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Tabernacle Shadow Journey - Altar of Incense Lesson 8
Manchaca Bible Fellowship
August 8 2001 Bible Lessons
Operation Outreach
Hebrews 9:2 For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; 3 and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, 4 which had the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; 5 and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

The writer of Hebrews points out many Spiritual applications from the shadows and examples found in the "Old Covenant", known as the Law, the Mosaic Covenant, etc. He has also contrasts the "Old Covenant" with the "New Covenant". These contrasts show that the "Old Covenant" was good and glorious, BUT the "New Covenant" is better and far more glorious. Therefore, it was impossible to make any real comparison, only a dim shadow.

As this presentation in Hebrews continues, we are shown the arrangement and furniture of the Tabernacle, itself. These articles of furniture were the Lampstand, the Table of Showbread, the Altar of Incense and the Ark of the Covenant covered by the Mercy Seat.

The two rooms of the Tabernacle are pointed out, and the unique service performed in each is also outlined. There was the first room referred to here as the "sanctuary", and the second room called the "Holiest of All". Both of these rooms are referred to by several different terms throughout Scripture, and by still other terms by teachers.

In our passage, before us, the English translation uses a word for the first room (sanctuary), AND a different word for the second room (Holiest of All). In the Greek, both of these rooms are referred to by the SAME Greek word.

Sanctuary or Holiest of All = [Heb 9:2 & 3] (Greek) Properly reverend; Worthy of veneration; Things which, on account of some connection with God, possess a certain distinction and claim to reverence; Set apart for God, as it were, exclusively His.

Often the context must be used to see which room is being referenced. The English translators usually use a different word to distinguish between these two rooms. Very clearly, the function and activity of each room was different. However, in BOTH rooms, their function and activities point to the only holy One, God incarnate as Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:6 Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.

In that first room, here called the sanctuary, were "shadows" of

  1. Christ as the Light of World - The Lampstand.
  2. Christ as the Bread of Heaven - The Table of Showbread.
  3. Christ as our Intercessor - The Altar of Incense.

These three items, as well as the Ark of the Covenant and Mercy Seat, foreshadowed Christ in life and ministry. The items of this first room also have some application to the Believer's ministry, and significant implications as to our walk in holiness. These many shadows and examples will be interesting as we study each in detail. For this lesson, I want to continue to see and learn from the overview of the Tabernacle and its service in general.

As we saw, from Hebrews 9:3-4, that the Altar of Incense, even though placed in the first room, is associated with the ministry of the second room, or the Holiest of All. Today, I want to lay some ground work for our understanding of this and other facts. Ground work is all that we can do in this one lesson.

For any in-depth understanding of this fact, or almost any in-depth understanding of any aspect of the Tabernacle and its service, we need to have a knowledge of the complete "service-plan" of the Tabernacle. We will gain this overall knowledge of the "service-plan" for the Tabernacle a little at a time, as we add line upon line.

Isaiah 28:10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little."

The ministry of the Altar of Incense is seen through the study of several passages. However, one of those passages give us the needed information for this lesson.

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. 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. 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. 7 "Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. 8 "And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. 9 "You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a meal offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it.

The Altar of Incense was 36 inches high and 18 inches square. There are some similarities to the Brazen Altar where the burnt offerings were made. Yet, it was totally different.

Both are referred to as altars, and sometimes you must look closely to tell which altar is being referred to in a passage. Both used fire as the agent activating the "sacrifices" offered on them.

From the Brazen Altar came the continual stench of burning flesh and blood. From the Golden Altar (Altar of Incense) came the continual aroma of the finest incense. The Altar of Incense was placed before the veil. This was as near as the priests could come to the presence of God in their daily ministry.

For the Old Testament priest, the veil prevented him from going directly to the Throne of Grace with the sweet savor, and his intercessory for others. Since the cross and death of Christ, the "veil" has been rent in two, and we may come boldly to the Throne of Grace. A subject we will need to examine carefully.

Daily, the Priests ministered in the Tabernacle, and as they offered the incense of praise and prayer, they were close to, but not in the very presence of God. Yes, the sweet aroma of the sacrifice of incense circled up and filled the Holy Place. The aroma of the incense could do what the priest could not!!! That sacrifice of incense could permeate and go past the veil, and became a sweet smell to God in the Holy of Holies. Daily, the priest could come close to God's presence, BUT not quite in His presence.

However, once a year the High Priest COULD enter the very presence of God. BUT he dare not enter that sacred presence WITHOUT the blood and the incense. We'll take that Biblical journey with the High Priest later. For now, we want to look at how the incense was used in this entrance into God's presence.

Leviticus 16:11 "And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself. 12 "Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. 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.

Day in and day out, the priests came so near to standing in the presence of God. Some of them experienced that near miss of God's presence over and over again for a lifetime. Most of the priests would minister so, and go to their grave being close, but so far away. Only the High Priest, and then only once a year would even dare push aside that veil, and stand before the Almighty, the Creator of all things, the God of all gods.

