The Removal Of The First Sacrifice
Horatius Bonar DD
1808 – 1889
The temple was not overthrown till about forty years after the Son of God died on the cross. The type was preserved for a season, that the antitype might be more fully understood. The shadow and the substance were thus for forty years exhibited together. The temple still, in its rites, proclaimed what the apostles preached. Every part of it spoke aloud and said, “Look on me, and look away from me; look to Him of whom I have been bearing witness for these many ages; behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.”
But in God’s sight the first sacrifice was finished when Jesus died. Then the purpose for which the blood had been shed day by day was accomplished.
Thus the apostle writes, “He takes away the first that He may establish the second” (Hebrews 10:9).
To a Jew this language must have sounded strange, if not profane; quite as much so as did the words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). A first and second what? Does he rightly hear the words?
Is it a second temple, a second altar, a second priesthood; the first being set aside? That cannot be! Israel’s service is divine; it is one and unchanging. Messiah, when He comes, will confirm, not destroy it. Israel’s service is a first without a second. A second is an impossibility, a blasphemy.
Yet the apostle, a Jew, writing to Jews, announces this incredible thing! He announces it as an indisputable certainty; and he expects to be believed. Had he announced a second sun or a second universe, rising out of the extinction of the first, he would not have been reckoned so outrageous in his statement as in declaring the abolition of Israel’s present service, and the substitution of one more perfect, and no less divine.
1. But what is this first? Speaking generally, it means the old temple and tabernacle service; the old covenant made with Israel in the desert, from Mount Sinai. But the special thing in this service to which he points is the sacrifice or sacrifices; the blood of bullocks and of goats, the morning and evening sacrifice of the lamb for the daily burnt-offering, in which all the other sacrifices were wrapped up,–which was the very heart and soul of all the worship carried on in that sanctuary.
2. By whom was this “first” taken away? By Him who set it up, and upheld it for so many ages; “He takes away the first.” He, the Lord God of Israel, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. It was not man who destroyed it, even as it was not man who established it. Long before the city was overthrown and the temple perished, the sacrifice had come to an end, the temple service had run its course.
3. When was it taken away? On that afternoon of the Passover when the Son of God died upon the cross; that awful hour when the sun was darkened, and the earth shook, and the rocks were rent. Then, at eventide, at three o’clock, the last Jewish sacrifice was laid upon the brazen altar. In God’s reckoning that was really the last. No doubt, for years after these sacrifices continued to be offered up; but these could no longer be said to be of divine appointment. The number of burnt-offerings according to God’s purpose was now complete; their end had been served; they passed away. From the day that Solomon laid the first lamb on the temple altar; from the day that Moses laid the first on the tabernacle altar; from the day that Adam laid his first upon the altar at the gate of Paradise, how many tens of thousands had been offered! But now God’s great purpose with them is served. All is done. The last of the long series has been laid upon the altar.
4. How was this first taken away? Simply by setting another in its place; making it give way to something better. Not by violence, or fire, or the sword of man. The altar sent up its last blaze that evening as brightly as ever. The blaze sank down, and all has since been dark. The great end was served; the great lesson taught; the great truth written down for man. Then and thus the fire ceased to burn, and the blood to flow. No more of such fire or such blood was needed. The first was taken away without the noise of axes or hammers, because its work was done.
5. For what end did He take away the first? That He might establish the second. The first seemed steadfast; Israel reckoned on it standing for ever; it had stood for many an age. Yet it gives way, and another comes: one meant to be more abiding than the first; one sacrifice, once for all; yet that sacrifice is eternal; the same in its results on the worshipper as if it were offered up every day for ever; the basis and seal of the everlasting covenant. It was to make room for this glorious second that the first was taken away; this glorious second through which eternal redemption was accomplished for us.
Besides, it had come to be necessary, on other grounds, that the first should be taken away. It was beginning to defeat the very ends for which it was set up. Men were getting to look upon it as a real thing in itself; and to believe in it instead of believing in Him to whom it pointed. It was becoming an object of worship and of trust, as if it were the true propitiation; as if the blood of beasts could pacify the conscience, or reconcile God, or put away sin. It was becoming an idol; a substitute for the living God, and for His Christ, instead of showing the way of true approach and acceptable worship.
