Upon the Jewish return from exile in Babylon, even before laying the foundation of the Temple, Ezra 3:3 reports—
Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices.
Worship begins with the FEAR OF THE LORD, not man! Aware of their inability to live up to the Commandments of God, the returning Jews rediscovered the Good News of the ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING—the LORD Himself would remove their guilt through the blood of a sin offering. Hence, the first priority of worship for the returning Jews centers on the ALTAR—the TEMPLE would have no substance without the ALTAR.
This ALTAR is called THE BRONZE ALTAR, THE ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING, THE ALTAR OF GOD, THE ALTAR OF THE LORD, and eight times God calls it MY ALTAR.
On it prescribed sacrifices were offered to meet and satisfy the claims of the Holy God. Nothing polluted or defective was to be offered on it. The blood of the sacrifices could be put on the horns and poured at the foot of the ALTAR by priests alone. Yahweh had commanded Moses to build it in Exodus 27:1-8—
Build an altar of acacia wood, three cubits high; it is to be square, five cubits long and five cubits wide. Make a horn at each of the four corners, so that the horns and the altar are of one piece, and overlay the altar with bronze. Make all its utensils of bronze—its pots to remove the ashes, and its shovels, sprinkling bowls, meat forks and firepans. Make a grating for it, a bronze network, and make a bronze ring at each of the four corners of the network. Put it under the ledge of the altar so that it is halfway up the altar. Make poles of acacia wood for the altar and overlay them with bronze. The poles are to be inserted into the rings so they will be on two sides of the altar when it is carried. Make the altar hollow, out of boards. It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain.
Again Yahweh reminds Moses that he is to follow the pattern shown to him on Mt. Sinai. To deviate, would destroy the symbolic representations of Christ, Salvation, the Christian, and Worship.
This ALTAR is a type of Jesus Christ. The BOOK OF HEBREWS throughout shows that Christians possess the spiritual realities in sharp contrast to physical types and shadows of the OT Ceremonial Law. Hebrews 13:10-12 points to CHRIST as the One the ALTAR foreshadowed—
We have an ALTAR from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross for our sins, is the ALTAR that every born again believer partakes. Those who insist on continuing to make OT sacrifices have no right to Christ, who is the once for all Sacrifice.
Additionally, the ALTAR foreshadows God purchasing man for Himself. Revelation 5:9 records a new song sang in heaven to Christ—
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.
REDEMPTION and FORGIVENESS were purchased also by CHRIST’s Blood on the Cross.
Of particular interest are the TWO COVERS used in transporting the ALTAR. Numbers 4:13-14 states—
They are to remove the ashes from the bronze altar and spread a PURPLE CLOTH over it. Then they are to place on it all the utensils used for ministering at the altar, including the firepans, meat forks, shovels and sprinkling bowls. Over it they are to spread a COVERING OF HIDES OF SEA COWS and put its poles in place.
A PURPLE CLOTH and a COVERING OF HIDES OF SEA COWS portray the One on the Cross. Above Christ’s head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. That’s the PURPLE—the color of the KING. But the people who looked at Jesus hanging on the Cross saw what Isaiah 52:14 describes—
There were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—THAT’S THE SEA COW HIDE COVERING!
With this perspective of what Exodus 27:1-8 typifies, lets return to it.
The ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING’s position just inside the gate to the Tabernacle made it easily ACCESSIBLE, UNAVOIDABLE, and UNMISTAKABLE!
The first and largest piece of equipment that a worshiper would encounter on entering the COURTYARD of the Tabernacle was the BRONZE ALTAR. Its size was 7 1/2 feet square and 4 1/2 feet high. It was made of ACACIA WOOD and overlaid with BRONZE—not GOLD!
The HORNS at the each of the four corners, were projections of the four corner posts but of one piece with the ALTAR. HORNS symbolize POWER, HELP and SANCTUARY. For instance, David sang in 2 Samuel 22:3—
My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—from violent men you save me.
The FOUR HORNS of the ALTAR provided a place that a person could flee to and cling to if he was being persecuted or if someone was seeking his life. We read in 1 Kings 1:50—
Adonijah, in fear of Solomon, went and took hold of the horns of the altar.
