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It is Christ our Passover, Sacrificed for Us!

 

The Altar of Which We Eat
By Fred O. Blakely

“We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary bythe high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Heb. 13:10-14, cf. v.9).

One of the objectives of the writer of Hebrews is to establish that fact that, by the renunciation of Judaism, the Jewish believers had not lost anything of real value, or that the good of Judaism was perfected in the faith of the gospel. “He shows that in Christ, the Head of the Christian dispensation, they had One far greater than Moses, by whom the elder economy was given. For giving up the Levitical priesthood there was far more than compensation in the possession of an interest of the great High Priest. Moreover, the tabernacle in which our great High Priest appears for us is ‘greater and more perfect’ than either the tabernacle in the wilderness or the temple at Jerusalem [Heb. 9:11, 14]. And in our text he points out that believers in Christ have also an altar with its provisions and blessings.”

Its Essential Identity

Essentially, it would appear that the altar of which we eat is Christ Himself, “who His own Self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Pet. 2:24). It is true that this was done upon the Cross, where the efficacious offering for sin was made; but it was the Sacrifice, in this case, which sanctified the instrument upon which it was made. It is also true that the Lord’s table, of which we eat weekly in the assembly of the saints, is closely related to His death for our sins, being provisioned by His broken body and shed blood.  However, in partaking of the table of the Lord we are simply sharing of Himself, who was “sacrificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7).

The Scriptural Confirmation. This nature of the case is confirmed by the correlation evident between the Apostle’s language in our text and that in First Corinthians 10:14-21 and the terminology of Christ Himself in John 6:51-58. In Hebrews, Paul speaks of eating of the altar of the new covenant (v. 10); in Corinthians of partaking of the Lord’s Table in the Communion (v. 21); and in John, the Savior requires the eating of Himself (6:57), --of His flesh and blood, that is (vv. 53-56). We thus judge that to eat of the gospel altar is to eat of the divine Victim sacrificed upon it by spiritually ingesting His body and blood at His table. Such eating, of course, is not confined to the weekly Communion--though it is undeniably done there--but is also done as the saints, by faith, constantly rely on the Savior’s death for their acceptance with God and life before Him.
The Import of the Eating. “The writer speaks of eating of this altar. The provision from the Christian altar is Jesus Christ Himself, the great Sacrifice. By faith we become partakers of Christ--we appropriate Him as the life and sustenance of the soul.  Our Lord said, ‘I am the living Bread which came down from Heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world’ (Jn. 6:51)”. “The altar is put here for the Sacrifice upon the altar. The Christian altar is the Christian Sacrifice, which is Christ Jesus, with all the benefits of His passion and death. To these privileges they had no right who continued to offer the Levitical sacrifices, and to trust in them for remission of sins.”

“It seems evident that the altar is here used by metonymy for Christ Himself, who was sacrificed for us. Thus, to partake of this altar is simply to partake of Christ. So Paul reasons in reference to the sacrifices of the old economy. ‘Behold Israel after the flesh,’ he says: ‘are not they who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?’ (I Cor. 10:18). And again he says, ‘Do you not know that they who minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? And they who wait at the altar are partakers of the altar?’ (I Cor. 9:13). To eat of the altar, therefore, is manifestly to eat of the sacrifice which is offered on the altar. And that the sacrifice in this case was the sacrifice of Christ is evident from the context, as well as from many parallel passages.”

Its Relation to Jewish Altars

The church’s altar stands in relation to the Jewish altars as Substance to shadow or Antitype to type. The Lord Jesus Himself, in His death for our sins and His life before God as our Advocate and Intercessor, fulfills the foreshadowings of both the altar of sacrifice and that of incense in the tabernacle and temple. This is clearly established in the text and in the references from Corinthians and John already cited. As the Jews ate of the sacrifices presented on the brazen altar, so we eat of Christ, offered for us, is the analogy of Hebrews. In this parallel, it is to be noted, the perfection of the new-covenant provision for sin, in contrast with the “weakness and unprofitableness” of the old one for that purpose (Heb. 7:18), comes out.

The Law and Its Deficiency. “Here there is a plain allusion to the eating of offered sacrifices [v. 10]. Some would teach you that meats are of religious importance [v.9]. Nay, but what are meats to us who have Christ Himself as our spiritual food? This is our peculiar privilege, not shared by the very priests of the old dispensation.  Then, in vv. 11-12, “That this is so is shown by the very symbolism of the Day of Atonement.’ The allusion is to the sin offerings on the Day of Atonement--the bullock for the high priest, and the goat for the people [Lev. 16:3, 5-16]. Of the flesh of some sacrifices--ordinary peace offerings--the people ate, being themselves ‘partakers of the altar’ [I Cor. 10:18; cf. Lev. 7:11-17]. That of ordinary sin offerings was partaken of by the priests alone [Lev. 6:14-18, 24-30; 7:6-7, 8-10; Num. 18:8-11]. But the special sin offerings on the great day, which typified complete atonement, and the blood of which alone was taken into the holiest of all, were consumed entirely by fire without the camp, and not even the priest might eat of them [Lev. 6:30; 16:27]. This signified that the Law itself made none, not even the priest, partakers in such complete atonement [as that of Christ, which was foreshadowed in the sin offerings of the day].” See also Heb. 7:19; 9:9; 10:1-4.
Christ as Our Passover. “We have an altar.” “Not a material altar, but a personal one, and that is Christ. He is both our Altar and our Sacrifice [as well as the High Priest and the Victim upon the altar]. He sanctifies the gift. The altars under the law were types of Christ--the brazen altar of the sacrifice, the golden altar of His intercession. This altar furnishes out a feast for true believers, a feast upon the sacrifice, a ‘feast of fat things’ [Isa. 25:6]—spiritual strength and growth, and holy delight and pleasure. The Lord’s table is furnished with provision from the altar. ‘Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us’ (I Cor. 5:7), and it follows, ‘therefore, let us keep the feast’ [of the Lord’s table]’ with the ‘unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ [v. 8]. The Lord’s supper is the feast of the gospel Passover.”
“We have an altar,” declares the text (v. 10). Praise God for that! It is not without the congregation
like the “mourner’s bench” devised by men (though it is “without the camp” of Judaism)but within the household of faith. There “all that believe” may come and eat, and delight their souls in the “fatness” of God (Isa. 55:2; Acts 13:39). “For My flesh,” says Jesus, “ is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (Jn. 6:55). “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth in Me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me” (vv.56-57).

