I wrote the following on pages 215-219 in Looking Glass, The City God Loves:
When I saw the image below, there was no question in my mind that it was a censer. The beloved disciple describes an angel holding a golden censer at the altar (Revelation 8:3-5). The smoke of the incense along with people’s prayers went up before God. Then the angel filled the censer with fire from the altar and hurled it to the earth. Verse 5 talks about “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake."
The censer is the shiny object near the middle of the picture(s). It looks like it has a lid or a cover.
The veil, of course, separates the holy place from the most holy place (also known as the holy of holies). It provides a special room for the ark of the covenant. The priest would visit the altar of incense just before he entered the most holy place. And the ark of the covenant, I believe, represents the throne of God. It is amazing to think that God enjoys our prayers. He wants us to be close to Him, to approach His throne with confidence. Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
The altar of sacrifice, which is a type of Christ’s death on our behalf, is on the right. It is above the reddish-orange ramp. And the altar of incense is on our left. This altar is a type of Christ’s mediation on our behalf. Interestingly enough, the Lord Himself connects the two altars in the picture.
We already learned that the coals for the altar of incense needed to come from the altar of sacrifice. Ephesians 5:2 says that “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, made a terrible mistake when they put unauthorized fire underneath the altar of incense (Leviticus 10:1-3). The fire was unholy and strange. It was from an inappropriate source, somewhere other than the altar of sacrifice.
The reason God gave Aaron specific instructions for the tabernacle was significant. He wanted Aaron and his sons, as well as all the Israelites, to distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean (vv. 8-11).
God wants us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). All intercession, whether prayer or worship, exists through Christ. Hebrews 7:25 says that He lives to make intercession for us. Jesus is our High Priest who truly meets our needs. He is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (v. 26). Only Jesus has the right to go before the throne of grace. Once we have met Him at the altar of sacrifice, then, and only then, is it possible for us to worship at the altar of incense. In Psalm 141:2, King David says, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”
When the Magi visited Baby Jesus, they brought Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Apparently, these three things were a standard gift for a king during Bible times. The gold, of course, represents Jesus’ deity. He is also the King of the universe. We see gold in the holy place as well as the most holy place.
The frankincense represents His priestly role. Exodus 30:7-8 says that “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.” One of the ingredients in the incense was pure frankincense (v. 34).
The myrrh points to Jesus’ death and burial. Myrrh was also one of the ingredients used in the tabernacle’s anointing oil (v. 23). I find it interesting that the priests were anointed to serve the Lord in His temple (v. 30). The tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant, the table and its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of sacrifice and all its utensils, and the wash basin were all anointed with this sacred oil as well (vv. 26-28). Verse 29 says, “You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.”
If there is one word that often describes God’s temple, it is “holy.” The New Jerusalem is also described as the “Holy City” (Revelation 21:2). And the apostle Peter says that “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
You may have already figured it out that the Lord connects all the parts of the tabernacle in the picture. He fulfills each one perfectly. When the beloved disciple describes the New Jerusalem, he says, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22). I had some difficulties understanding the layout of the temple at first. In the tabernacle, the priest would begin in the courtyard, move to the holy place, and then finish in the most holy place (once a year). The ark of the covenant was at the end of it. In the New Jerusalem, however, God’s throne is in the city. The water of life flows from the throne down the great street. There is a lot of activity around the throne. I began to think about Noah’s ark. Noah built three levels, which, in a way, resemble the three separate areas of the tabernacle. In Noah’s ark, however, the floors went up towards Heaven. Since Mount Zion will be taller than all the other mountains, I imagine the Lord’s throne will be high and lifted up above everyone and everything. Instead of His throne being at the end, like in the tabernacle, I think it will stretch across and embrace every part. The Lord Jesus will be the center of all worship, and it will be holy because of Him. He will be accessible to all.
At this time, I hope you will read through chapters four and five in Revelation. The beloved disciple describes Heaven's throne room in detail. I have covered some of the details in Stained Glass, The New Jerusalem, as well as in this book. I hope you enjoy pinpointing the illustrations as you read.
Copyright © 2016 Heidi Rabe