TABERNACLE STUDIES THE INNER CURTAIN EXODUS 26:1-6; 36:8-10.
Exodus 26:1-6 26:1 Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them. 26:2 The length of one curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and every one of the curtains shall have one measure. 26:3 The five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and other five curtains shall be coupled one to another. 26:4 And thou shalt make loops of blue upon the edge of the one curtain from the selvedge in the coupling; and likewise shalt thou make in the uttermost edge of another curtain, in the coupling of the second. 26:5 Fifty loops shalt thou make in the one curtain, and fifty loops shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is in the coupling of the second; that the loops may take hold one of another. 26:6 And thou shalt make fifty taches of gold, and couple the curtains together with the taches: and it shall be one tabernacle.
Strictly speaking, the tabernacle was the innermost curtain covering the boards. Not only is this seen in the fact that the verses referenced above call it the tabernacle, but we find that when the structure was being transported, the Gershonites carried the tabernacle and the other coverings, whereas it was the Merarites who carried the boards, Numbers 3:25,36. So the boards served the purpose of tent-poles in an ordinary tent, and over them the tabernacle proper was draped.
The tabernacle (“mishkan”) consisted of ten curtains joined together. This was covered by the eleven goats’ hair curtains called “the tabernacle of the congregation”, (where the word tabernacle =”ohel” = tent ), verse 7. Then there was a “covering for the tent”, (that is, a covering for the goats’ hair curtains), consisting of rams’ skins, verse 14. Covering all of these was a covering of badgers’ skins, verse 14.
In Scripture, clothing represents character, the way we present ourselves to the world. For instance, the apostle paul exhorts believers with the words, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ”, Romans 13:14. We are to display the characteristics of Christ in our lives. He writes to the Galatians, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”, Galatians 3:27. When a Greek father adopted his child as his son, one of the things that happened was that the “Toga Virilis” or cloak of manhood, was placed on his shoulders. He now was marked out as being a son of his father, and as such was expected to display son-like characteristics. Believers have been made God’s sons, are expected to display son-like features, as they imitate God’s Son. The apostle Peter exhorts his Christian readers to “Be clothed with humility”, 1 Peter 5:5, no doubt remembering the way in which he had seen the Lord Jesus clothe Himself with a towel in the upper room, and wash the feet of His disciples, a prime example of humility. Finally, the apostle John records in his vision of future things, as he is shown the Bride of Christ, the church in glory, “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints”, Revelation 19:8. The word righteousness in that reference is plural, so indicates acts of righteousness. So we learn that clothing speaks of character, and this is truth of cloth like the curtains of the tabernacle as well. The character of Christ is found in symbol there.
The innermost covering was made up of ten lengths of linen, and these were in two parts, five and five, and joined on their longer sides with loops of blue linen. This no doubt had a practical purpose, so as to make the curtain easier to manage, for the two five-section pieces could be separated. There may be a spiritual meaning to this, however. We have noted that this curtain is the actual tabernacle, and that it not only represents the manhood of the Lord Jesus, but it is a symbol of Him as the Word, for the tabernacle is Himself as the Word, the expression of the mind of God. Now as the exponent of the mind of God He is contrasted to Moses with the words, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”, John 1:17. If we were to omit the words of explanation found in verses 14-18 the passage would read as follows, “And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth…for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him”. Thus John is emphasising that Christ, the Word, is superior to the mediator of the law, Moses, for he only handed over tables of stone, but grace and truth came, personally, in living flesh, by Jesus Christ. He was the perfect expression of what He said, unlike Moses who no doubt at times broke the law. He who is privy to Divine secrets, being the only begotten in the Father’s bosom, the place of nearness and privilege, has told out God in the fullest possible way. He not only made truth known, but He made it known in grace. Grace and truth dwell in equal and full measure in the Son of God.
It is interesting that when Moses appealed to God to show him His glory, and to be gracious to him, He did so; and He did so after the tables of the law had been broken and not yet replaced, and in the form of words. Moses, however, could not fully see the glory of God, but was hidden in the cleft of the rock, whereas John the apostle says, “we beheld His glory”. So it is not through a mediator hiding in a cold hard rock, but the Son of God in the bosom of the Father telling Him out in perfection, for He is the Word. There is nothing more that anyone can say. Moses is learning that the glory of God is not fully displayed in the law. As the apostle Paul wrote, “But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, is glorious…how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious…for even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth”, 2 Corinthians 3:7,10. We are being prepared for the idea that although the law was glorious, there is a greater glory, and it consists of the unfolding of the name of the Lord. Who better to do this than the Son of God Himself? So the law was indeed given by Moses, and it was possible to learn somewhat about the glory of God from the truth expressed indirectly by the law. But for a full exposition of God, we need truth and grace in combination; and this we have in Christ. So it is that the apostle can go on to say that “we behold the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”; that is, in His person, 2 Corinthians 4:6.
