THOSE WHO ARE COME TO MOUNT ZION HAVE AN ALTAR (Hebrews 13:10a)
It is a rather arresting and instructive verity concerning which we are here instructed by the writer; it is the truth of the Gospel of Christ. We have an altar, says the writer; the people of the New Testament dispensation have an altar, now in the dispensation of the fulness of times. (Eph. 1:10). We, the new men in Christ, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, those near and far, have all been brought nigh by the blood of Christ; He hath made both one, having broken down the middle-wall of partition between us. And now this new man, the saints in Christ, have an altar. However, it is set outside of the Old Testament “camp” and “tabernacle” with its types and ceremonies; and the worshippers do not keep the lunar calendar of the Old Testament feast days, sabbaths, new moons. Nor do we go to worship with those who continue to attend at the “altars” of the Old Testament “tabernacle”. Doing so we would be trampling under foot the Son of God, accounting His blood common blood, and doing despite unto the Spirit of grace. (Hebrews 10:29) They who continue at the Old Testament altar will receive sorer judgment than did those who died under Moses’ law under two or three witnesses! (Hebrews 10:27b)
The implication of our “having” an altar from which unbelieving Judaizers “have no right to eat” is that we may eat from our altar. Our altar is such that on it the Lamb of God was slain, who is the propitiation for all of our sins. But that altar is not within the “camp” of the Old Testament theocratic institution of the earthly city of Jerusalem. The “truth and substance” which was typified in those sacrifices and which pointed to Christ we have in our Altar. However, that “truth and substance” is denied by those who still remain ministering in the Old Testament temple, where God Himself rent the veil when Christ died on the Cross. Our Reformed fathers caught this vision and carefully formulated it in the Belgic Confession, Art. XXV, where we read,
“We believe, that the ceremonies and figures of the law ceased at the coming of Christ, and that all the shadows are accomplished; so that the use of them must be abolished amongst Christians (italics, G.L.) yet the truth and substance of them remain with us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have their accomplishment. In the meantime, we still use the testimonies taken out of the law and the prophets, to confirm us in the doctrine of the gospel, and to regulate our life in all honesty, to the glory of God, according to his will”. Scriptural proof: Rom. 10:4; Gal. 5:2-4; Gal. 3:1; Gal. 4:10, 11; Gal. 4:10, 11; Col. 2:16, 17.
Our New Testament “altar” has no place in the Old Testament types any more now that Christ has died and risen again. It does not stand in the Old Testament “tabernacle” which was built after the pattern which was shown to Moses on the mount at Sinai. (Ex. 25:40;Heb. 8:6) We have come to that tabernacle which God had in His counsel of redemption and of which He shewed a pattern to Moses and which the latter was enjoined strictly to copy. And all this was governed by the law of ceremonies. This law of ceremonies also included the “feast days,” as part of the “figures” of the law. In as far as these “days” were a part of the Old Testament apparatus, these days are abolished and have been nailed to the Cross as a hand-writing against us. They belonged to the “beggarly principles” of touch not, taste not and handle not. (Col. 2:16) We should notice that Paul writes in this connection, “Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Jesus himself tells his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. (Matt. 16:6; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1) Our altar is the “body” of the shadows and types, also of the shadows and figures of the feast-days, new moons and sabbaths. Our New Testament Sabbath may never in any way be equated with a “day” of the Old Testament calendar as prescribed by Moses, but must ever most carefully be taught as being the reality and substance of these days. Our New Testament Sabbath is ours as we have “come to mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the blood of sprinkling, which speaks better things than Abel.” (For “blood of sprinkling” must ever be carefully distinguished from the blood of those sacrifices which was poured at the foot of the altar. The former was the blood of the sin-offering, bringing propitiation, while the latter was the blood of the peace-offering and the burnt-offering, or the free-will, the thank-offering. For the former, see: Lev. 1:5, 11; Lev. 7:2, 8, 13; Lev. 7:2, 14 etc.; and for the latter see:Lev. 8:15; Lev. 9:9.)
