The details about the altar of incense are given to us in the words of the Bible, the Christian Scriptures, as found in the Book of Exodus chapter 30, verses 1 to 10:
30:1 And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it. 30:2 A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same. 30:3 And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about. 30:4 And two golden rings shalt thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal. 30:5 And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. 30:6 And thou shalt put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee. 30:7 And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. 30:8 And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. 30:9 Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon. 30:10 And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the Lord.
The position of the altar of incense It is very clear from the above passage that the altar of incense was placed before the vail, and in line with the ark, for verse 6 says it was:
(a) “before the vail”, so was in the Holy Place.
(b) “by the ark”, so the altar and the ark were in line, with the vail between.
(c) “before the mercy seat”, so the emphasis is on what was over the ark.
(d) “where I will meet with thee”, so the reason the mercy seat was specifically mentioned was because God promised to meet with Moses from between the cherubim on the ark, Exodus 25:22. This means that the brazen altar, the laver, the altar of incense and the ark were all in the direct line of approach to God.
We have noticed that the brazen altar was “before the door”, not “before the gate”, looking back; now we learn that the incense altar was “before the vail”, not “before the door” looking back. So by the very position of these vessels there is encouragement to draw near to God. Of course, this drawing near was limited. Moses, indeed, could commune with God before the ark, but for the rest of Israel there was a restriction. The high priest could only enter in to the Holiest of All on one day in the year; the sons of the high priest could only venture into the Holy Place; the ordinary Israelite could only enter through the gate into the court, and stand by the altar. How different is it for the Christian, for he has a “better hope”, by which he can “draw nigh to God”, Hebrews 7:19. So when we hear the exhortation to “draw near”, Hebrews 10:19, let us respond to it.
As the Levitical priest entered the Holy Place through the door, he passed pillars which stood on sockets of brass. It was as if they were a last warning to him as he entered. These brass sockets ask him, as he is about the tread the courts of the Lord, and as he is about to handle Divine things, “Have you washed your hands and feet at the brazen laver?”. They also ask, “Have you fire from the brazen altar, if you intend to burn incense?”
The only other brass in the tabernacle itself was the taches of brass joining the goats’ hair curtains together. As we have seen, the eleventh of these curtains hung over the front of the tabernacle. So the taches of the eleventh curtain were positioned at the top of the pillars of the door. So not only does the priest look down, and is cautioned about feet-washing, but he also looks up, and is assured of atonement made, for that is the significance of the goats’ hair curtains. So he has taken responsibility for his own cleansing from ceremonial defilement, and God has taken care of the defilement of his sins. He can draw near with assurance.
The court area was a rectangle measuring 100 x 50 cubits, making two squares one in front of the other. Based on the analogy of the layout of the temple in Jerusalem, the brazen altar would be in the centre of the first 50-cubit square, and the ark would be in the centre of the second 50-cubit square. But the ground area of the tabernacle itself was 30 x 10 cubits, being an area of 20 x 10 for the Holy Place plus an area of 10 x 10 for the Holy of Holies. This means that the incense altar was probably in the centre of the inside of tabernacle building. These three vessels, therefore, are central, and represent the work of Christ in the past, on earth, (brazen altar); the work of Christ in the present, in heaven, (incense altar), and the Person of Christ who is the centre of God’s purpose at all times, (the ark).
The purpose of the altar of incense The purpose of the altar was to enable incense to be burnt, so that the tabernacle could be fragrant with its perfume. Incense is a symbol of prayer, as we see from David’s words, “Let my prayer be set forth unto thee as incense”, Psalm 141:2. We may couple this with the words of Luke in his gospel, “The whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense”, Luke 1:10. Note that David can only say “as incense”, for he cannot actually stand at altar to offer literal incense. Nor can the multitude of Luke chapter 1 stand there, but have to be represented by another, for only a Levitical priest can offer at this altar. So we learn that the altar of incense is the means whereby the symbol of prayer can be offered to God. Christ is typified by this vessel, and the incense represents His current intercessory ministry in heaven. We shall look later at some references to this in the New Testament.