As men in our day make an idol of their own faith, and believe in it instead of believing in the Son of God, so did the Jews of other days make the sacrifice their confidence, their resting-place, their Messiah. And as Hezekiah broke in pieces the brazen serpent when Israel began to worship it, so did God abolish the sacrifice.
That sacrifice was not in itself a real thing, nor did it accomplish anything real. It was but a picture, a statue, a shadow, a messenger,–no more. It was but the sketch or outline of the living thing that was to come; and to mistake it for that living thing itself was to be deluded with the subtlest of all errors, and the most perilous of all idolatries.
What can be more dangerous for a soul than to mistake the unreal for the real; to dote upon the picture, and lose sight of the glorious Being represented? Ah, we do not thus deceive ourselves in earthly things! No man mistakes the picture of gold for gold itself, or the portrait of a loved face for the very face itself. Yet do we daily see how men are content with religious unrealities; the unrealities of a barren creed, or of a hollow form; the unrealities of doubt and uncertainty in the relationship between them and God. We find how many of those called religious men are satisfied with something far short of a living Christ, and a full assurance and a joyful hope.
Nay, they make this unreality of theirs an idol, a god; not venturing to step beyond it, not caring to part with it. They have become so familiar with it, that though it does not fill their soul, it soothes their uneasiness; it gratifies the religious element in their natural man; it pleases their self- righteousness, for it is something of their own; and it saves them from the dreaded necessity of coming into direct contact with the real, the living Christ, of being brought face to face with God Himself.
Thus it comes to pass that a man’s religion is often a barrier between his soul and God; the unreal is the substitute for the real; so that a man, having found the former, is content, and goes no farther; indeed, counts it presumption, profanity to do so. To be told that the world, with its beauty and seducing smiles, comes between us and God, surprises no man; but to learn that the temple with its sacrifices, the Church with its religious services, does so, may startle some, nay, may exasperate them, as it did the Jews, to be told that their multiplied sacrifices and prayers were but multiplied barriers between them and God: not channels of communication, nor means of communion.
The Jewish altar stood between the Jew and God; and that which was simply set as the ladder up to something higher became a resting-place. All the more, because it looked so real to the eye; while that to which it pointed was invisible, and therefore to sense unreal. But real as it looked, it was cold and unsatisfying. It was a real lamb, and a real altar of solid stone and brass; it was real blood and fire and smoke; and to take away these might seem to take away all that was substantial. But, after all, these were the unrealities. They could accomplish nothing for the filling of the heart, or the pacifying of the conscience, or the healing of the soul’s deep wounds.
Yet they pointed to the real; and their very unreality was meant to keep man from making them his home, or his religion, or his god. Men might admire the holy symbols and majestic ritual; but the true use of such admiration was to lead them to reason thus, If the unreal be so attractive, what will the real be; if the shadow thus soothes and pleases, what will not the divine substance do; if the picture of Messiah, thus sketched in these ceremonies, be so fair and goodly, how much fairer and goodlier will be the living Christ Himself; if the porch of the temple, or the steps leading to that temple, be so excellent, what must the inner sanctuary be; and who would stand thus, all a lifetime, shivering in the cold without, when the whole interior, with all its warmth and splendour and life and vastness was thrown open, and every man invited to enter and partake the gladness?
Thus the “taking away of the first” was not the mere removal of what had done its work and become useless; but the abolition of that which had become an idol; a barrier between the Jew and God; quite as much as if the brazen altar had in the process of time become so enlarged as to block up the entrance into the holy place or the holiest of all.
We read in Jewish history that once and again, during the seventeen sieges of Jerusalem, the gate of the temple was blocked up by the dead bodies of the worshippers. So did the access into the true tabernacle, not made with hands, become blocked up by the very sacrifices that were intended to point to the open door; and so in our day (long after that altar has been overturned and the fire quenched), is entrance into the holiest blocked up by our dead prayers, our dead works, our dead praises, our dead sacraments, our dead worship, our dead religion, quite as effectually as by our total want of these.
Here is a lesson hard for man to learn, especially in days when religion is fashionable and forms are exalted above measure. Greatly is that text needed amongst us, “If the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14).
It is then through the “second,” not the “first,” that the conscience is purged and the man made an acceptable worshipper, capable of doing good works and doing them in the spirit of liberty and fearless gladness. It is with the second, not the first, that the sinner has to do in drawing near to God; and it is the second, not the first, that God has regard to in receiving the sinner, and receiving him on the footing of one whose sins and iniquities are remembered no more.
