Hebrews 134 August 28, 2008
NKJ Isaiah 40:31 But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.
We are in a study of Hebrews. In Hebrews 9 the writer of Hebrews is developing his ongoing doctrines related to the high priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now that is at the very core of the importance (the core emphasis) of Hebrews because in this section which begins in chapter 7 and goes through chapter 10, that's really the heart of the whole epistle to the Hebrews. The focal point is on understanding the riches, the depth, the breadth of everything that the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us. But, what it means for us today in terms of His high priestly ministry. He has ascended to the right hand of the Father and He is seated at the right hand which is the Doctrine of the Session.
So the question is - what is the Lord Jesus Christ doing right now? One of the key things that the Lord Jesus Christ is doing for each of us is interceding for us. He is involved in intercessory prayer. We are coming to a part of the Tabernacle tonight –a piece of furniture in the Tabernacle that specifically looks at this aspect of intercessory prayer. That is the altar of incense.
The altar of incense speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ who is our intercessor. We are continuing to study the Tabernacle because an understanding of the Tabernacle, the rituals that occurred in the Old Testament in the Tabernacle and the furniture in the Tabernacle and what each piece of furniture did in terms of how it spoke about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is crucial for us in order to understand who He is and what He did. As we look at the Old Testament background, it will enhance and strengthen our understanding of what is said in Hebrews 9 and Hebrews 10.
So we have a few pictures here. Here is a depiction of the Tabernacle at night with the pillar of fire indicating the Shekinah or the dwelling presence of God. We see the organization in the background of the tribes of Israel, each one according to their tribe, each one laid out in a very orderly, organized manner. We see the inner tent which is the main tabernacle itself, the tabernacle proper which is composed of two compartments – the Holy of Holies and the holy place.
In this schematic, we see the cutaway here of the Tabernacle itself, the outer veil that the priest would enter into to go into the outer room, the holy place. In the holy place he would see three pieces of furniture. Each of these we have spent time studying – two of them at least - the golden menorah, the candlestick which speaks of Jesus Christ as the light of the world. On the right side which would be on the north side you have the table of showbread which has 12 loaves or one each for the 12 tribes of Israel made of unleavened bread, the furniture itself made with acacia wood covered with gold depicting the hypostatic union, the undiminished deity and the perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the unleavened bread picturing His impeccability.
Then in the centerpiece you have the altar of incense, which is the piece of furniture that is the closest to the presence of God. A priest would enter in and would first go to the altar to light the incense or to pray at the altar of incense. This is the closest that any priest could come to God. The High Priest alone could go into the Holy of Holies once a year.
Now there's another thing that I want to point out as we go through this. Go back. Let me see. I guess we'll just start with this schematic. There's an interesting thing that hit me today as I'm looking at this overview and what happens when the priest enters into the Tabernacle, all the way into the Holy of Holies. Think about where he is headed. He is headed into the presence of God, the closest that any human being in the Old Testament would ever get to God inside the Holy of Holies. What had to happen in order for that human being to be able to enter into the presence of God? That's what is illustrated in each of these steps. So the first thing that he would do is he would have to go in and there would be the sacrifice at the altar (the brazen altar) speaking of the substitutionary atonement work of Christ. Before anybody could come into the presence of God there has to be a faith-alone-in-Christ-alone (meaning trusting in His substitutionary atonement).
The next thing that has to happen is there had to be a cleansing of the hands and the feet which is a picture of confession of sin - that ongoing experiential cleansing. There's a positional cleansing and a positional forgiveness that takes place at salvation; but in terms of our day-to-day walk, we sin as we go through our lives so there is an experiential cleansing that must take place. And, we confess our sins. So the laver depicts that cleansing that goes on in terms of confession of sin.
Then he would enter into the holy place. In the holy place he sees three things. On his left is the golden menorah as I said picturing Christ as the light of the world. But what this indicates as well as Christ being the light of the world is enlightenment that comes from the living Word. The Word of God that we have (the Scripture) is the mind of Christ. So, only when you have come to Christ believed in Him in terms of substitutionary atonement, then been cleansed of your sin in terms of confession (I John 1:9) can you come then come into a place of closer fellowship with God where you have access to enlightenment on the one hand; you have on the other hand (on the right hand) you have the table of showbread which depicts fellowship and nourishment; and then straight ahead you have the altar of incense depicting prayer. So these three objects depict enlightenment, fellowship with God, nourishment and (fellowship with God) communion with God in terms of prayer all of which cannot take place unless there has been a prior trust in the substitutionary atonement and cleansing from sin. It's a tremendous picture of how you can't go anywhere in the Christian life in terms of learning the Word, applying the Word, having fellowship with God or any kind of effective prayer unless that's been preceded by trust in Christ as your Savior and cleansing from sin in terms of confession.