Now when the ten commandments were given, the expression may be translated, “ten words”, Exodus 34:28. And the word used is the equivalent of the Greek word “logos”, used of the Son of God as the Word. This suggests that the Lord Jesus answered to each of the commands of God written on the tables of stone, but He did it, not in harsh stone-like manner, but in curtain-like gentleness and grace. So it is no surprise to find that the curtain which represented Him as the one coming in grace, was made up of ten curtains joined together. No surprise, also, to find that they are further divided into two sections of five curtains each, just as the ten commandments were written on two tables of stone.
The reason there were two tables of stone was that the law had a two-fold aspect. When a lawyer tempted the Lord Jesus and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life, the Lord asked him what the law said. He replied “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself”. The response of the Lord Jesus was, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live”, Luke 10:25-28. So here we have the division of the law into two aspects by the lawyer, and the Son of God saying that he was correct. If a man showed perfect love to God, and perfect love to his neighbour, then he would inherit eternal life, for he deserved it. But this man cannot do this, which is why the Lord went on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, where the priest and Levite were not prepared to help the unfortunate man laying half-dead by the wayside. He represented Himself as the Samaritan, who did in grace what the other two men were not prepared to do by law. The lawyer has to see himself, not as the priest or Levite, not yet as the Samaritan, but as the man in the gutter that the law could not help. If the lawyer was to have eternal life it would not be in the form of an inheritance he deserved because he had kept the law perfectly, but as a gift by grace which he did not deserve, for “the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord”, Romans 6:23.
So the demands of the law were in connection with God, and with men. The only one who fully kept the law was the Lord Jesus. The prophet Isaiah said He would “magnify the law and make it honourable”, Isaiah 42:21, and this He did. He magnified the law by keeping its commands not just according to the letter, but the spirit. As He Himself explained, mere observance of the law was not enough; motives are tested by the law, so that if a man did not kill a man, yet hated him in his heart, it was as if he had killed him, Matthew 5:21,22. So He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it, Matthew 5:17. The rabbis understood the fulfilling of the law to mean two things. The first was to fully keep the law. The second was to fully explain the law. The Lord Jesus did both, and thus magnified the law.
He also made it honourable, for He lived amongst those whose conduct brought discredit to God. The nations around knew that God had given Israel His law, and yet they were law-breakers. The apostle Paul takes up this matter in Romans 2:24, and shows that the Jew had caused the name of God to be blasphemed by their conduct. At last, however, there came one, made under the law, Galatians 4:4, and committed to it by circumcision, Luke 2:21, who rescued the name of God from the dishonour into which the nation had brought it. The tragedy was that Israel did not appreciate this perfect expression of the law in their midst, saying at last, “By our law He ought to die”, John 19:7. What blindness! They made their boast in the law, yet rejected the one who alone fully kept it.
We could think of the individual “words” of the law, and see how Christ fully fulfilled them in His life, and also how He brought out the truth of them. First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”. Israel were not to interpose anything between themselves and God. The psalmist wrote beforehand of Christ that He would be able to say, “I have set the Lord always before Me”, Isaiah 50:Psalm 16:8. And so it came to pass, for He would allow nothing to divert Him from His total commitment to His Father. It was not merely that He did not engage in idolatry, (for that to Him would be unthinkable), but that He positively lived His life in fellowship with the Father, with nothing spoiling that fellowship.
Second Commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”. Not only were Israel to flee from any thought that God had a rival, but they were not to make for themselves any image that might become a rival. Sadly, the nation lapsed into idolatry, and were sent into captivity for it. With the Lord Jesus there was no tendency to disloyalty to His Father. He was the Faithful and True Witness, Revelation 1:5, and the trust His Father placed in Him, (for “the Father loveth the Son, and hath committed all things into His hand, John 3:35), was fully justified.
Third Commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord Thy God in vain”. When He taught His disciples a pattern for prayer, the first phrase was, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name”, Matthew 6:9. And when He is heard praying to His Father just before the cross, we note the way He addressed His Father. “Holy Father”, “Righteous Father”, and this from the lips of one who is equal with the Father.
Fourth Commandment: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”. Of course, the Lord Jesus was accused of breaking this command, John 5:18. (It is noticeable, however, that this was not the charge they levelled at Him at His trial before the Sanhedrin). There are seven occasions recorded in the gospel records when the Lord Jesus healed on the sabbath day, and thus, according to Jewish tradition, He worked on the sabbath. But He was not governed by Jewish tradition, but by His Father’s word. The true purpose of the sabbath was to give opportunity to concentrate the mind on Divine things, without the distraction of the everyday things. It was to be hallowed, or kept apart for holy uses; and this the Lord Jesus did by healing on the sabbath, thus releasing men and women from their distractions, and enabling them to praise God in a better way. The impotent man who had lain for thirty eight years at the Pool of Bethesda, how could he hallow the sabbath day and serve God aright during it? But no sooner was he delivered from his handicap, he was found in the temple praising God, John 5:14. He had been impotent for 38 years, just as Israel wandered in the wilderness for 38 years after refusing to go into the land. But when they did at last enter the land, they found that even that was not the final rest God planned for them, for that would only come in through Christ their Messiah when He reigns. This man, however, has entered into true rest, as all believers have. See Hebrews 3:7-4:11.