How wide the difference, how great the contrast between the first and the second!
The first drew the veil and shut out the sinner from the holiest; the second rent it and bid him enter.
The first filled the sinner’s soul with dread, even in looking on the holiest of all from without; the second emboldened him to draw near and go up to the mercy-seat.
The first made it death to cross the threshold of that inner shrine, where the symbol of the glory dwelt; the second made it life to go into the very presence of God, and provided the new and living way.
The first gave no certainty of acceptance and laid the foundation for no permanent assurance; the second said, “Let us draw near with a true heart in the full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22) ; “let us come boldly to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16).
The first was never finished, even after many ages; the second was finished at once.
The first was earthly, the second heavenly.
The first was temporal, the second eternal.
The first was unreal, the second real.
The first pacified no conscience; the second did this at once, purging it effectually, so that the worshippers once purged had no more conscience of sins.
The first was but the blood of one of Israel’s lambs; the second the blood of the Lamb without blemish and without spot,–the precious blood of Christ!
Still there was much about that “first” to interest, to solemnise, to gladden. It was old and venerable, a true relic of antiquity, such as no modern Church can boast of. It was not one death, but many thousand deaths; not one victim, but ten thousand victims; each of them fulfilling a certain end, yet all of them unavailing for the great end,–complete remission of sin and the providing for the worshipper, a perfect conscience and reconciliation with the Holy One of Israel.
And that last Jewish sacrifice, at the hour of the crucifixion, which ended the “first” and began the “second”; was there not something specially solemn about it? Was there not something peculiar about it as the last? Like the last cedar of Lebanon, the last olive of Palestine, the last pillar of a falling temple that has stood for ages, the last representative of an ancient race, it could not but have something sacred, something noble about it.
An unbelieving Jew, worshipping in the temple, at the time would see nothing remarkable about it, save the unaccountable darkness which had for three hours covered Jerusalem, and the fearful earthquake, and the mysterious rending of the veil, the tidings of which would immediately spread both in the temple and the city.
What can all this mean, he might say; but he knew not what they meant; nor that this was the last sacrifice, according to the purpose of the God of Israel. Not connecting the first with the second, nor the earthly with the heavenly, he would soon forget the darkness, and the earthquake, and the torn veil, coming next morning at nine o’clock to assist in the celebration of the morning-sacrifice.
For the great break in the sacrifices was an invisible thing to him. To heaven it was visible, to angels it was visible, to faith it was visible; but not to unbelief. And unbelief would go on from day to day doting on the old sacrifice and admiring the old altar; till the Roman torch set fire to the goodly cedar of the holy places, and the Roman battle-axe shivered the altar in pieces, and brought to the ground porch, and tower, and wall,- -gate and bar, in one irrecoverable ruin; not one stone left upon another.
But how would a believing Jew view this last sacrifice? With mingled feelings in many ways; for as yet his eyes were but half opened; and though he might in a measure understand the first, he could not fully see the second, nor the first in connection with the second. It would still be to him sacred and venerable; though now he saw it, like the picture of a dissolving view, passing away and being replaced by another.
Holy histories of his nation and precious recollections of his own experience would come up into view. From that sacrifice he had learned the way of forgiveness, perhaps from childhood. Often had the sight of it poured in happy thoughts and told him of the love of a redeeming God. Often had he stood at that altar with his little ones, and taught them from it the way of salvation through blood. Often had he seen the fire blazing and the smoke ascending, and the blood flowing, and he had mused over all these in connection with the first promise of Messiah’s bruised heel, and the later prophecies of His pouring out His soul unto death.
But now he was startled. That darkness, that earthquake, that rent veil; and in connection with all this, the scene in Golgotha now going on, seemed to say that sacrifice has done its work and must pass away. That has come at last which he had been long looking for; the better Lamb, the richer blood, the more perfect sacrifice.
Now he sees the full meaning of the burnt-offering; now his faith lays its hand on the head of the true sacrifice; now he knows what John meant when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God”; and he can say with Simeon, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace; for my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30).
