The altar was the place where Israelís priests offered gifts to God. A fire burned there continuously, and the smoke rose towards God in heaven.
Before the priests burned those gifts, God told them to take certain parts for themselves (Leviticus 7:28-36). Those parts were still holy, but they were for the priests and their families to eat (Leviticus 22:10-13). So, the priests were sharing a meal with God. That meal was evidence of the relationship between the priests, Israel, and God. God had provided that meal for his priests from his altar.
As we have seen elsewhere in the Book of Hebrews, those arrangements were temporary. God used them to teach people about the death of Christ. So, in Hebrews 13:10, the altar is a word-picture for Christís death. In other words, God provides for his people by means of Christís death. God gives his people a relationship with him by means of Christís death. Food can give strength to a personís body, but Christís death gives life to a personís spirit (Hebrews 13:9).
That is what Christ meant by his strange words in John 6:53-58. He told people to eat his body and to drink his blood. He did not mean that they would actually do that. He meant that their spirits would receive strength and life by his death. Because of his death, God could forgive them. And so God would give them life that lasts always.
That is also the meaning of the ceremony called communion, where Christians share bread and wine. Christ taught that the bread and wine mean his body and blood (Mark 14:21-24). Of course, that ceremony does not benefit anyone who is not really trusting Christ to save them. But at communion, each person has the opportunity to declare that Christís death was for them. The ceremony cannot save them, and they cannot save themselves. But Christ gave his life so that they could receive life in their spirits. And that life will never end (John 3:16).
Next part: The perfect sin offering (Hebrews 13:11)
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© 2014, Keith Simons.