In The Heavenly Temple Part 3, we saw
that once baptized into Christ Jesus, we are called to walk in the
newness of life! Today we will look at the altars mentioned in the
Heavenly Temple to see what kinds of lessons these have for us today.
We get a glimpse of the altar of incense from Rev. 8:3: "Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne." (Rev 8:3, NKJV)
The purpose of the incense, then, had to do with the prayers. It was to be offered with the prayers of the saints.
We are told that: "...we do not know what we should pray for as we ought..." (Rom 8:26, NKJV), and that we have "unclean lips" (See Is. 6:5). Our prayers, then, offered from "unclean lips," in words that confirm our ignorance about how to pray, are not pure and holy before a pure and holy God. The altar of incense purifies the prayers before the throne of God.
What does this mean for our heart temples?
We need to ensure that our prayers are holy before a holy God. The good news is that we don't need physical incense to do so. The apostle Paul tells us: "the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses... the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." (Rom 8:26-27, NKJV). Thus, when we pray, we need to ask for God's Spirit to help us know how to pray, to make intercession for us; for when we do, we are giving "much incense," that we can "offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne."
But what of the altar of burnt offerings? Do we find it in the Heavenly sanctuary as well?
The answer is, no, or at least, not by that name. However there is mention of another altar in Rev. 6:9: "When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held." (NKJV)
The Bible doesn't specifically say that this altar represents the altar of burnt offerings, but we know that the Earthly sanctuary was patterned after the Heavenly sanctuary, and we know there was already mention of the Altar of Incense. It is logical to think, therefore, that this reference may be to the altar of burnt offerings. Especially since the poor souls who have been "sacrificed" for the work of the Lord are "under" the altar.
Pure speculation? Perhaps; but as there is no denying that this second altar is in Heaven, the question should perhaps become, "What does this mean for me today? Does it have relevance for our heart-temples?"
The key thing to note in this passage is the presence of the martyred saints under the altar. This speaks of sacrifice for the cause of the Lord; this speaks of the unequivocal giving of one's self. The Bible has some other interesting things to say about personal sacrifice:
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." (Rom 12:1 NKJV)
Thus, in a day and age where we no longer have the need of animal sacrifices (thank You, Jesus!), we are still admonished to make sacrifices; only now, instead of bulls and rams, we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices.
How are we to do this? "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly..." (Rom 12:1-3, NKJV)
Another clue as to what these sacrifices of our day and age might be is found in Phil 4:18: "I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God." (NKJV). Thus, when we give freely and lovingly to help others, it is considered an "acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God."
A third application of the idea of "sacrifice" in our day and age is found in Hebrews 13: "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name." (Heb 13:15, NKJV). From this text we can understand that when we praise God for His blessings, we are offering sacrifices to Him.
Thus, the message to our heart-temples today from the heavenly alter under which is found the souls of the martyred saints is this: Sacrifice is important, and we offer sacrifices to God when we praise Him, when we give of what we have for others, and when we allow ourselves to be renewed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ by turning away from the world.
And that, friends, is the message of the two heavenly altars for us today. Please join us next week for The Heavenly Temple, Part 5: The Ark of the Covenant.
In His love,
Lyn Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two, Author -- "Aboard God's Train -- A Journey With God Through the Valley of Cancer", Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries. Follow Lyn on Twitter @lynchaffart.
(To access the entire "The Heavenly Temple" mini-series, please click here.)