“Builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).
The boards of the tabernacle standing upright on their silver sockets, and fastened right into those sockets by the tenons beneath the boards, are like believers who stand upright upon redemption in Christ. “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).
Each board was seventeen and one-half feet high, two and one-half feet wide and ten inches thick. They were made of shittim wood overlaid with gold. The incorruptible wood is Christ in His humanity; while the gold is Christ in His essential Deity. The silver for the sockets was obtained from the people as atonement money; it was the price of redemption (Exod. 30:11-16). Thus the silver of atonement was between the boards and the earth, and was the solid foundation on which the boards stood.
If each of these boards were cut out of one tree, then those must have been the noblest trees of the wilderness. The sharp axe laid the strong tree low. It would not be the work of a few minutes, but probably a good while would be needed to sever the trunk of that hard resisting wood. Finally the last blow is given and with a crash, down comes the stately tree that is destined to be made into a board for Jehovah’s dwelling place. The tree is stripped of all its natural beauty, sawed and fashioned where it fell, and prepared to be completely covered with the precious gold. In this way the servants of Moses prepared the boards that were to stand upright, by first cutting them down to lie prostrate on the earth. This is the very way our Lord is even now felling and fashioning the boards for His dwelling. Saul of Tarsus was a big tree, but he crashed on the Damascus road. Who would have thought that that basket being let over the wall of the city, like a container of refuse, had in it the person of Gamaliel’s student, who had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees? But so it was; like a shittim tree with its leaves and branches gone, Paul had lost his glory and his reputation in being Christ’s. The shittim wood in its incorruptibility is Christ in us the hope of glory. The shittim wood coming from the desert is also a picture of sinners in their natural state undisciplined and untrimmed.
The One Act Of Regeneration
With the boards the fashioning and the covering with the gold would be a double process; with sinners being made saints the Lord performs it all in one act. It is expressed in these words, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). All things are just as new to the converted sinner as all things were become new for that log of a shittim tree, now covered with gold, standing upright in the tabernacle of God. You could say that in type that board had Christ on the inside, and Christ on the outside. This is actually true of the Christian: Christ is on the inside for the apostle wrote to the Colossians, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). In the very next verse Paul writes by the Spirit, “That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” So Christ was on the outside as truly as He was on the inside.
The Tenons Of The Boards
There were two tenons under each board that fitted into mortises in the silver sockets. This word “tenon” is literally “hand.” There is another word for a hand that is closed; this word seems to indicate an open hand, ready to grasp what is needed for strength; so the word is defined as “to be able.” The word “socket” has also the meaning of strength. The fitting of the boards to the sockets has the thought of ability to hold by a mighty hand. The two tenons doubles the thought of this security. How strikingly this thought is revealed in these words, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
The boards of the tabernacle stood side by side; each of them had its own tenons that held it steadfastly on the sockets, and yet the boards were bound together into one united structure. The building was distinctly said to be “one tabernacle” (Exod. 26:6). Now each true believer on the Lord Jesus has his own story of grace to tell; each one of us has obtained “like precious faith” (2 Pet. 1:1) to that of every other Christian, and yet we are all so joined to each other that “there is one body” (Eph. 4:4). This glorious mystery will only be fully revealed and manifested in Heaven. It is our privilege as God’s children to walk and act in the power of this truth now, by keeping this word: “And walk in love as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Eph. 5:2).
Like the boards and the holy vessels of the tabernacle the bars were made of shittim wood overlaid with gold. This is Christ in His perfect manhood completely covered with His Deity. There was not a place where the shittim wood was, without the gold in the bars. Some have separated the incidents of our Lord’s life into two classes; those of His humanity, and those of His Deity. This is a great mistake. Where our Lord was manifestly a man, He was ever True God. His Deity could never be separated from His lowly Manhood. The shittim wood was never without its metallic covering.
There were five bars holding the boards together making the tabernacle one. The middle bar of the five is said to have shot through from end to end (Exod. 36:33). This may mean that this central bar passed through the boards themselves, instead of merely through the rings like the others. Otherwise the four bars could not have reached the complete length of the tabernacle; the middle one differing from the others in that it reached from end to end. The reader may judge for himself; the typical teaching is the only reason why in my opinion the middle bar was inside the boards and so invisible.