Just as the HORNS OF THE ALTAR was the place to flee for a person to receive mercy, so the Cross of Christ is the place of refuge in fleeing from the clutches of Satan, sin and death.
The HORNS also symbolized the ATONING POWER of the ALTAR since in the ATONEMENT ritual some of the blood was put on the horns before the rest was poured out at the base of the ALTAR. The horns definitely picture the fact we often sing in the Hymn, THERE IS POWER IN THE BLOOD.
Undeniably, the HORNS of the ALTAR are symbolic of the POWER of the MESSAGE OF THE CROSS as 1 Corinthians 1:18 declares—
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The POTS were to hold the fat-soaked ASHES when they were removed from the hearth by the SHOVELS. The ASHES of the Burnt Offerings were laid outside the Tabernacle in a clean place. So also after Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin, His body was laid in a clean place—a new tomb where no body had ever been placed.
It’s possible to think of our sins’ having been reduced to ASHES when Christ died on the Cross for us. Certainly, the Israelites rejoiced in seeing their sins reduced to ashes! The ASHES seem to foreshadow Christ’s words, IT IS FINISHED—our sins had been reduced to ashes by God’s consuming fire of wrath when Jesus bore our sins in His body.
The OT SIN OFFERING was actually slain WITHIN the Tabernacle, and only after its blood was sprinkled on the ALTAR was the carcass carried outside the camp for burning. In the case of Jesus, of course, His death occurred outside the city. The main point in view is the disgrace involved. Hebrews 13:13, therefore, urges—
Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.
The camp is the city of Jerusalem, the religious center of that day. The services in the Temple had degenerated into an empty, hollow traditional system of dead religion. After A.D. 33, the priests who slew the sacrifices had rejected God’s Lamb. The Teachers of the Law who taught the people had crucified God’s Son. The Pharisees who boasted of their orthodoxy had demanded the death of the Savior. And so the religious leaders denied Christ a place even to die in the city, and instead bore Him outside the walls to Golgotha—Calvary—the place of the skull!
The Jew must leave the ceremonies and traditions—the prejudice and pride of the Jew. He is asked to go to Jesus upon whom the Jewish people invoked God’s curse by hanging Him on the Cross. To go to one who bears the curse of God is to share THE DISGRACE HE BORE. By choosing for Christ, the Jew rejects Judaism and thus faces expulsion, alienation, and at times persecution from his own people.
The burning of the animal carcass outside the camp was not part of the burnt offering ritual on the BRONZE ALTAR. It was rather to picture the removal of sin from Israel, and also the disgraceful character of sin and it repudiation. Outside the city was the place of reproach and rejection. Those who become Christians, especially Jews, will suffer rejection and reproach by those inside Judaism. But Hebrews 13:14 puts things in proper perspective for those who come to Christ—
For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
These words echo Hebrews 11:10, when the author discussed Abraham who lived by faith but who did not see the promises fulfilled in his lifetime—
For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Abraham along with the patriarchs longed for a better country, a heavenly country, a heavenly city. They saw themselves as aliens and strangers on earth. With eternity in view, one can bear the disgrace of Christ. Believers who follow Christ will be outside the camp—the city—they will not be popular, but be reproached for the sake of Christ. Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount—
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
It is estimated that 400 people die for Christ every day. Persecution of the Church is rising at an alarming rate all over the world. A sign that Christ is coming soon! Paradoxically, the early Church was blessed and prospered when Satan sprinkled its blood in persecution.
The SPRINKLING BOWLS were to catch the blood the animals slain beside the Altar to be sprinkled on the altar’s base later on. The MEAT FORKS were three-pronged forks for arranging the sacrifices or retracting the priest’s portion. The FIRE PANS (or possibly CENSERS) probably were for carrying the fire from the ALTAR OF INCENSE inside the Holy Place.
A GRATING was placed midway between the top and the bottom of the boxlike structure. This grating divided the Altar into a lower and upper part, a division necessitated by the sprinkling of the blood. Since any fire built inside the upper part would have eventually destroyed the Altar from the incense heat, most conjecture that the Altar box was designed to be filled with earth when it was in use; but the text does not mention this. Perhaps this is why it was to be made hollow.