The pattern of the altar of incense The altar was made of shittim wood. We have seen already that this represents Christ’s sinless perfection. The particular relevance in this connection being that there is nothing in Christ to disturb or interrupt His prayer. He does not need to confess His sins before praying, nor do any wrong thoughts enter His mind as He intercedes. Scripture speaks of “the iniquity of the holy things”, Exodus 28:38, for even as they ministered to God the priests might entertain wrong thoughts. There is no such possibility with Christ. The psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me”, Psalm 66:18. We may compare with this the words of the Lord Jesus, “I knew that Thou hearest Me always”, John 11:42. He was, and is, always heard because He is always free of iniquity.
The other material of the altar was pure gold, representing the Deity of Christ in all its fullness. The gold is expressly said to be pure gold, for He has been through the heat of His temptations down here, and no dross was found. He Himself could say, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me”, John 14:30. How Satan would have loved to find some fault or flaw in Christ; some defect, however small, which would give him the opportunity to undermine and overthrow Him. But there was none. Christ’s life-sufferings and temptations fit Him to minister to our needs now. We read, “For in that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted”, Hebrews 2:18. It is as a Son with His Father that He intercedes, John 17:1,9,20, so both His Deity and His manhood render Him fit to intercede for us.
The horns of the altar The incense altar had four horns, and these were “of the same”, verse 2. We saw that the horns of the brazen altar, symbolising power, remind us that the gospel, (based as it is on the sacrificial work of Christ), is “the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth”, Romans 1:16. The four horns of the golden altar also represent Christ’s power, but this time to save by His intercession. “He is able to succour them that are tempted”, Hebrews 2:18. “Wherefore He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them”, Hebrews 7:25. The word ‘able’ has the idea of ‘has power’. Since the horns are of the same wood as the rest of the altar, we are assured that the effectiveness of Christ’s intercession is firmly footed in the fact that he is the sinless Son of God.
The rings and the staves of the altar Like the rings and staves of the other vessels that had them, these remind us of the way in which, during His pilgrimage down here, (the staff is a symbol of the pilgrim, Exodus 12:11; 1 Peter 1:13), the Lord Jesus was acting in total accord with the eternal purpose of God. The staves were made of wood and gold, but the rings were only of gold, and so relate to matters before the incarnation. The world around presented many challenges to the Lord Jesus. How will He deal with these challenges? The answer is that He will do so with entire reliance upon His Father, whose will He had come to obey. The world would seek to make Him swerve from the pathway of total devotion, but He would utterly refuse to be moved. We think of the way Satan sought to use the world to deflect Him. The pangs of hunger; the desire to be preserved; the desire for recognition; these are common in the world, and the devil tried to use them to cause Christ to sin. But He utterly refused the allurements offered to Him. By what power does He do so? By the power of prayer, for when He had come up out of Jordan He had done so praying, and then had immediately been led into the wilderness to be tempted, Luke 3:21; Mark 1:12. He defeated the enemy by fervent and dependent prayer. No wonder He said to His own, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”, Matthew 26:41. To enter into temptation means to go along with it. It was because He was marked by prayer that the will of the Lord Jesus was determined to please His Father in all things.
In Luke 5:16 we find the second reference to Christ praying. In verse 15 we learn that there went a fame abroad of Him: and great multitudes came together to hear Him and be healed. His response? He withdrew Himself into the wilderness, and prayed. The tense of the verb withdrew is the one that tells us that this was His habit, not something occasional. So whilst Luke tells us of seven specific incidents of the Lord praying, he does not mean us to think He only prayed seven times. Surrounded by the crowds of admirers, Christ humbly withdrew, lest they should gain the impression that He was in any way interested in popularity. After all, He would be crucified by popular vote.
