What is the ‘House of God’?
THE ‘HOUSE OF GOD’ AND THE ‘ALTAR’?
Let me just say a word about something that some people are confused about. We are now in the New Covenant. All the outward things of the Mosaic Law were given in order to teach us about Christ, about what his death, sacrifice and resurrection would accomplish. Now that Christ has died and is risen again, there is no need for the outward symbols of spiritual realities to continue; in fact the outward symbols are now done away with because what they symbolised has been fulfilled with the coming of Christ! This is what the book of Hebrews so clearly teaches us – Waebr.7:11,12,19,22; 8:3-8; 9:11,24; 10:1. There is no more tabernacle! We, the saints, are the habitation, the building, the temple in which God resides by His Spirit! “Now therefore ye are… fellowcitizens with the saints, And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
So, if anyone says that the building, or room where Christians meet on a Sunday is the ‘house of God’, or ‘Welcome to the house of God,’ they are misrepresenting the great truths of the New Covenant. It is wrong, and they are teaching believers wrongly – they are making them think that these powerful spiritual realities are just outward things like brick and mortar! WE are the church. WE are the temple of God by the Spirit! Where God’s people meet, that is where the church is – even if it is under a tree! In the New Testament, many ‘churches’ met in houses! (Warumi 16:5, 1 Wakor.16:9, Wakol.4:15, Filemoni 2.). The ‘house of God’ is the church, and the church are God’s people (1 Tim.3:15). The meaning of the word ‘church’ has become unclear because of translations. In the original Greek, the language Paul wrote in, the word is ‘ekklesia’. This means ‘those who are called out’. It is used for a group of people who meet together for a special purpose, normally a religious purpose. The important thing for us to realise here is that the word refers to people, not to a building where they meet!
There is no longer a priest or priesthood between us and God – because WE have been made a holy priesthood, a royal priesthood (1 Petro 2:5,9) and Jesus is our great High Priest (Waebr.4:14), and He alone is the mediator between us and God (1 Tim.2:5). On earth, we, the church, are God’s temple; by Christ we have access into the presence of God, into the ‘holy of holies’ in heaven (Waebr.4:16; 10:19)!
For anyone to say that a building is ‘the house of God’ is quite wrong. For anyone to say that there is still an altar on earth which Christians must come to is a complete deception! To say that there is some kind of physical altar where Christians meet together is a denial of the New Covenant. In Matthew 5:23,24 Jesus is speaking about bringing their gifts to the altar – but he was speaking to the Jews who still lived under the Law! Just as Jesus told the man whom he healed of leprosy to go and offer a gift of two birds to the priests, so Jesus is speaking to the Jews in Matthew 5 in terms of the system they understood and under which they still lived! And just as a person who is healed of leprosy today doesn’t have to go to Jerusalem to find a Jewish priest to offer two birds for his healing, so today there is no physical alter to which we come! To teach people this is to deceive them and rob them of a true knowledge of God! Yes, there were Jews who were still offering at an altar under the Mosaic Law. The writer says that they who serve at such alters have no right to eat of the altar that believers take part of!
“We have an altar, of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” (Hebrews 13:10-15).
Basically, the writer is saying here that believers have nothing to do with the outward physical objects nor the ceremonies of the Mosaic Law. Paul says that we are to go ‘outside the camp’, which means we have nothing to do with the altar and temple of the Jewish law where sacrifices were made! Jesus has take us away from such things by his death and we are to follow Him ‘outside the camp’. What does ‘outside the camp’ mean? Well, in the next verse he explains: “…here we have ‘no continuing city but we seek one that is to come.’ The place we are brought to is not some earthly altar but the spiritual reality of heaven, that’s why Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven (Wafilipi 3:20). We have been born from above, that is why Paul declares that Jerusalem which is above, is the mother of us all! (Wagal.4:26). God has raised us up with His Son Jesus Christ that we should ‘sit in heavenly places’. It is there that God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings. (Waefeso 1:3; 2:6).
God, by baptising us in His Holy Spirit, has made us a spiritual people ( Yoh.4:24; 1 Wakor.2:15; Wagal.6:1). God is making us into ‘a spiritual house…to offer spiritual sacrifices’ (1 Petro 2:5). We are God’s temple, God’s dwelling place (maskani Waefeso 2:22) and we have access into His presence at any time (Waebr.10:19). We do not use religious statues or pictures to help us pray or to help us consider spiritual things. This is idolatry! There is no temple of building made of bricks that we can call the ‘house of God’. This is a false and superstitious idea! Likewise, there is no physical altar, or table of showbread, or altar of incense, or any such thing! To create such things is to misunderstand the Gospel and the New Covenant, it is to create a false religion that takes us back into the Old Covenant, which is what Paul warns us so strongly against in his letter to the Galatians!
