The Tabernacle: The Golden Altar
In our consideration of the Brazen Altar or the 'altar at the door,' we saw that there were two altars within the Tabernacle complex. Inside the first partition stood the Golden Altar, or the Altar of Incense, or as scripture occasionally refers to it, 'the altar before the Lord.' This last description is instructive, and it is to its position that we turn first.
The 'altar before the Lord' reminds us that it was the last of three objects within the first compartment and the closest to the presence of the Lord. We will see in a later study that God dwelt on the Mercy Seat between the Cherubim and above the Ark of the Covenant. Only the veil separated the Golden Altar from the presence of God. Hebrews 9 suggests that its ministry pertained to the Holiest of all. Whatever the Altar of Incense pictures, we must learn a lesson from its proximity to the presence of God. It takes us right into the Holy of Holies. Remember that while there were two compartments, both depicting Heaven in the Tabernacle, Heaven has no such partition. In Christ, we are already in the presence of God and the 'altar before the Lord' speaks voluminously of this fact.
But what of its picture? The 'altar at the door' speaks of salvation and particularly of the sacrifice necessary to effect it. However, now we are in a different compartment. No longer are we in the Courtyard, speaking of what Christ did on earth, but we are in the restricted zone reserved only for the priests. This speaks of what Christ is currently doing in Heaven; thus, the Golden altar presents His continuing work, in contrast to His finished work.
When the Lord spoke to Moses, He said; 'Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning...and when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.' The 'altar before the Lord' had incense always ascending to God speaking of the continuity in communication that God expected and provided with His people. For us, it speaks of the continual work of Christ interceding in Heaven on our behalf. Hebrews 7 reminds us; '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' (v 25, KJV). As our Great High Priest, He is interceding for us, and part of that work is to supplicate on our behalf. There was no blood present at the Golden Altar except once a year on the Day of Atonement when it the High Priest laid it on the horns of the altar. This reminds us that although it was only once a year, blood was still required. So it is with Christ's ongoing work. He performs it based on the value of His sacrifice.
As the Table of Shewbread, its pattern for construction was a frame of Shittim wood overlaid with Gold. We will not belabour the critical point made concerning His two distinct natures in one glorious person, but rather make the point that true humanity lies at the basis of His ongoing work, as His finished work. The writer to the Hebrews states; 'For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted' (2:16-18).
Succouring, sympathising, supplicating: these are some of the aspects of the necessary work that Christ is performing in Heaven on our behalf right now. But as we remember him gain today remind us that as the means of our communication with Heaven, He is also the director of our worship and remembrance; 'I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee' (Heb. 2:12, KJV). He is our 'altar before the Lord.'