So I just thought I would bring that out because it has never quite struck me in that way as you look at these three objects here as enlightenment from Christ, from the Word of God and fellowship with the table, and then prayer.
So we looked at the table of showbread last time in terms of it depicting Christ as our source of nourishment, depicting fellowship in eating a meal. This time we're looking at the altar of incense.
So the key passages (the central passages) for the altar of incense are found in Exodus 30:1-10 and vv. 34-38. The altar of incense was three feet high (4 ½ cubits). It's the smallest of the objects in that it is only 18 inches square. It was to be one cubit square. A cubit was approximately 18 inches. Like the table of showbread it was made of acacia wood, which depicted the perfection of Christ's humanity. It was covered in gold, which pictures His undiminished deity. The top of the altar of incense had a crown molding of gold with a horn on each corner. As you can see in the picture the horns here are depicted with the blood that was put on the horns and we'll look at their symbolism as we go through this. There's a ring on each corner, which would allow the poles to pass through in order to carry the altar. The poles themselves were also made of acacia wood and covered in gold.
In Exodus 30:1 we read:
NKJ Exodus 30:1 "You shall make an altar to burn incense on; you shall make it of acacia wood.
2 "A cubit shall be its length and a cubit its width -- it shall be square -- and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it.
So it's an integrated whole.
3 "And you shall overlay its top, its sides all around, and its horns with pure gold; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around.
4 "Two gold rings you shall make for it, under the molding on both its sides. You shall place them on its two sides, and they will be holders for the poles with which to bear it.
5 "You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold.
This is a picture of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In John 1:14 we read:
NKJ John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Verse 1 said:
NKJ John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
This is Jesus Christ in His pre-incarnate state. In His eternality He is entitled the Word. He is the revelation of God. That word logos translated Word is loaded with all kinds of meaning, all shades of meaning. It means thinking. It means studying. It means communication. It means logic, rationality. All of these things are embedded within that concept of logos. In the Old Testament it had a very rich meaning in terms of the expression of God and the communication of who God is. The Old Testament "word" was memra. If you read this as either a Gentile or a Jew, it had a tremendous connotation for a Jew especially understood this in terms of the manifestation of God. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. That word for dwelling here is the Hebrew verb skenao which comes from the Hebrew word Shekinah. You can hear the same consonants that sibilant s, then the k, and then the n. Skene comes from the same Shekinah. It means dwelling place or Tabernacle - same word. The idea here is the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us.
NKJ John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
So it is in these depictions that we have in the Old Testament in the furniture that we have an understanding of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I've pointed out almost every time we've had a lesson on this, it's so important to understand this because in the early church the Gentile church by the late 2nd, 3rd century 4th century AD had such trouble trying to articulate the Doctrine of the Hypostatic Union or the unity of the human and divine natures in Christ when if they had fully understood the Old Testament, they would have grasped that. But, because the early church (the Gentile church) pretty much divorced themselves from the Jewish background and from the Jewish church in the early part of the 2nd century, they lost that rich understanding of the Jewish backgrounds to understanding the gospels, understanding the life of Christ and understanding a lot of the nuances that were going on there. So the altar is made in such a way as it is to depict the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His function as a priest, as our high priest in terms of His intercessory ministry.
Beginning in verse 6 we see the placement of the altar of incense.
NKJ Exodus 30:6 "And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you.
So it emphasizes that proximity to the dwelling place of God between the cherubs on the mercy seat inside the Holy of Holies.
Now the interesting thing here is that the preposition here in the Hebrew clearly indicates something literally in the face of or under the eyes of. It comes to mean in everyday language before or in front of something. So it's clearly to be placed in front of the veil. However in Hebrews 9:3, we looked at the beginning of the study and we'll look at it again in detail states that the altar of incense is meta, the Greek preposition - after or behind the veil. There it is emphasizing the fact that what happens at the altar when the incense in burned, the incense is drawn into the Holy of Holies where you have the dwelling presence of God. That's the emphasis here - is that its function is to bring the incense into the presence of God as a picture of prayer ascending to God and going into His presence. This is why the writer of Hebrews uses the preposition meta - after or behind the veil because that's where the incense was designed to go.
