‘Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah (Matthew 17:4).’
What an amazing experience it must have been for Peter, James and John. Standing before them was the transfigured, glorified Jesus; His face shining like the sun, and His clothes as white as light.
Jesus had separated them from the other disciples, and He took them ‘up on a high mountain by themselves (v 1)’ to be present and to witness this miraculous revelation. Peter, the spokesperson for all three disciples, there and then, had a desire for Jesus, Moses and Elijah to sojourn on the mountain, each with their own tabernacle; so he asked Jesus if he and the other disciples could set about making them. Jesus did not respond to his question.
Peter had acted impulsively, but with good intentions. He told the Lord that it was good for them to be there. Indeed, for them everything was good, and at that point they didn’t appear to be afraid. It wasn’t until ‘a bright cloud overshadowed them,’ and they heard a voice from the cloud saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” that fear came upon them, and they were ‘greatly afraid’. They fell on their faces. Then Jesus touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” On looking up they saw only Him; for Moses and Elijah were no longer present.
On their way down the mountain Jesus explained that they had seen a vision (v 9), and He commanded them to tell no one about what they had witnessed in the vision until after He risen from the dead.
We might assume they were curious to know how all this fitted in with the prophesy of Malachi who had prophesied, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD (Malachi 4:5),” when the ‘proud’ who acted wickedly would be burnt as stubble (v 1).
Jesus explained that John the Baptist was the promised Elijah who had already come and suffered (cf. Mark 6:15-28). People had not understood that John was the ‘messenger’ who would ‘prepare the way of the Lord (Mark 1:2, 3),’ and that Jesus was the Lord. He too, would suffer (Matthew 16:21) in accordance with prophecy (Isaiah 53). Then they realised they had witnessed the Lord in His glory, just as He had promised they would (Matthew 16:28).
The Greater and More Perfect Tabernacle
And, of course, they would be witnesses to His death, resurrection and ascension to the heavenly tabernacle (Acts 1:9-11), just as the writer of Hebrews explained: ‘But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11, 12).’
He went on to say, ‘For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (9:24),’ and, ‘so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly await for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (v 28).’
The apostle John wrote in the book of The Revelation of Jesus Christ, ‘And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:3; cf. Exodus 25:8; 29:45).’
God’s resurrected nations (Revelation 21:24) shall walk in the light of the Lamb(v 23), who along with God Almighty will be their living temple (v 22; cf. John 2:19-22) and their God.
Thus God is the ultimate tabernacle in whom the redeemed shall forever live while serving Him, their God (22:3).
‘For we know that if our earthly house [physical body], this tent [tabernacle], is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1).’
Some References to Tabernacles in God’s Word
Exodus 29:42, 43 “This shall be a continual burnt offering for your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you to speak with you. And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory.
Exodus 25:8, 9 “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.
Exodus 33:7 Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp.
Exodus 33:9 And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses.
Exodus 40:33, 34 And he raised up the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the screen of the court gate. So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Exodus 40:38 For the cloud of the LORD was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
Numbers 1:50 “but you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall attend to it and camp around the tabernacle.”
Numbers 9:15 Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire.
2 Samuel 6:17 So they brought the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.
1 Chronicles 21:29 For the tabernacle of the LORD and the altar of burnt offering, which Moses had made in the wilderness, were at that time at the high place in Gibeon. But David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD.
Psalm 15:1, 2 LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart.
Hebrews 9:1, 12 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.