Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
It isn’t particularly surprising that many Jewish people find it difficult to believe in Jesus. After all, God had them sacrificing animals for their sins (all of which were clearly outlined in the Law) for thousands of years and then suddenly some dude comes and >Bam< sacrifice is apparently no longer needed (as Christ sacrifice on a cross was sufficient). They didn’t have any warning about this major change…or did they? The Holy Spirit showed me that he did indeed include some clues to the post-Christ life in the pre-Christ portion of the Bible.
I was reading through Ezekiel, the part about the New (probably the still not built 3rd) Temple. When I did my pre-reading prayer, I noted to the Lord all the cools things he had taught me from the description of the Tent of Meeting months before. Even so, I was only half paying attention due to having to wade through several chapters of numbers and measurements. I mean, check this out:
Then he measured the length and the width of the gate facing north, leading into the outer court. Its alcoves –three on each side –its projecting walls and its portico had the same measurements as those of the first gateway. It was fifty cubits long and twenty-five cubits wide. Its openings, its portico and its palm tree decorations had the same measurements as those of the gate facing east. Seven steps led up to it, with its portico opposite them (Ezekiel 40:20-22).
Maybe it’s just me, but this sort of stuff is very difficult to read closely. I still can’t even make a menorah in my head from the Bible’s description of it, as far as I can tell, the Bible’s version looks nothing like the current version; and yet even in historical artifacts it is depicted the same as now. I’m getting off on a tangent, but the point is that I have trouble reading all these facts and figures about construction. So I was just letting my eyes graze over the day’s prescribed reading when I stopped, something was off about a couple of the verses I read. I read them again:
The outer sanctuary had a rectangular doorframe, and the one at the front of the Most Holy Place was similar. There was a wooden altar three cubits high and two cubits square; its corners, its base and its sides were of wood. The man said to me, “This is the table that is before the Lord” (Ezekiel 41:21-22).
Something isn’t right with this. A wooden altar? We use wooden altars now in church so one might read over this quickly and not really think about it. Technically the Israelites used wooden altars too, except their altars were covered in metal. In case you ever wanted to build an old-style altar, here’s the recipe:
Build an altar of acacia wood, three cubits high; it is to be square, five cubits long and five cubits wide. Make a horn at each of the four corners, so that the horns and the altar are of one piece, and overlay the altar with bronze (Exodus 27:1-2).
You see, the altar of the Old Testament was designed to have sacrifices burnt on it. For example, the Law tells us,
He shall remove all the fat from it and burn it on the altar, and do with this bull just as he did with the bull for the sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven (Leviticus 4:19-20).
If you want to read more, the first seven chapters of Leviticus go into fairly great detail about how to burn sacrifices on the altar. The altar of incense was also no stranger to fire, for it is written in Exodus 30:7-9,
Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come. Do not offer on this altar any other incense or any burnt offering or grain offering and do not pour a drink offering on it.
From this perspective, overlaying the altars with bronze is a logical move, since burning stuff directly on the wood of the altar would just be a big fiery mess. So what’s going on with Ezekiel’s altar?
It is especially strange to consider Ezekiel’s altar because in the days of the New Temple sacrifices still exist. We know this because Ezekiel 44:29 reads, “They will eat the grain offerings, the sin offerings and the guilt offerings; and everything in Israel devoted to the Lord will belong to them” (‘they’ being the priest). But this is where it gets interesting, because Ezekiel 43:21 also tells us, “You are to take the bull for the sin offering and burn it in the designated part of the temple area outside the sanctuary.” Notice that they’re not actually using the altar itself. Now, you could argue that bulls are too big, and they are. But if you look through chapter 43’s section on the altar, there isn’t (at least in my translation) any direct mention of things being burnt on the altar. The closest is Ezekiel 43:27, “At the end of these days, from the eight day on, the priests are to present your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar. Then I will accept you, declares the Sovereign Lord.” But this could mean that sacrifices need to be placed on the altar after being prepared (similar to a wave offering). If your translation is different, by all means let me know. Anyway, as far as it seems, the new altar isn’t for sacrifices. If that’s the case, then why even do sacrifices? There are two reasons. The first is that if Israel works the way prescribed in the Bible, the priests actually need the sacrifice; for the Lord says, “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You’re to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession” (Ezekiel 44:28). Rather, the priests are to get all they need through sacrifices and Temple gifts. So if there is no sacrifice, the priests can’t eat. The second reason the sacrifice wasn’t outright stopped even in Ezekiel’s new Temple of the future is that the sacrifice is a reminder of Jesus’ blood sacrifice on the cross. [Tangent: This is also cooly foreshadowed in Ezekiel 43:18 as the priest is to sprinkle blood on the wood altar (though they did this in the old Temple too with the bronze altars)]. Hebrews 10:1-4 explains,
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming –not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:1-4).
So although no longer needed for sin, the sacrifice is expected to continue when the Temple is eventually rebuilt due to the priests needing it and also to remind everyone of Jesus’ death in their stead.
In Romans 5:14-16 Paul wrote,
Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the man died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
Jesus’ death on a cross ended the need for sacrifice and the New Temple in Ezekiel reflects that. Through his blood, an eternal sacrifice was made that all people are welcomed to enjoy the benefits of. All you have to do is to put your faith in Christ and through that faith you will be saved. Anyway, it’s a cool passage in Ezekiel, because between all that stuff that would make a religious Israelite in exile’s mouth water we also are reminded that Jesus’ sacrifice for us had always been in God’s plan –and you too were in that plan. Just as he spoke to Jeremiah,
The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
Before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5).
The Lord knew you before the creation of the world and since the very beginning he had planned to send his son to die for you, because you are that important to him. It was always planned, and if you look carefully through the Old Testament, you can see the foreshadowing all around.