Integrally attached to the OT offerings was the altar, the raised structure on which blood was sprinkled and the fat of animals was burned. The Hebrew mizbēach (H4196) is derived from zāḇach (H2076), the word for sacrifice. Mizbēach appears about 400 times, about half of which are in the Pentateuch.
Early altars were made of earth and stone (Exo_20:25), but God later commanded the people to build altars of better materials, such as wood and metal (Exo_27:1-8; Exo_30:1-10). This impressed upon the people that they must worship in God’s prescribed way and that such worship demanded quality. It’s noteworthy that mizbēach is also used to refer to pagan altars, which must be torn down and destroyed (Exo_34:13).
One of the most vivid examples of an altar is the one on which Abraham placed his only son Isaac in readiness to sacrifice him according to God’s command. (Isaac’s place was taken by the ram that God provided [Gen_22:1-19]). Here is, of course, the clearest OT picture of the future substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ (Mat_20:28; Joh_1:29; 2Co_5:21).
So is there an altar today? Not in the strict sense, for the “final altar” was the cross (Heb_13:10-13). Our sin was laid there and paid for once by Christ (Heb_10:10). First, we don’t lay ourselves on an altar for salvation, for Christ was the Lamb on that final altar.
Second, neither must we daily place ourselves on some supposed altar for sanctification, that is, “crucify ourselves daily” for holiness, as some misinterpret Rom_6:6 : “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” In fact, every verb tense in Romans 6 that refers to our identification with Christ in His death refers to that identification as having been completed in the past. Our “old man,” therefore, “[was] crucified with [Christ]” so that now “we should not serve sin.” That is sanctification. We can now live holy because Christ died on that final altar.
Scriptures for Study: Read Romans 6 and rejoice that you have been freed from the bondage, the control, of sin.
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