Fifth Commandment: “Honour thy father and thy mother”. We read of the Lord Jesus as a youth that “He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them”, Luke 2:51. And there were those who lived in that same house in later years, the other children of Mary and Joseph, who, when He went into the synagogue of Nazareth, “where He was brought up”, levelled no charge against Him, suggesting that He could not be the Messiah. If they could testify from first-hand knowledge that He had broken the fifth commandment, then His claim would have been ridiculed. And it was not that they were slow to criticise Him, for they did this in John 7:2-5. And even when upon the cross, what tenderness and concern He showed toward His mother, entrusting her to John for her support and welfare, John 19:25-27.
Sixth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill”. We remember His response when James and John wanted fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who had not received the Lord into their village. “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. The Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives, but the save them”, Luke 9:54-56. And, speaking as the Good Shepherd, He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”, John 10:10. What irony, and what a revelation of the human heart, (even when it is by profession committed to the law of God), that the chief priests and scribes goaded the crowd on, so that they chose Barabbas the murderer rather than Christ the Life-giver, Mark 15:6-13.
Seventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. This was far from the mind of the Holy One of God. He sternly rebuked the wickedness of men in this matter, and upheld the law of God regarding marriage, and exposed the evil of divorce.
Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal”. Christ came to give to men, not deprive men. He became poor so that others might be rich, 2 Corinthians 8:9, and is the great example to His people in that matter.
Ninth Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness”. He was the faithful and true witness, bearing testimony to the truth of God. He could challenge His hearers, in the midst of a conversation about truth, “which of you convinceth Me of sin?” John 8:46. We may take that challenge as a general one, but also as specifically referring to the matter of telling the truth. He had said, “And because I tell you the truth, ye believe Me not”. Because they had listened to the liar himself, the devil, they were incapable of receiving His words as truth. They had been conditioned to receive error and reject truth. But none could accuse Him of being like that, for then He would be sinful. Tenth Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet”. This is the command that found out Paul, for it is the one that probes deep into our conscience, Romans 7:7-10. There was nothing lurking in the heart of Christ that could even be mistaken for covetousness. His life was one of self-less giving, culminating in the greatest gift of all, Himself, the sacrifice at Calvary.
But the Word did not only fulfil the law in the sense that He kept it. He fulfilled it in the sense that He brought out truth about God that was enshrined in the law. The commandments implied something about the God who had given them, and this the Word told out. The first commandment emphasised the uniqueness of God, that He alone is to be recognised as God. So, for instance, in His prayer to His Father, He used the title The Only True God. He is about to send His apostles out into an idol-ridden world, and they must understand that God has no real competitor. The second commandment tells us that God is jealous of anything that is set up to try to rival Him. No created thing can adequately represent God to us. He is determined to guard the uniqueness of His Son, who is “the image of the invisible God”, Colossians 1:15. The third commandment reminds us that the name of God is holy and majestic, and must not be devalued. To use the name of God for a vain and worthless purpose is condemned of God. This tells us that His name, (which sums up all that He is), is the name of one who is only to be associated with excellence. All things base and low are incompatible with Him. The Lord Jesus could claim to have declared unto His disciples the Name of God, John 17:26. The particular aspect of His name being the name of Father. As the Son, His is uniquely positioned to tell forth the name of His Father, having enjoyed His Father’s presence and love for all eternity. He hallowed the name of His Father in all ways, not least when He addressed Him in His prayer as “Holy Father”, 17:11. Such was the fulness of the revelation of the Father through the Son, that to believe on the name of the only begotten Son was to be born of God, John 1:12,13; 1 John 5:13. The fact that this is so shows that the name of the Son is of equal worth to the name of the Father. The fourth commandment, demanding, as it did, that man should remember the sabbath day, tells us that God is a faithful Creator, and has the best interests of men at heart. They think that they can dispense with His laws with no consequences, but it is not so. God our Creator has so made us that we function best if we rest on one day in seven. He had given example of this by resting on the seventh day after the six days of creation, Genesis 2:3. He did not need to rest because of exhaustion; His was the rest of satisfaction. If we live our lives according to God’s will, we shall have things to be satisfied with at the end of six days of work. So the fourth commandment tells us that God is kindly-inclined towards men. The fifth commandment reveals an especially pleasing attribute of God, namely, that He is the Father. He desires that there should be many reflections of His Fatherhood on the earth, and many sons behaving as His Son behaves towards Him. Paul wrote, “I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and