Read verses 1-10
Q: How is this altar different in form and function from the other altar found in the Temple?
A: Whereas the bronze altar is used for the blood sacrifices and found in the more commonly accessed area of the Temple, the golden altar of incense is used for prayer and is located in the Holy Place just outside the Holy of Holies.
Q: How do we know that incense in Scripture represents prayer?
May my prayer be counted as incense before You;
The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.
— Psalm 141:2
When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.
Q: Why is their position in the Temple important? How might they relate to each other?
A: One must go through the bronze altar of sacrifices first before gaining access to the golden alter of incense. It means that there is no getting around first addressing the issue of sin before coming into the presence of God.
Point: The golden altar of incense, by being placed just outside the veil of the Holy of Holies, may be illustrating that we always pray by faith, shown by the High Priest facing the Mercy Seat but not being able to actually see it.
Q: How do their different materials represent their greater spiritual representation?
A: Bronze is associated with sacrifice, whereas the wood covered by gold represents the dual nature of the Messiah’s deity and humanity. It is a reminder we can only pray to the Father because of the intercession of the Son.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
— John 14:12-15
Q: What is the significant difference about when this Temple prayer takes place under the Old Testament model, compared to now under the New Testament?
A: Originally the incense—a symbol of prayer, was offered by the High Priest each morning and evening; we are now granted this kind of access continually.
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
— Hebrews 10:19-22
Q: What might be the physical side-effect of the High Priest offering the incense twice a day? How might this speak to our approach to prayer?
A: The priest would have personally born the incense’s fragrance all day in a reminder that we are “pray without ceasing”.
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
— Ephesians 6:18
Q: Why do you suppose that there are accompanying warnings against “strange incense”, and prohibitions against transacting a “burnt offering or meal offering” or “drink offering” on the altar of incense?
A: All of the sin offerings are supposed to be properly handled before coming to the Lord in prayer. The “strange incense” is a warning against straying into unbiblical approaches to God.
Q: What is the ultimate quality God is seeking in this process according to v.10?
A: Holiness. This is the quality of becoming spiritually pure—that is, unpolluted by sin, so as to be qualified to come into His presence. This is only achievable by first going through the bronze altar.
Q: How is this all accomplished under the New Testament model?
A: Through Christ.
Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
— Hebrews 7:25
Application: A royal priesthood is biblically qualified to come into God’s presence by addressing the issue of sin through Christ alone so that they may be holy—that is, separated exclusively to God according to His standards.