex. 40.1, and 8 other references in the chapter). From this we might infer that ‘the Tent of Meeting’ is used of the Tabernacle to express God’s loving desire to be with his people, while ‘the Tent of the Testimony’ expresses God’s awesome holiness, spelt out in tablets of stone - corresponding, perhaps, to the ‘first tent’ and the ‘second tent’ of Hebrews 9. It is appropriate, then, that it is out of this ‘second tent’, the ‘Tabernacle of the Testimony’, that the angels appear carrying the seven plagues and the seven golden bowls (literally, ‘phials’) of God’s wrath, so that a disobedient and rebellious world may drink the cup of God’s judgement. Much of Revelation describes the wonders of God’s love for his saints, but much of it, too, starkly reveals the terrors of his wrath visited upon the unrepentant, those who have not put their faith in the Christ who drank the cup of God’s wrath on their behalf (Matt. 26.39). The God who is love is the same God as the God who is light, the God who cannot tolerate the darkness of sin. Maybe this is why there were two tents in the Tabernacle. The echoes of Exodus here are made even more explicit by verse 8: “the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed”. Almost the same words are used in Exodus 40. 34-5 when, at its consecration, the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle, so that not even Moses could enter it. We have seen, too, that much the same happened at the consecration of the Temple, when the priests could not enter to perform their duties. What all this reminds us is that, while in the heavenly tabernacle there is no veil to separate the first from the second tent, and that all the redeemed may gather before God’s throne to sing hymns of praise in his all-holy presence, on earth things are still very different, and the all-holy God may only be approached through the veil - which is Jesus.

(s) the New Jerusalem
Rev 21.1-3

And so to our final verse, our grand finale, which contains both the noun ‘skene’ and its related verb, ‘skene’. Of all the paradoxes associated with these words that we have looked at, this is, perhaps, the most surprising: it is the apotheosis of the ‘skene’ paradox. In our last passage, the war in heaven was won, but the war on earth raged on, and God’s judgements rained down. The heavenly tabernacle was more reminiscent of the Mosaic ‘Tabernacle of the Testimony’, and was so “charged with the grandeur of God” (to quote G.M. Hopkins’s superb image) that it was inaccessible to all others. By chapter 21, however, all has changed. In chapter 18 great news is proclaimed: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the great!” (v.12) In chapter 19 comes the Rider on the white horse, on whose robe his name is written, “King of kings and Lord of lords”; in a great battle with “the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies” Christ is triumphant: all his enemies are slain, and the beast and his false prophet are cast into a lake of sulphur. In chapter 20 the Devil is locked in the abyss for a thousand years; on his release, he once more gathers his forces to attack God’s people, but “fire came down from heaven and devoured them”, and Satan is finally and eternally thrown into the lake of sulphur. The name ‘Satan’ means ‘opponent’ or ‘antagonist’, but his rebellious opposition is now at an end. Its futility is superbly expressed in a line in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ (X. 386-7), where he proudly boasts “I glory in the name/ Antagonist of heaven’s almighty King”, seemingly oblivious of the absurdity of trying to oppose the Almighty. And so we come to chapter 21, where we need to look at the first three verses: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth had gone away, and the sea is no more. (2) And I saw the holy city, Jerusalem, New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. (3) And I heard a great voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! The dwelling-place (‘skene’) of God is with men, and he will dwell (‘skene’) with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them.’”

(a) revelation
'eidon' /' ēkousa'

Throughout the book, John sees amazing and extraordinary visions: the book is well named! The Greek verb ‘eidon’, ‘I saw’, has occurred 42 times before these two instances, and this is his final vision, though the word does occur a 45th time a little later, as we shall see. Moreover, we have seen, and John has seen, various things ‘coming down from heaven’, mostly in judgement on the earth, like the ‘fire from heaven’ which finally destroyed Satan and his followers (20.9). But now all is changed, everything is new: a new Jerusalem descends from a new heaven to a new earth. John has heard much as well as seen much: 28 times he uses the word ‘ēkousa’, ‘I heard’; this is the 27th time, and the last time he hears something new; the 28th usage refers to all the other 27. These statistics may seem to be mere bean-counting, but they do at least serve to emphasise the finality of these three verses, and of this great vision, the grand finale not just of this study but of the Book of Revelation, and in some ways of the whole of the bible. But before we look at these verses in detail, there is a more general point to be made. These two verbs which I have so carefully counted (I hope) form the basis of God’s revelation to man not just in the last book of the bible but throughout scripture. Revelation could, perhaps, be defined as ‘intervention plus interpretation’: God’s intervention in history plus prophetic interpretation in scripture. From man’s point of view, we need the eye of faith to see him at work, and an obedient ear to hear what he has to say. This latter point serves as the coda to each of the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3: “He that hath ears, let him hear”. A God who acted without explanation might seem capricious; a God who merely spoke without acting would seem powerless. Our God does both: he acts powerfully and also explains clearly: that is revelation. So, here, John sees the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, but until he hears “a great voice from the throne” he cannot realise the full amazing significance of what he has seen.