This veil indicates that separation from a holy God, a god who is set apart or distinct. The veil itself which hung in the Temple (the Second Temple, the Herodian Temple) at the time that Christ was crucified – that veil was ripped from top to bottom at the time of the crucifixion and that's reported in all 3 gospels - in Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38 and Luke 23:45. Next time we'll come back and look at the significance of the veil as we go forward into the Holy of Holies.
The altar of incense is also based on the heavenly prototype which is referred to in Revelation 8:3 which is very close to where we're studying in Revelation right now where the martyrs who are in heaven are praying to the Lord Jesus Christ that He would bring judgment (complete the judgment) on the unbelievers, on Satan, the antichrist in the Tribulation. Of course his response is "not yet." So that is the altar that is depicted there in Revelation 8:3.
Now one of the key elements in the altar of incense is the incense itself and that it was designed to be like everything else – distinct and unique. It was a specific recipe that's given starting in verse 34 and no one else was to make incense according to this particular recipe.
Exodus 30:34-5 we read:
NKJ Exodus 30:34 And the LORD said to Moses: "Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each.
So they would take an equal amount of each one. They would grind it up and make a fine powder of it and then blend it together.
NKJ Exodus 30:35 "You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy.
So it is set apart. It is a specific recipe of incense and it is specific in its function only in the Tabernacle. Now this is important because what God is emphasizing in all of this is His holiness. As I pointed out before, that concept of holiness isn't the idea of that which is morally pure or is without sin. It is an idea that - many times you'll read theologies that combine both His perfect righteousness and His justice. But, it goes beyond that because the core meaning of the idea of qadash, which is the Hebrew verb for "to make holy", is the idea of set apart or distinct. Perhaps the closest we get in English is the word unique. It is something that is uniquely oriented to God and it can't be used for anything else. So God is emphasizing His uniqueness, His righteousness, His justice and that you can only come into His presence according to His stipulations. He has the right to decide what the terms are on which His creatures will come into His presence. Because He is righteous, He can't have fellowship with that which is unrighteous. Therefore His justice will not allow anyone to come into His presence unless they meet the standard of His righteousness. That's what all these things depict - the substitutionary sacrifice, the cleansing that takes place at the laver. All of this depicts what is necessary in order for a sinful human being to come into the presence of God. He defines exactly how this is to occur.
So this incense was made according to a specific recipe. You weren't supposed to use just any incense. This incense couldn't be used in a profane or common way. People could not use this same recipe.
In verse 36 the description of how it was to be made continues.
NKJ Exodus 30:36 "And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you.
That would be on the altar of incense.
It shall be most holy to you.
NKJ Exodus 30:37 "But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for the LORD.
How many times have we seen the word "holy" now? Three times.
The Holy Spirit is saying, "Do you get the point? How many times do I have to repeat myself to emphasize it?"
Then in verse 38:
NKJ Exodus 30:38 "Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people."
Now that seems like a pretty harsh penalty that if anyone were to duplicate this, then they were to be completely removed from the people and have no contact with the people. They were to be completely cut out.
Now let's go back and look at these different spices that are used. The first that is mentioned is a word that is unfamiliar to most of us. It's the word stacte. This is a word that is not used in too many other places in the Scripture so we're not real sure what it is. It is either a sweet gummy type substance or resin or it is made from myrrh or it is distilled oil from myrrh. So it is an extremely valuable, extremely expensive and rare substance.
The second substance that's mentioned is onycha. This is made from the shell of a mollusk - again a rare commodity. When it was burned it gave off a perfumed fragrance.
The third element that's mentioned is galbanum which was also a gum resin that would emit a somewhat milky sap with a balsamic odor. It was derived from the Syrian fennel.
Then we have frankincense which is a fragrant white gum that comes from a tree called the Sali tree found in Arabia. So these substances were mixed together. These four spices were mixed in equal proportions in order to make the incense.