A BRONZE RING at each of the FOUR CORNERS was attached to the BRONZE GRATING through which the ACACIA WOOD POLES were inserted when the Altar had to be moved. The LEDGE was a projection or a collar around the Altar halfway up its side.
This ALTAR of ACACIA WOOD was covered with BRONZE and all its utensils were made of this metal. The ACACIA WOOD is a beautiful picture of Christ’s humanity. The ACACIA was a twisted, thorny desert tree, which possessed a long tap root, reaching down to the subterranean dampness. How well this reminds us of the prophet’s description of Jesus, when he wrote in Isaiah 53:2—
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
The tender shoot growing out the dry ground is none other than the ACACIA used to make the furnishings, frames, poles and crossbars of the Tabernacle—foreshadowing the body of Christ.
But why cover the ALTAR with BRONZE instead of GOLD, which represents the deity of Jesus? Isaiah 52:13-53:12, which is an astounding word picture of Christ, supplies many answers to our questions about the Tabernacle. Part of Isaiah 53:10 is drawn from the ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING—
And though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
BRONZE signifies JUDGMENT in the Bible. On the Cross, Yahweh made Christ’s life a GUILT OFFERING.
CHAPTERS 1-7 of LEVITICUS spell out five types of offerings that were to be made on the ALTAR— the first three were a voluntary act of worship and the last two were mandatory atonements. The sweet smelling BURNT, GRAIN and FELLOWSHIP OFFERINGS prefigure Christ in His perfections and complete devotion to the Father’s will. The non-sweet savor of the SIN and GUILT OFFERINGS set forth Christ as bearing the whole demerit of the sinner.
When we think of an ALTAR, we immediately think of worship. An altar in the OT, however, is also a place of humiliation—a place of submission to God. The ALTAR is the place where the innocent blood of an animal was shed for man’s sin. Hebrews 9:22 points out—
The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
The death penalty for sin could not be satisfied in God’s eyes in any other way. The innocent had to die for the guilty! In the justice of God, to forgive sin without satisfaction of the death penalty is impossible.
Every sin under the law required atonement, and no atonement could be made without blood. There is no atonement of sin nor forgiveness of it but by blood—not merely by the shedding of it, as it flows out of the body of the sacrifice, but as it is poured out on the altar. For the pouring of the blood at the four corners, and at the bottom of the altar, were the chief rites required in sacrifices; nor did they reckon satisfaction for wrong done to be expiation, unless the altar was moistened by the blood of the sacrifice.
This is what happens when we come to Christ for salvation. We realize that we are sinners and must appropriate by faith the redemption in Christ’s blood that was purchased and accepted by God the Father as the ransom price for sin. Therefore, Romans 6:23 can proclaim—
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ purchased those who will believe for God. We owe the debt, but we cannot pay the price for redemption because we are dirty rotten sinners. So the sinless Son of God paid debt so God the Father could offer us salvation as a gift.
Every OT sacrifice on the ALTAR pointed to the blood of Christ effectually cleansing from all sin. There can be no purification from sin by any other means. Jesus, therefore, declared in Matthew 26:28—
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Christ’s blood alone is capable of making atonement according to Hebrews 10:1-6 —
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?
For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.
There was but one ALTAR just as there is but one way of salvation, and this Jesus fulfilled. Hebrews 9:13-14 declares—
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Hebrews 9:27-28 adds—
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
In past weeks, we have looked at the qualities of ACACIA WOOD. Not only is ACACIA WOOD not subject to decay, but because of its hardness, it can withstand heat, being an indestructible type of ebony wood. Our Savior’s body withstood the divine fire of God’s judgment, a judgment which should have been ours. Because He did this for us, God will never require His children to suffer eternal judgment for sin.
When it was build, it was God who ignited the wood upon the ALTAR by fire that fell directly from heaven. In Leviticus 6:12-13, we read—
The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.