We can't take time to see all that's involved in this once a year journey behind the veil, in this lesson. There is even more involved in the use of the incense in this act, than we can see today.

But please see just a little of what is needed to make this journey proper and safe. Allow me to state, without taking the time to fully establish from Scripture, that one of the main shadows and examples of the incense is the prayer of Christ and the Saints. We will take time, Lord willing, to thoroughly search out these facts in the process of this series.

The High Priest must start at the Brazen Altar. The ONLY basis for prayer is the blood sacrifice on the Brazen Altar. That sacrifice, in shadow form, points to Christ and His death on the cross. Without the sacrifice of the Brazen Altar, there could be no sacrifice on the Golden Altar. Without blood NO ONE would DARE enter the presence of God..... LEST THEY DIE.

The High Priest would take live coals from the Brazen Altar and put them in his censer. He would fill his hands with "sweet incense", and THEN move into the presence of God. When past the veil, the incense MUST be placed on those live coals so that the cloud of incense would "cover" the Mercy Seat.

We have some idea of the need for, and value of the "sweet incense" of Christ's intercessory prayer. We see that in His prayer on our behalf, just before His death. Because of lack of time, we will not look at all of Christ's prayer, but see a part that is very pertinent to our subject of today.

John 17:9 "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 "And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 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. 12 "While I was with them in the world, I kept them 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. 13 "But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 "They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. 20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 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.

Christ prayed for a number of things, MOST of which are never mentioned in our prayers. Maybe that should tell us something.

Christ did not pray that:

  1. They would not be sick.
  2. They would have money.
  3. They would be popular.
  4. They would not suffer.
  5. Christ DID NOT pray for most of the things we pray for.

Christ did pray that:

  1. The Father would keep or guard them through His Person or name.
  2. They would know Christ's full joy THROUGH God's Word.
  3. They would be protected from Satan.
  4. They would be protected from the world.
  5. The Father would protect them from disunity.

Christ prayed for these and other things, NOT so we would be comfortable, BUT so we would live in such unity that the world would Believe in Christ.

Please look with me at the Divine commentary on this matter of incense as a "shadow" of the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5:5 But one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals." 6 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth."

Please understand that there is not enough time in a whole lifetime to carefully tie each of this passages together, in harmony, in a short lesson once a week. I ask you to allow the Holy Spirit to bring back to your memory those things which we have already studied. Such as the phrase in v. 10 "made us kings and priests". That should trigger a wealth of information. If nothing comes to your memory, then please get the back lessons for a review.

This passage in Revelation 5 is a prelude to that 7 year period, we often call the Great Tribulation. During that time of Christ's final conquest over sin, and the completion of the redemptive program, note the importance of the prayers of the saints. In these two passages in Revelation, the Holy Spirit through John continues to use the types, the shadows and the examples that we find in the Tabernacle and its service.

Maybe you feel you've stood at the Altar of Incense and offered up prayer after prayer.., AND it's just not working. Well, I want you to know that every one of those proper prayers are heard and used by God for His ultimate purpose. Notice in v. 8 that those golden bowls, FULL of incense, are the PRAYERS OF THE SAINTS. Let's move a few chapters further, and see how those prayers are going to be used in this great last conquest against sin.

Revelation 8:3 Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And 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. 4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

I don't know how God is going to do it, but that's His problem AND He is big enough to handle it. Somehow, the prayers of all the saints are use by God in this last great defeat of sin and Satan. The next time you think, "My prayer doesn't count!" Turn back to Revelation and read the account of YOUR prayers being used by God to bring righteousness to the world.

Oh, yes!!  

Your prayers count!!!!!!!

Like I said, this subject is bigger than both of us!! BUT please see that you are important to God, and your proper prayers are potent against sin, Satan and the evil forces of this world.

Let's walk with the High Priest, as He prepares and moves into the presence of God. The Holy Spirit said that these were written so we would have examples. So..... let's look at our example in the Old Testament, and then let's look at our instructions in the New Testament to see if we can learn anything about moving into the presence of God. Remember, we are looking at a "shadow" of a Believer entering the presence of God for blessed fellowship, NOT an example of a sinner coming for salvation.

As we walk along side the priest on this journey, we will only look at the very simple and generic aspects of his preparation. The details will come later, and at that time, this journey will mean even more.

The journey into the presence of God starts at the Brazen Altar. The earthly priest had to make a sacrifice and atonement for his sins, the sins of his family and the sins of the nation. There is no way you take the first "little" step towards the presence of God, without first taking care of the sin problem in your life.

The next step in this journey was to the Laver. The Laver was for the sole purpose of personal cleansing, and that is a constant need for all Believers. We can't move closer to the presence of God until we have personally accepted the constant cleansing from our sins. The Laver was especially for the hands and feet. We will see the Spiritual significance of this washing later.