As the priest would come in, he had to go through certain preparations before he could come in and deal with anything in the Holy of Holies in terms of intercessory prayer. So before the priest could offer the incense of prayer, three requirements had to be met as I've indicated already. First of all he had to minister at the brazen altar. This is where the blood from the animals was shed – the sacrifices emphasizing that before anybody can pray they had to come to God on the basis of a sacrifice.
I just remembered some years ago - it always seems to happen in some sort of political season, but this was a time back in – I think it was back in the 70's. Jimmy Draper was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I think he was a pastor of First Baptist Church up in Oklahoma City. It might have been back when that farmer from Georgia was running for president. He was asked if God heard the prayers of Jews.
He said, "No, not unless they are believers."
The press just raked him over the coals. The world does not understand this. They do not want to accept the exclusivity that we have in the Scripture. That's what you see depicted again and again in the rituals of the Tabernacle. God says that there is one and only one way "to come into My presence." There is one entrance into the Tabernacle. There has to be a sacrifice first. There has to be cleansing second. You can't come into the presence of God in prayer unless you are first saved. Someone who hasn't trusted Christ as their savior can't get anywhere in terms of prayer, unless that prayer is related to God showing them how to get saved and to come into His presence. That's the only prayer that God in effect would answer – is a prayer to somehow know about God or know something more about Him, to know how to come into His presence. So the sacrifice has to be the shed blood of Christ. This is going to be emphasized within the passage in Hebrews 9.
The second thing as I pointed out is there had to be a cleansing from defilement on the part of the priest. This is described in Exodus 30:18-20. It is a depiction of cleansing from sin at the time that the priest is first installed in office. They would be washed from head to toe. That is a picture of the positional or complete cleansing that occurs for every believer at the instant of salvation. But then each time he would come into the Tabernacle he would have to wash his hands and wash his feet. This is emphasized in I John 1:6-10 that we have to come into the presence of God on the basis of being experientially cleansed and it is the blood of Christ that continually cleanses us.
Every now and then you run into people (and there's a lot of this type of people out there by the way) who think that you don't really need to confess your sins in order to have forgiveness or to come into God's presence. They'll go to verses for example like Ephesians 1:7 and others that talk about the fact that in Him we have redemption the forgiveness of sins. They don't make a distinction between positional forgiveness and experiential forgiveness. So they merge these things together. You have various people.
There's a guy up in Dallas and he may be on the radio here in Houston. I haven't heard him. His name is Bob George. He has built his whole ministry on bashing anybody that teaches that you need to confess your sins. The reason that came to mind is we had a group of pastors meeting this morning and we were talking about this. Somebody brought him up that had read his book recently. But you'll hear him.
"These people confess their sin."
What you don't understand is, if you read through I John 1:6-10, I John 1:7 says that the blood of Jesus continually cleanses us (present tense) from all sin. Now what they try to make that mean is that because Jesus has died now and He's paid the full penalty for sin that we don't need to confess our sins: "That's just legalism. That's just ritual. We don't need to do it. The blood of Christ cleanses us. That's it."
My response is well if the blood of Christ cleanses us, why did John say just two verses later (two sentences later):
NKJ 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
It seems to me that if I John 1:7 automatically covered it, then John is inserting something unnecessary just two verses later. He must be real stupid – just not real bright. He must have fallen asleep between verse 7 and woke up the next morning and wrote verses 8 and 9.
Then you get other people who come along (and there are a lot of theologians who've taken this position) that there is a distinction between cleansing and forgiveness.
"So we're cleansed by the blood of Christ. That's all we need."
Forgiveness only occurs if that has created a problem with people. They get into some warped and distorted exegesis. But, they lose sight of these pictures that God has given us in the Old Testament. They're used by Jesus.
When Jesus is washing the feet of the disciples in John 13, He says, "You have all been cleansed (positional cleansing) except one of you (which was Judas) who wasn't saved.
But He told Peter, "But, I need to wash your feet."
What He's showing is that in the washing of the feet that depicts ongoing experiential cleansing. That is necessary as you go through the Christian life. So you can't pray unless there is first of all faith in Christ and secondly cleansing.
Psalm 66:18 says:
NKJ Psalm 66:18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.
The word there is the idea "if I look at or if I see or if I observe or if I am cognizant of – if I'm thinking about." "If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me." It's just really clear that God isn't going to listen to prayer if a person is out of fellowship or they're not saved.
