“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’” Revelation 21:3-5 (NKJ).
THE END OF THE AGE
The Festival of Tabernacles has been referred to as “the festival of the Lord’s appearing.” In John 7:2-6 we see that the time of Tabernacles had arrived and Jesus’ brothers were urging him to journey with them to Jerusalem to celebrate it. Jesus refused to join them because his time had not yet come. Later he did go to Jerusalem and arrived while the feast was still in progress. His arriving seemed rather surprising. No doubt Jesus will arrive in the last days in much the same way.
Thus, the Festival of Tabernacles takes on the significance of the last days and the coming of the Lord. Even the ancient festival seemed to have an end-day significance. It was celebrated in the seventh month, it lasted for seven days, and it ended on the 21st day of the seventh month (3 x 7). In the Bible the number 7 speaks of completion and perfection. It speaks of the end.
It cannot be denied that we are approaching the end of the age today. Christians have thought that since the first century, but we are the first generation that has had the signs indicating that we are really in the last day. Let us look quickly at some of these signs. Evil is increasing all around us and Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 that terrible times and terrible people would be the hallmark of the end. We can hardly turn on the TV today without being outraged by the latest evil atrocity. Obviously, the tares are getting ripe. We are also told that in the last day knowledge will increase (Dan. 12:4). We are living in a time when knowledge is increasing exponentially. They say that in 2010, stored knowledge reached an unbelievable zettabyte. This is the equivalent of 75 billion I-pads stuffed with information.*
In the end-day we are told that we will also have birth pains (Mk. 13:8). Birth pains are known to come closer together and to also increase in intensity. Let us think about some of our disasters of late. There was the great Southeast Asia Tsunami a few years ago. This Tsunami touched many nations in that area and did enormous damage. Then there was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. With Katrina we saw a hurricane that was 415 miles (668 k.) in diameter. It ravaged much of the US Gulf Coast. Then there was Hurricane Sandy in 2012 on the US East Coast. This massive hurricane made the monstrous Katrina look small. It covered 953 miles (1517 k.) at landfall. Even as I write this, my state of Colorado has been ravaged by a massive flood on its thickly populated Eastern Slope. We are told that 19,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed and that it will take years for us to recover from this blow.
Of course, the most astounding birth pains for the US came in 2001 with the 9/11 attacks that focused mostly on New York and Washington DC. These attacks made a permanent mark on America’s psyche. These massive natural disasters and attacks must surely be called birth pains of the last days.
So there are birth pains all over. Yet, we have a birth pain that is no doubt greater than all the others and that is the birth of Israel. This has taken place in many of our lifetimes, and it is a sign that no other Christians have witnessed since the first century. Israel is alive again and mostly restored, and the question is how the church is going to deal with this miraculous sign. As Israel arises we can assume that our long and painful Gentile Age will soon be coming to a close (Dan. 2:31-45; Lk. 21:24). It remains to be seen how this will affect the Gentile church.
JESUS TABERNACLING WITH US
As we face these difficult and uncertain days of the end, let us go back and closely examine Revelation 21:3 that we mentioned earlier. Most English texts do not really do justice to this scripture. To really understand its implications we need to look at the Greek text. The word for “tabernacle” in the Greek is skene, and it means a temporary dwelling, particularly a tent, booth, lodging. In the Abbot-Smith lexicon we learn that this word corresponds in the Septuagint (LXX) or Greek Old Testament with the Hebrew words ohel (tent), mishkan (dwelling) and sukkah (tabernacle). So, Jesus is saying in essence that he will come to us in our temporary dwelling or sukkah.
This reminds us of our ancient fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is interesting that they lived to ages 175, 180 and 110 respectively, and so far as we know, they never lived in houses. Tent dwelling was not so easy as we can guess. They often camped in the high country of Israel in places like Shechem, Bethel and Hebron. Many of these elevations are over 2500 feet (762 m.). In the winter they can be very cold, even down to freezing. The winter rains are cold and are usually accompanied by strong winds. Quite often there is snow as well. We can almost hear Sarah crying out, “Abraham, the tent has blown down again!”
While life in temporary tabernacles was often tough, there was a great blessing for the Patriarchs. God came to visit with them and sometimes in person. That made all the difference. In the above scripture we are assured that Jesus, the Son of God, will tabernacle with us.
WHAT A DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE END TIMES
The idea of Jesus coming into our tent and dwelling with us in the difficult end-times gives us a much different view of eschatology than we often get in the church today. Our problem is that we have been deeply influenced by Greek philosophy and by Plato particularly. Plato made a great emphasis on heaven and on spiritual things. At the same time he and other of the Greek philosophers discounted the realm of the natural. Many of our early church fathers were either Greek philosophers or else they were deeply influenced by this philosophy. I am thinking particularly of Justyn Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and especially the great Augustine.
