“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:10-11).
Our text from Hebrews 13:10-11 reminds us that the book of Hebrews was originally written for the benefit of a Jewish audience. That audience was undoubtedly familiar with the imagery given to us in the passage quoted above, and it serves as a foundation for the application that follows in verses twelve and thirteen.
For those who do not share that same cultural heritage, the Old Testament book of Leviticus identifies two conditions where the remains of a sacrificial offering were to be taken outside the community for disposal…
- If a spiritual leader committed an unintentional sin.
- If the community at large engaged in an unintentional sin.
Under those conditions, the remains of the offering were removed to a ceremonially clean area where they were incinerated on an ash heap. So how does this apply to Jesus’ sacrifice? Well, first we’re told, “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.” This tells us that those who seek to get right with God by following a set of rules and regulations no longer have a place at God’s table under the New Covenant.
In addition, this reference to an altar points to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. Those who approach God by that altar have abandoned their efforts to make their own sacrificial offerings. Instead, they recognize and accept the fact that an offering has been made once for all through Jesus’ death on the cross.
Finally, we should remember that Israel’s spiritual leadership had rejected Jesus, along with a large percentage of the first-century Jewish populace. Much like the sacrificial offering detailed in Leviticus chapter four, Jesus had been put “outside the camp” by those individuals, so to speak. Therefore, anyone who sought to follow Jesus had to join Him there.
Those who had been ostracized for their decision to follow Christ might also recognize this reference to “outside the camp” as an allusion to Jesus’ message from John 12:25-26: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”
The same is true for us today. Much like the original audience for this epistle, we must also be willing to “go outside the camp” of this world and its values if we seek to follow Christ.