The scene changes in chapter 6:12, for the scribes and Pharisees were filled with madness over His healing of the man with the withered hand. His response was to retire to the mountain to pray, and continued in this prayer all night. This was a double response, for He knew that the animosity they expressed would eventually result in His crucifixion. No doubt His praying took account of that, and would express His continued determination to do His Father’s will, even though that would involve the cross. But there was another matter in hand. He was going to appoint the twelve apostles the next day, and this would need to be done in obedience and submission to His Father, too. He would deliberately choose Judas, who would betray Him, and only one completely dedicated to His Father’s will would do such a thing. Perhaps there is also the thought that He is preparing for the continuation of the testimony through the apostles after He has returned to heaven, and thus His prayers would be an expression of confidence in the will of His Father in that respect.
The fourth record Luke gives of His praying is in Luke 9:18, where the Lord is alone, praying, yet His disciples were with Him. Does this mean that when He was praying He was totally oblivious of that which was going on around Him? He is about to ask them to give their personal testimony as to who He is, and no doubt He is praying that they may testify aright.
The fifth occasion is on the mount of transfiguration, and only Luke tells us that as He was transfigured before them, He was praying. The scene gives a preview of the coming kingdom, and tells us that when Christ reigns upon the earth, He shall do so mediatorially, in dependence upon His Father still. This will be in direct contrast to the rulers of men, who rely on their own resources in self-will.
It is no surprise to find that having companied with the Saviour for so many months, the disciples should come to Him as He prayed, and request that He teach them to pray, Luke 11:1. No matter how well they prayed, however, they would never surpass Christ in His utter devotion and dependence upon His God.
The seventh scene is one of great pathos, for in Gethsemane the Saviour is upon the ground, prostrate before His God and Father. Gethsemane means the place of olive presses, and the truly spiritual man, the “green olive tree in the house of God”, Psalm 52:8, is being pressed and crushed. Yet, nonetheless, He desires only that the will of God be done, even though He knows what that will is.
So in all these contrasting circumstances, baptism in the Jordan or transfiguration on the mount; popularity or unpopularity, He indicates His utter dependence upon His Father by His praying. We are assured by this thatHe has been through every trial, and has taken that knowledge to heaven with Him, so that He may intercede meaningfully for His own.
We gain further insight into His intercessory work by a consideration of five Scriptures.
(i) Intercession to prevent failure
“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And He said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest Me”, Luke 22:31-34.
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon- the Lord Jesus addresses Peter by his old name, and does so twice over, to arrest his attention. Simon was the name given to him at his birth. The Lord had renamed him Cephas, meaning a stone, John 1:42. This is the equivalent of the name Peter. So by calling him by his birth-name, the Lord is highlighting his vulnerability, for he still has the old self within, with all its weakness. In this he is like all believers. Behold, Satan hath desired to have you- note the difference between “you”, (plural), in this verse, meaning all the disciples, and “thee” (singular), in the next verse, meaning Peter. Modern translations, because they reject the use of the word “thou”, miss this distinction, and so are not so precise. We should value the distinction that is preserved in these two words, and not be led astray by modern thinking. By declaring “Satan hath desired to have you”, the Lord shows that He knew what Satan was demanding in heaven, as he accused before God. See Job 1:6;2:1; Revelation 12:10. He was seeking the downfall of all the disciples. He had almost fully succeeded with Judas, but now he is claiming the other eleven. Peter is always at the beginning of the lists of the disciples, and in fact in Matthew 10:2 is called “the first”. This does not make him “prince of the apostles” as some speak, but it does emphasise that he took a prominent place amongst them. It is easy to see from the gospel records that he was energetic, alert, ready to speak for the others, and of great zeal. These fit him to lead, and as such, make him a target for the enemy. Peter himself later warned believers that they should “Be sober, vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”, 1 Peter 5:8.
