Sprinkling the Incense Altar

 •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 8
"And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about.
THE words " until he come out and have made an atonement," see ver. 17, seem at first to be violated by the beginning of the above passage, " and he shall go out unto the altar that is before the Lord."
" The altar before the Lord " is not the altar of burnt-offering in the court of the tabernacle, but the altar of incense in the holy place; so that Aaron did not go out of the tabernacle itself, he only went out from the holy of holies where the ark stood into the holy place. He did not go out into the court of the tabernacle until he had finished the work of atonement towards God, for himself, and the people; and also had cleansed the holy places.
The blood of the bullock, the sin-offering for himself, and for his house; and the blood of the goat, the sin-offering for the people, was put upon the horns, and sprinkled seven times upon the altar of incense, as the blood of the same sin-offerings had been before sprinkled on the mercy-seat and ark. By this means the altar was cleansed and hallowed from the uncleannesses of the children of Israel. In Ex. 30 to, this atonement is anticipated. " Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the Lord."
The mercy-seat was the throne of glory where God manifested His presence-He dwelt between the Cherubim. The incense altar was the holy vessel from which, day and night, the holy perfume ascended from burning coals of fire, filling the tabernacle with fragrance. It was, we may say, the active vessel of the tabernacle. The blood of atonement accomplished a double purpose: the uncleannesses, transgressions, and sins of Israel were purged away from before God in the holiest; and the altar of incense was cleansed from all defilement attaching to it through their uncleannesses, and was made ready to receive the burning coals and incense as if it had been for the first time made and hallowed for that purpose.
We see in this type a figure of the atonement completed by the Lord Jesus with regard to the purging of our sins, and the consequent exercise of His priesthood in ceaseless intercession, like the golden altar before the Lord, continually sending up its cloud of sweet incense. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, these two blessed services of our great High Priest are clearly distinguished from one another. If we regard the question of atonement for sin, the Lord Jesus has sat down, having completed that work. Four times in this Epistle are the words " sat down " repeated.
" When he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high," 1:3.
" We have such an high priest who is set on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens," 8:1.
" Every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this one, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God," 10:11,12.
" Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God," 12: 2.
The expressions are remarkably varied in these four passages as to where the Lord has sat down.
" On the right hand of the Majesty on high."
" On the right hand of God."
" On the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens."
" On the right hand of the throne of God."
We may gather some instruction from these changes of expression. In the first quotation there seems to be a striking contrast between purging sins, and the Majesty on high. Who could have expected that one who had been engaged in such a work as cleansing away sins, with all their guilt and defilements, would have immediately taken His place at the right hand of the highest glory? Yet such is the dignity of His person, and such was the greatness of His work-such the lowliness of His obedience, that He was exalted to the highest place of glory, from the lowest place of suffering and humiliation.
A cross of curse and shame where He purged our sins, followed by a grave in which His body lay in the helplessness of death, was the pathway taken by the Lord Jesus to reach His place of super-exaltation.
In the second quotation we have Jesus as the High Priest sat down on the right hand of God, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever. In many of our Bibles the stopping of this verse is different, reading thus-" when he had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down." And this perhaps is the more correct punctuation. The purport of the passage being to tell us that Christ has sat down in perpetuity, or forever, in respect to the fact of His having offered one sacrifice for sins. He has officially taken His seat at the right hand of God with regard to a work that is finished. He will never rise from that seat about sacrifice for sins, for that is accomplished once for all. Other priests had to stand daily and yearly. No seat was provided for them in the tabernacle, or in the court of the tabernacle, for their work was never finished. Sins were never put away-the worshippers were never purged. God was never satisfied. Atonement was never perfected. But our High Priest has sat down on the right hand of God, for atonement has been made to God. God's will has been accomplished-God's holiness has been forever satisfied. God's indignation against sin has been forever appeased. And He has received His Son, and has said to Him, " sit Thou at my right hand " in token of His delight in Him, and in His completed work, and as an evidence to us, that all wrath and judgment against sin has been completely poured out and ended in the death of Jesus.
Thus the fact that Christ is seated at the right hand of God is the sure ground of peace to the soul of the believer. Salvation is accomplished, and Christ can henceforth expect " that his enemies shall be made his footstool," when He rises from the right hand of God, and comes to take vengeance on them. His heart is at rest respecting those who believe in Him, for " by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified."
In the third quotation the Lord is looked upon in the greatness and glory of His priesthood. " We have such an High Priest." A glory and excellency which are His own. A priesthood which derives all its dignity and power from Him who is the great High Priest. His being seated " on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" witnesses to the power as well as the dignity of the High Priest. He can exercise the might of that throne on behalf of His people. He can bring us, and keep us nigh to that throne of Majesty in the heavens.
