The Figure used in Hebrews 9 is the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, not Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem

By Todd Dennis

Hebrews 9:1 Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. 2 For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. 3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; 4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; 5 And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. 6 Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. 7 But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people

AD70 Storyline Fundamentally Different from Historical Christianity’s | The Lord Jesus Christ : Telos and Eschaton | Jerusalem as the Heart | Israel’s History a Type – From Beginning to Very End | Not HyP: Matthew 10:23 | Matthew 16:27-28 | Matthew 26:64

This article is written in opposition to the proposition of certain Futurist and Preterist theologians that Paul had one of Jerusalem’s temples in mind while penning Hebrews 9

In Hebrews 9, Paul is not writing about the necessity for Herod’s Temple to be destroyed by Roman armies. Nor is Paul claiming that the final day will not come until the temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem at some distant time. Paul is not claiming that Herod’s Temple stands in the way of the full establishment of the New Covenant.   Nor is he teaching that that a future temple must be removed to pave the way for the full establishment of the New Covenant for Israel.

Ward Fenley is one representative within the “AD70 Preterism” community for the mistaken usage of the figure in Hebrews 9 in contention that the new covenant blessings would not fully arrive until Herod’s temple was destroyed in AD70:

“Some would say that the Old Covenant was completely done away at the cross, but the writer of Hebrews teaches that this was a process about to be completed at the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. The writer is referring to none other than the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by God through the Roman armies:  Hebrews 9:8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all is not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle is still standing:” Do We Look For Another // “The sheer fact that they could not enter into the holiest of all was the explicit testimony to them that they could not do something that only the high priest could do and that is to enter into the holiest of all. That is precisely why there is so much significance to be placed upon the destruction of the Temple. So it is clear that there is association between the existence of the first tabernacle and the conscience of sins. The rest of the chapter testifies of this conscience of sins and that the complete purging of the conscience of sins was yet future for these first-century believers, while the first tabernacle was still standing: The destruction of the Temple was the outward sign that the worshippers of God were now completely brought into the presence of God, having their conscience completely purged of sins” The Conscience, Adam and the Law / “The transition saints were in the first part of the tabernacle; therefore, for them complete communion in the holiest was not established until the Temple was destroyed” Communion with God (numerous etc from NCMI alone; See Also Max King in The Spirit of Prophecy, Warren, OH: 1971, pp. 268-269).

Despite widespread opinion to the contrary, Paul does not support any scenario whereby a temple is destroyed in Hebrews 9.   Nor, for that matter, is he distinctly using the figure of any temple in Jerusalem — whether from the past, present or future.   Rather, Paul uses another tabernacle altogether to make his point. Utilizing a specific shadow in Israel’s distant historical past to present its present state of fulfillment, the author of Hebrews rejoices in that which has come to pass at Calvary.   

According to the author of Hebrews’ “AD30 Preterist” hermeneutical system, full entrance into the holiest of all is seen as having been made a manifest reality in Jesus Christ.  This transition from old to new is  signified by the courts of the tabernacle in the wilderness.

Following a discussion of the covenants in Hebrews 8, Paul declares that the first covenant was made old when Jeremiah wrote that there was to be a “new covenant” for Israel (Jer. 31:31).   According to his conclusion in Hebrews 8:13, Jewish theologians should not have been surprised by the coming of Christ and His redemptive sacrifice on the cross because of the warning of Jeremiah. 

After this contrast of covenants, Paul narrows his focus in chapter nine.-

Hebrews 9 begins with a specific focus on “a tabernacle made”. The proper identification of this tabernacle is very important, because that will ultimately help explain verse 8, where we are told that “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing”.

The focal point of his storyline narrows from the sanctuary (hagion) in verse 1 to the tabernacle (skene) in verse two. This narrowing of focus to the skene is likewise important in properly reading verse 8, where that which was “yet standing” was the skene and not the hagion

Rather, the Greek word skene, translated “tabernacle” or “tent” in 9:2, is used by Paul to identify the Old Testament tabernacle in the wilderness.

Paul is using a visible figure to point out the teaching of the Holy Spirit regarding Jesus Christ.   At no point is any bricked temple in Jerusalem used as a part of either his figure, or in the ultimate meaning assigned to the figure used.   (The only sense in which this could be said to be true is if we consider Jesus one of Jerusalem’s temples.)    Futurist commentators who wish to mystically make Paul’s figure in Hebrews 9 refer to a temple building in Jerusalem (such as a supposed future “third temple”) are misreading the passage as well as those who wish to make Paul’s figure refer to the fall of Jerusalem by the armies of Titus in AD70.