in earth is named,” Ephesians 3:14,15. So fatherhood originates with the Father of the Lord Jesus. Not, of course, that He begat Him in a physical way- how could that be the case since He has been His Son eternally, and therefore was Son before He was born at Bethlehem? We are told by the inspired psalmist, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him”, Psalm 103:13. And He expressed Himself in His Son, for to see Him was to see the Father. Although, of course, not the Father, He was, nonetheless, fully able to express Him to men, and this He did so wonderfully. No wonder we read, “had compassion on him”, Luke 10:33; “looking on him loved him,” Mark 10:21; “He beheld the city and wept over it”, Luke 19:41. He could say, “I have compassion on the multitude”, Matthew 15:32; and He had compassion on the two blind men, Matthew 20:34, and on the widow of Nain, Luke 7:13. This is the heart of the Father being expressed in the Son. When we come to the second five commandments, we are thinking of man’s relationship with his neighbour; but still insights about God are being given to us. The sixth commandment, with its condemnation of killing, reminds us that God is the Living God, and as such, to Him, death is obnoxious and detestable. The life that God has is available to men through the Lord Jesus, and He is the one through whom it is dispensed. But even natural life is precious to Him, hence the death penalty should be imposed on the one who takes the life of another. Not only because, if an unbeliever, he is plunged into eternity without hope of opportunity for repentance, but also because to murder is to erase the image of God in a man; see Genesis 9:6. Of course, the murderer should be given space to repent before God before he is executed. In the sixth commandment, forbidding adultery, we learn that God is a God of holiness, and He has instituted marriage in order that men and women might show love towards one another in a way that was designed to foster that love. Adultery destroys that love, (although it should be remembered that adultery does not break the marriage bond, which continues until the death of one of the marriage-partners). How much misery and heartache has been caused by marital unfaithfulness, but it all could be avoided if this command from the God of love had been heeded and obeyed. The command also shows Him to be the God who delights in faithfulness and persistence, for it is only when death intervenes, and a person cannot exercise a will in the matter, that a marriage comes to an end. The eighth commandment reveals God as one who detests stealing, for He is the God who provides for His creatures, giving to all without partiality “life and breath and all things”, Acts 17:25. He also upholds the rights of those who have been deprived unlawfully by men. There is no reason to steal, for stealing is rebellion against the God who gives to all bountifully. To steal is to say God has been unfair in His distribution, and this He is not. The ninth commandment forbids false witness, and reminds us that God is the God of true testimony. He created all things to be a witness, Acts 14:17; He gave the law as a witnesss, (in fact, the tables of the law are called “the testimony”, Exodus 25:16; He sent the prophets as witnesses, Romans 3:21; He sent John the Baptist to bear witness, (the apostle John never calls John “the Baptist”, but calls him a witness), John 1:7; and finally He sent His Son, who could say, “For this cause was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, to bear witness of the truth”, John 18:37. God delights to communicate, and He does so effectively. False witness undermines everything, and destroys society, for no-one is sure what they may safely believe. This is not the case with God, and He declared it to be so by condemning false testimony. The tenth commandment, which forbids coveting, tells us that God knows the thoughts of men. Saul of Tarsus was found blameless by his fellow-Israelites, Philippians 3:6, but when tested by the law it was this tenth commandment that caused sin to arise in his heart and the commandment slew him, Romans 7:7-11. Covetousness is harboured in the heart, a secret sin that oftentimes God only knows about. So both by keeping the law, and by the things He taught, the Lord Jesus has given to us an exposition, not just of the law, but also of the very character of God. No wonder John writes, “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, John 1:17. Moses handed over tables of stone, Christ has given an exposition of God to us in grace and truth, and thus has declared God to us.
Now just as the curtains were looped together by blue linen, and God meant the law to be kept as a whole, so the Lord Jesus kept the law as one whole. James wrote that if a man offends in one point of the law, he offends in all, James 2:8-12. He who breaks one commandment is a law-breaker. But not only so, the two five-curtain sections were linked together too. This was by gold taches and hooks. (The fact that the veil was hung under the taches, Exodus 26:33, shows that there was only one set of taches in the inner curtain and the goats’ hair curtain, or else it is not known which set of taches is meant). A tache is a means of attachment, and the hooks could no doubt be undone when the tabernacle was to be transported, so that the task was made easier for the Gershonites. So the section which represented the God-ward side of the law, and that which represented the man-ward were gloriously linked together in Christ. He was not so taken up with thoughts of God that He had no thought for man. His love for God was perfectly balanced by His love for man. They did not compete with one another, but each was expressed in the other. When He was healing men He was glorifying God. When He was communing with God is was so that He might bless men. No-one else has balanced the two sides of God’s law in this way.