1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

We need both aspects of v. 9:

  1. The Forgiveness = Brazen Altar
  2. The Cleansing = Brazen Laver

Both articles, the Altar and Laver being "bronze" have many Spiritual lessons. More later. Once we've accepted the forgiveness of the sacrifice and have experienced the cleansing, THEN and only then are we ready to enter the "Sanctuary" or the Holy Place.

By the way, the Holy Place, or if you prefer the Sanctuary is a place of service. We will see that later. There's a LOT to see later, isn't there?? The service by the priest in the Holy Place did not gain merit for him, so he would qualify or be good enough to enter God's presence. He served because he was forgiven and cleansed. Therefore, he was qualified (by grace) to serve and enter God's presence.

Please note the 




privacy of this journey.

At the Brazen Altar receiving forgiveness, and at the Brazen Laver for cleansing, the only observers were fellow priests, or possibly one of the congregation also receiving forgiveness for sins at the Altar. Once the priest progressed into the Sanctuary, on his journey into the presence of God..,

He was totally alone!!!

Even the priests in their daily ministry were out of the public eye, and only seen by a few other priests, as they also served in the Holy Place. I'm sure your minds can recall many passages, and even the teaching of Christ concerning privacy in giving, service, prayer, etc.

Notice something else that was absent on the journey into the presence of God. There were no "Praise Bands", there were no "Choirs".., there wasn't even anyone humming "Do Lord". Worst of all.., they didn't have any announcements or offering. The latter being the greatest omission (I'm sure)!!!

I don't know, for the life of me, HOW they could have had a worship service without those things! Well.., I really do know.., because MOST of what we do in the name of worship has little, if anything to do with worship. Any one of those things and many more can have a proper place in a church service. However, entering the presence of God is a very personal matter.

There is a place for "Group Worship", that TOO will be brought out later. Sad to say, much of what we do in the name of group worship has little to do with the group, and far less to do with worship. In most group "worship" services, very few are engaged in any act of worship.

Most of those in the group are only observers of others as they perform. Occasionally the group claps... so, I guess there is some participation. No doubt, many of these group worship services are very enjoyable. After all a good concert, good play or a good performance of anything - even Monday Nite Football is enjoyable, to some.

We're not talking about 


We are talking about the presence of God, 

and being there 

is very seldom the height of human pleasure.

Then someone says, "We don't live under the Old Testament. We have a greater liberty, because we live in the New Testament realm." Boy! That's a mean one, isn't it. Not much way of arguing with that!! That is solid theology.

2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood (Timothy was a child long before the New Testament) you have known the Holy Scriptures (Old Testament), which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture (only the Old Testament was written at that time) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

It looks to me like Paul hadn't heard about this kind of "New Testament only Theology". He seemed to think that the Old Testament had great value for New Testament Believers.

The problem is, we don't rightly divide the Scriptures. We only pick and choose what we want from them. The Bible says we are to come boldly unto the throne of Grace. We are to come boldly,but not arrogantly. It just might be a good idea, if we looked to see what it really says, AND see just how close the New Testament instructions come to the Old Testament picture.

Hebrews 10:14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, 16 "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, (Jer 31) says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them," 17 then He adds, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." 18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. 19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 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.

The reality - of the New Testament - is pretty close to the picture - of the Old Testament, isn't it? Let's look at some other New Testament instructions that refer back to the Old Testament picture.

Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you. 5:1 Therefore be followers of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. 3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

In Christ, we do have a NEW and LIVING way into the Holy of Holies. However, it is still true.., IF we want to be in the presence of God for glorious fellowship, we STILL have to accept His forgiveness, and receive His cleansing.

1 John 1:5 This is the message which we have heard from Him (Christ) and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

You can't get to the Throne of Grace or the Mercy Seat without passing the Altar of Incense -- The place of intercession.

Look at Heb 4:16 again. You will see two things:

  1. You will receive mercy.
  2. You will find grace to (not for) help (others) in the time of need.

If you are reading from the NIV, it says that we may find grace to help US in OUR time of need. I'm sorry, but the words just aren't in the original Greek. It is nice of the publishers of Bibles to add words in order to help the English reader understand the gist of the passage, BUT sometimes the added words only bring confusion. The truth is taught elsewhere in Scripture that God will give us grace for our time of need, BUT that is not what is being said in this verse, or its context.

The Altar of Incense, the place of prayer and intercession, was located as close as possible to the presence of God. Oh!!! So close to the heart of God. We can NEVER be closer to the heart of God than when we:

  1. Have accepted His forgiveness for our sins.
  2. Have received His cleansing from our daily sins.
  3. Given ourselves in His service.AND
  4. Are interceding for others.

That is near to the Heart of God. That is the very heart throb of God. God so loved the world that He gave His Son. With His Son, He continues to freely give us all things.

You will  


know the  FULL  joy of God, 

if you come asking only for selfish things.

© Clyde White, Austin TX, 2001