Our Altar

Hebrews 13:10  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 10
In olden time an altar was the usual way of approach to God. It might be simply connected with calling on the name of the Lord, as we find in Abraham; or it might be for offering sacrifices, as was done by Noah and others.
The altar had a central place among the children of Israel; for whole burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, peace-offerings, and sin-offerings were there presented to God. Blood too was put upon the horns of the altar, sprinkled upon it, round about it, and poured out at the bottom of the altar. The altar of burnt-offering was thus a connecting-link between the people and Jehovah; that which was done in service with it, while it was blessedly typical and instructive to us, was of a kind suited to a people who were outside the veil -a people in the flesh, with an earthly calling and hope, and outside the holiest of all, the place of God's presence.
The people were so identified with the altar that certain parts of some of the offerings thus presented to God were to be eaten. Hence we read, " Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?" (1 Cor. 10:1818Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? (1 Corinthians 10:18)) This was their altar, and their jealousy was properly stirred if anything seemed to interfere with THE ALTAR for all Israel; for they knew that by it they were remarkably connected with Jehovah. When on one occasion the other tribes heard that the Reubenites had built an altar on the borders of Jordan-"a great altar to see to" -they were greatly alarmed, and severely censured them, because it appeared to be divisive of the one nation, and to rival the one altar which was for all the people who formed the one family of Israel; and they were only satisfied by the Reubenites assuring them that they had not built an altar by Jordan for offering sacrifices thereon, but for a witness. They said, " God forbid that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn this day from following the Lord, to build an altar for burnt-offerings, for meat-offerings*, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the Lord our God that is before His tabernacle." (Josh. 22:2929God forbid that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn this day from following the Lord, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the Lord our God that is before his tabernacle. (Joshua 22:29)) It is clear then that Israel had an altar, and that altar was the altar of Jehovah their God, with whom they were in covenant relationship.
We see also in the days of Ezra the prominent place which was given to the altar when the children of Israel returned from their captivity. It was the first thing they set up, as if they could not approach God, or be connected with Him, on any other ground. We are told they " builded THE ALTAR of the Lord God of Israel to offer burnt-offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set THE ALTAR upon his bases... and they offered burnt-offerings thereon unto Jehovah." (Ezra 3:2,32Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. 3And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt offerings morning and evening. (Ezra 3:2‑3))
But Israel's altar was associated with many and oft-repeated offerings which could never " take away sins." There was, therefore, the bringing of sins continually to remembrance, without giving remission, so that the conscience was not purged. The worshippers too, even Aaron's sons, the priests, could not draw near, could not enter into the holiest of all, because the veil was up, to show that no one even of those who were connected with the altar and partakers of the sacrifices could enter into God's presence. They were thus at a distance from God. These sons of Aaron, with all their privileges, notwithstanding the exalted office they held, the garments for glory and for beauty divinely given them, and all the grandeur of the ritual system in which they occupied so important a position, could not with all have a purged conscience, or have access into the place of God's presence. The high priest only, and that not without blood and incense, could go there and live, and that only once in a whole year. This ritual system of altar, sacrifices, and priests, with its worldly sanctuary, though of divine origin, was of an earthly order, and shadowed good things to come. The many and oft-repeated sacrifices could not give a perfect conscience, because they could not take away sins. The veil standing, and an order of priesthood between God and the people, showed, as well as their altar with many and oft-repeated sacrifices, that the people were at a distance from God, and had not " access with confidence."
But we Christians have an altar, and our altar is very different from Israel's. Those who are outside the veil have no authority to eat at the altar we have. It is impossible that it should be so; for it is for those who know that the veil has been rent from the top to the bottom, and that the Forerunner has for us entered, after having appeared here to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, so that now we have liberty by faith to be inside the veil in the very presence of God, without a fear, by the blood of Jesus, and that for communion and worship. " We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." Our altar then is inside the veil; it is our way of approach to God. As the blood upon the mercy-seat typically set forth that sins had been judged, that all the propitiatory value of the sacrifice was always before God, as well as the merits of Christ in the perfume of the sweet incense, so He both invites and welcomes us there where He is, who entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. Our altar then is not seen, but blessedly known to faith. It is connected only with one sacrifice, which was offered once for all, and because of its everlasting value need never to be repeated. Its eternal efficacy is ever before God; by it the believer's conscience is purged, so that he can be in God's presence as a purged worshipper. Wondrous privilege! By this one offering he is sanctified or set apart for God, and "perfected forever." The infinite value of this one sacrifice for sins is also known by the fact that the One who offered it is sitting down in perpetuity on the right hand of God. "There remaineth therefore no more sacrifice for sins."
The presence of the Savior now in the glory of God, who was once the Sin-bearer on the cross, plainly proves that our sins have been taken away forever. God, whose holiness demanded that the Sin-bearer should be forsaken, and who unsparingly poured out upon Him the judgment due for our sins, not only raised Him from among the dead, for our justification, but gave Him the highest place in glory at His own right hand as alone adequate for what He had done as having glorified God in the earth, and having finished the work which He gave Him to do. The rending of the veil was also God's way of showing us His perfect satisfaction with the work of atonement, and that distance between Himself and the believer had been judicially removed, and forever.