Then the third thing that would happen is the priest would come into the holy place and they would offer this incense. That is a picture of prayer. They have been cleansed by substitutionary sacrifice. They have been cleansed by the water, and now as they've entered into the holy place they can have fellowship with God. This is the idea behind Hebrews 10:22 (which we'll get into as we go through this next couple of chapters) which reads:
NKJ Hebrews 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
It picks up on same imagery that comes out of the Levitical ritual. So it is only when we're in proper relationship with God that we can have confidence that He hears our prayers.
Now as you would go into (as the priest would go into) the Holy of Holies and he would approach the altar of incense there were specific procedures that were laid out. These are described in verses 7 and 8.
NKJ Exodus 30:7 "Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it.
So he would come in and offer incense. Then he would trim the lamps on the golden menorah.
NKJ Exodus 30:8 "And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it,
So the incense burns around the clock, 24-7. There's the burning of incense indicating the continual intercessory prayer.
a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations
Now as he brought the incense in and he puts it on the altar of incense, he has to light it. It has to be lit. It has to burn. Where does he get the fire? The fire comes from the sacrificial fire there at the brazen altar. That fire at the brazen altar depicts the judgment on the Lord Jesus Christ in His sin. There is only one particular fire that can be used at the altar of incense. It had to come from the brazen altar. Now that's the background for understanding what happens in Leviticus 10. So if you have a chance just turn over to Leviticus 10 and we'll just briefly look at the first two verses.
This has to do with two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu. They are serving as priests in the Tabernacle and they decide that they can come to God on their own terms and not on God's terms – just like so many people think that they can dictate terms to God and that God has to let them into His presence on their conditions rather than on God's conditions.
So in Leviticus 10:1 we read:
NKJ Leviticus 10:1 Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD,
Now there's a picture of the censers here in the reconstruction of these utensils. That's what you see in the background here on the floor at the base of the altar of incense. These were the tools that were used to blend and to mix up the incense and then the golden bowl there is the censer that would carry the fire from the altar outside the tent.
But the fire didn't come from the altar. So, that's saying that there's another way to deal with sin. That's what it depicts. There's another way to deal with sin other than the way God says to deal with sin.
"On that basis I'm going to come into the presence of God."
So they bring this incense in and offered profane fire to the Lord. It's not the sanctified, holy, set apart fire that comes from the brazen altar.
which He had not commanded them.
NKJ Leviticus 10:2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
Instantly God incinerates them. They are just evaporated on the spot from a fire from heaven. God is emphasizing the fact at the beginning of that particular dispensation which was the dispensation of the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament that you can't define your relationship with God on your own terms.
You see the same kind of thing happen somewhere else in the Bible, don't you? Where? When you get into Acts and you have the situation where – what are their names? Ananias and Sapphira (very good, just testing you) – the first one slain in the Spirit. They say that they sold their land and they gave all the money to the church and they only gave part of it. They lied about it to the Holy Spirit and so God instantly executed them. Now He doesn't do that with every believer that lies down through the Church Age and He didn't take out every priest that violated the standards in the Old Testament either. You can think about the two sons of Eli and all the horrible things that they did and God did not execute them either. But at the very beginning when God establishes His pattern, when there is a violation God lowers the boom in harsh discipline in order to emphasize that His rules, His laws are not to be changed or manipulated. So in verse 2 God executed them and they died before the Lord.
The other thing that we point out in this particular verse is that Aaron enters in twice a day offering the incense. Now that is not a mandate. There is not a mandate there. You can't build a doctrine on that and say that it means that you need to be getting up every morning and praying and that you need to pray again in the evening. What it is, is a picture of continual prayer that should characterize a believer's life. For example in I Thessalonians 5:17, we're told to pray without ceasing. (In the Greek that's the shortest verse in the Bible, not the verse over in John 11 (Jesus wept). That's actually three words in the Greek. This is the shortest verse in the Greek (I Thess 5:17)). We are to pray continuously, not that you're always talking to God, but it is to characterize ongoing prayer. See a number of examples though in the Scripture of those who got up early in the morning to pray.
- Samuel's parents got up early to pray. I Samuel 1:19 as they went to the Tabernacle.
- Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 29:20
- Job arose early to pray. Job 1:5
This is always good for you morning people. Those of you who aren't morning people, you just hate this.
