Because the Bible is one unified gospel narrative, we know that the gospel can even be found in a passage like Exodus 27, which provides detailed specifications for the altar of sacrifice, the courtyard, and the lamp in the tabernacle.
The outer altar taught the Old Testament believer that the only way into relationship with God was through sacrifice. (Exodus 27:1-8) This outer altar was the very first thing that a worshipper would see when entering into the tabernacle courtyard. The altar had horns, which were used to bind the animal that was being sacrificed to the altar. (Psalm 118:27)
Every piece of furniture in the tabernacle, including the altar, was designed with rings and poles to be carried. (Exodus 27:6-7) At this point, Israel is a wandering people, so the tabernacle was a mobile church. It says something about God that He is willing to wander with His people. And so the altar is portable and the poles remain in the altar even when it’s stationary to remind the people of God’s identification with them. Wandering in the wilderness? God wants to journey with you. He wants you to experience his love and his presence where you are.
The existence of the altar visibly drove home the point to every worshiper in Israel for 1500 years that you could not come into God’s presence without sacrifice. (Hebrews 9:22) Of course, it is still the same today. Without the shedding of blood, there still is no forgiveness of sins. Thankfully, Scripture teaches that the blood that was shed for our forgiveness was shed by Jesus on the cross. (Hebrews 9:13-14) Not only is Jesus our sacrifice. Jesus is actually our altar! (Hebrews 13:10) This is the reason many churches today, particularly protestant churches, don’t have actual altars in them. We do have an altar, and that altar is Jesus Christ. The entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was replaced by Christ, who is our tabernacle, our altar, and our sacrifice!!
The courtyard (Exodus 27:9-19) points to God’s holiness and to reconciliation. To be holy, was to be separate, to separate from the world. The later temples that were built in Jerusalem, Solomon’s temple and Herod’s temple had courtyards as well. In fact, Herod’s temple had four courtyards. There was a courtyard for the priests. There was a courtyard for Jewish males. There was a courtyard for Jewish females. And then there was a courtyard called the courtyard of the Gentiles. And these courts were separated by dividing walls. And Josephus, a Jewish historian, says that there was even a signed warning that if Gentiles entered into any of the other courts they would face death. But in Ephesians 2:14 Paul says, “He Himself,” Jesus Christ Himself, “is our peace who made both groups in to one speaking of Jews and Gentiles, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” The old ceremonial system was removed in Christ, so that all those who believe in Him, both Jew and Gentile, are one. It’s a beautiful picture of reconciliation. The courtyard separated sacred space for the worshipers. But it also separated classes of people, and Jesus Christ, in His redemptive work, brings together those who have been separated as they believe in Him.
One last thing. Check out, in Exodus 27:20-21, the perpetually burning lamp, called the ner tamid. This perpetually burning lamp reminded worshippers of the presence of God. Once the tabernacle was constructed, once the tent was set up, nobody but one priest, once a year, would go inside the holy of holies. But outside that holy of holies, in front of the closed veil, in front of the closed curtains, sat a lamp. That lamp visibly reminded the people of the presence of God. It is this lamp that is being referenced in Revelation 22:5 when Scripture says that in the new heaven and the new earth, “There will no longer be any night and they will not have need of the light of a lamp, nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them and they will reign forever and forever.” In other words, there will be no need of a lamp to represent the presence of God because His people will continually enjoy His presence forever.