Our altar then is founded on the precious fact that our sins have been judged, and that we have a purged conscience; for God hath said, "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." We draw near therefore in the consciousness of this, and the presence of Him there, who went into heaven itself by His own blood, is our unquestionable title to be there, so that we enter in with "boldness."
Do we enjoy this blessed way of approach to God? Have we known what it is thus to "draw near," being assured of God's welcoming us on the ground of the precious blood of His own Son? If so, what can be our employ when there but praise and thanksgiving? In the consciousness of the eternal efficacy of the blood of Jesus, how can we hesitate to take our place inside the veil as purged worshippers who have " no more conscience of sins "? Consciousness of sin in us-a sinful nature-we shall have; and it may be the sorrowful consciousness of having sinned as God's children, and calling us to self-judgment and confession in answer to the advocacy of Christ Jesus with the Father, before forgiveness is realized and our communion restored. But we are told that " the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins;" that is, the believer's conscience has been purged by the blood of Christ, and he is perfected forever by that one offering, though he may yet fail, and sin, and be greatly distressed on account of it; but he can never be a sinner in his sins again under the burden, and guilt, and condemnation which his conscience once knew. Being perfected forever by that one offering, and having God's assurance in His own word that He will no more remember his sins and iniquities, he can happily take his place before God inside the veil as knowing forgiveness of sins, having a purged conscience, and being a purged worshipper. How rich and marvelous is this blessedness! How could a Jew, however godly, know such happy nearness to God? Is it any wonder then that it is said that " we have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat (which serve the tabernacle "? The word of the Spirit therefore to us is, "By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually."
But if our approach now is so near to God that we are able to come by faith where Jesus is as purged worshippers, what must be our place necessarily on earth? If we have now access with confidence where Christ is, surely no other place can suit us on earth but what suits Him. He certainly finds a spot on earth where He can be, and where He is; and where is that? Is it everywhere? The Lord Jesus being a divine Person, He cannot but be in every place beholding the evil and the good; but He graciously gives His own presence, and takes His place in the midst of two or three who are gathered together in His name. There may be in Christendom a loud profession of Christianity, largely organized systems to which the Savior's name is attached to give them credit; they may bear the stamp of antiquity, boast of hereditary and successional claims, and, like the Jews, speak of some things among them having had a divine origin, be zealous also in observing ordinances, and yet be so far from subjection to the Lord Jesus, and so indifferent as to care for the truth of God as to become a "camp," which the faithful are enjoined to leave. On earth, as in heaven, the Holy Spirit presents to us CHRIST, not men; CHRIST, not tradition, as the central Object of gathering. (Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)) As to our place on earth, we have, amidst all the confusion, to find out the spot where the Lord Jesus Christ is in the midst, around whom are those who "call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (2 Tim. 2:2222Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22))
Having found our true place at our "altar" inside the veil, it is then said, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." Observe here the question is not one of separation from the world, right as that is, but it is to go "outside the camp" of religiousness to the Lord Jesus in this time of His rejection, and suffer the reproach that may be connected with this faithful step. It is remarkable that the inspired writer quotes the sin-offering on the day of atonement for instruction as to this; for the blood of some of their sacrifices was carried inside the veil to the presence of God, and put upon the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat; and afterward the body was burned outside, the camp; and the reference to Jesus having died without the gate of the city as the antitype makes it clear that "the camp" was in those days the religious system of the Jews who had rejected Christ. The temple was then standing, and as there was a disposition in the Hebrew Christians to go back to Judaism, the inspired writer shows them that the path of faith is outside it all With, Christ, bearing His reproach. No doubt Christendom has taken the place of Judaism, by reducing the heavenly principles of the Church of God to an earthly, successional, and established religion on earth, and setting up again an earthly order of priesthood to accredit it, and also to give it a visible and permanent footing in the world which knew not Christ. The true believer, however, may say that "Here" (not only as to the world, but as to any established religiousness in it) " we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come;" and knows that the Lord is coming quickly.
It is important also to perceive in this epistle that there is no exhortation to go to Christ outside the camp until believers are brought as purged worshippers inside the veil. No doubt the order is divine. We cannot learn our true place on earth, but by first taking possession of our true place in the heavenlies where the Lord Jesus is. The blood was first carried into the holy place before the victim was burnt without the camp. First, it is said, "Let us draw near by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh;" and after this it is said, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." (Heb. 10:20-22; 13:1320By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21And having an high priest over the house of God; 22Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:20‑22)
13Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. (Hebrews 13:13)
) Then walk follows.
But the Israelite had frequently to offer sacrifices; and have we no sacrifices to offer? Yes, indeed we have, and that "continually," as we have before observed. But what are they? They are "spiritual sacrifices " of praise and thanksgiving, and they are temporal sacrifices to those who need. But although our approach is so very near, and our blessings heavenly and eternal, all founded on the atoning death of Christ, and all secured for us by Him who is gone into heaven itself by His own blood, and now appears before the face of God for us, we are again reminded that it is "by Him." that our sacrifices are acceptable to God- "By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
H. H. S.