Wednesday, 15 May 2019
We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. Hebrews 13:10
The translation lacks the intent of what is being referred to. A better translation would be –
“We have an altar from which those who worship at the tent have no right to eat.”
This is not merely speaking of the priests who served at the tabernacle, but of all of Israel who came to make their offerings at the Tent of Meeting. In this, the people at times participated in eating a portion of the offering. This is seen, for example, in Deuteronomy 12 –
“You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or your new wine or your oil, of the firstborn of your herd or your flock, of any of your offerings which you vow, of your freewill offerings, or of the heave offering of your hand. 18 But you must eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God chooses, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all to which you put your hands.” Deuteronomy 12:17, 18
At other times, the sacrifices or offerings were eaten by the priests alone, and at times, they were wholly burnt to the Lord on the altar, etc. Each type of sacrifice and offering had its own requirement as to its disposal. These were brought forward to the Tent of Meeting and offered on the brazen altar. This is now set in contrast to what is found in Christ with the author’s words, “We have an altar.”
There are various ideas about what “the altar” in the New Covenant signifies. Some say it is the cross of Christ. Some say it is the table where believers participate in the Lord’s Supper. Some say it is Christ Himself. However, the idea of the altar is that of symbolizing everything associated with the work of Christ in one unified concept. Just as the offering upon the brazen altar signified the offering of the people, the food of the priests, access through the door of the Tent of Meeting, the symbolic restored relationship with God etc., so the entire picture of life in Christ and full restoration with God, is gathered up in one thought called the “altar.”
It is this “altar from which those who worship at the tent have no right to eat.” The two covenants are mutually exclusive of one another. One is either under law, or he is under grace. One is either obedient in following the commands given through Moses, or he is obedient to the commands given through Christ. The commands of Christ, however, are not inclusive of the Law of Moses as many people claim. This is evident from 1 Corinthians 7:19 –
“Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.”
This is obviously the case because circumcision is specifically referred to in the Old Covenant (Leviticus 12:3). Therefore, the New Covenant is a completely separate and distinct body of commands than that of the Old Covenant, even if some of those commands overlap because they are repeated in the New. Because of this, the altar of Christ excludes any who participate in the altar of the Old Covenant. One must leave the Jewish teachings and come solely and completely to Christ in order to first be saved, and then to be pleasing to Him. This is the main topic of the book of Galatians. It warns against the Judaizers of all ages.
As a note concerning the dating of Hebrews, “the altar” is speaking of that which is discussed above and which occurred in Jerusalem. This, like an earlier verse in Hebrews, confirms that the temple was still standing at the time of this letter and so the letter was written prior to AD 70. This is important because liberal theology will often try to date biblical books later than they were written in order to argue against their truth.
Life application: Hebrews shows that believers in Christ have something that any associated with the temple rites and rituals had no right to. When the people of Israel failed to come to Christ, they were left out of the New Covenant promises, including its eternal blessings. We can only be thankful for God’s mercy in selecting us for inclusion in the Bread from heaven, our Lord Jesus. The altar from which we partake includes His precious body and blood – given for us. When you participate in the Lord’s Supper, do you take time to appreciate its enormous significance?
Lord, because of what You did at Calvary, we have the right to come in and dine with You. May we never take for granted that which You did on our behalf, but rather help us to appreciate Your greatness even more as we share in the Table set before us which remembers Your death until You come again. To the glory of God the Father… Amen.