There’s an interesting parallel between Israel’s encounter with God at Sinai in Exodus 24 and the description of the tabernacle/temple in later Old Testament accounts. In Exodus 24, God instructs Moses to bring the elders of Israel with him up on the mountain of Sinai to worship “from afar.” The people were not allowed to come to the mountain or even touch it, but the Moses and the elders were invited up. From there, Moses alone was invited up into the heart of the glory of God which covered the mountain, and there he was for forty days.
After the tabernacle was completed, the common Israelite worshiper could come through the outer wall into the courtyard, but could not approach the Tent of Meeting itself (Numbers 18:21-22). The Levites ministered in the outer court and in the Holy Place, inside the Tent of Meeting, but could go no further. Into the Holy of Holies, where God’s glory rested, only the High Priest was allowed, and even he only once a year (Leviticus 16, Hebrews 9:6-7).
There are probably many reasons why this was so at Sinai and in the tabernacle. One thing it certainly serves to show is that God’s glory was hidden at the same time that it was on display. The glory-cloud would have been unmistakeable; the tabernacle and temple drew every eye. But God’s secret heart, his covenantal presence, was only revealed to Moses and the High Priest.
Enter the New Testament.
When Jesus was lifted up to public view on Golgotha, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. No separations, no distinctions- God’s glory in Christ was on display for all the world to see. In the Old Covenant, if God and man came too close to each other man would die. In the New Covenant the God-Man died to bring man into the heart of his glory.