About Jesus Steve Sweetman
New Testament Altar
dictionary states that the word altar comes from the Latin word
“altare” that is related to another Latin word “adolere”,
meaning “to burn up”.
The Greek word
“thusiasterion” is the word commonly translated as altar in the New
Testament and also in the Greek Old Testament which is called the
Septuagint. This word simply
means “a place to sacrifice”.
From the above
definitions we learn that an altar is a physical structure where
sacrifices are burned. In
Old Testament times the altar took on varying forms and was used by many
religions. In Jewish
tradition altars were used to sacrifice animals in obedience to God and
burn incense on. The use of an altar predated the Law of Moses yet was
encoded into the Law.
The most important altar
of all that supercedes all other altars and makes all other altars
meaningless is the cross on which Jesus was sacrificed.
The cross was God’s
personal altar since He was the one who sacrificed Jesus. Now
that’s interesting - God making a sacrifice to Himself.
The Greek word for altar
is seldom used in the New Testament and when it is, it’s used in
reference to the Old Testament Law and
It’s obvious to me that
the word altar as a physical structure on earth is more of an Old
Testament word than a New Testament word. Why
is this so?
We don’t see a New
Testament altar on earth because Jesus’ death destroyed the meaning to
In many respects we as
Christians are much like the Jews of old. One
way in which we are like them is that they needed to build a temple with
its altar, and we feel the need to do the same.
And we’re certainly like Peter, James and John at the
transfiguration (Mark 9:1-13). They saw Moses and Elijah appear with
Jesus before their very eyes and they were so overwhelmed that they
didn’t know what to think, do, or say.
In the midst of this uncertainty Peter suggested that they build
a monument as an altar of worship. That’s pretty much what we
Christians have done as we’ve built countless temples and altars over
New Testament thinking
concerning altars can be found in Romans 12:1 where Paul tells us to
“offer our bodies as a living sacrifice … for this is our spiritual
worship”. Now Paul
doesn’t use the word altar here but it’s inferred since one offers a
sacrifice on an altar, and he’s talking about offering ourselves as a
living sacrifice. So what
altar could Paul be talking about if there isn’t any such thing as a
New Testament altar?
The altar is spiritual
and invisible, and we are the sacrifice placed on this altar.
Salvation is not just about believing in an historical Jesus.
It’s about giving yourself sacrificially to Him.
I’d suggest that if you don’t have some kind of
struggle or conflict as you make your sacrifice, then you might
not actually be sacrificing yourself.
The very nature of a sacrifice
suggests some kind of conflict and pain.
In this case the main conflict is between your will and God’s
will. Giving up your will
can be mentally and emotionally painful at times.
The real altar for us New
Testament Christians today is that invisible altar that we can access at
any time and in any place. It’s
that spiritual place where we give our wills to Jesus to be burned up in
the fire of His Spirit. Each
day we have many opportunities to come to this altar and choose Jesus’
ways over ours in whatever
situation that faces us. When we choose His way over ours, we are in
fact offering our lives again on God’s invisible altar as an act of
New Testament worship.