As we have seen, the veil was hung up under these taches, Exodus 26:33, so they marked the point where the Holiest of All was divided from the Holy Place. Now in Exodus 40:22 we see that the holy place is called the tabernacle of the congregation, (for the table, lampstand and golden altar were placed in the tabernacle of the congregation), and the Holiest of All, where the ark was positioned, was called the tabernacle, and the ark was placed there. So not only did the taches joining the two sets of curtains represent the joining of the man-ward and the God-ward aspects of the law, but they also signified the joining of God’s immediate presence with the place where the priests functioned day by day. There is a suggestion built in to the very design of the tabernacle that it is God’s desire that His people be in His very presence, and that no veil should bar the way. This could not happen in the Old Testament, but it has now been realised in Christ. We know from Hebrews 9:6-10 that the Holy Spirit was signifying by the presence of the veil that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest, but these taches point the way to how this will be accomplish. They highlight the veil, and now that we have the New Testament to guide us we know that that veil to us is no barrier, but rather has become the means of approach to God.
We come now to the colours and the material. We find that there are seven facts told us about the coloration and constituency of the curtains. The were of linen, they were fine linen, they were twined linen; they had blue, purple and scarlet colours interwoven, and also cherubim embroidered on them.
The basis of the curtains was fine twined linen. It is noteworthy that this curtain is the only item where the fine linen is put first. In the veil, 26:31, the door, 26:36, and the gate, 27:16, the order is “blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen”. Here the fine linen is mentioned first. We can understand this, for the curtain represents the fact that the “Word was made flesh”, so it is appropriate that the inner curtain should be made of linen. That which had grown up upon the earth is now used as a figure for the life of Christ in the flesh. Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would “grow up before Him as a tender plant”, Isaiah 53:2, and so it came to pass. Luke was a doctor, and as such would be very interested in the growth and progress of a child under his care. He tells us of Christ’s conception, of His protection in the womb; of His being born; of His circumcision at eight days of age; of His presentation in the temple at forty days of age; of Him as a young child, as a youth; as a grown man at the age of about thirty years. He is also careful to tell us that He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man, Luke 2:52. He is found in real manhood, and has taken the same flesh and blood as we have, Hebrews 2:14. This does not involve sin, for the sin-principle men have is not inherent in human nature; it was passed on to us by Adam after he had sinned. In every stage He was as He should be; He was never a prodigy, nor was He backward. If He had been either of these, He would have drawn attention to Himself, but “He made Himself of no reputation”. It is true that He grew up before men, for He lived in Nazareth for most of His life, and men were acquainted with Him, claiming to know Him, John 6:42. He did not shut Himself away, as if afraid of being defiled, but mingled with men as He grew up. Pre-eminently, however, He grew up “before Him”, that is, before His Father, who had been looking for perfection in manhood ever since Adam sinned, and had now found it.
The word used for linen implies that it was bleached white. Presumably it was then dyed with the various colours mentioned. Now we learn from Revelation 19:8 that fine linen represents, in that setting, the righteousness of the saints, the word righteousness being in the plural. It refers then to righteous deeds rather than a righteous nature. In the tabernacle therefore we have an indication of the practical righteousness of the Lord Jesus. Of course He did not need justification as sinners do, (to be bleached white, so to speak), but He maintained a righteous character in the world of men. He is Jesus Christ the righteous, 1 John 2:1, righteousness can be used as part of His name. He could say, “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but He that seeketh His glory that sent Him, the same is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him”, John 7:18. Then, significantly, He referred to the law, in the words, “Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill Me?” Because He insisted that He did not speak from Himself but from His Father, there was a clear-cut distinction between Himself and the rabbis as they taught the law. They tended to seek glory for themselves, priding themselves on their prowess as exponents of the law, all the while holding the unlearned in contempt- “This people that knoweth not the law are cursed”, John 7:49. Christ however was marked by a total lack of this spirit of self-seeking, for He sought the glory of His Father alone in His teaching ministry. For this reason He can claim to be “true”, John 7:18, for He corresponds to the ideal that God looks for in a teacher, and “there is no unrighteousness in Him”, for He deals in a balanced and just way with God’s truth.
When the Lord Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, we are told things about His garments. Matthew tells us that His garment was white as the light, Matthew 17:2. Now white is the combination of all colours. (If a disc containing all the colours is spun round at speed, it turns white). Black, on the other hand, is produced by a surface that absorbs all colours; it withholds the light. That is why there is no black section in a rainbow. So in the person of Christ is displayed every conceivable glory, and there is no withholding of any glory, but all is brought out in full display. Mark tells us that the whiteness was like snow, so as no fuller on earth could whiten them, Mark 9:3. It is typical of Mark as he writes of Christ as the Workman, to speak of a craftsman whitening the cloth. But Christ’s character is beyond what earthly skills can produce. He is from heaven, like the snow, and brings the righteous character of God within reach without any input from earth’s skilled men. Luke, on the other hand, tells us that His garment was white and glistening. Now these are two of the features of the frankincense used in the Old Testament for the making of incense, the symbol of prayer. Couple this with the fact that Luke alone records that Christ was praying as He was transfigured, (just as Luke alone tells us He was praying as He came up from being baptised in Jordan, Luke 3:21), and we are being reminded that it is as a dependant and righteous man that Christ will rule in His kingdom one day.