(b) from tent to city
Heb 11.13-16, 12.22-24

What he hears is this: “Look! The tent of God is with men, and he will pitch his tent with them”. It is easy to ‘overlook’ the first word here. The vision and the voice are clearly related: seeing and hearing must go together. If we just listen to the voice, we might get the impression that God is going camping again, and, in his desire to be with his people, is graciously pleased, as in the wilderness, to live in a tent. But, “look!”: this is some tent! In “the first earth” the wilderness seemed to be symbolic of the curse under which nature groaned, the very antithesis of the garden which God gave man to live in. But this is a “new earth”, and the ‘tent’ in which God will dwell is a city, New Jerusalem, described in all its magnificence in 21.9 - 22.5, as John is given a guided tour by one of the seven angels. ‘Behold’ how our humble ‘skene’ has been metamorphosed, or transfigured! It began life as just a tent, the dwelling-place of Abraham for much of his time on earth, as he journeyed around as a ‘stranger and pilgrim’ in a land that was not yet his own, sustained merely (merely?) by God’s promise of a great inheritance. This Hebrews describes as “a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”, a city not-made-by-human-hands. What faith! All the patriarchs, the writer goes on to say, died in faith, having seen the promises from afar. They were looking for a homeland, not the one they had left behind, but something much better, a homeland in heaven: God had prepared for them a city (11.13-16). So how has Abraham’s old tent metamorphosed into New Jerusalem? In this study, we have traced the steps of this transfiguration, the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ of the ‘skene’ from “the wilderness of this world” to “the celestial city”. First came the Tabernacle, a tent whose architect was God, but whose builder was Moses; a tent that was two tents separated by a veil, a veil which protected God’s people from the unbearable brightness of his glory. The Tabernacle eventually put down roots and became the Temple, God’s house - but still a house divided. Then, “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us”; this was now the tabernacle in which God, in the person of Jesus, lived with his people, and died for them, for “in him the whole fullness of the Godhead makes his home bodily” (Col. 2.9). The Day of Pentecost brought another metamorphēsis: now God came to live among his people through his Holy Spirit, so that both the church collectively and each believer individually became the Tabernacle and the Temple. Finally, as we might think, Revelation takes us up to heaven, and shows us the tabernacle wonderfully transfigured, God’s people dwelling with him in glory, with no veil needed to screen them from its brightness. Surely this is the promised end, the grand finale, the heavenly city promised to Abraham? This city is described in greater detail in the next chapter of Hebrews (12. 22-4): “But you have come”, the writer tells his Jewish readers, “to Mount Sion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and thousands upon thousands of angels, the full assembly of the church of the firstborn, whose names are registered in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the justified made perfect”. Surely this magnificent tableau is the final scene of the drama of salvation - a grand finale indeed!

