THE UNIQUE ALTAR THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH HAS (Hebrews 13:10, 11)
We must not be carried away with divers and strange doctrines and teachings of heretical men. We must draw straight lines of the Bible which insist that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever; it is our duty to see the total implications and consequences of such a changeless Christ. Then we shall see type and fulfillment in their proper relationship; it will then be clear what it means that God hath spoken in these last days in His Son. (Heb. 1:1-2)
Perhaps it was the contention of the Jewish teachers that if we left the Old Testament tabernacle ministry then we would not have an altar which sanctifies the gift. (Matt. 23:19) We would lose the main part of the ministry. It is quite likely in view of this that the writer places emphatically on the foreground that we do “have” an altar. It is not that we have an altar and that in the Old Testament they did not; rather it is that wehave an altar notwithstanding all the gainsaying of those who deny the faith in Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the promises of God. However, we have an altar of which those who still cling to the Old Testament ritual cannot eat. The force of the present participle (hoi tee skeenee latreuontes) should not be overlooked. These very people who deny the reality in Christ cannot eat from our altar which is Christ. Our altar is unique in that it is spiritual and it really dedicates all things to God, heaven and earth and all things, the good angels and the redeemed of all ages. (Col. 1:18-20) And we eat from our altar and its benefits, which are the reconciliation which we have in Christ’s blood of atonement. We eat Christ’s body, and we drink His blood. We eat the sacrifice which was brought for our sins and for the sin of the world by the Lamb of God. (John 1:29)
However, such an altar the adherents to the Old Testament shadows and types do not have. They do not have such an altar for the simple reason that Jehovah did not institute such an altar of atonement in the Old Testament economy of salvation. This could not be the case from the very nature of the types and shadows. All the sacrifices and the feast days culminated each year in the feast of the. Great Day of Atonement, which was in the seventh month, the tenth day. That was a day of the affliction of the soul, a day of fasting. It was the only prescribed fast in Israel. This was one day in which there was no rejoicing. The day proclaimed that all was unclean because of sin: temple, altar, all the people, including the priests and the high priest himself. A sacrifice must be brought that would remove all the sin of all the people. The high priest must first bring a sacrifice for himself and then for all thy people. (Lev. 16:6, 15, 16, 17; Hebrews 5:3, 4) The profound implication was that all was unclean until a better sacrifice would be brought upon a better altar and in a better temple, that is, a heavenly one. And the altar which we have is not besmirched with the blood of goats, bullocks and sheep, but is an altar in which Christ brings his own blood offered in perfect obedience through the eternal Spirit. God never desired such sacrifices for sin. They could not expiate guilt and corruption. That is why they were repeated each year again. They were futile. But our altar is such that even though it is an altar on the great day of atonement for sin—we can eat of the sacrifice; yea, we are enjoined by Christ to eat from that altar which is the New Testament in His blood. (Matt. 26:26, 27)
Such is our unique altar. Unbelief in Christ cannot eat from this altar which sanctifies all things, yea, which is such that the Old Testament veil in the temple must be rent from top to bottom. This altar still stands in our midst in the form of a table in which we eat and drink Christ and all his benefits by faith. However, let it be underscored that those who continue to minister in the Old Testament temple, as if the veil had not been rent by God Himself, cannot eat from our altar. They have no right to eat from it. As many as received Him to them gave He this right to be called the sons of God, who are born not of flesh, nor of blood, nor by the will of man, but who are born of God. (John 1:11, 12) That we have such an altar which is limited to those who believe in Christ crucified is our great privilege and right!
JESUS SUFFERED OUTSIDE OF THE GATE (Hebrews 13:11-14)
There is a tremendous type and symbolism in the fact that the beasts which were slain in the Old Testament day of atonement were not eaten by the priests. All other sacrifices which were brought were in part for the ministering priests. They represented the people in eating from the altar. And this eating from the altar by the priests prefigured our eating from the altar of God on which Christ was slain. But, as was said, there was one sacrifice designated which was of such a nature that no priest might eat of this sacrificial animal. This refers to the bullocks that were slain for the sins of the priest (Lev. 16:6) and to the one goat (the other was the scape-goat sent into the wilderness) which was slain for the sins of the people and whose blood was shed as a typical removal of all the sins and uncleanness of the temple, the altar and all the people. This sacrifice pointed pre-eminently to Christ Jesus, our Lord. Hence, in this sacrifice we have the twofold element, the twofold typical element of two goats. These two goats were ideally one; yet, they represent the twofold aspect of the sacrifice of Christ that He not only atones for our sins, but carries them away. He is the sin-bearer, who carries them without the camp! It is for this reason also that even the skin and the dung of the sacrificed animals had to be burned without the camp.
