A Question I Was Asked:



What is the Meaning of "We have an Altar from which those who serve the Tabernacle have no right to eat." Hebrews 13: 10 ?








Please can you explain the following verse, please: "we have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat." Hebrews 13: 10.



UK Apologetics Reply:

So the Scripture here is:

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (Hebrews 13:10).

The Book of Hebrews is being addressed to Christians from a Hebrew background (hence the book's title), the writer is encouraging them to stay on course in their Christianity and not to turn back towards old covenant practice and ritual, rather, they should be moving on.

Now one always needs to take in a few more verses to get a fuller context, so let's do that:

9. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. 10. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11. The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:9-16).

Notice here the writer is warning the Hebrew believers not to get taken in by new or strange teachings (verse 9), and he keeps comparing the temporary things of the old covenant with the glorious New Covenant which fully reveals Christ. 'Our hearts need to be established by grace, not by ceremonial foods'; then he mentions the altar (which of course, was the place of sacrifice). So he states, "We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat." (verse 10). What is the meaning of that? The old presiding Levitical priests were allowed to eat some of the meat given in offerings by the people (see Leviticus 6:25-26; Numbers 18:9-10), but now we - meaning Christians, of course - accept the supreme sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those of the old covenant are not granted that right, and are not able to eat 'at the table' of the Lord Jesus. Why? Because they did not accept His sacrifice.

In verses 11-14, this is broadened out a little. The writer of Hebrews states,

11. The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.


The Meaning

The bodies of sacrificed animals had their blood poured out on the altar, but their bodies were burned 'outside the camp' (verse 11), in similar manner, Jesus was suffered and sacrificed 'outside the camp,' thereby making the people holy through His blood.' (verse 12). As Christians we too must operate - for the present - 'outside' the camp, going into the world with the message of the Gospel. In this way, in a sense, we must share the disgrace He bore (verse13), but we do not cling to any temporary city, or dwelling, we are looking for the city that is to come, which of course is the Heavenly Jerusalem (verse 14).


Sacrifice is the Big Theme

Sacrifice is the big theme here and the animal sacrifices of Mosaic times are being compared very unfavourably with the supreme sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ!

So, with that background, let us look once more at verse 10:

'We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.'

So we may see that the meaning is this: under the old covenant the priests ministered at the altar, or place of sacrifice, but under the New Covenant they can never 'minister' at the altar (place of sacrifice), of the risen Lord Jesus, He may now be called 'our altar.' Only Christians 'eat' at this place of sacrifice. The things at the temple were only a picture of the fuller reality to come in Christ.


Time to Move On...

The Hebrews who had come to Christ now needed to fully understand some of these things, because, hitherto, some of them had been a little slow to grasp the real spiritual meanings which the temple practices had pictured in advance:

11. We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13. Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14).

Robin A. Brace. November 13th, 2017.

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