That he may sift you as wheat- just as Satan sought to undermine the faith of Job by bringing great trials upon him, so now, Satan wants to sift Peter and the other disciples as wheat. Even in this there is an admission of failure on the part of Satan. He knows that the disciples are wheat, not chaff. Chaff is without substance, and is used as a figure of the wicked, who are blown away in judgement, Psalm 1:4. The disciples are otherwise as to the matter of faith, but they are still in danger. When the corn is ripe it is cut down, and the sheaves are brought to the threshing-floor, a flat area where they are laid out for treading. Oxen will be driven round, pulling a large log, in which are embedded flints or pieces of metal, and this serves, together with the action of the animal’s hooves, to separate the grain from the chaff. When this has been done, the winnowing takes place. The threshing-floor would be on a hill-top where the evening breezes blow, and the husbandman would throw the grain and chaff mixture into the air with his winnowing fan, and the chaff, caught by the wind, would blow away, and the grain would fall to the ground on the threshing-floor. It would be gathered up, and taken to the garner, or barn. The problem was that pieces of stone might get mixed in with the corn when it was gathered up from the floor, and when the time to mill the grain came, this would spoil the millstones. So it was then sifted, so that the pieces of flint would remain on the sieve to be discarded, and the grain could be put straight into sacks to be taken to the barn for storage. Satan knows that Peter is not chaff, unlike Judas. But he also knows that he has a nature that makes him liable to fail. Satan is demanding the opportunity to expose the “pieces of stone” in the disciples’ character, and to highlight them rather than their faith. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not- the events of the next few hours will shatter Peter, the “stone”. But the prayer of the Lord Jesus beforehand, (for He would be in the tomb when Peter was at his lowest spiritually), so that his faith, although sorely tried, would be sustained. Peter is singled out as leader, for the resurrection accounts will show that not until Peter is convinced that Christ is risen will the other disciples believe. And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren- even though he would deny the Lord three times, his faith in Him would remain intact, albeit feeble. The resurrection of Christ would convert him from being shattered to being strong, and he will be in a good position to strengthen his fellow-believers, so that their faith may be strong too.
So we are assured that the present ministry of Christ is concerned about the strengthening of our faith in the midst of trials. How good it is to know that He prays for us before the trial, and without us asking Him to.
(ii) Intercession to promote unity
“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up His eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee…neither pray I for these alone, but for them also that shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And the glory which thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me'”, John 17:1, 20-23.
Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee- note it is the Son speaking with His Father, reminding us of the gold of the incense altar. He will refer in verse 4 to the earth, reminding us of how the shittim wood speaks of His life down here. Neither pray I for these alone- up to this point He has concentrated on the apostles. But for them also which shall believe on Me through their word- the word is given to them, and they so make it their own, and are so empowered by it, that it becomes their word. “They that gladly received his (Peter’s) word, were baptized”, Acts 2:41.
That they all may be one- unity is vital if the world is going to believe. This unity is now defined for us. Because it is modelled on the oneness of the Persons of the Godhead, this unity is not organisational nor ecumenical. As Thou, Father, art in Me- the Father is perfectly expressed in the Son, for He could say, “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father”, 14:9. To know the Son is to know the Father, 14:7. This shows the oneness of the Father and the Son. And I in Thee- He is in Him in the sense that there is no point at which they diverge, whether it be in nature, character, will, or action. That they also may be one in us- this does not mean, of course, that believers are one with Divine persons, but they are one with one another because of their relationship with Divine persons, who are themselves one in essence and aim. Eternal life is the life of God, and the believer has that eternal life in common with all other believers, and that forms a bond of unity. We are to abide in the Father and the Son, 1 John 2:24. That the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me- this is not guaranteed, but the potential is there. It is “may”, not “shall”. But on the other hand, the Lord does not exclude any as being beyond belief. When the people of the world see Divine life worked out in the lives of God’s people, then they will see the same thing in principle as when Christ was here. “And many believed on Him”. Someone has said, “The world does not believe because it does not believe we believe the things we say we believe”.