And with what thoughts must the Son of God have seen from the cross the smoke of that last burnt- offering ascending? For it was at the ninth hour, our three o’clock, when the evening lamb was laid on the altar, that Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” (Mark 15:34)? Yes, when the Son of God, the true Sin-bearer, was uttering these words, Israel’s last sacrifice was offered.
It is finished, was the voice from the altar; it is finished was the voice from the cross.
Now the last type is done; and Jesus sees it (for the altar-smoke would be quite visible from Golgotha); Israel’s long lesson of ages has been taught; the type and Antitype have been brought face to face.
How often had Jesus seen the morning and evening lamb offered up; and in gazing on it realised his own sin-bearing work. Now he sees all accomplished; sin borne, peace made, God propitiated; and in testimony of this the last burnt-sacrifice offered up. All is done. He sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. He can now tell Jew and Gentile that atonement has been made by the better blood. Life has been given for life; a divine life for a human. He can say, Look no longer on yon altar; its work is done. Look to me, of whom it spoke during so many ages; look unto me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.
And how does the Father view that last sacrifice? For four thousand years it had been the witness to the sin-bearing work of the coming Messiah. The Father had set it there to bear testimony to the propitiation of His Son. It said to Israel, and it said to the world before the days of Israel, The seed of the woman is to be man’s deliverer. He is coming! He is coming to bear sin; to be wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities; to take the chastisement of our peace upon Him, and to heal us by His stripes. (Isaiah 53). For ages that was the voice that came from the altar. It was the Father’s voice foretelling the advent of His beloved Son.
And now that voice from the altar is to die away. The testimony is to cease; for He to whom it was given is come. The ages of delay are over; the day of expectation has come to an end. The purpose of Jehovah is now consummated.
The Father now delights in the accomplishment of His eternal design. Now grace and righteousness are one. So long as one burnt-offering remained unpresented, there was something missing; something unfinished. But now the last of the long series has arrived. The type is perfected, the last stone has been laid; the last touch has been given to the picture; the last stroke of the chisel has fallen upon the statue. The imperfect has ended in the perfect, the unreal in the real; the first has become the last and the last first.
Now divine love can take its unimpeded way; no drag, no uncertainty, no imperfection now. Grace and righteousness have become one. The Father’s testimony to the finished work of His Son now goes forth to the ends of the earth.
That last sacrifice on Israel’s altar was the signal for the going forth of the worldwide message of pardon,–righteous pardon,–to the guiltiest, the saddest and the neediest of the sons and daughters of men.
And how is this last sacrifice viewed by the Church of God? Not with regret, nor with disappointment at the thought that there is no such altar now; but with rejoicing that the work has been at length consummated, and that there is no necessity for the repetition of the sacrifice.
While to a believing Jew there was satisfaction in each recurring sacrifice day by day, there could not but be a feeling of uneasiness at that very repetition. If the sacrifice is sufficient, why repeat it? Or will the multiplication of imperfections produce perfection? If insufficient, what is there to look to for the pacification of the conscience?
But the termination of the series was an unspeakable relief. It was the winding up of a work which had been going on for four thousand years.
Now, then, God is satisfied. Now there is the certainty of remission. Now the conscience is purged. Now the soul is at rest. And thus that last burnt-offering gave to the Church the assurance that the reconciliation was accomplished. No more offering for sin! No more blood! The foundation is now secure. On it she stands, in it she rejoices. The “good conscience” is now secured. Fear and shame in drawing near to God are at an end for ever.
There is nothing but boldness now; for by one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, He has entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. By this blood He has reconciled us to Himself. By this blood He daily cements the reconciliation, and keeps our souls in peace. By this blood He washes off the ever-recurring sins that would come between us and God, purging our consciences from dead works to serve the living God (Heb 9:12-13).
Round the old altar on Moriah one nation gathered, for the worship of Jehovah, during a few earthly ages; but round the new altar is gathered the great multitude that no man can number, out of every nation and people; for we have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle.
The first has been taken away, but the second has been set up, to stand for ever. Here we worship now; here shall be the eternal worship; the Lamb slain is the centre of worship for the universe of God, whether on earth, or in heaven, or throughout the wide regions which the creating Word has filled with suns and stars.