It was the divine intent that this was a picture of the future reality that the Cross of Christ would be set up in the place of a skull outside of the city of Jerusalem, called Calvary. (Luke 23:33) After the soldiers had mocked Jesus, and Pilate had condemned Him to the death of the Cross, then He was led forth outside of the gate bearing his Cross. And then we see the scape-goat which is called Asahel, who is not a picture of Satan as do the Seventh Day Adventists teach, but who is the very type and symbol of the Christ of God Who carries away the sins of His people on the Cross. He carries away the sins of all His people whether they be in the Old Testament or in the New Testament. He does not carry away the sins of either Jews or Gentiles as such. He reconciles to God all whom the Father has given Him. All His sheep He delivers, and He brings them under the one shepherd, who thrones between the Cherubim in the Most Holy place. Wherefore, the Cross is set not within the narrow confines of the city of Jerusalem, nor within the enclosure of the law of ordinances and separation, but in the wide plain of the world, “without the gate”!
Here Jesus suffered for the sins of the people. It was the suffering of bearing the wrath of God against—the sins of the whole human race. Jesus did not suffer for his principles, or as a good example. He bore the wrath of God against the sins of His people. And He did this till He said “It is finished”. There was no more sin to be carried away. There never will be again. And He changes the altar of the Cross on which He sacrifices Himself through the eternal Spirit to a table from which the believers may eat. But that means that we will need to go outside of the gate of the Old Testament limitation, even though this means that in so doing we shall be bearing the reproach of Christ. We then shall be doing what Moses did when he left the riches of Egypt, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt!
There is something very impelling in this “Let us go forth therefore.” It means that this must be done by the entire church in the New Testament. Principally this was done by the church at Pentecost, which was fully come. They entered into the completed work of Christ—never to return to the types and shadows. And that is what the Hebrews must do without doubt and fear; resolutely they must go outside to Christ, to the fulfillment of the Scriptures. We must do this, too, and never return and eat from our altar from which the Old Testament saints could eat in hope of a better priesthood.
THE CITY WHICH WE SEEK (Hebrews 13:14)
The believers in this world are but pilgrims and strangers due to election of grace and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (I Peter 1:2, 3) Such was Abraham when he lived in a tent with Isaac and Jacob his sons. They confessed that they were such pilgrims and strangers in the earth. That is why they did not return to that country of Haran or of Ur of the Chaldees. They could have returned as far as the time and distance were concerned. However, they refused to return to that country: for they were seeking a better country, that is, an heavenly. They looked away from that which was so dear to the flesh and so earthly. They had a better treasure in heaven. And the Hebrews, too, have a better city, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, where the church of the firstborn is now with Jesus the Mediator, Whose blood speaketh better things than Abel. (Heb. 11:15, 16) For that city which abides and is eternal is already “prepared” for them. It is such a beautiful city that God is not ashamed to be called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Now if the Hebrews must leave the earthly city and “go outside to Christ,” it should not be too sorrowing. Fact is, that it should give great joy! Moses accounted the sufferings of Christ to be greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. We are to account the glory of the new Jerusalem so far to pass the glory of the earthly city of David, that a little reproach for Christ is not worthy to be compared. This city of David is not a continuing city. That is its very nature, as became evident in the Babylonian captivity, the destruction of the temple, and the breaking down of the palaces and bulwarks of that city. Yes, it was rebuilt under Zerubbabel, and so was its temple under Ezra, only because God had an immovable kingdom in store for Israel. (Hebrews 12:25-29)
That earthly city did not continue. When that city ceased to be the place where God would place His Name and call His people to worship Him, the temple can be and is destroyed by the hordes of the Roman armies. Then the city can pass from the scene never to return in that capacity. It has become a desolation for which only those who have no eye for the heavenly city can vie, as do the Jews and the Arabians. But we havehere no continuing city. The time shall come when men shall neither worship in the hill of Samaria, nor in the temple at Jerusalem, says Jesus to the Samaritan woman. God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth! Let us therefore go without the city bearing Jesus’ reproach, being evilly spoken of and reviled for His sake.