The tabernacle in view is the same as spoken of in Acts 7:44:

“Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.” (KJV, unless specified)

In the previous chapter in Hebrews, Paul uses the same Old Testament reference as part of his context:

“Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.” (Hebrews 8:5)

The identification of this tabernacle is amply demonstrated by the author’s long discussion of the exodus of Israel and their wilderness episode in the previous chapters. In addition, that the author is using the wilderness tabernacle as his figure in this passage is evidenced by the contents of the tabernacle in consideration:

“And behind the second veil was a sacred tent called the Holy of holies. 4 This had a censer of gold, and the ark of the Covenant lined with gold and completely covered with gold, and in it were a gold vase which held the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded and the tables of the Covenant.” (Hebrews 9:3-4)

Evidence of the identification of the wilderness tabernacle as Paul’s figure abounds. The inclusion of the “ark of the covenant” — among other items – demonstrates well enough that it is not Herod’s Temple under consideration.   Even though the ark would have been in Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, even that is not in view according to numerous indications. 

Moses Stuart, a scholar respected by nearly all preterists, is cited by the editor of Calvin’s Commentary on Hebrews for support, in that he wrote,

Our author is speaking of the tabernacle, and not of the temple; still less of the second temple, which must have lacked even the tables of testimony. The probability is, that the ark, during its many removals, and in particular during its captivity by the Philistines, was deprived of those sacred deposits, for we hear no more concerning them.”

In addition to the contents of the tabernacle, the parts of speech used by Paul to refer back to the wilderness tabernacle reflect an edifice which is no longer in existence. Precisely identifying the author’s focal point through the conjugation of verbs (whether they refer to his historical past, his historical present or his historical future), is difficult — particularly when he uses complex points of view, such as later on when he refers to the rituals of a long gone tabernacle using a sense of “historical present.” Because of these difficulties, a lot of “wiggle room” is afforded for theological opportunists, who may wish to support the idea that Paul was referring to a Jerusalemite temple in his present or future.

However, there is general agreement in the early part of the chapter that Paul was looking backwards in time. Consistently, the past tense is used – even in Weymouth — to illustrate the tabernacle that was in the author’s historical past:

Hebrews 9:

  • “had” also its sanctuary (v. 1)

  • in which “were” the lamp and the table (v. 2)

  • “was” a sacred tent (v. 3)

  • “had” a censer of gold (v. 4)

  • wherein “was” the golden pot (v. 4)

  • “were” a gold vase (v. 4)

  • “held” the manna (v. 4)

  • “were” the Cherubim (v. 5)

It is instructive to note that when we get to verse six, though, interpreters tend to break off in two distinct directions. Whereas the Authorized Version maintains the continuity of Paul’s figure, those who wish to make Herod’s Temple suddenly the new focal point of Paul’s figure change “directions” through the conjugation of the verbs.

Ironically, Preterist and Futurist opportunists find fellowship in preferring to see a dramatic shift in time in verse six — switching from the wilderness to Paul’s own day. The difference in time works out to roughly 1,400 years!     And in another point of irony, these passage reveal another occasion where “AD70 Preterists” rely upon the NON fulfillment of prophecy in order to support their dispensationalist scheme.

Regarding this dramatic fast forward, the Weymouth translation of the New Testament in Modern English (1900) is worthy of special consideration.  As has been shown in the past, this is the most “preterist friendly” Bible version, being written by Richard Francis Weymouth (“If this belief ever obtains general acceptance the earlier date of the Apocalypse will also be regarded as fully established. For it will then be seen that the book describes beforehand events which took place in 70 A.D.”) and Ernest Hampden Cook (co-editor and author of “The Christ Has Come”) in order to best represent their hyper preteristic assumptions.  

Not surprisingly, this slanted version has all of the verbs switching to the present tense as though Herod’s Temple was in mind:


King James Version

Weymouth Version


the priests “went”

“continually enter”


“went” the high priest

The high priest “goes”


he “offered”

he “offers”


first tabernacle “was” yet standing

outer tent “still remains”


“was” a figure

“is” a figure


time “then present”

time “now present”


“were” offered

“are” offered


“could not” make

they “are”


which “stood”

efficacy “depends”

Perhaps the best clue that our author is not switching the content of his figure at verse six (besides the silence regarding such a switch), is found in v. 6 (“a regular genitive absolute referring back to the whole of vv. 1-5” Ellingworth), where he wrote, “Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle…” Though some claim that the change in verse six is a change in focus to the author’s own time, it seems rather obvious that the change is simply a narrowing of the focus to highlight more closely the particulars of the priestly services in the wilderness tabernacle already under discussion.