Now the linen was not only white but fine. There was no coarseness about it, but all was even and pleasing. So with the Lord Jesus. There was no roughness with Him. Men dealt with Him harshly at times, but He never responded in kind. When Peter was determined to use force in Gethsemane, Mathew 26:52, He rebuked Him, and asked permission to heal the wound he had inflicted, Luke 22:51. This is not to say that Christ was fine because He had been refined. There never was that about Him that had to be corrected or adjusted. All was perfect at every stage. The fineness tells of the quality of His character, for the finer the cloth, the more luxurious the garment.
The twined threads tell of the strength and resolve of His life. When energy is applied to an object, that energy is retained by the object; it does not dissipate. So the energy expended in twisting a thread is retained in the thread. In John 2:13-17 the Lord Jesus purged the temple of those who were making money out of the service of God. This reminded the disciples of a scripture which said, “The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up”, Psalm 69:9. We could apply another Scripture to this incident, where we read of Messiah that He “was clad with zeal as a cloak”, Isaiah 59:17. Again, we see Him weary physically with His journey in John 4, but as the same time He gives to the woman living water that springs up, verse 14.
We come to a consideration of the colours used in the innermost curtain. They were three in number, blue, purple and scarlet. As we have already noticed, this is the only place where the linen is listed first. The emphasis is on the linen, which represents His life in the flesh. As we have seen, the word for linen implies it was bleached. And this pure-white character of Christ was never spoiled. But there were things that were special and unique to Christ about His character, and these special things are symbolised by the colours that were added to the white of the linen.
John the baptist was sent from God to bear testimony to the Lord Jesus, and he declared, “He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: He that cometh from heaven is above all”, John 3:31. John can only speak of the earthly kingdom of the Messiah, whereas Christ came to bring truth to fit men for the heavenly kingdom Paul referred to in 2 Timothy 4:18. He does this perfectly because He is above all, as one who possesses Deity, having been with the Father in eternity, 1 John 1:2. John the Baptist’s father had spoken of Christ as the Dayspring from on high, Luke 1:78.
The Lord had already referred to this matter of coming down from heaven in verse 12, in His conversation with Nicodemus. John went on to say, “And what He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth; and no man receiveth His testimony”, verse 32. This is similar language to 1 John 1:1-5, where the apostle shows that the Son of God had come to impart to others what He had eternally known and enjoyed. That joy is known through what He said and who He is. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, because they are foolishness unto him, and he cannot understand them until he is prepared to receive Divine wisdom, see 1 Corinthians 2:14. By “no man” is meant men who are not willing to respond to God; it is not an absolute statement, because the one who wrote it had received the testimony. Note that the Lord Jesus is spoken of here as a testimony bearer or witness, a term that John the apostle had used of John the Baptist, so he was decreasing even in this way. John goes on, “He that hath received His testimony hath set to his seal that God is true”, verse 33. To receive the spoken testimony of Christ is to acknowledge that what He said was true. But He spoke the words His Father gave Him, so to believe Christ is true in His statements, is to believe that God is too. The converse is the case, for to believe not, is to make God a liar, 1 John 5:10. This the Word, both in His words and His character, displayed the blue of God’s heaven.
The blue dye was said to be made from the Caerulean Mussel. Caerulus is connected with the Latin word for heaven. Blue is the colour of the paved work before God’s throne, Exodus 24:10. So something from the depths of the sea reminds of God’s presence. Just as the blue of the sky is reflected in the waters of the ocean, and just as the mussel seems to capture that blueness, so there is that in Christ which tells us of heaven and heavenly things. In Romans 10:6,7 we are assured that we have not to descend into the deep, nor ascend up to heaven, for Christ has already come down from heaven, and already risen from the dead. He has gone to the depths, not of the sea, as Jonah, but the depths of His Calvary experience, that He might ascend to heaven, and eventually escort His people there.
Purple was the imperial colour, the “symbol of royalty and high office”. The purple dye was used to make the high-priced garments which were the mark of rank and nobility. “King of Israel” is a Divine Title, Isaiah 44:6. Solomon’s throne was “the throne of the Lord”, 1 Chronicles 29:23. This throne will be occupied literally by the Lord, as Hebrews 1:8-13 describes. It is interesting to find that John writes more about Christ as King than the other gospel writers. Indeed, in Matthew, which is the Gospel of the King, we do not read of Christ being at Jerusalem, (which He himself described as “the city of the great king”, Matthew 5:35), until He went there to die. In John, however, the Lord Jesus is often found in Jerusalem, and especially in the Temple, for that was the place where God had placed His Name, and Christ is the one who came to unfold that name, John 17:26.