And the glory which thou gavest Me- He is conscious that His request for glory in verse 5 will be answered, and He prays now on the basis that it is. He sought the glory of recognition of His person, that He was equal with the Father even though a man upon the earth. I have given them- believers are to be associated with Divine persons, but only mediately through Him. Still it is His glory that they receive. That they may be one, even as we are one- the way this will happen is told us in the next verse. Divine persons have the same will as One Another; believers when conformed to the image of God’s Son will never deviate from the will of God.
I in them- when the Spirit indwells at Pentecost and after. See 14:20, 23. And Thou in Me- the Spirit indwells us, the Son is in us by that Spirit, and the Father is in the Son, working out His purpose through Him. So all three persons of Godhead are active in us, and this is the ground of unity. That they may be made perfect in one- if Divine Persons form the unity, then it must be perfect. And that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me- the disciples had said, “we believe that Thou camest forth from God”, 16:30. As they went forth and preached that, and its implications, then some would believe. And hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me- the Father’s love is towards them of the same sort as His love for His Son. This does not mean that it is to the same degree, for that would devalue the Father’s love for the Son. (The word meaning “precisely as” is not used here). As the world sees the believers living in the good of the love of their Father, they will realise that their faith is real. “By this shall all men know ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another”, John 13:35. Disciples are learners, so as those who are learning of Him, we are to live out what we learn.
So this is the character of the prayer of the Lord Jesus before He went to the cross, but it is prayed in view of His ascension, for He projects His mind to when He will be back with the Father. In verse 11 he says, “Now I am no longer in the world”; in verse 12, “while I was with them in the world”; verse 13, “Now come I to Thee”; in verse 24, “be with Me where I am”. So we may deduce that the sort of things He prayed for then, He is praying for still, so that the goal is reached of fully knowing the Father and the Son, a thing which possession of eternal life, and the Holy Spirit, enables us to do.
(iii) Intercession to provide confidence
“Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us”. Romans 8:34.
Who is he that condemneth?- There is a fourfold protection for the believer from the attempts of the enemy to condemn. It is Christ that died- and by His death dealt with our sins once and for all. He has dealt judicially with what caused us to be condemned. Yea rather, that is risen again- and His rising is proof of the effectiveness of His death, as 4:25 has said, for He rose again because of the effectiveness of His death in the matter of justification. He brings His people into the sphere where there is no condemnation. Who is even at the right hand of God- the place of control and authority for the Firstborn Son, charged with the care and protection of His own. See Genesis 48:8-20. He has the position of supremacy over all the forces of evil. Who also maketh intercession for us- He supports His people as those who are His chosen ones, and who are destined to be conformed to His own image. He will not let the enemy interfere with their security. Note the words “yea rather…who is even…who also…” all expressing a sense of wonder at the strength of the support Christ gives to those who are attacked by the enemy. He died and rose again on earth, where the sins were committed. He is at the right hand of God and intercedes in heaven, the very place where the Devil accuses the brethren day and night.
(iv) Intercession to preserve constancy
“But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;” Hebrews 7:24-26.
But this man- a solitary, unique man, in contrast to the many Levitical priests. We are going to be told reasons why God does not regret installing Christ as high priest by an oath. Because He continueth ever- for death no longer has dominion over Him, and His life is endless literally, as Melchisedec’s was typically. Compare also “abideth a priest continually”, verse 3. He has an indissoluble life, as is shown by the fact that He laid down His life by His own power, John 10:18, 19:30, and compare Ecclesiastes 8:8, and has emerged from physical death into glorious resurrection, to die no more, Romans 6:9. Hath an unchangeable priesthood- He will never hand over to a successor, nor will His priesthood revert to being Levitical. He who knows us through and through will never be replaced with a novice. It is not that the order does not change, for that is already proved in verses 11-14, but that the priest does not change. Note the contrast between creation which shall be changed, and Christ who is the Same, 1:11,12.
