If you have been following my blog for any length of time, you will know that for a long time now I have been looking at the way that Jesus Christ is shadowed in the Old Testament. On further investigation we have realised that His shadow is cast everywhere. One place in particular is the tabernacle.
We started looking at the various objects in the innermost part of the tabernacle, called the Holy of holies and then moving out we looked at the various objects in the holy place. This week we go out even further to the temple courtyard. The centrepiece there was the bronze altar, also called : the brazen altar or the altar of sacrifice.
You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad. The altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. 2 And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze. 3 You shall make pots for it to receive its ashes, and shovels and basins and forks and fire pans. You shall make all its utensils of bronze. 4 You shall also make for it a grating, a network of bronze, and on the net you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners. 5 And you shall set it under the ledge of the altar so that the net extends halfway down the altar.6 And you shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze. 7 And the poles shall be put through the rings, so that the poles are on the two sides of the altar when it is carried.8 You shall make it hollow, with boards. As it has been shown you on the mountain, so shall it be made. (Exodus 27:1-8)
The Hebrew for the word altar (mizbeach) means “to slay” or “slaughter”. The Latin word alta means “high” so putting these two words together, it is a high place for sacrifice or slaughter. This altar was indeed the central point of the court and it was raised up above all the other objects on a mound of earth. On this altar was a lot of killing and a lot of blood, which can be very unpleasant to our cosseted, sensitised, 21st century minds. There was a lot of killing and a lot of blood, but this was very necessary:
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)
I think if we saw these sacrifices in operation right now we would be extremely traumatized at the utter carnage of it all. That is the whole point! The necessity of the altar was to show the people the utter seriousness of their sin. It was supposed to shock, it was to be a jolt to wake them up.
The altar was raised up high so that everyone could see it. This is a picture of Jesus being lifted high on the cross. He was our sacrifice that was raised up and slaughtered on our behalf
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)
The bronze altar was made of Acacia wood and overlaid with bronze, which was symbolic in the bible of judgement of sin. Jesus was judged on our behalf;
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
The altar was the place where an innocent animal was sacrificed on sinful man’s behalf so that access could be made to a holy God. This was only a temporary solution though and many animals had to die. This whole process foreshadowed the ultimate ‘once for all’ sacrifice that Jesus, the purest sacrificial lamb of all, would make.
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Thank God that you now have free and complete access to the father through Jesus Christ. No need to kill an animal on the altar anymore.