The FIRE reminds God’s people to FEAR THE LORD as Hebrews 12:28-29 proclaims—
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
This FIRE pictures the perpetual work of Christ in salvation. It also signifies God’s judgment. All sin must be judged—but the believer’s sin has been already judged on the Cross. The FIRE on the ALTAR was a perpetual testimony of Christ being judged for our sins. Those who have no part in the fire of the ALTAR or the CROSS will have a part in the Lake of Fire forever.
The FIRE, as it were, was supplied by God in Christ’s death. As with the ALTAR, man’s part in the death of Christ was making the Cross, and placing the sacrifice on it, and there his part ceased entirely. That is all the sinner can do. By the hands of men, therefore Jesus was bound and led to Calvary, and hung on the Cross.
The death of Christ on the Cross, however, was no accident. In Acts 2:23, Peter emphasized man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty in redemption —
This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
The judgment and condemnation that was ours, Jesus endured for us of God’s own choosing. Ephesians 5:2 underscores the Savior’s choice—
Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Man could not have touched the Lord Jesus Christ or done anything to Him at all, except according to the pattern of the Tabernacle shown to Moses on the Mountain. Jesus voluntarily gave Himself into the hands of sinners to be crucified, thereby, fulfilling Isaiah 53:7—
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
What unfathomable depths of love are seen at this ALTAR. God permitted the crucifixion of His Son in order that by His murder at the hands of man, He might save the murderers and reconcile them unto Himself. Surely these are unfathomable truths, and depths of wisdom which we cannot begin to understand. For who can fathom the infinite, inscrutable, incomprehensible wisdom of God at the ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING—the SHADOW OF THE CROSS?
The Hebrew word for ALTAR (xbzm mizbeach) signifies to LIFT UP. The ALTAR the place of LIFTING UP points to the Cross of Christ. Jesus said of Himself in John 12:32—
But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.
The ALTAR was the place of substitutionary sacrifice. It was the place of death for sin. It stood between the gate of the court and the approach to the Tabernacle. It barred the way to everyone who would come. There was no approach to the Tabernacle expect by the way of this ALTAR. It bars the way of every sinner coming to God. Until he stops at this ALTAR and appropriates the blood, and accepts the sacrifice as a substitute, there is no further progress. The ALTAR was both a way to God and a barrier to God.
The ALTAR was the only place the Israelite could come to receive postponement of divine judgment for sins. The only ALTAR or place we can come today to receive forgiveness of sin is at the Cross. A true ALTAR CALL is an invitation to repent and receive Christ who appeased the wrath of God and washed away sin with His blood on the Cross!
If the Israelite brought his offering to the priest, and it was offered on the ALTAR, then he could freely approach the presence of God. If he, however, sought to approach God except by the blood of the substitutionary sacrifice, his way was barred. There is no other approach to God except by the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by faith in His death and substitutionary sacrifice.
The death on the Cross, therefore, not His life, is our only hope of salvation. The Cross stands squarely between the sinner and God.
The Cross of Christ is the starting point, the beginning of man’s approach to God. Ignoring the ALTAR barred all further progress. Avoiding the Cross makes it impossible to approach a holy living God. We are saved, not by the life and death of the Son of God, but by the death and life of the Son of God. His resurrection after His death completes the Gospel.
The Devil’s Gospel is that Jesus lived and died. He would have us believe Jesus was a perfect man, a great Teacher, a great Reformer, one whose life we should all seek to imitate and emulate. Satan would have us believe that Jesus died a martyrs death for an ideal He cherished. He is perfectly willing that we should believe and accept all these truths concerning Jesus.
But beloved, this is not THE GOSPEL. Paul defines the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5—
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. That’s the GOOD NEWS. To be saved, therefore, one must believe all this, for Romans 10:9-10 declares—
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
The CROSS is a barrier or a door! Either you enter through it for salvation or you remain locked out for eternity. Is the CROSS standing in the way to your having access to God?
Would you like to be welcomed by the LORD? Then you must come by the way of the Cross!
Would you like your sins to be washed away? Then you must come by the way of the Cross!
Would you like to be assured of a place in heaven as your home? Then you must come by the way of the Cross!
Come by the way of the Cross and receive salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and a place in heaven!