Wherefore- because of the features detailed in verses 11-24. He is able to save them to the uttermost- He is not only surety for the blessings, verse 22, but Saviour for the blemishes. The word uttermost literally means outermost. Those in extreme circumstances are not too far gone for Him to save them from their trouble. Peter might have thought that by denying his Lord he had gone beyond the limit of recovery. Yet the Lord had assured him beforehand that He had prayed for him, Luke 22:31,32, and that he would be converted, or turned round, from his denial, and be enabled to strengthen his brethren so that they do not deny as he had. That come unto God by Him- as we approach to God, verse 19, we do so as those who have failed in some way. But Christ is fully able to “bear the iniquity of the holy things”, Exodus 28:38; i.e. the iniquity which otherwise would make holy things unholy. As Aaron had a golden plate with “Holiness to the Lord” inscribed on it, so Christ has the holiness of His Father in mind all the time, as John 17:11 shows. We approach God with assurance, not only because of the blood of Jesus, but also because we have a great priest over the house of God, 10:19-22. We also come unto God and His throne to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need, 4:16. Perhaps if Lot had come to Melchisedec, as Abraham did, things would have been different for him. Seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them- He is always living with a view to interceding for His own. The Lord specified that there was to be perpetual incense before Him, so that there constantly arose a sweet perfume in His presence, Exodus 30:8. Aaron was chosen to assist Moses because he could speak well, Exodus 4:14. But he spoke wrongly at Sinai, Exodus 32:5; held his peace about Nadab and Abihu, and made excuses for his failure, Leviticus 10:3, 19; and in Numbers 12:2 spoke against Moses. The Christian’s High Priest has no such shortcomings.. He is the author of eternal salvation, 5:9, for the safety which we shall know in eternity, is ours now.
For such an high priest became us- as described in previous verses. Our high priest is becoming to us, eminently suited to our need. He has no fault or sin to hinder Him in His ministry for us. Who is holy- this is not the usual word for holy, which is hagios; this is hosios, which is a combination of mercy, kindness and holiness. (See its use in Acts 13:34, 35, where it is translated “sure mercies”, and “Holy One”). This sort of holiness has been defined as “Devotion to God which produces the exercise of true lovingkindness to man, and which acts against evil”- Grimme. In the Old Testament, the equivalent word, (chasid), is rendered as kindness, mercy, pity, favour, goodness, loving-kindness. It is often united with righteousness, faithfulness, truth, and compassion. This combination was seen in the life and ministry of Christ; it was not the priest and Levite of Aaron’s line who had compassion on the man fallen among thieves, Luke 10:33. He has taken His pure character to heaven, for it is “who is”, not “who was”. He is “Jesus Christ the Same, yesterday, and today, and for ever”, Hebrews 13:8, so what He was on earth, (yesterday), He is now, (today), and shall always be, (for ever). Aaron needed to be clothed with garments of glory and beauty to make him officially what he was not personally. The Lord Jesus needs no such special clothing, for He is glorious and beautiful morally. Harmless- guileless, without an evil thought. A marked contrast to the priests as they clamoured for Christ’s death. Or Nadab and Abihu, who approached God with strange fire. Or Eli, powerless to restrain his evil sons Hophni and Phinehas as they acted immorally, and allowed the ark to be taken by the enemy. See also Jacob’s prophecy concerning Levi, Genesis 49:5-7, where he said that “instruments of cruelty are in their habitations”. Christ’s thoughts towards us as He intercedes are only good. He will never be like Elijah, who interceded against the people of God, Romans 11:2. Undefiled- free from contamination. Not simply ceremonially clean, but actually. See Leviticus 22:1-3, where the priests were warned that defilement would mean banishment from the Lord’s presence. The Lord Jesus did not need to be washed, as Aaron did when he was consecrated, Exodus 29:4. Separate from sinners- the verb is passive, separated by another. Aaron was sanctified by a ceremony, but Christ is sanctified by His ascension to God’s right hand. Christ is morally and officially separate from Aaron’s sinful line. It is said of Aaron that he was “separated, that he should sanctify the most holy things, he and his sons for ever, to burn incense before the Lord, to minister unto Him, and to bless in His name for ever”, 1 Chronicles 23:13. He failed, however, and these ministries are carried out in a better and fuller way by Christ, who has been separated from the failed line of Aaron by being saluted by God as High Priest after the order of Melchisedec, 5:10. The name “Levi” means joined, but Christ is separated. And made higher than the heavens- He has passed through the heavens, and is seated at the right hand of God, the place of power and influence. He is minister of the heavenly sanctuary, 8:1,2. Aaron had to wait at the door of the tabernacle for seven days before he could begin to officiate. And then he could only enter into an earthly tabernacle, whereas Christ has entered into the “true tabernacle”, heaven itself, 8:2; 9:24. And it is there that He ministers to His own in constant intercession.
