Jesus is the “word made flesh” and the true tabernacle in which the glory of God is revealed and now resides – John 1:14.
The opening paragraph of John’s Gospel presents major themes that are explicated in the body of the book. For example, Jesus is the “Word made flesh” in whom life and light are found, and the true and final “tabernacle” where God’s “glory” resides. Moreover, John employs imagery from pivotal events in the history of Israel to illustrate what God has done in Jesus.
Since his death and resurrection, Jesus is the place where the presence of God dwells, where His glory is manifested for all men to behold. He is the means of access to God – the greater Tabernacle and Temple where true worship of the Father takes place “in spirit.”
Access to God’s “glory” is no longer confined by the physical walls or geographical boundaries of the old Temple “made-with-hands,” or of the land of Canaan. Jesus is the “Word made flesh that tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory; the glory as of an only-born from a father; full of grace and truth” – (John 1:14, 1:47-51, 2:13-22, 4:20-24).
The living word of God is embodied in this very real flesh and blood human being for all to see the divine nature writ large in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In his words, deeds, death, and resurrection the true nature and glory of God are displayed before the entire world.
The description of the “word tabernacling among us” echoes the incident at Mount Sinai when God inscribed His ten “words” on stone tablets. In Jesus, the word of God has now “become flesh.” “Tabernacled” translates the Greek verb skénoō, meaning “tabernacle, to pitch a tent.” It is related to the noun skéné or “tent,” the same term used in the Greek Septuagint translation of Exodus for the “tabernacle” in the wilderness. Thus, in the man Christ Jesus, God “tabernacles” among his people.
Yahweh commanded Moses to “construct a sanctuary for me that I may dwell among them,” a portable structure fashioned “according to all that I am going to show you, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings.” In obedience to God’s command, Moses…:
“Proceeded to take a tent and pitch it by itself outside the camp… and he called it, the Tent of Meeting… it came to pass, that when Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud came down and stood at the opening of the tent” – (Exodus 25:8-9, 33:7-11).
In the Septuagint, the “Tent of Meeting” is the skéné martyriou or “tent of witness.” In it, the presence of Yahweh was represented by the pillar of cloud. Just as He revealed His presence among Israel in the Tabernacle, so He now makes His habitation among His people in Jesus, the “Word become flesh” – (Exodus 40:34-35, Numbers 9:15-23).
The Gospel of John states further that “we beheld his glory… full of grace and truth.” This employs further imagery from Exodus. Moses asked Yahweh to show him his “glory.” He responded that neither Moses nor any man “can see my face and live”; therefore, He placed Moses in the “cleft of a rock” when He passed by, permitting him only to see His “backside.” God descended in the cloud and passed before Moses, proclaiming, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God of compassion and grace, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and faithfulness” – (Exodus 33:17-23, 34:1-6).
But now, the glory of God is revealed in Jesus, a proposition expanded in the Gospel of John. Unlike Moses, the disciples beheld the full glory of God, not just His “backside,” glory compared to that of “an only-born from a father” – (John 17:24).
That glory is “full of grace and truth.” This statement corresponds to the proclamation by Yahweh, the One who is “abundant in loving-kindness and faithfulness.” The glory seen by Moses is the same glory revealed in Jesus for all to see. He is the True and Greater Tabernacle in whom God dwells, the one through whom He manifests His unfiltered grace and truth to humanity.
With the coming of Jesus, God’s presence is no longer restricted to the ancient Tabernacle or to any manmade structure. And no longer is it limited to any geographic location. The wilderness structure has become obsolete by what He did in Jesus – (2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:4-6).
The old Tabernacle was glorious and revealed much about the nature of God. Nevertheless, its glory was limited. In contrast, the glory found in the True and Greater “Tabernacle,” Jesus, is full, visible, and available for the entire world to behold.