The True Transfiguration Tabernacle

December 6, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Credit: Dziana Hasanbekava / Pexels.com

If you look closely, you’ll begin to notice that the story of Christmas isn’t found only in Jesus’ birth, but all over His life.

In Mark 9, Jesus takes His three closest disciples – Peter, James, and John – up a mountain for a “spiritual retreat” of sorts. But while they are enjoying and reflecting on the sight of Israel from the summit, Jesus is transfigured:

His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. (Mark 9:3-4)

This was not a sight for which the disciples were prepared. But they knew they were in the midst of a transcendent moment. Peter responds in a way that, though it might sound strange to us – would have seemed perfectly logical and appropriate to him:

Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah. (Mark 9:5)

Peter sees Jesus with Israel’s greatest lawgiver – Moses – and Israel’s greatest prophet – Elijah – and his response is to suggest a building project. What is Peter thinking?

The word translated as “shelters” is, in Greek, skene, which refers to a “tent.” The most famous skene in Israel’s history is introduced in Exodus 25 and 26 when God gives Moses instructions to build the tabernacle, which was the tent in which God dwelled. The tabernacle cast a long shadow over Israel’s history, especially when coupled with a mountain, because the pattern for the tabernacle came from God when He spoke to Moses from a mountain (Exodus 26:30) and this tabernacle eventually gave way to a more permanent structure in a temple, which was built on a mountain (Isaiah 2:3).

So, when Peter suggests building skenes for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on a mountain, he senses he is part of a divine encounter just like Moses was. And when the divine shows up, tabernacles are in order.

But what Peter suggests never comes to pass. Instead:

A cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. (Mark 9:7-8)

It turns out that tabernacles were not needed for this divine encounter because there was already a tabernacle there.

And it’s this that takes us to Christmas.

In John’s version of the Christmas story, he speaks of Jesus as the divine Word, and says: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word behind the phrase “made His dwelling” is skene. When Christ was born, He was God’s tabernacle – His dwelling place – among us. Peter didn’t need to build some tabernacles on that mountain because Jesus was the tabernacle on that mountain.

The promise of this season is that God does not remain aloof from His creation or creatures. He comes to us. He sends the man, who as Matthew’s account of the Christmas story reminds us, is “Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). Of the many promises this season provides, perhaps the most precious is this:

We are never alone, for God has sent a tabernacle in Jesus.

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