Soon the church was discounting the natural realm and putting all its focus on the spiritual. Marriage and family were demeaned and suddenly there were many Christian hermits out living in caves trying to get close to God and to the spiritual world. Even marriage and sex within marriage was scorned. Monasticism was born as people tried to get away from normal society. The church has never recovered from this early Greek philosophical influence.
We want to make clear that a focus on heaven is good and the Bible challenges us to set our minds on heaven and on spiritual things (Col. 3:1-2). However, the Bible warns us not to turn loose of the natural world while doing so (Jam. 2:15-16).
When we look carefully at the Old Testament and our Hebrew heritage we see God calling all his creation “good” (Gen. 11). Everyday life on earth is good and blessed by God. Marriage and sex within marriage are good and blessed. Normal labors on earth are blessed and so are the normal affairs of life. These must not be spurned.
Therefore, when we look at the end times we need to pay careful attention to the Old Testament. After all, this was the only Bible the early Christians had. New Testament prophecy thus came directly from what the Old Testament prophets were saying. When we take the OT and the NT together and look at the end times we will be greatly surprised. We will find that the end-days are geo-centered rather than heaven centered. After all, “…The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps.24:1). God considers the earth as good but temporarily fallen. He considers man as still made in his image. God will never forsake the world or humanity and we need to factor this into our eschatology. In Psalm 115:16, we see an amazing verse. It says,“The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man.” We need to start viewing humankind in relation to the earth rather than just to heaven.
GOING TO HEAVEN – OR IS HEAVEN COMING DOWN TO US?
We see an amazing thing in Revelation. Most everything is coming down to earth. Christ is coming down to earth with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones (Jude 1:14). The New Jerusalem is coming down to earth (Rev. 21:1). She is identified also as the Bride of Christ, and is arrayed in her heavenly glory. Isn’t it strange that most of our end-time emphasis today is on people going up to heaven?
The simple but long overlooked truth is that what God began in Genesis he will finish in Revelation. He will finish it on this earth. In Genesis, God made the world and placed man in it to reign as his vice-regent. Satan promptly stole man’s authority and brought about his disgraceful fall. However, in 1 John 3:8 we read that Jesus has now come to unto all the works of Satan. In 1 Corinthians 15:22, we read, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” In 15:45 Paul adds: “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’ the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.”
At Calvary Jesus overcame the devil and regained man’s tarnished authority. We see that Jesus is now bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). In fact, our eyes have never seen and our ears have never heard about such glory as Jesus is now bringing to humankind (1 Cor. 2:9). The shocking truth is that this glory will be displayed on this earth. Jesus did say in Matthew 5:5 that the meek will inherit the earth. We see this same truth in Psalm 37:29 where we are told that the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.
On this earth man fell and on this earth man will rise again through Christ. It is clear that mankind will regain the authority once lost in Adam. It was God’s original plan to put everything under the authority of man (Psa. 8:6). We see in Romans 5:17, that we are to reign in life through Christ. This is talking about our everyday life on earth. In the book of Revelation we learn that the overcomers through Christ will exercise authority over the nations (Rev. 2:6) and that they will actually sit with Christ on his throne (3:21). What wonderful things are in store for faithful humanity! Romans 8:19 is a wonderful verse: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” Just think of it. Our sad, dreary, defeated world is almost standing on tiptoe waiting for Christians to get it together in Christ and become what they are destined to be. Why do we never hear this preached anywhere?
It gets better! This is almost unbelievable, but God has ordained that restored humanity will have a part in casting Satan out of his heavenly position. Here it is in Revelation 12:11: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” This is not talking about Jesus or angels but it is talking about humankind. Just as Satan once brought about the fall of man, man in Christ will help bring about the fall of Satan. He will be cast down to earth for his final judgment.
God is not though with the earth. He is not willing to turn it over to Satan or dispense with it. He will in fact create a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness dwells (Isa. 65:17). As Christ tabernacles with us in the end-days we will be able to labor together with him. The Jewish people have a concept called tikkun olam. It means “repairing the earth.” This is a biblical idea. We Christians through the Gospel are helping God repair and renew the earth. We must not think God is through with this earth. We must not just be waiting around for God to rescue us from this earth. This is an unbiblical position.
The Bible truth is that Jesus is coming to tabernacle with us while the world and the universe is remade. He is coming to establish his throne in Jerusalem (Jer. 3:17). He is coming to take charge of this world and everything else. Although it must really upset this postmodern world he is coming to live in Jerusalem and to dwell among the children of Israel forever (Ezek. 43:7). We need to factor all this into our eschatology. Daniel sums it up well in 7:18. This is a shocking verse: But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever— yes, for ever and ever.”
Published September 2013
*Tim Challies, The Next Story, Life and Faith after The Digital Explosion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), p. 142.