Teaching young children the concept of types, or symbols, of Christ in Scripture is not difficult. Actually, it’s a lot of fun! The tabernacle is a great place to start because there are so many beautiful visuals you can use to illustrate the lesson. It is imperative to have some kind of visual for the children to see as you teach this lesson. There are many types of models available, expensive or cardboard; there are also flannelgraph figures, posters, and charts. Make sure you have a little priest figure to move through the tabernacle and point out the elements. Also, have a Jesus figure with which to replace each element as you discuss it during the last part of the lesson.
I have taught this lesson to children as young as two years old, and they always get it. It’s rather long, but with the visuals and the promise to be allowed to play with the visuals afterwards, they usually maintain their interest to the end. The really young ones won’t get everything, but they will get the gist. So, here goes:
Pretend you are Aaron, the first High Priest, and you are walking through the tabernacle soon after has been built. The outer court is walled in by high curtains of fine linen. When you enter the outer court, these walls hide the barren desert outside and you are in a cool sanctuary. There is only one entrance to the tabernacle, only one way to the presence of God. The first thing you see when you enter the court is the bronze altar. You know you will spend a lot of time here! The people will bring their sacrifices here and as high priest you will be responsible to kill the animals, drain the blood, and place them on the altar to be burned. The altar is bronze, which is the symbol of judgement. You know that a Holy God must judge sin, and as you look at the bronze altar you are thankful that God has given a way for sin to be atoned for so that each one who sins may live and not die. It is so shiny and pretty now that it is newly made, but you know it will not be so for long. When each sacrifice is made, the blood must be splashed against the altar and poured out on the ground around it. It will be an ugly, messy, smelly place soon. You know that you will be constantly reminded of how ugly, sin is, and what a cost there is to make sin right. For atonement to be made, an innocent life must be taken.
Now you move on to look at the next piece of furniture, the bronze laver. It is a bowl made of mirrors, and you know that each time you wash yourself in it, you must also examine yourself in the mirrors to make sure you are as clean on the inside as you are on the outside.
You look at the tabernacle itself–its meaning is a mystery to you. You know it is made of wooden boards covered with gold, a symbol of man covered by God. How could that be? You know that the boards are held together with the silver your people paid as atonement money. How does atonement bring God and man together as one? This is something you may think about for a lifetime!
The tabernacle is really not much to look at from the outside. It is covered by a gray, waterproof skin protecting it from the rain. But you know that beneath the dull gray is a bright red ram’s skin, red as blood. The ram’s skin reminds you of the ram God gave to Father Abraham to sacrifice in the place of his son Isaac. Beneath that layer is a covering of goat’s skin, a symbol of the sin offerings to be made in this place. Underneath it all is a beautiful curtain of red, purple and blue linen. When you go inside the tabernacle, it is this lovely curtain you see, the colors of heaven, of earth, and of the two intermingled.
Inside, the tabernacle is full of light coming from the seven-branched lampstand which is made of solid gold, standing to your left. On your right sits the table holding the twelve loaves of unleavened bread, one for each tribe of Israel. Straight in front of you is the little altar of incense, which is constantly sending up its sweet odor, the symbol of the prayers of men going up to God.
Behind the altar of incense, a thick veil is stretched. You know that it hides a smaller room, the Holy of Holies, behind it. The veil is covered with pictures of Cherubim, the angels who guard God’s holiness. You know that the very presence of God is in that little room, above the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. You know that you will have to go in there once a year to offer blood on the mercy seat for the sins of the people. You cannot help but feel a sense of awesome fear as you think of standing in God’s holy presence, because you are so unholy.
Did you put yourself in Aaron’s place? Did you feel the awe he must have felt? But this tabernacle was made by men. In Hebrews 9:24, the Bible tells us that this earthly tabernacle was a copy, a picture, of the true tabernacle in heaven. Imagine now that you are in heaven, and God is letting you tour the real tabernacle. It is very much the same, but also different. You go up to the white walls around the outer court, but as you look at them you see that they are not made of white linen but of the good, righteous things that Christians have done. How happy you are to see that some of the things you did on earth to serve God are part of the walls of this wonderful structure!
You go in through the only door, and somehow, the door is Jesus! (John 10:9) The High Priest comes to meet you, but he is not Aaron or any other mere man, but Jesus! (Hebrews 4:14) He takes you by the hand and leads you to the great bronze altar. It is still covered with innocent blood. The High Priest shows the sacrifice which He Himself made. He offered it only one time, but it was enough to cover the sins of the whole world for all time! You see a perfect lamb on the altar–but as you look, you see that the Lamb is really Jesus!
You could spend eternity thinking about this wonderful truth, but there is more to see. The High Priest leads you to the bronze laver to wash yourself. You look into the mirrors, but instead of yourself, you see Jesus! He has washed you clean, inside and out, and He Himself lives in you and through you.
You look at the outside of the tabernacle and you know that the entire structure is Jesus. You know what Aaron could not have known: that the wood and gold boards are a picture of Jesus, Who is both God and man, and that because of His becoming a man, atonement was made for our sins. The plain gray covering reminds you of Isaiah 53:2, which says that Jesus had no outward appearance that would attract us to Him. You know the ram’s skin is a picture of Jesus taking our place just as the ram had taken the place of Isaac as a sacrifice. The goat’s skin reminds you that Jesus gave His life to pay for your sins. You go inside and admire the beautiful inner curtain of red, blue and purple. Here is the way you think of Jesus–the beautiful savior, with the blue of heaven and God and the red of earth and man blending perfectly to create the royal purple.
The tabernacle is filled with light. You look for the lampstand, but it isn’t there! The light is coming from Jesus! (Rev. 22:5) You feel weak from excitement and desire food, so you look for the table of unleavened bread. But it isn’t there either! Jesus gives you His own strength, and that is all you need, because He is the bread of life. (John 6:48)
You feel so full of gratitude to God for all He has done that you want to pray. But you just cannot find the words. You go to the altar of incense to send up your prayers in the smoke (Rev. 5:8) But instead of the altar, Jesus stands there, praying for you. You may not know what to pray, but He does! (Eph. 5:2) You fall to your knees and thank Him.
Now you look for the veil which separates you from the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwells. But it is torn from top to bottom! There is now nothing that stands between you and the holy God! You look again and see that the veil is Jesus, torn in His death to make the way for us to go to God. (Heb. 10:20) But it is a fearsome thing to go into the presence of the holy God! You hesitate. But Jesus takes you by the hand and leads you into God’s presence. There are the cherubim, not cold golden statues but real, living things. They are there to guard God’s holiness from sin. But you are no longer afraid. You have a right to be here because Jesus Himself, God’s own Son, is bringing you in. There is the Ark of the Covenant, with the mercy seat covering up the Law. And there is God Himself, smiling at you and calling you His own dear child.
There is so much more of Jesus in this marvelous tabernacle. You could spend all eternity exploring it. But you don’t have to wait until you get to heaven to learn about God’s tabernacle. He graciously told us what it is like in His Word.