By Titus Chu
The Tabernacle—A Picture of Our Spiritual Experiences
The tabernacle, with its outer court, is the best picture in the whole Old Testament. In it we can see Christ, the Triune God, and God’s work, desire, and testimony. In it God unveils His economy and how His economy will be fulfilled through our spiritual growth for the building of His church. This simple picture shows us so many divine riches from so many angles.
The tabernacle served over two million people, yet it was so small. It seems God was so stingy with the tabernacle. But now, after 60 years of following the Lord in the church life, I can say it is big enough to contain all my spiritual experiences, be they seemingly good or bad, encouraging or discouraging, enjoyable or depressing. The more we see of the tabernacle, the more we can see how “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).
The day I was saved I entered into the experience of tabernacle and I have never come out. In my early years I spent all my time in the outer court. I enjoyed Jesus as the sacrifice who took away all my sin and made me a child of God. By the Lord’s mercy I eventually consecrated myself to His service and entered the holy place as one of His New Testament priests. Here I ate the shewbread and experienced the golden lampstand. The lampstand in the holy place was formed of beaten work (Exo. 25:31), and many times it seems my experience just matched that: the Lord was forming me by allowing me to be beaten by my environment and by those around me. But this beating always came with the enjoyment and nourishment of the shewbread. Once in a while I touched the holy of holies where the ark of God resides.
If we can fully appreciate all the aspects of the tabernacle, we will discover that all our spiritual experiences are pictured there. Nothing we experience is new—it has all been there for generations. Nothing that happens to us should discourage or bother us. Instead we should praise the Lord that we are still able to love Him, follow Him, and fight for His interest.
The Mystery of God—Christ
The mystery of God is Christ (Col. 2:2). God absolutely cares for Christ and without Christ everything else is vanity. We can only reach God through Christ. Without Christ, without being saved by Christ, without experiencing Christ, without obtaining Christ, and without growing in Christ, we can have very little realization of who God really is.
If you ask God, “What is in your heart?”, His answer is “Christ.” If you ask Christ, “Where are you leading us?”, His answer is “God.” God only cares for Christ; Christ only leads us to God. For sure, without Christ, God would be a mystery.
Often when we go through hard times we call out to God. He would tell us that if we focused on Christ more, there would be no such thing as a hard time. In our darkest, most frustrating time, Christ is our light and encouragement. He is both God’s heart’s desire and our Savior.
Once when I was staying at a brother’s house, I was trying to read before going to bed. Suddenly the brother’s six year old son came into my room and turned off my light and left. When I turned the light back on, he came back in to turn it off again. After we did this one or two more times, I decided to leave the light off and go to bed. At this point the boy came back in to show me his flashlight. This flashlight was the boy’s mystery that he had been wanting to show me all along. My light was frustrating his mystery and his desire to show me his flashlight was frustrating to me. This is just like our experience of Christ. God wants to show us Christ, but we keep turning on our other things so He cannot. He keeps turning off our things so He can show us Christ. We call that suffering, but God calls it unveiling His mystery, Christ.
We want to know and experience God, and God always points us to Christ as the only way to do this. The Lord said, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14:7). We know the Father because we see the Son. The mystery of the Father is found in the Son. This is profound.
If in our meetings we only have sweet enjoyment, it is vanity. We may have great music and wonderful love feasts, but if we do not enter into the experience of the tabernacle to find Christ, it means nothing. Remember, God only cares for Christ, and we only reach God through Christ. There is no other way to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6). What is the route through the Son to get to the Father? The answer is found in the tabernacle. We must enjoy Christ in every aspect.
Because we have been saved by Christ, we can declare that we have Christ, we love Christ, we grow in in Christ, we desire to become a testimony of Christ, and we want to work for Christ. All these experiences of Christ are found in the tabernacle, and they all lead us to God the Father. If we find something is leading us into religion or the world, it is not Christ.
The Mystery of Christ—The Church
The mystery of Christ is the church (Eph. 3:4–6, 9–10). Just as God only cares for Christ, Christ only cares for the church.
There are many descriptions of the church in the New Testament. The church is the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12; Col. 1:18), the new man (2:15), the kingdom of God (Rom. 14:17), the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15), the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7), and the wife of Christ (Eph. 5:23). The church is God’s dwelling place in Spirit (2:22), the totality of all of God’s children, the fullness of Christ (3:17-19, 21), and the One who fills all in all (1:22-23). There is one body in the universe, which includes all who have been saved, whether they have been greatly used by God or whether they are common and unknown. This body has existed since the death and resurrection of Christ 2,000 years ago and is still growing and testifying for the Lord today. What a beautiful, wonderful, and complex thing she is!
Just as we can know God only through Christ, it is only through the church that we can see and know Christ. Christ is propagated through the members of the church as they preach the gospel to unbelievers. Once they become believers, they are educated and developed through the church. The church life is the environment for people to have Christ, experience Christ, grow in Christ, develop their portion in Christ, and eventually bear the testimony of Christ with other believers.
Without the church, Christ would become a theoretical teaching and would be treated only as the founder of a religion. It is through the church (the body of Christ) and through the local churches (the testimony of Christ through localities) that Christ can be realized, substantiated, magnified, and testified organically. Our church life is where we grow, and we should not look down on it. It can be small or big; it can be frustrating at times and encouraging at other times, but that’s where we grow.
The church is absolutely heavenly, completely victorious, and is the divine, mystical, organic body of the person of the Lord Jesus Himself. Yet for almost 2,000 years the church has experienced what Watchman Nee wrote in a hymn he wrote:
From generation unto generation
Thy saints have come and gone but have not seen
Thy glorious promise pass into fulfillment.
How long, how very long the time has been!
– Songs and Hymns of Life, #509
Therefore, over time, the church has become relatively complicated. Every new generation has to make mistakes as they learn and grow. It is not until we are older that we begin to see clearly, and then our time is over. If the church outwardly has problems, it is because she is composed of living, messy people. If there are no problems, there must be no life.
That is why the church often testifies in brightness, but at other times seems to be in shadows. She has both the buoyancy of victory and the sighing of weakness. She is absolutely heavenly, resurrected with the Lord, and sitting in the heavenlies with Him, yet she is still living on the earth. She has Christ as her everything, yet experiences many hardships. We should never long for the “good old days” when everything seemed glorious. For the church to go through all kinds of experiences is normal because we are growing.
It is not as we think—the church life should always be absolutely heavenly, in resurrection, and problem free. Instead we find that she is still living on the earth full of earthly things that bother us. She is in many ways just like the Lord Himself as He walked this earth as a man. He was heavenly yet experienced all the hardship of human life.
The mystery of God is Christ and the tabernacle is a picture of Christ. The mystery of Christ is the church and the tabernacle is a picture of the church. The tabernacle describes all our spiritual experiences as we pursue Christ in the church life. May we live the rest of our lives in the reality of the tabernacle serving as New Testament priests.