I remember when I was a counselor at Camp Peniel; I guess I always liked being a morning person. We always had to get up early before you would start your day, which would usually entail all kinds of things. You get all distracted. The staff would have a time set aside for prayer and Bible reading. To begin every day we would have to get up extra early to do that. There were always a few people who just weren't morning people and they just hated it.
"How can God want us to pray early in the morning?"
Well, it's not a mandate so you get off there. But you have a number of people - even our Lord would get up early in the morning because it's a time when there are no distractions yet. That's always my favorite time before the phone starts ringing – about 9 o'clock and doesn't stop until 9 o'clock at night. You get that time when there are no interruptions. Nothing is going on yet. You can spend that time quietly in prayer and reading through the Scriptures. The Lord did that a tremendous amount of times. He would get off by Himself.
One of my favorite stories out of church history had to do with John Wesley's mother. She had (I think) 19 children. Now how in the world if you have 19 children – there's always a screaming baby in the house – are you ever going to find the time to have the time to be quiet before the Lord, to pray, to read the Scriptures? So Susanna Wesley had a signal. That was back in the days (if you don't know your history) when women wore a lot of petticoats under their dresses. So what she would do, she would take her outer dress and she would pull it up over her head (not the whole thing.) She's got like layers of petticoats underneath. She would pull that outer layer up over her head and so all these children (everybody in the house) would know that it was her time to pray. They were to leave her alone.
So sometimes it's hard to find that time to be alone and get away from the distractions. But, you have to be creative and figure out a way to do it. So the emphasis here is on the believer's to intercede continually.
Now in Leviticus 16:13 we have another description of what the high priest did.
NKJ Leviticus 16:13 "And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die.
So the "otherwise he will die" is if he doesn't like the incense. So this is very important and it depicts that prayer going before the presence of the Lord, which is indicated by the Mercy Seat.
Exodus 30:9 says:
NKJ Exodus 30:9 "You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it.
The idea there is of course there's only one way to God and He defines that particular way. Everything is done according to very precise regulations. We've already seen verses 37 and 38 that the recipe was not to be duplicated for anything else.
When the priest went in, he was to take with him the blood from the sacrifice at the brazen altar and then he would put that blood on the four horns of the altar. Those four horns of the altar depict the four corners of the earth. I talked about that Sunday morning in Revelation and that is just something related to the directions or the compass – the four cardinal directions – north, south, east and west. It's an indication of intercessory prayer and prayer for the world that God's desire is that all men be saved.
In the Old Testament, Israel had a missionary program. They were to take the gospel to the Gentiles, not in the way that the church is by going out – but they were to have a witness to the Gentiles as Gentiles came to Israel. There were numerous Gentiles that were saved throughout the Old Testament. You have an example the Menahem the Assyrian in Elisah's time. You have the Ninevites at the time of Jonah. You have Rehab, Ruth, numerous Gentiles who got saved in the Old Testament.
So God was very clear as to what the correct procedures were at the altar of incense. Now the horns of the altar (this blood sacrifice) were important for emphasizing that the way to prayer is paved by the shedding of blood. If you look at Hebrews 9, we learn that it is on the basis of Christ's work on the cross that we have access to the Father described by the blood of Christ. If you look at Hebrews 9 starting in verse 11:
NKJ Hebrews 9:11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.
NKJ Hebrews 9:12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
So the picture is of that blood that provides the basis for going into the presence of God. Now prayer is a special privilege that God has given us. In the Old Testament they could not come into the presence of God except through a priest and through these different aspects of ritual. But in the New Testament, we have direct access to God. Every believer has direct access to God on the basis of Christ's having torn away the veil and opened up access to God. So prayer is something that we should not take lightly, especially the type of prayer known as intercessory prayer. We pattern that understanding of intercessory prayer on what Christ does for us. Christ is referred to as our intercessor. He is our intercessor and there are two key passages (two central passages) for understanding the intercessory ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first is in Romans 8 – Romans 8:33-4. In the context of Romans 8:33-34, Paul is talking about the privileges that we have as believers and the security that we have as believers in the love of God.
He says in verse 31:
NKJ Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
NKJ Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
Then he says:
NKJ Romans 8:33 Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.
Then we come to our passage. See what we've talked about so far is the security of the believer, haven't we? That every person who has trusted in Jesus Christ is secure in his salvation.