But let us return to that verse in Hebrews 13, where the writer says, “We have an altar, of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle.” Here the writer is saying that we have an altar which they who follow the Mosaic Law have no right to eat at! The writer talks about the altar as a place where we eat, and this is absolutely true! Yes, animals were sacrificed at the altar, but the priests ate a portion of those sacrifices – they were ‘partakers of the altar’! That is what the writer is talking about here. This truth is also mentioned in 1 Wakor.9:13. So tell me, what altar do you eat at? And what do you eat? The answer is clear. Jesus Christ was offered for our sins, and we partake of Him, we eat of Him – as Jesus said in John chapter 6, “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whosoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56). Now, many of the disciples couldn’t understand these words of Jesus. They found the meaning so difficult that they actually turned away from following Christ!
We know that Jesus wasn’t speaking about physical flesh and blood, because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. I believe these words of Jesus refer to our spiritual communion with Him. He died that we might share in His Life! This is made very clear by various writers in the New Testament: “we are made partakers of Christ… Christ who is our life…he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit…that you might be partakers of the divine nature.” (Waebr.3:14; Wakol.3:4;1 Wakor.6:17; 2 Petro 1:4). This spiritual life of having Christ within us (Wakol.1:27) is maintained by our communion with the Lord. Speaking of the bread and the cup that we drink of, Paul says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). The blood and body of Jesus speak of His Life, they represent His Life. Do not try and visualise drinking blood – that is not meant here! What is meant here is partaking of His Life, of who He is. This fellowship with Jesus must be something that happens daily in our lives. Just as we need food and drink to survive physically, so we need to spend time fellowshipping with Jesus Christ, in prayer, in worship, in love, in communion with Him, in order to ‘survive’ spiritually, in order that our lives are strengthened spiritually. Listen to what John says, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7). You see, it is only as we fellowship with Christ that we are able to walk in the light – and in this fellowship the blood of Jesus is effectual in keeping us clean from all sin! Partaking of the bread and the cup is a representation of this spiritual fellowship that we should be partaking of constantly in our lives. John says in th same chapter, “truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son”, and Paul declares the same truth in 1 Wakor.1:9: “God is faithful, by who you were called into fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is in this fellowship that we are changed and renewed in the spirit of our minds, as Paul says, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are changed into the same image as we fellowship and ‘behold the Lord’. This means we are to consider Christ, look to Christ, to love Christ and to let ourselves be transformed as we give ourselves to Him in faith, obedience and love. And which image are we changed into? We are changed into the image of the Lord!
Do you know something of this communion in your life?
So this altar that he speaks about in Hebrews 13 is the place where we give ourselves to Christ, where we fellowship with Him and partake of Him. This is the place where He communes with us and transforms us spiritually. This is the place where we offer the sacrifice of praise! Our lives are given to God in thankfulness, devotion and dedication. God gives us a wonderful explanation or illustration of this in Exodus chapter 29. God commanded that every day, morning and evening, a lamb should be offered as a burnt offering on the altar of sacrifice.
“Now this is that which you shall offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year, day by day continually. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning; and the other lamb you shall offer in the evening…for a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire unto the Lord. This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD: where I will meet you, to speak there unto you. And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory.” Exodus 29:38-43.
This is not a sin offering here but a whole burnt offering. Burnt offerings were to be offered by free choice of the worshipper (Leviticus 1:3) and they were to be a sweet aroma unto the Lord, representing the full dedication of the worshipper to God. Notice what God says! This is the place where God will meet with us! He meets with His people at the place where they willingly offer their lives without conditions and without reservations. But let us also remember that the lamb is representative of Jesus Christ. In other words, God is expecting to ‘smell’ the ‘aroma’ of the life of His Son from our offered lives! As we have seen, this is a place of offering and a place of fellowship with God, where our lives become as His life here on earth – and this is well-pleasing unto God.
Paul refers us to this wonderful truth in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, “Now thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ, and makes manifest the fragrance of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet fragrance of Christ, among them that are saved, and among them that perish…and who is sufficient for these things?”
Do you see how wonderfully the scriptures fit together? Without doubt Paul was thinking of Exodus 29 when he was writing 2 Cor.2! And can you see how wonderfully Romans 12 fits in here,
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2).
Here is the truth. There is no physical altar. There is no physical place where we need to go to in order to approach an altar. There is no human priest whom we need to go to.
We are to offer our lives a living sacrifice to God (continually) so that we might know Him, and know His will, and be transformed into the likeness of Christ, so that we can be an aroma of Christ in this world. This is your altar – it is the place where you offer yourself to God, where you fellowship with God, where God fellowships with you, where in times of trial and difficulty you choose not to give in to the devil, choose not to give in to the flesh, choose not to follow your own way and your own preference, but you choose willingly to offer yourself completely to God to direct and lead you and to fill you with Himself!
A final word. Now if anyone says to you that you must bring all your offerings (of money) to the place where you meet on Sunday because that is where the Lord’s altar is, then they are teaching error. There is no altar of any kind in any building of the Lord’s church on earth! Such a thing is not taught or mentioned in the New Testament. In fact, such a teaching destroys the teaching of the New Testament as we have seen from the verses above. Also, such a teaching turns church into a business. Although it would be normal for most of your offering to be given to, or through the hands of the church, there is no teaching in the New Testament that ALL the money that you want to offer has to be given to the church.
© David Stamen 2016 www.somabiblia.com
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THE HOUSE OF GOD AND THE ALTAR