(v) Intercession to protect from accusation
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world”, 1 John 1:1,2.
These things write I unto you- the things of chapter one, on the theme of “life”, as found in, and manifested by, Christ, who is life personified, John 14:6. That ye sin not- this is the ideal standard that we are set, because our example is Christ in His sinless perfection. John has seen the glory of that perfection, for he had been with Christ “from the beginning”, and never did he see Christ sin. The law was given to frighten Israel into not sinning. As Exodus 20:20 says, “God is come down to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not”. With us it is different, for God has come down to us in His Son, that His grace might be known, and we see that grace in the face of Jesus Christ, as well as His glory, 2 Corinthians 4:6. Nonetheless, God still proves His people, but not to condemn and cause them fear, but that they might be encouraged to live like His Son. The more we know of Him, the more detestable sin will seem to us. And if any man sin- so John writes for two reasons, the first, in chapter one, that we sin not, and second, in this verse, (hence the “and”), if we do sin, that we might know what God’s provision for us is. Note it is not “when any man sin”, as if John is expecting it to happen, but “if any man sin”, as if, (as should be the case), it will be an exceptional event. We have an advocate with the Father- just as John included himself in the tests of chapter one, so he includes himself here in the possibility of sinning. There is only one who never sinned; all others, even apostles, have the capacity and will to do so, hence the need for Divine provision. That provision is two-fold, and the first is here, the advocacy of the Lord Jesus. An advocate is one who speaks up for another, having the ability and authority to do so. The word used is translated Comforter in the upper room ministry, where the idea is of one called alongside to help. Here the idea is of a legal advocate, for when believers sin Satan lives up to two of his names, (Satan meaning “adversary”, and Devil meaning “accuser”), and accuses them in the presence of God; see Job 1:6-11, 2:1-5; Revelation 12:10. Note that we have this advocate, we do not have to engage Him each time we sin; He is constantly involved in a ministry of intercession for His own, as Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25 assure us. The fact that the advocate is with the Father indicates that the relationship of children with the Father is in view. If we had an advocate with God it would mean that we were looked on as sinners. But the reality is that our advocate speaks for us on the basis that we are children of God, despite the fact that we have sinned. Jesus Christ the righteous- the emphasis is not so much on the fact that He is the Son of the Father, although that is true, but rather that He, Jesus, the sinless man, and Christ, the approved man, is righteous in all His dealings. He does not try to disguise the fact that we have sinned, nor make excuse for sin. He does not need to do these things even if He were capable of them, (which He is not), for He has the perfect answer when the Devil accuses us before God. This perfect answer is found in the propitiation of which the apostle speaks in the next verse. The altar of incense was sprinkled with atoning blood on the Day of Atonement, Exodus 30:10, thus linking that which speaks of Christ’s intercession with that which speaks of His death. The two are connected, and the intercession is not only on the basis of the experiences of Christ in His life, but His work of propitiation in His death. The believer is constantly and righteously upheld and protected in the presence of God. The one whose love was tested to the limit at Calvary, is the one who, in love, preserves His people still.