It is interesting to find Nathaniel linking the title “King of Israel” with “Son of God” . He had captured the implication of Isaiah 44:6, and realised that if Jesus was the Son of God, then He could claim the Divine title of King of Israel. The kingship of Christ is vested in His Deity. If with Nathaniel His kingship was recognised, then in John 6:15 His kingship was misunderstood. The people tried to take Him by force and make Him king. The Lord quickly retired from that situation, and went into the mountain to pray. The time for the manifestation of the kingdom is not yet; it is, rather, the time for Him to intercede on high for His own, and His praying on the mountain symbolises this. In any case He will only receive the kingdom from His Father, and Daniel saw that in vision form when he saw the Son of Man advance to the throne of the Ancient of Days, “And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed”, Daniel 7:14. Yet when He does come to earth to set up His kingdom, (for the scene is earthly, as is shown by the mention of people, nations and languages), it is the Ancient of Days that comes, verse 22. So the Son of Man shares the title Ancient of Days with God His Father. Nathaniel was right! The King of Israel is the Son of God.
It is interesting to notice that John does not record the Mount of Transfiguration incident, even though he was present. On that occasion he, Peter and James were eyewitnesses of the majesty of Christ which He will manifest universally when He comes in power, 2 Peter 1:16-18. But John does not record it. For him it is a foregone conclusion that the Son of God will reign, for He is God, as John has told us in the first verse of his gospel, and therefore is the King of Israel.
Not only was His kingship recognised and misunderstood, it was also rejected. When Pilate asked the question, “Shall I crucify your king”, the chief priests, (those who should have been most in touch with the mind of God), answered, “We have no king but Caesar”, John 19:15. Only John records this saying, thus putting on record the nation’s attitude to the kingship of the Son of God. It was important for Pilate to investigate the claims of those who said they were a king, for he was charged with the duty of protecting the empire from those who sought its downfall. So it was that he questioned Christ about His kingship, John 18:33-37. This gave Him the opportunity to witness a good confession before Pontius Pilate, as the one who will, in His own times show who is that blessed and only potentate, king of kings and lord of lords, 1 Timothy 6:13,15. He is lord over Pilate, He is king over Caesar.
So we find that in John 18:33 Pilate enters the judgement hall again. Pilate had entered the judgement hall in verse 28, but the Jews had refused to enter into it “lest they should be defiled” by entering a Gentile place where they might be unleavened bread. So it is that Pilate went out to them to ascertain the charge they brought against Christ, and now in verse 33 he is re-entering the judgement hall.
Calling Jesus before his judgement seat, he asks “Art thou the King of the Jews”? Before answering the question, the Lord establishes the motive behind it. Pilate is finding that he is the one being questioned now. Christ’s kingdom is a righteous kingdom, and justice prevails there. Jesus answered him, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?” In other words, is this hearsay, or have you investigated the matter fully so that you can say it with confidence in a court of law? If Pilate was saying this of himself, it meant that he had not investigated the matter himself before accepting that it was a valid charge for anyone to make. This is not an evasion on the part of the Lord. He will state in verse 37 that He is a king, but He is making sure that all concerned know the facts of the case, and do not make decisions based on rumour and innuendo.
“Did others tell it thee” is also designed to point out that the Jews switched charges, and hence are acting illegally. He, the Just One, is establishing this was done unjustly. Pilate’s response tells us three things. “Am I a Jew”? is a semi-sarcastic jibe at the oddities, (in his Roman view of things), of the Jewish culture. It tells us he is not looking at things dispassionately, but in a prejudiced way. Christ’s kingdom will not be limited to Israel, so whether Pilate, a Roman, could understand was irrelevant.
“Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered Thee unto me”. This was only half-true, as the nation had welcomed Him as He rode into Jerusalem as King, John 12:12-15. It was the chief priests who had delivered Him for envy. His kingdom will be welcomed- “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord”, Psalm 118:26.
“What hast Thou done”? This suggests that Pilate thought He may have been the ring-leader in some trouble-making. That this is not the case is seen in the Lord’s reference to what had happened in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before. So it is that we read, “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence'”. These words must have been strange and troubling to Pilate. He was not familiar with the idea of a kingdom originating from any other place than earth. Earthly kingdoms are established and increased by means of the armies they deploy. The fact that Christ’s kingdom is not of this sort is seen in that the servants of this king are not organised into an army. The sense of the verb “fight” is “keep on fighting”, a reference no doubt to the fact that Peter had put up some sort of resistance in Gethsemane when the arrest party came. But Pilate must have known that Christ rebuked Peter for this, and even went to far as to ask permission to heal Malchus, (“Suffer ye thus far”, Luke 22:51). What king rebukes His subjects for fighting, and then heals the wounds of a soldier of the opposing army? This king, and His kingdom, must be of a different sort.