In our Lord’s prayer for His own in John 17 there are five petitions that may answer to these five bars of the tabernacle. The whole prayer is an intercession for the unity of the people of God. The men God had given to Christ were like the standing boards of the tabernacle encased in precious gold. Their foundation was the silver of redemption, and the shittim wood of their wilderness origin was completely covered with the preciousness of Christ Himself. As the boards of the Tabernacle were held together by bars, so the men God gave to Christ were held together and made one by His grace and provisions for them.
The Central Bar
“I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23).
This represents the middle hidden bar; this is the fundamental organic oneness of God’s people with each other through their union with Christ. This union with Him is not an outward joining, but expressed in the words “I in them.” This is the way believers are made “perfect in one.”
What a marvelous joining this is! “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ in each individual Christian joins that one to every other Christian by the actual indwelling of Christ in His saints.
Men join societies and unions which are held together by rules and regulations with penalties for violations, and these dead federations are the best this present evil world knows. In them all there is no vital union and no common life. In the true Church of God there is a living link between the members that is as true and sympathetic as the union of the members of our bodies. This union is so real that if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it (1 Cor. 12:26). The central uniting bar was not external; it did not unite as a creed or a religion unites persons; the bar ran through the midst of all the boards. Christ is actually in the hearts of all His people (Eph. 3:17). This makes us one.
The Other Four Bars
In this prayer chapter of our Lord, John 17, there are four other things mentioned that are uniting bonds to the Lord’s people. The first of these that I would call attention to is, God’s name. “Keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one” (John 17:11-12).
God’s Name Unites
God’s name assures the keeping of His saints. He is the faithful God; His word cannot fail. When God plainly says, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36) and “They shall never perish” (John 10:28), His name is the guarantee that these words cannot fail.
Joshua pleaded with the Lord when destruction seemed to threaten the Lord’s people: “And what wilt thou do unto thy great name?” (Joshua 7:9). There is not a safer hiding place than the name of God; and not a surer pledge of the oneness of His people.
Our Lord’s Intercession Unites
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:20-21).
How much we owe to the intercession of our Lord in Heaven! He ever lives to make intercession, so that blessed ministry never fails (Heb. 7:25). When He died for us and rose again, He would not allow any enemy to hinder His intercession (Rom. 8:34).
The Prospect of Glory Unites
“And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22).
“Being justified by faith, we…rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2). The coming of our Lord will translate all saints to glory (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Even now the blessed hope unites the hearts of all who truly love the Lord Jesus.
The Love of the Saints Makes Them, One
“That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
Saints are taught of God to love one another (1 Thess. 4:9). The love in this last verse of our Lord’s prayer is a love that is in us. It is the very love that the Father had for the Son which was cherished so deeply by Him. The consciousness of the Father’s love was the source of continual strength to the Lord Jesus. This love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost (Rom. 5:5); it ascends to our Lord in Heaven, and radiates toward all the people of God. It is a grand uniting bond.
A Manifest Union
There is a practical union of believers seen in the Acts of the Apostles which constitutes those united believers a dwelling place for God. The four bars that could be seen are “The Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). The fellowship of these saints was happy indeed; it was created by the apostles’ doctrine. It was not merely a common creed, a teaching that pleased them all and to which they could all subscribe; it was the word of God in its fullness as declared by the apostles. This created a fellowship where all could speak the same thing. This fellowship was expressed in the breaking of bread together, and it was maintained by the prayers. They all continued steadfastly together. The union and the unity were of God.
The bar in the midst that could not be seen was Christ. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). A Narrow Path but not a Narrow Spirit
John Wesley once wrote: “The thing which I was greatly afraid of, and which I resolved to use every possible method of preventing, was a narrowness of spirit, a party zeal, being straitened in our own bowels; that miserable bigotry which makes many so unready to believe that there is any work of God but among ourselves. I thought it might be a help against this, frequently to read to all who were willing to hear, the accounts I received from time to time of the work which God is carrying on in the earth, both in our own and other countries, not among us alone, but among those of various opinions and denominations. For this I allotted one evening in every month, and I find no cause to repent of my labor. It is generally a time of strong consolation to those who love God and all mankind for His sake; as well as of breaking down the partition walls which either the craft of the devil or the folly of men hath built up; and of encouraging every child of God to say, ‘Whosoever doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother.” Let us remember the words of the Master when His disciples forbade one who followed not with them, “Forbid him not; for he that is not against us is for us.”