“We have an altar that those who serve in the tabernacle have no right to eat from. For the bodies of those animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as an offering for sin are burned outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:10-11 NET).
Hebrews chapter nine featured a lengthy discussion regarding the tabernacle and those who served there. That discussion culminated in the conclusion we read in the opening verses of chapter ten…
“The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.
If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4 NLT).
Our text from Hebrews 13:10-11 returns to that imagery to make some important points. First, “The priests who officiated over various sacrifices were entitled to eat the portion of that sacrifice designated for the priests (Lev 6:14–30).” (1) However, those who continued to serve in the Old Testament sacrificial system (represented by the Tabernacle) sought to approach God through their offerings and not through Jesus’ sacrifice. Therefore, “Those still under the Old Covenant (‘who serve the tabernacle’) had ‘no right’ to partake of Him for spiritual sustenance and fellowship with God, since their confidence (faith) was still in the Old Covenant.” (2)
However, this is not to say that we have no altar under the New Covenant. As mentioned previously, that altar is the cross of Christ, where Jesus’ sacrifice was made. (3) In light of this, “We have no need of the temple altar for we have an altar, that on which Christ offered himself, to which those who cling to the tabernacle service have no right. Christ’s altar implies the abolition of the tabernacle and the old covenant. Those who cling to these show their lack of faith in Christ.” (4)
Hebrews 13:10-13 represents the last time our author will turn to the Old Testament sacrificial system to illustrate the superior nature of the New Covenant. Having served its purpose in that regard, our author will make one final point before moving to some practical instructions and personal asides to close this letter.
(1) John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Heb 13:10.
(2) Constable, Thomas. DD, Notes on Hebrews 2023 Edition “Instructions regarding religious duties 13:7-19” [13:10] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm
(3) See G2379 thysiasterion https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g2379/kjv/tr/0-1/
(4) Johnson, B. W., The People’s New Testament [Hebrews 13:10]. Public Domain https://www.ccel.org/j/johnson_bw/pnt/PNT19-13.HTM