The words “But now is My kingdom not from hence” might be misunderstood to mean that this king had suddenly changed tactic under pressure from Pilate, and was now resolved to employ different methods to gain His objective. But nothing could be further from the truth. The “but now” must be linked with the “if” near the beginning of verse 36. There is a conditional statement beginning with “if”, which sets out a possible situation, namely, that His kingdom was of this world. But this is immediately rejected with the words “but now”. In other words, His kingdom is of another sort all along, and the possible scenario beginning with “if” must be rejected. Pilate’s response was to ask again and pointedly whether He was a king. “Art thou a king then?” Jesus answered, “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice”. The response “Thou sayest that I am a King” is not an evasive reply. Nor does it indicate that Christ is a king only in the minds of those who believe it, with His kingship not relevant to the rest of men. Rather, this is the formal way a polite Jew will answer a direct question. It is the same as saying “Yes”, but the Lord is using the Rabbinical formula for answers to direct questions. Courtesy forbids a direct yes or no, but it is a direct answer. We see this same response when Judas asked, “Master, is it I”, and the reply came, “Thou hast said”, Matthew 26:25. So also in Luke 22:70,71, where the question of the high priest as to whether Christ is the Son of God is answered by the words “Ye say that I am”. If this was prevarication, the question would have been asked again. As it is, the response of the chief priest was to declare that no more witnesses were needed, “for we ourselves have heard of His own mouth”. He knew full well what the answer had meant. Mark, with characteristic brevity, gives the Lord’s answer as simply “I am”, the last words of the reply in Luke. It is still the case, however, that the courteous formula is used, and not a direct “Yes”. Christ’s kingdom is not established by the use of any earthly expedient; nor is it governed by earthly laws. He will receive the kingdom from the Father when He asks for it, Psalm 2:8.
Moreover, by saying “For this cause came I into the world, that I might bear witness of the truth”, and ” Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice”, the Lord is saying that His kingdom is based on truth, not deceit and lies as the kingdoms of men, and His kingdom consists of loyal subjects, who love the truth. No wonder Pilate is baffled, for the word of a Galilean carpenter seems to be more believable that the word of the Jewish authorities. No wonder he exclaimed “What is truth”? How could he decide these opposing assertions? The fact is, that the answer to his problem had just been given to him. “He that is of the truth heareth My voice”. The genuine seeker after the truth will come to the genuine imparter of truth. So it is that in His conversation with Pilate, the wearer of the Imperial Purple on behalf of Rome, Christ displays the superior purple of the eternal and heavenly kingdom, which He will one day set up on earth, but which His born-again people have already entered, John 3:3,5; Colossians 1:13. These features of His kingdom tell us of the character of His kingship.
We now come to the scarlet colour. The dye used to produce this colour came from a red insect that clings motionless to a tree and lays eggs like grains of wheat, hence the Greek word for the colour means “grain of wheat”. As He neared the cross, the Lord likened Himself to a corn or grain of wheat that would fall into the ground and die, John 12:24. But if He died, (lifted up on a tree), He would bring forth fruit, just as the scarlet beetle produced her eggs whilst on the tree. No wonder He immediately said, “Now is My soul troubled”, for Calvary was very near. So the blood-red dye speaks of His precious blood that He fully intended should be shed in altar-sacrifice, and reminds us that “without shedding of blood is no remission”, Hebrews 9:22. Scarlet was a very strong or fast dye, not easily removed. Because it was like a grain of wheat, it was said to be “ingrained” in the cloth. He would not be deflected from going to the cross. It was something deeply embedded in His character. He had “come…to give His life a ransom”, Mark 10:45. He had come to “do the will of God”, Hebrews 10:4-7, which He knew would involve His sacrifice at Calvary.
Embroidered on the curtains were cherubim. In the Old Testament, the cherubim defended the righteous interests of God. They did this in heaven, for Lucifer, who became Satan, had been an “anointed cherub that covereth”, before his fall, Ezekiel 28:14. They did it on earth, too, for they were placed the gate of Eden, to keep the way of the tree of life, Genesis. But we do not read of cherubim after Christ’s coming, except when the cherubim over the mercy-seat in the tabernacle is referred to in Hebrews 9:5. He has personally ensured that the righteousness of God is preserved by His life and His death. He could say, in connection with the coming of the Holy Spirit after His ascension, that He would reprove the world of righteousness “Because I go to the Father, and ye see Me no more”, John 16:10. This indicates that when He was here His life was a righteous reproof of the unrighteousness of men, so the Spirit needed to come to carry on that work. So Divine persons have rendered cherubim redundant. The cherubim on the tabernacle curtains signify this. The inner curtain, as we have seen, was made up of ten curtains linked together into two sections of five curtains each. It is interesting to notice that the ratio between the area of the holiest and that of the holy place, was 2:1. And the ratio between the space needed to write the first five commands and that needed to write the second five commands, is also 2:1.