Who can bring a charge against him? No one can bring a charge against him because those sins have been paid for at the cross. When you put your faith alone in Christ alone, at that instant God imputes to you the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and declares you to be just. That is the doctrine of Justification by Faith. You are not made righteous. That is the Roman Catholic idea of infused righteous. You are declared righteous. You are still a sinner. Your sin nature is just as active the day after you're saved as it was the day before you were saved. You are not made holy or moral. You are legally given the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That is the basis for the doctrine of Justification. So because you are declared just, it's not on the basis of anything you've done but on the work of Christ on the cross and His righteousness you can't be condemned.
So Paul goes on to say in verse 34:
NKJ Romans 8:34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
So the intercessory ministry of Christ in this passage is connected to what doctrine? Security – the security of the believer in his salvation. Now that's an important thing to observe here – that the focus of that intercession is related to our security despite our sin or any sin that we might have. Now intercession is a broader category, and within that we have a subcategory known as the advocacy of Christ. Jesus Christ is our advocate. That is a legal term meaning that He is our defense attorney so that whenever we are charged with anything, He defends us. This is the idea in I John 2:1-2.
NKJ 1 John 2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.
Oops! You might sin. I know some of you and you will
And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father,
See that's part of Christ's intercessory ministry. He stands there in our stead. He is our defense attorney.
Jesus Christ the righteous.
Because it is His righteousness. The reason John says it is Jesus Christ the righteous is because it's Christ righteousness that's the basis for our salvation, not our sin or lack of it. Then he connects it to a very interesting aspect of Christ's work on the cross.
NKJ 1 John 2:2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
Now propitiation is a word that has dropped out of usage in contemporary English. But it is a time-honored word; and it's a good word. It's become a technical theological word and it's one that should be learned. It means satisfaction. It has to do with justice. Once again it's a judicial term (a courtroom term), and it means that God's justice is satisfied by something that has been done. What has been done is Christ paid the penalty in full so that the righteous standard of God is met and God's justice is satisfied. A penalty has been paid for sin.
A person has to have three things done in order to get into heaven. The first thing that has to happen is the legal penalty for sin has to be paid. The wages of sin is death and at the instant that Adam first sinned, he died spiritually. He was separated from God and he could no longer have a relationship with God or understand the things of God. That status of spiritual death is passed on to every descendent of Adam that is born of man so that Paul can say in Ephesians 2:1 that we are born dead in our trespasses and sins. We are alive physically, but we are dead spiritually. But the penalty for death in terms of its universal judgment of spiritual death was paid for by Christ on the cross. So it can be said that Christ died equally for all men. He paid the penalty for every sin including the sin of unbelief. That's not any different. If you are going to exclude the sin of unbelief - the only reason the people want to include the sin of unbelief is they misunderstand the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12, which I pointed out is a unique sin for Israel and has to do with their rejection of Christ as Messiah. It doesn't mean that they can't be saved. It just means that the nation is still going to go through the 70 AD judgment.
Okay. So that first thing is paid for by Christ on the cross. That's the objective payment for sin. It's universal. It's what's referred to as unlimited atonement.
But, two other things have to happen because experientially we're born dead. So, we have to have life. We're born unrighteous so we have to have righteousness. When we trust in Christ, then God imputes the righteousness to us and we're declared just and when we are declared just simultaneously He gives to us the life of Christ. We have eternal life. So what limits the application of the atonement is volition. If you trust in Christ, then you'll be born again or regenerated and you'll receive the imputation of righteousness and be justified. If that's happened, then because you are justified and born again, Jesus Christ continually intercedes for us.
Now the second great passage on Christ's intercessory ministry is in Hebrews 7:23-25. In Hebrews 7:23-25 we read:
NKJ Hebrews 7:23 Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing.
That would be the Levitical priests. If you remember, in Hebrews 7 the argument was that Christ is not a Levitical or Aaronic priest; but He is of the order of Melchizedek a distinct order of priest, a priest that can apply not just to Israel but to all mankind. Melchizedek was a Gentile.
The former priests on the one hand existed in great numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing. But Jesus on the other hand because He continues forever holds His priesthood permanently.
NKJ Hebrews 7:24 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.
NKJ Hebrews 7:25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
He's going to save them what? Forever. That's eternal security. So once again intercession is related to eternal security.