On this divine altar shall all creaturehood lay its everlasting praise. From this altar shall ascend the never-ending song. This altar shall be the great centre of unity between the multitudinous parts or units of universal being. Here heaven and earth shall meet; here angels and redeemed men shall hold fellowship; here the principalities and powers in heavenly places shall learn the wisdom of God; here shall be found the stability, not of manhood only, but of creaturehood as well, the divine security against a second fall, against any future failure of creation, against any future curse, against the possibility of evil or weakness or decay.
He has taken away the first, but He has established the second; and with that He has linked the establishment of all that is good and holy and blessed in His universe for evermore.
From this “second” also there goes forth the message of reconciliation; the announcement that peace has been made through the blood of the cross; the entreaty on the part of God, that each distant one would draw near, each wanderer re-enter his Father’s house.
To every one that is afar off, this great propitiation speaks, and says, RETURN! It bids you welcome, with all your worthlessness and unfitness, pointing to the ever-open door, and assuring you of reception, and pardon, and free love, without delay, without condition, and without upbraiding.
From this centre the good news of God’s free love to the unrighteous is going forth. In the simple reception of these by the sinner there is everlasting life; but in the non-reception of them there is eternal death; for that blood condemns as well as justifies. It speaks peace, but it speak trouble and anguish. It contains life, but it also contains death. It introduces into heaven, but it casts down to hell. He who receives it is washed, and sanctified, and justified; he who rejects it is undone,–doomed to bear his own guilt, without reprieve, for ever. For you, or against you, through eternity that blood must be.
There has been a first, there is a second, but there shall be no third! The first could not suffice, either for salvation or for destruction; it did not save those who used it, nor did it ruin those who used it not, or who used it amiss.
The second sufficed for both. It is able to save and to destroy, to forgive and to condemn. No third is needed, no third is possible. The second is established for ever. It is eternal. It is an everlasting sacrifice. It is an eternal ransom, an eternal redemption, an eternal salvation, an everlasting covenant, and an everlasting gospel.
Its accompaniments and issues are everlasting life, everlasting habitations, everlasting consolation, an everlasting kingdom, an eternal inheritance, an eternal weight of glory, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Yes; this second is established, and shall stand for ever. He who accepts it becomes, like it, established, and shall stand for ever; for it has the power of imparting its stability to every one who receives God’s testimony concerning it. This is “the living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious; to which coming we, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).
There shall be no third! This is the security and the joy of all who receive it. He who has taken away the first has established the second. Heaven and earth may pass away, but it must remain; and with it remains our reconciliation, our sonship, our royalty, and our eternal weight of glory.
Were it possible that this second altar could be overthrown, or crumble down through age; this second blood, and second covenant, and second priesthood become inefficacious or obsolete, then should our future be shaded with uncertainty. But all these being divine are eternal; and in their eternity is wrapped up that of every one who is now by faith partakers of them; in their eternity is wrapped up that of the inheritance, the city, and the kingdom, which become the possession of every one whom the blood has washed and reconciled.
For the cross is never old. The wood, and nails, and inscription have indeed perished long ago; but the cross in which Paul gloried stands for ever. That cross is the axle of the universe, and cannot snap asunder. That cross is the foundation on which the universe rests, and cannot give way. The cross of Golgotha is, in this sense, everlasting; and each one who glories in it becomes partaker of its immortality.
In itself blood is the symbol of death; in connection with the cross of Christ, it is the emblem and the pledge of life. It is by blood that all that is feeble, and corruptible, and unclean is purged out of creaturehood. It is by blood that this race of ours is preserved against the possibility of a second fall, and this earth against the contingency of a second curse. It is by blood that the Church of God has won her victory, and been made without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. It is the blood that has given such resplendent glory to the New Jerusalem, and made its light so pure, for “THE LAMB is the light thereof” (Revelation 21:23).
And yet is it not on this very blood that the spirit of the age is pouring its contempt, as if it were the great disfiguration of Christianity, requiring to be explained and spiritualised, before it can be admitted to have any connection with a divine religion? Is it not against this blood that the tide of modern progress is advancing, to wash out every trace and stain of it?
It is against the blood that unbelief is now specially declaring war, little supposing, in its blindness, what would be the consequences of success in this warfare. Take away that blood, and the security of the universe is gone. Take away the blood, and the gate of the glorious city closes against the sinner; indeed, that city itself, with all its beauty, and purity, and splendour, passes away like a vision of the night, each stone of it vanishing into nothingness, and its light becoming darkness.