A PREFIGURE OF CHURCH HISTORY
The history of the tabernacle with the ark is a prefigure of church history, giving us a full portrait of the course and situation of the church from the very beginning to the present time. There are five main aspects:
(1) The Church with Christ in It
In the beginning the tabernacle contained the ark. As God’s dwelling-place, the two were one. That was normal. The tabernacle was the very expression, and the ark was the content. This prefigures the first stage of the church: Christ was contained in the church; the church was the expression of Christ, and Christ was the very content of the church. On the day of Pentecost Christ was in the church. At that day Christ was the ark and the church was the tabernacle. That was the absolutely normal condition.
(2) The Church without Christ in It
History reveals that this wonderful situation, this pleasant prospect of the ark contained in the tabernacle, did not last long. The ark was captured because of the failure of the people of God. The ark was separated from the tabernacle, and the tabernacle became empty. This portrays the failures of the Christians causing the church to lose the reality and presence of Christ. This is the second aspect, the second situation. Christ as the very content was separated from the church, and the church became an empty vessel, just an outward expression with no inward reality. In principle, this sort of abnormal situation has been existing for many centuries. Even today, many so-called Christian churches are empty tabernacles without Christ in them as the reality. The biggest problem today is the so-called church without Christ’s presence within it. How much of Christ do you sense when you attend some “church” services? When I was young, I attended two different kinds of so-called churches, and I must confess that not once did I have the sense of meeting Christ in their services. Because of the sins of Christians and the failures of churches, Christ has departed from many so-called churches. All that remains is an empty tabernacle.
(3) Christ without the Church
The third situation prefigured in the Old Testament is that of the ark without the tabernacle. Firstly in the house of Abinadab at Kirjath-jearim for twenty years (1 Sam. 7:1-2) and then in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite for three months (2 Sam. 6:10-12) the ark was apart from the tabernacle. The blessing of God came upon Obed-edom’s house because of the ark’s presence, yet the tabernacle was still in Shiloh, separated from the ark. This third condition when compared with the second is much better. However, it is still not normal. Church history reveals that from the second century to the present time there have been many Obed-edoms. There have been many persons with the reality and presence of Christ in their personal lives. The ark was with them, but this was not the normal state. Throughout church history there have consistently been these two conditions. There has always been the situation of Shiloh, that of the tabernacle without the ark. That is the condition of the so-called formal churches—they are the tabernacle without the reality, without Christ. And there have also been so many dear Obed-edoms, people with Christ in their lives and Christ in their homes.
If you were confronted with these two conditions, which would you choose? Would you go to Shiloh, to the empty tabernacle? Or would you take the ark? When Solomon was a young king, he thought that if he would worship by offering his offerings to the Lord he must do it at the tabernacle. So he went to Gibeon (which possibly was another name for Shiloh) with his people to offer sacrifices to God. He was using his natural understanding apart from revelation or vision. At Gibeon (Shiloh) the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and asked him what he desired. Solomon requested wisdom from the Lord, and the Lord truly answered him. The next morning when Solomon awakened, he had the wisdom: he became clear that he was not in the right place. He had to return to the ark. He had received wisdom in a vision (2 Chron. 1:3-13; 1 Kings 3:15).
Both conditions, the tabernacle without the ark and the ark apart from the tabernacle are abnormal. But comparatively speaking, the first is worse than the second. When you are confronted by these two conditions, you must go to the ark rather than to the empty tabernacle. However, the ark alone will not give full satisfaction, for it is only one-half of the total picture. The best, normal, and satisfying situation is that of the ark within the tabernacle. Many Christians readily agree to go to Obed-edom’s house, to the place where Christ is. They think that as long as they have Christ, everything is all right. But this is not completely right. You have the content, but you do not have the vessel; you have the reality without the expression. You still need a proper church, a proper tabernacle. The ark is important, but you still need a tabernacle. Christ is the reality, but you still need the church as the expression of Christ. If Christ is separated from the church, it is better to choose Christ; but this is still an abnormal situation. We must have the church with Christ within it.
(The Vision of God's Building, Chapter 10, by Witness Lee)