“We have an altar,” declares the text (v. 10). Praise God for that! It is not without the congregationlike the “mourner’s bench” devised by men (though it is “without the camp” of Judaism)but within the household of faith. There “all that believe” may come and eat, and delight their souls in the “fatness” of God (Isa. 55:2; Acts 13:39). “For My flesh,” says Jesus, “ is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (Jn. 6:55). “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth in Me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me” (vv.56-57).
The Exclusive Rights of Believers. “The Jews boasted of their exclusive right to partake of their own consecrated sacrifices. This doubtless made a strong and deep impression on the minds of some of the weaker brethren; and they were in this way in danger of being misled by the false teaching of the Judaizing party. But as an offset to all their vain speculations about meats, and carnal ordinances, Paul here reminds his brethren that we Christians also have our exclusive rights and privileges of which to partake as well as the Jews. These are embodied in Christ’s sacrifice, which is of infinite value, and which is quite sufficient to satisfy the desires of all who lawfully partake of it. From this, however, the unbelieving Jews were all debarred according to their own ritual.”
The Superiority over the Law. By the fact that we are to drink of Christ’s blood, “poured out for many for the remission of sins” [Mt. 26:28, ASV], it is plainly evidenced that, in Him is provided what under the law was lacking. “Of Him, the true Sin Offering, we may [and must] all partake. He declared this Himself when He spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood--in which words the mention of the blood as well as the flesh is peculiarly significant.
For of the blood, which was ‘given upon the altar to make atonement for sins’ (Lev. 17:11-12) none might in any case under the Law partake. But of Him we even drink the blood, in token that atonement is completed, and that we are now fully partakers in all of its benefits.”  
Very much of the same significance is also inherent in our being permitted to eat of our Lord’s sacrificed flesh, which was the efficacious Sin Offering. “The Law, as we have seen, forbade even the priests to eat of the flesh of any sin offering the blood of which was carried within the tabernacle. But now everyone who comes to God through Christ is charged to freely partake of His flesh, which He has given ‘for the life of the world’ (Jn. 6:51). To cleave to the Law, therefore, is the reject the gospel. If we would eat of the real Sin Offering which has been provided under the new covenant, we must ‘go forth unto Him without the camp’ of Judaism [Heb. 13:13].”

Its Inaccessibility under the Law

“They have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle,” declares Paul of this altar of ours (v. 10). By their unbelief in Him they are excluded from participation in Christ. He is to the Jews “a stumblingblock,” as He is to the Greeks “foolishness” (I Cor. 1:23).  They will not come unto Him, that they may “have life” (Jn. 5:40).  Neither do the proud Christ-disdaining Gentiles of our day who, in their worldly wisdom, deem themselves above the need for a Savior, have access to our blessed altar, of which a person can partake in faith and live forever. God has banned all such from this feast, for in their rebellion against Him and His Christ, they have arrayed themselves against Him and His eternal purpose in the Son.

The Legal Barrier. In addition to that of unbelief, there is an insurmountable legal barrier from the gospel altar for those who cleave to the Law of Moses, as we have seen. “According to the Law, as developed by Paul in Hebrews 13:11, the Jews, as Jews, were all prohibited from partaking of the sacrifice of Christ,” since they were not allowed to eat of the flesh of sin offerings whose blood was carried into the sanctuary by the high priest (Lev. 6:30).

Our Lord’s blood was most certainly offered in “the holy place” of “the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man,” accomplishing “eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 8:1-2; 9:11-12). Thus, by the Law, all are forbidden to eat of His flesh, as well as to drink of His blood, both of which saints under the new covenant are required to do (Jn. 6:53-58).

Its Obligatory Claim upon Believers

“We have an altar,” whereof we may freely eat and live and flourish before God. What a blessing! What a divine privilege!  God truly has regarded us in our “low estate,” and “sent redemption” to us in the Person of His only-begotten and well-beloved Son (Ps. 111:9; Lk. 1:48). By the “sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26), the Lord Jesus has prepared “a feast of fat things” for His household, “of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined” (Isa. 25:6). And the gracious announcement and invitation have gone out, “All things are ready: come” (Mt. 22:4).
The question is, What are people going to do about it, especially those who profess to call upon the Lord’s Name? The altar of which we eat is graphically set forth every Lord’s day in the assembly of the saints--in the table of communion with Him. What is your attitude toward it? Do you value this consummate expression of God’s grace less than the Jews did the preliminary tokens of it which they had in their altar sacrifices? God forbid that it should be so! As the altar of which we partake so vastly exceeds in efficacy that of the prior covenant, so may our devotion to it go beyond that of the Jews with respect to their religion. So shall we be found “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” but exhorting one another, and so much the more, “as we see the day approaching,” as we are urged to do (Heb. 10:25).