Dr. John Owen (1616 – 1683) agrees with the identification of the tabernacle in the wilderness as the continuing point of Paul’s focus.  Commenting on the first 10 verses of the chapter, Dr. Owen wrote:

“the apostle in this whole discourse not only (a) respects the tabernacle, and not the temple, but (b) he considers the first erection of the tabernacle in a peculiar manner.” (p. 247) Commenting on verse 9 specifically, Owen wrote, “he intends not the time that was then present when he wrote the epistle, not the times of the gospel, not the time after the resurrection of Christ until the destruction of the temple, for God had prepared another kind of instruction for that season, and not by parables, or mystical metaphors.” (pp. 246,247; cf. Lenski, p. 251)

Certainly, Preterists and Futurists alike may support their interpretation by claiming that in a mystical or theologically “synecdochal sense”, Paul is referring to many things — including the wilderness tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple, Zerubbabel’s temple, the Old Testament period as a whole (including the exilic period when there were NO SACRIFICES being offered in any established tabernacle or temple), the old covenant in and of itself, as well as Herod’s Temple (and in a very few cases, sacrifices in Jerusalem following AD70, as recorded by sacred and secular writers). However, such reading into the text is not considered consistent exegesis among those who claim to disdain “multiple fulfillments” and “hidden senses”, while championing a historical and grammatical method of interpreting of the scriptures.

Paul, when using the wilderness tabernacle as his figure, specifically chooses that structure which was initially and most directly ordained by God to Moses.   Surely, we can differ as to what the Holy Spirit signifies by that figure, but we mustn’t read a “spiritual sense” into the concrete and specific usage of the figure itself.

And the figure Paul uses in Hebrews 9 is the tabernacle in the wilderness — NOT the temple of Herod.   

Therefore, the figure Paul presents in Hebrews 9 is the standing and officiating of the wilderness tabernacle, not Herod’s Temple.

2) First and Second: Hebrews 9:6-12 Contrasts Two Divisions, not Two Temples

Summation on Hebrews 9:8 – The point is that while one was still in the antechamber, the way into the innermost (second) tabernacle was obscured… but once entered into the holy of holies (as Christians were already long before AD70 – 10:19-22, the type finding its fulfillment in AD30 not AD70) then the outer (first) tabernacle is made “without standing.”

The author is not looking to the FUTURE for the “coming new things” but to the PAST, as fulfilled when Jesus said “it is finished” and the veil of separation tore.

Equation: While the first has standing, the second is obscured. When the second is entered, the first loses all standing. Therefore, boldly enter through the veil: the torn body of Jesus.

What do YOU think ?

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Date: 07 Dec 2009
Time: 22:21:47

Your Comments:

The text is obvious. I completely agree. The destruction of the temple is NOT what completed anything, it only revealed what Christ had completed. That is a major difference. Because for those who already saw Christs work, the whole picture, are we saying that AD 33 and Christs resurrection was not enough for them to enter the holiest place? Until AD 70, he was not the High Priest yet? Thats saying a lot, and frankly, unbiblical.

Date: 27 Jan 2010
Time: 19:14:59

Your Comments:

Dear Todd: Blessing and health in the Lord Jesus.
The reason the writer of the epistle of the Hebrews used the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, and not Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem is because the Jews were idolatrous of the religion. This is clear in Matthew 24:1. Even Jesus’ disciples were marveled about the buildings, the offerings and precious stones. The Hebrews were in the attitude of apostasy. The figures were used to show the inside part of their hearts not to show Herod’ temple, but the reality is that the temple was still standing anyway. They needed to understand that Jesus and the new covenant are superior than the old system that was passing away at that precise time. The Jews
were looking for their country, their traditions, their religion. They were trying to resist the persecutions but in their minds they were looking back. This same mind was operating in the minds of their ancestors in the wilderness. They wanted to turn back to their slavery. Moses was the instrument to deliver the people from Egypt. He was their legislator in Mount Sinai. One of the things the legislation prescribed was the tabernacle. We know that the writer of Hebrews told the Jews that this is a figure of the things about to come. They were in the process of waiting for a better tabernacle, a better covenant, a better mediator, a better country which is celestial and not of the earth. Is indisputable that although Jesus completed his sacrifice in the Cross, the transition period after the Cross, the forty years after the cross were a time of test and at the same time, a period of revival to receive the completion of the redemption paid. They were in the process of reach salvation that was ready to be revealed. The writer of Hebrews did not enter in all the details about the furniture or the tabernacle. He just made an introduction of the idea so that the Jews may understand the difference between the things that pertains to the former creation, that was the old creation in their time, and to see the things that pertains to the new creation that was started by the new covenant paid in the cross by Jesus.
I was reading the site for several years. I do recognize your contribution to the understanding of the matter of eschatology and other subjects. I do understand that everyone have the right to change their ideas based on the analysis of the bible and other sources. But it is necessary to clarify to the people in general about this particular subject. In my country, Puerto Rico, there is a war of ideas about the subject of the second coming of Jesus and all the eschatology stuff. There is a lot of questions to find answers. The people are in confusion. Some persons are looking for signs. Other are leaving the congregations because they do not find the real answers. If we profess some kind of realized eschatology or a combination of the same with idealism we will confront persecution and misunderstanding. You have to clarify which is the real truth and let away the debate of ideas. You have a ministry in the internet that is very important to much people.

[TD: First things first, last things last.  Focus on Calvary and all will be well with your souls.]

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