(c) 'coming down'
'katabainō'
Rev 21.22, Luke 10.30, 18.10

But, behold! Look! One final metamorphēsis, one final paradox, awaits us: “I saw the holy city Jerusalem, New Jerusalem, coming down ---”. The Greek verb here is ‘katabainō’; we have seen that ‘kata’ means ‘down’, and ‘baino’ simply means to ‘come’ or ‘go’, so that the compound verb means to ‘come down’. This leads us to a small paradox, before we come to the bigger one. Throughout the NT people always ‘go up’ to Jerusalem, and ‘go down’ from it - like the “certain man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10.30). Jerusalem is the capital city, the city of David, and one always ‘goes up’ to the capital, as one ‘goes up’ to London. Moreover, Jerusalem is on the top of Mount Sion, and the Temple is on the top of Jerusalem, so that people ‘go up’ to the Temple to pray (the Pharisee and the tax-collector in Luke 18.10), and ‘go down’ from it afterwards - the tax-collector “went down justified to his house” after his prayer of repentance. But now, instead of people going up to Jerusalem, Jerusalem is coming down to the people. This smaller paradox is the key to the greater one. Throughout this study, we have become accustomed to the idea that the ‘skene’ is an image of all that is earthly, and so transient, the mere shadow of which heaven is the glorious reality. Abraham lived in a tent on earth, but was sustained by the promise of a celestial city. God lived among his people in the wilderness in a tent, but that tent was just a copy of the model shown to Moses on Mount Sinai; God’s true and eternal sanctuary is in heaven. Jesus lived in the tent of a human body, but a human body is mortal, and after his death his mortal body “put on immortality” (to use Paul’s terminology in 1 Corinthians 15. 53), and he ascended (‘went up’) to heaven. On this journey, Jesus was our forerunner, the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1.18), and so Peter and Paul both refer to the human body as a tent, the Tabernacle, or Temple, of the Holy Spirit during life, but soon to be taken down, and replaced, in Paul’s words again, with “a permanent home in heaven from God, not-made-with-human-hands, but everlasting” (2 Cor 5.1). Right at the beginning of this study, we saw that ‘skene’ was used to refer to the theatre and its backdrop, thus giving us the English derivations ‘scene’ and ‘scenery’. So it is, perhaps, appropriate that we have been able to watch God’s drama of salvation unfolding scene by scene in the various uses of ‘skene’ in scripture. But just when it seems that all is now clear, and that the curtain is about to come down, God springs on us this great ‘coup de theatre’: the drama does not end with man going up to heaven to live for ever with God, but, on the contrary, it ends with God coming down from heaven to live with man - in a tent which is now a great city. This city is described in glorious detail, shining with the brilliance of a precious jewel, with the glory of God himself. Its streets are, indeed, paved with gold, gold that gleams like glass, and God himself gives it light, so that it needs neither sun nor moon - let alone street-lamps. God is no longer “in light inaccessible hid from our eyes”, nor is his glory a terrifying and all-consuming blaze from which we need a veil to protect us. But there is something in this city that John did not see, the only time in the book this word (‘eidon’) is used in the negative: he did not see a temple in the city, “for the Lord God almighty is its temple, and the Lamb” (Rev 21.22). And, just as the church is not a building but a people, so New Jerusalem is not, essentially, a city but the church, the people of God with whom he has always wanted to dwell. And the people of God are the bride of Christ, “adorned for her husband” (v.2). This, then, is the apotheosis of the ‘skene’: its final destiny is to be the wedding marquee for the celebration of the marriage-feast of the Lamb and his bride, the church.

(d) Emmanuel
Rev 21.5, Mark 3.14, Matt 1.23

“And the one seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’, and he said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true’” (21.5). On 12 occasions in Revelation John is instructed to “write” (‘grapson’ in Greek), and this is the last of them. This reminds us of the third vital ingredient in the process of revelation (and, of course, of Revelation). Seeing God and hearing his words are revelation enough for those who are privileged to see and hear; but for those of us (most of us) who are not, God needs someone to obey this command to write, as it is through his written word, both inspired and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, that God chooses to reveal himself to us. This final vision of John, then, might be seen as bringing perfect closure to the written record of God’s word. The first chapter of Genesis began with the beginning: “God created the heaven and the earth”; here, John witnesses the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth”. Genesis 2 presents Adam with a wife, Eve, and gives us God’s prescription for the ideal marriage: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (2.24). John’s vision leaves us at the point when God’s ideal is about to be consummated in the eternal union of Christ and his church. And Genesis 3 reveals to us a God who wants to be with the people he has created (just as Jesus chose his 12 disciples primarily “to be with him”- Mark 3.14), and so is “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” to meet them (3.8). And here, in the penultimate chapter of the bible, despite all that has gone between, God still wants to be with his people, a people he has both created and redeemed; so much does he want this that he is prepared to ‘come down’ from heaven and ‘pitch his tent’ among men, just as Jesus did - a ‘forerunner’ indeed! But Jesus “emptied himself” of his divine glory, and “dwelt among us” in the tent of a mortal human body; God will dwell among men in the full splendour of his divine glory, the Almighty Father, we might say, become the loving Father-in-law, and men and women will bask in the sunlight of his presence: indeed, “his name shall be called ‘Emmanuel’, ‘God with us’. (Matt 1.23)

(d) the end - and the beginning
1 Cor 1.7

In one sense, then, John’s final vision brings God’s drama of salvation to a fitting conclusion. But “behold, I make all things new”: in another sense it opens up a whole new horizon and a host of glorious possibilities. To update into the TV age the theatre analogy I used earlier, we might liken the drama of salvation which runs its course from Genesis to Revelation to a TV series which the writers end with an ingenious and unexpected plot-twist, leaving their viewers to re-assess all that they have seen in the light of this last-minute ‘revelation’, and eagerly awaiting (so, at least, the writers hope) the follow-up series. Thus the ‘skene paradox’ of the God who comes down to live on earth with his people leaves us with many intriguing questions. If the bible story, among a multitude of other possible titles, could be called ‘Life on Earth’, the next instalment would be ‘New Life on a New Earth’ What will that be like? John does not tell us: he sees no more and hears not more, so he writes no more. Indeed, he invokes on any one who should presume to add to his book - God’s book - all the seven plagues he has so vividly described, so it is wiser not to speculate! There are two things, however, that we can do. First, and most important, we cane ensure, by putting our faith in Jesus, that we are among God’s people in the New Jerusalem when it comes down from heaven. And, secondly, we must just wait and see, for we shall see for ourselves what God has in store for us as we “wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1.7).