In the last passage, " Jesus the author and finisher of faith," is presented to us as the great example to whom we are to look in running our race. He " endured the cross despising the shame." And where is He now? What is the goal which He has reached? What is the joy which was set before Him, and which He has attained? He is " set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Rejected, and despised, and crucified by man; God has received Him, God has counted Him worthy of the highest place of glory on His throne.
He has fought the fight For us. He is the " Captain of our salvation." He is the " forerunner" who has entered in for us. And if we keep our eye on Him we shall find grace and faith ministered to follow Him; and He will come again and receive us to Himself, and will grant us to sit with him in his throne, even as he also hath overcome, and is set down with his Father in his throne. Rev. 3:2121To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (Revelation 3:21).
Thus by Himself He hath purged our sins-by one offering He hath perfected us forever as holy ones to God. He has also made a way for us into the very presence of God, to the throne of glory, the throne of grace in the holiest where He Himself has entered. So far He has "sat down," having " put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." All obstructions, all hindrances are put away, and we can have confidence of access into the holiest.
But there is another ministration of our High Priest which is perpetual, and in respect of which the words " sat down" do not apply. That is, His ministry of intercession; of which it is said, " this one because he continueth ever bath an unchangeable priesthood: wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them," 7:24, 25. And " Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us," 9: 24. And, " Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." Rom. 8:3434Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (Romans 8:34).
This incessant service of intercession is the result of, and is grounded upon, the shedding of His blood. It is the perpetuating the voice of that precious blood in God's presence; and it shelters those who have been atoned for by that blood under the full fragrance of Him that shed it. As the incense altar was established on the ground of the sprinkled blood on the day of atonement, so the Lord Jesus takes His place as the interceding High Priest, because He has fully answered for sin by the sacrifice of Himself. His death has met the wrath of God, and saved His people from all condemnation, whether due to them " as children of wrath by nature," or on account of their sins. His intercession covers every failure of which they may be guilty as the children God, and continues on their great salvation in all its completeness until the very end-the day of their redemption; when they will stand in resurrection glory around the Lamb, and when their salvation in the fullest sense of the word will be perfected.
We have in the passage above quoted from the Romans a fourfold answer to all condemnation. The Apostle having answered the question, " Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect," by the declaration that " it is GOD that justifieth;" next asks " Who is he that condemneth? " Who can condemn us as sinners? Christ has died. He has answered in His death entirely for our sins. Yea, rather He is risen again: a full proof that His death was all sufficient. He has paid the penalty of which His resurrection is the evidence. He is even at the right of God. God therefore has been fully satisfied-God is well pleased with what His blessed Son has accomplished; and has raised Him in consequence to the highest place of dignity and power.
And who shall condemn us as saints? We are indeed most weak, most feeble; poor specimens of saved sinners; and but indifferent followers of the Lamb; and very distant imitators of God as His children. But who can condemn? for Christ is not only in the presence of God for us, but " also maketh intercession for us." " We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," who has identified Himself with our cause, who will maintain our cause to the end. And " He is the propitiation for our sins." Not only bar been in His death, but is Himself by virtue of that death, the one who can answer for all our sins. According to another passage in the Epistle to the Romans, " God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Rom. 5:8, 108But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)
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Here we have Christ dying for us as sinners, and complete justification through that death; and all wrath which might break forth against us (because of our disobedience even as justified persons) averted through Him in resurrection: for if when we were enemies, the death of God's Son for us reconciled us to God-much more now that we have been reconciled, and are friends and children of God, shall we have salvation continued to the end, and perfected in the life of Christ for us at the right hand of God, in Him who ever liveth to make intercession for us.
The intercession of Christ also covers over all defects of our worship and prayers, like the incense which was added to the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of which mingling with the prayers of the saints ascended up before God. Rev. 8:3,43And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. (Revelation 8:3‑4). So the full value of Christ, the propitiation for our sins, and the sweet odor of His obedience in death render our worship acceptable to God.
Two great objects were accomplished by Aaron on the day of atonement: blood was sprinkled on the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat in the holiest. Thus atonement was made for himself and the sins of the people before God. And the incense altar was also established in the holy place in fresh purity, through the blood, so that a perpetual incense could thenceforth ascend from it to God. At that time the vail separated the holy place from the most holy. The vail is now rent; the holy places are thereby thrown into one. The intercession of Christ is therefore in the holiest of all, and we as priests have access into the holiest.
This work of Aaron in the holy places being accomplished by himself alone; he then came out; and we have next the service of Aaron in the court of the tabernacle where the people were assembled.