Hence, our Sabbath is the direct fruit of Christ’s having been delivered for our offenses, and having been raised for our justification. (dia teen dikaioosin eemoon) (Rom. 4:25) Christ came forth from the grave on the resurrection morning to demonstrate powerfully that He was the Son of God in our flesh, and that He is the mighty conqueror who has procured for us the righteousness of God, so that we are now righteous before. God and heirs of everlasting life. Thus we eat from our altar. We have but one sacrifice left now: it is the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to God. We pour the blood at the foot of the Altar!! The blood of sprinkling has been brought!!! Such is our altar in the New Testament dispensation. We have an altar, the cross of Christ and all the benefits which flow to us from Christ’s riven side. And here the injunction comes to us: keep the New Testament Sabbath, the day of the Lord; maintain the schools and the ministry of the word. Enter into the Lord’s rest (His completed work in his death, resurrection, and ascension), faithfully coming to the congregation of God to learn the Word of the Gospel, use the sacraments, publicly call upon the name of the Lord and give alms to the poor, and let this coming be part and parcel of the life of Christian conversion: the mortification of the old man and the quickening of the new man. Thus I will “rest” from my evil works (dass ich alle Tage meines Lebens von meinen bosen Werken feire) all the days of my life, and yield myself to the Lord, to work by His Holy Spirit in me. Thus I begin in this life the eternal Sabbath. Such is our Altar from which we eat. Such a Christian comes “diligently” to the congregation of God each Sunday when the congregation meets. He is spiritually sensitive not to a lot of “don’ts and do’s” but because he has been “renewed by God’s Holy Spirit after God’s own image” and by the whole of his conduct he would show his gratitude to God for his blessings. The man who does not come to church, who would deliberately find a job so that he will not come to the congregation, does not have a problem of the formal keeping of a “day.” His is a deeper problem. He does not really love the LORD OF THE SABBATH! He has never heard the prelude of the Decalogue in Exodus: “I am the Lord thy God which hath delivered you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Such a man does not know the three things which we must know to enjoy the only comfort in life and in death. He has never seen in the “ten words” ten precepts of the Gospel. He has never noticed that all the commandments have been put in the form of the rule for a life of conversion and thankfulness. Such a man does not merely transgress the fourth Commandment, but he transgresses the very Covenant of God Himself: I am your God, and ye are my people! (Exodus 31:14)
Yes, we have an altar. It does not stand in the courts of those who now still continue to minister in the “tabernacle.” We are called to come to this altar. We do not need any dissertations concerning when and how and why we may be absent when those who are gathered at the altar are present, and present themselves before the Lord of the Sabbath on the Lord’s Day. We hear the call to prayer! We sing that we do this with joy and gladness in our soul! That is the secret of true church-attendance and also of worship “in spirit and in truth! Then we censure those who neglect the means of grace, or, what is worse, despise the means of grace! We stone the man that gathers sticks on the Sabbath, defying the Lord of the Sabbath. Such is a covenant-breaker and not a day-transgressor. Such is the <i>truth and substance of the ceremonies and figures of the law. But when we stone a man for breaking the Sabbath in the New Testament sense and we have cut him off as a rotten member, do not forget to humble ourselves before the Lord of the Sabbath and confess “O! Righteous God and merciful Father, we bewail our sins before thy high majesty and acknowledge that we have deserved the grief and sorrow caused unto us by the cutting off of this our late fellow-member; yea, we all deserve, shouldst Thou enter into judgment with us, by reason of our great transgressions, to be cut off and banished from Thy presence.” (See Form of Excommunication)
THOSE MINISTERING IN THE TABERNACLE AND OUR ALTAR (Hebrews 13:10b)
It requires a certain “right” (exousia) to eat from the altar whereon Christ was sacrificed, the cross. Not all have this right. When Christ came on earth, as the Word made flesh, to suffer and die, He was rejected of His own. He came to His own things, His own tabernacle, which had been made a house of merchandise. (John 2:16) When Jesus cleansed the temple the second time, He told the desecrators of the temple and the Sabbath-breakers of his day, that they had made of the temple a den of thieves and robbers, quoting Jer. 7:11, and alluding to Isaiah 56:7. He will make the temple a “house of prayer for all nations.” He will rebuild the temple in three days through His death and resurrection. And in that temple will be only the true worshippers from all nations. These have a right to be there. Those who have this right are not born of blood(s) nor out of the will of the flesh, nor out of the will of man, but are born out of God. These were given (to them became) the right to be children of God and to eat at the altar of God.
Now the writer to the Hebrews says that the right to eat from our Altar in the New Testament dispensation is not for those who cling to the Old Testament “tabernacle” of Moses, which was made as a type of the heavenly and the true tabernacle. (Hebrews 8:1-5) That tabernacle of Moses was not the tabernacle which the Lord pitched, the true tabernacle of God with man. He who still clings to that earthly tabernacle and explicitly and implicitly denies that these things were set till the time of reformation has lost all right ever to eat, to share in the merits of the crucified Christ of God. Such are the unbelievers upon whom the wrath of God abides as long as the veil remains upon their hearts. (Hebrews 6:6; II Cor. 3:15, 16)