“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”John 1:14
“Dwelt” seems like such a King James-ish word. We don’t use this kind of terminology anymore. It is tempting to just say that in the birth of Jesus, the λόγος, in his σάρξ, “lived” among us. But that translation would do a terrible injustice to the doctrinal depth of this passage. This term, σκηνόω, is written only 5 times in the Greek New Testament and every time by John—once here in John 1:14, and the other 4 times in the book of Revelation. In every instance, it is used of God abiding with and among mankind.
This word is a verbal form of the Greek noun “tabernacle (σκῆνος).” Literally, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” The tabernacle was of the utmost importance under the Old Covenant, both literally and figuratively. It was there, in this temporary sanctuary structure, that God chose to abide with and meet with his people (Exodus 25:22). The Old Testament tabernacle and its corresponding sacrificial system were temporary and conditional, for God could not make his eternal dwelling among sinful degradation. For mankind to dwell with God eternally, they had need of a redemption that could never be purchased by the blood of bulls and goats inside a temporary tent (Hebrews 10:4).
The work of the λόγος, “born under the law” (Galatians 4:4), would be to complete in his σάρξ what the tabernacle and the law ultimately could not (Matthew 5:17, Hebrews 9:11-28).
For hundreds of years, Israel sent an offering with a representative into the tabernacle to meet with God on their behalf. Now, in the birth of the Messiah, God offered himself to his people to tabernacle among them directly. The mediator himself became the place of meeting.
“σκηνόω – For hundreds of years, Israel sent an offering with a representative into the tabernacle to meet with God on their behalf. Now, in the birth of the Messiah, God offered himself to his people to tabernacle among them directly. The mediator himself became the place of meeting.”Tweet
This arrangement, too, was temporary. Through his sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary, the tabernacle of Jesus’s flesh would inaugurate a new and living way (Hebrews 10:19-20) for sinful humans—like you and me—to be cleansed and forgiven from their sin and made fit for Heaven, where their eternal dwelling would be in the very presence of God.
Jesus tabernacled among us for a short time so that we might live with him for eternity.
In one sense, everything you do this Christmas will be temporary. Your visits to family and friends, the respite you find in the slowness of the holiday season, and even the most exciting thing you unwrap from beneath the tree… it is all temporary. We are a tabernacling people.
This Christmas, with the COVID19 plague still looming over us, the truth of temporality should be particularly comforting. It’s all temporary. By God’s grace we Christians traverse our temporal arrangement while looking to eternal things yet unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Such a heavenly focus would not have been possible if the λόγος, in his σάρξ, did not σκηνόω among us for a short time. His temporary visit to Earth makes possible our eternal dwelling in Heaven.
So this Christmas, don’t become too enamored with a baby in a manger on a patch of earth’s dirt. The whole point of Jesus temporarily dwelling with us was that we might eternally dwell with him in Heaven.
Grace and Peace,