Hebrews 13:10–11, “10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent[a] have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.”
From the earliest days of the Christian community, believers have had to face those who would try to reimpose some of the ritual requirements of the Law on Christian believers. Paul, for example, had to deal with Judaizers at Galatia who wanted to impose circumcision upon Gentile converts.
Such legalistic demands add nothing to the Gospel. In fact they take away the freedom that Christ has brought by His atoning sacrifice and resurrection. Moreover, the addition of such demands amounts to no less than another gospel (Gal. 1:8).
The original audience of the book of Hebrews also encountered such problems. Faced with tremendous persecution, the call to return to the practices of the old covenant became quite inviting. This is why the author of the epistle takes such time in chapters 7–10 explaining that Jesus fulfills and supersedes the old covenant. In light of this reality, the last two chapters of his epistle focus on exhorting the audience to cling to Christ and strengthen themselves for the race ahead.
One of the ways in which they were (and we are) to be strengthened is by not allowing ourselves to be led away by strange teachings or partaking of foods that do not benefit those who eat of them (13:9). The reference here is probably to the old covenant animal sacrifices, which, though manifestations of God’s grace, were not the actual means by which salvation was accomplished.
Under the Law, the priests were often allowed to eat portions of the animals that they offered up. However, this was not true of the Day of Atonement. On that day, the animals were burned outside the camp of Israel and no one could eat of them (Lev. 16; Heb. 13:11).
As the Day of Atonement demonstrates, not only did these animal sacrifices not effect the cleansing of the conscience, there were also times when the meat could not be enjoyed at all even though it did not benefit those who ate of it (v. 13:9). However, this is not true of the new covenant. For we can eat from Christ’s altar while those who normally offered the animal sacrifices could not because they did not know Christ (v. 10). Today, many still cannot eat from this altar because they do not know Jesus. But by faith, we who are believers can partake of the salvation Jesus offers and receive His benefits.
When we feed at the altar of Christ we are supplied with the grace and strength that we need to persevere in the race of faith. By His Word and presence, He guarantees and completes our salvation. Today, take some time in prayer to meditate on Christ. Ask Him to give you the strength you need to finish the race.
We Have an Altar, Copyright (2021), Ligonier Ministries.