While it’s true that a New Covenant Christian is not involved in the ceremonies and furnishings of an earthly tabernacle or temple, it is not true that he is deprived of the blessings that they typify. A Jew under the Old Covenant could point to the temple, but a Christian has a heavenly sanctuary that can never be destroyed. The Jews were proud of the city of Jerusalem; but a Christian has an eternal city, the New Jerusalem. For each of an Old Testament believer’s temporary earthly items, a New Covenant believer has a heavenly and eternal counterpart.
“We have an altar” (v. 10) does not suggest a material altar on earth, for that would contradict the whole message of the epistle. In the Old Testament sanctuary, the brazen altar was a place for offering blood sacrifices, and the golden altar before the veil was a place for burning incense, a picture of prayer ascending to God. A New Covenant Christian’s altar is Jesus Christ; for it is through Him that we offer our “spiritual sacrifices” to God (v. 15). We may set aside places in our church buildings and call them altars; but they are really not altars in the biblical sense. Why? Because Christ’s sacrifice has already been made, once and for all; and the gifts that we bring to God are acceptable, not because of any earthly altar, but because of a heavenly altar, Jesus Christ.
The emphasis in this section is on separation from dead religion and identification with the Lord Jesus Christ in His reproach. The image comes from the Day of Atonement. The sin offering was taken outside the camp and burned completely (Lev. 16:27). Jesus is the perfect sin offering, suffered and died “outside the gate” of Jerusalem. All true Christians must go out to Him, spiritually speaking, to the place of reproach and rejection. “Why stay in Jerusalem when it is not your city?” asked the writer. “Why identify with the Old Covenant Law when it has been done away with in Christ?” The readers of this epistle were looking for a way to continue as Christians while escaping the persecution that would come from unbelieving Jews. “It cannot be done,” the writer stated in so many words. “Jerusalem is doomed. Get out of the Jewish religious system and identify with the Savior who died for you.” There is no room for compromise.
The writer named two of the “spiritual sacrifices” that we offer as Christians in verses 15-16. The first spiritual sacrifice is continual praise to God (v. 15). The words of praise from our lips coming from our hearts, is like beautiful fruit laid on the altar. How easy it is for suffering saints to complain, but how important it is for them to give thanks to God. The second spiritual sacrifice is good works of sharing (v. 16). This would certainly include the hospitality mentioned in verse 2, as well as the ministry to prisoners in verse 3. “Doing good” can cover a multitude of ministries: sharing food with the needy; transporting people to and from church and other places; sharing money; perhaps just being a helpful neighbor. Next the writer emphasizes the importance of prayer (vv. 18-19). He was unable to visit readers personally, but he did want their prayer help. It is possible that some of his enemies had lied about him, so he affirms his honesty and integrity.
Hebrews 13:10-16, 18-19 Reflection Questions:
Do you praise God daily (even through the day) for the blessing He has given you?
What are some ministry ideas God has put on your heart that you have been procrastinating on?
What will you do to improve your prayer life?