And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Many of the Christian interpretations of the Tabernacle from the last few centuries begin with this verse from the Gospel of John. The verb "lived" is eskenosen in the original Greek and literally means "lived in a tent." Some understand this to be the same action that God took in relation to the Tabernacle. Indeed, some translations read: "And the Word became flesh and Tabernacled among us." The implication here for many Christians is that by living among His believers, Jesus brought the glory of God to humanity, thus fulfilling the promise made in Exodus that God's glory would live in the Tabernacle with God's people.
But of course Jesus did not physically live in the Tabernacle, nor did He live in the Temple. He was a wanderer, a healer, and a teacher, traveling throughout Israel. For many Christians Jesus fulfills the promise of the Tabernacle, not in a literal way, but symbolically. Modern Christianity, like that of late antiquity, sees the life, death and ministry of Jesus prefigured in the materials and utensils of the Tabernacle. To summarize the myriad of ways this has been done, and is being done today, is an impossible task. A few examples will have to suffice.
One view is that, at a most basic level, the Tabernacle is a symbol for the body of Christ. Not only was Jesus' body an incarnation of the Divine, but it was also sacrificed on the cross just as the animals were sacrificed on the altar. One theologian, John Ritchie, writes that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb, the altar and the priest all at once. These three function separately in the Tabernacle, and are unified in Christ. In his view the objects placed outside the Tabernacle, such as the altar of sacrifices, represent Jesus' life on earth, while the holy and mysterious articles placed inside the Tabernacle represent Jesus' life in heaven.
Another way modern Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity, understands the Tabernacle is as a "road map" for the believer. The Tabernacle is seen as a model for Christian salvation. One must be baptized in the water basin of the courtyard, believe in the suffering and sacrifice of the Son as on the altar, participate in communion and fellowship symbolized by the table of showbread, and engage in a life of prayer symbolized in the altar of burnt offerings.
Many of the most recent Christian interpretations are being done by those
who call themselves "Messianic Jews." These are Jews who feel
called to continue living a Jewish lifestyle while at the same time embracing
Jesus Christ as Messiah. For this community the Tabernacle, as part of
the original covenant with God and as a symbol for the new covenant with
Christ, is an essential image.