Now the word that is translated intercession comes from two different Greek words. The basic word is entynchano and it's intensified with the preposition huper – hyperentynchano. They have the idea of meeting someone, turning to someone, petitioning, praying, interceding, pleading with someone. That's the basic idea. It is used a number of ways in terms of the human sense. Paul was pleading with Festus who was the procurator or proconsul in Israel – Roman proconsul.
NKJ Acts 25:24 And Festus said: "King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.
That's that word for intercession. The Jews were petitioning Festus to punish Paul.
Romans 8:26-27 talks about the Holy Spirit that He's the one who interceded for the saints. So the Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints.
NKJ Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
NKJ Romans 8:27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Then Romans 8:34 which we just looked at… Romans 11:2 talked about Elijah pleading with God against Israel – same word for intercession; and then our passage in Hebrews 7:25. So it's the idea of pleading with God.
Now there's an argument among theologians whether the presence of Christ in heaven is enough or whether He is verbally articulating His prayer. I would say on the basis of the Romans 8 passage where the Holy Spirit is interceding for us because we don't know how to pray that that indicates a verbal articulation of the intercessory prayer. It's not just Christ's physical presence in heaven as our interceder, but He is praying specifically for us.
We have an example of His prayer in John 17. So I want you to turn with me and in our closing minutes I'm going to summarize John 17 for you which is the real Lord's prayer, not that prayer over near the beginning of Christ's ministry where He's taught His disciples to pray – "our Father who art in heaven". That's the disciple's prayer. This is the real Lord's Prayer. It emphasizes His intercession for us. It begins in verse 1.
NKJ John 17:1 Jesus spoke these words,
This is when He's in the Garden of Gethsemane – excuse me, when He gets aside from Himself on the way to the garden on the way over across the Kidron
lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You,
There's a lot that Jesus says in this chapter that is not related to a request. He is praying to the Father in terms of Himself, but He makes several specific requests in terms of the disciples. But He also states specifically in verse 20 that theses prayers are not just for these, but for those who "believe in Me through their word."
So let's look at what He says. In verse 11 and 12 you have the first petition that relates to the disciples and to us.
NKJ John 17:11 "Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.
The Greek word is tereo. This is a word that is used in several places related to eternal security. It means to keep or to guard - to protect. So it is a prayer related to keeping and eternal security.
He says in verse 12:
NKJ John 17:12 "While I was with them in the world, I kept them
Same word, tereo.
in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
That was a title for Judas Iscariot. He is called the son of perdition because he was lost. The same Greek word that's translated perdition is the word that is translated "those who are perishing" in John 3:16. So he was never a believer.
In verse 13 we read:
NKJ John 17:13 "But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.
So the first request is related to maintaining security – keeping them. Second request is related to joy. Then the third request is in verse 15.
NKJ John 17:15 "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.
This is the idea that we cannot be returned back into Satan's domain. We are transferred from the domain of Satan into the kingdom of His Beloved Son at the instant of our salvation. So, this idea in verse 15 is that we are kept from Satan. Again, it relates to eternal security.
Then we have another request in verse 17.
NKJ John 17:17 "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
So it's a prayer for our spiritual growth and advance.
Then in verse 22 we read:
NKJ John 17:22 "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
Now this is a verse that's often taken out of context and people use that to talk about experiential unity in the body.
"Oh, we just need to be one. Christians are so divided. Christ prayed that we would be one. If you look at the context, He's talking about being united in glorification which is again related to eternal security. He's not talking about experiential unity in that particular text. He says starting in verse 20:
NKJ John 17:20 " I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;
NKJ John 17:21 "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
NKJ John 17:22 "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
It's related to glorification ultimately. So conclusion – that in the themes of His intercessory prayer in John 17, a dominant theme is security and keeping the believer. He's praying for our spiritual growth. He's praying that our joy may be full. But in at least three of the requests He is focusing on aspects related to keeping us, guarding us, protecting us from the evil one and bringing us all into heaven in a unified body of believers which will occur at the rapture.
So the intercessory ministry of Jesus is incredibly important. We've seen in Romans 8 it's related to eternal security. Hebrews 7 it's related to eternal security. And in His high priestly intercessory prayer in John 17 it is related to other things, but eternal security is a primary element in it. So this is a focal point and it goes up continuously as is indicated in the picture of the altar of incense.
Next time we'll come back we'll look at the next aspect of the Tabernacle. We'll get into the veil and then to the Ark of the Covenant.
Let's bow our heads in closing prayer.