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Exodus 30:1

You are also to make an altar of acacia wood for the burning of incense. Place the altar in front of the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony.

Hebrews 9:2

A tabernacle was prepared. In its first room were the lampstand, the table, and the consecrated bread. This was called the Holy Place.

Why does the altar of incense for the Heavenly Sanctuary not appear to be located in the Holy Place by the writer of Hebrews? Is this of any significance considering the Lamb of God, who was without sin, had now become High Priest?

We find a significant difference in explanation between the KJV and other versions here too. Other versions have interpreted the Golden Censer as being the Altar. This is not the case with the KJV (I think the KJV is the correct translation here).

In any case, here is my theory: After Jesus' crucifixion, the incense (which normally flowed into the Most Holy Place from the Altar of Incense) was no longer needed to protect our High Priest from death of the glory of God on the mercy seat.

Jesus had already redeemed us, he paid the price for sin, he can't die twice! Second, I follow the Trinitarian view that Jesus is God, he can't be killed by his own Glory! Therefore, the incense from the altar is no longer needed for the same purpose as in the Old testament sanctuary.

Rev 8:3-4 makes an interesting observation:

And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.

At this point in time, even though he approaches the altar, the Angel in Revelation does not get his incense from the Altar. It is given to him (placed in His censer) and he then offers the prayers of the saints on the Altar!

I feel that the key to all of this is Matthew 27:50-51

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom;

The heavenly sanctuary is an antitype of the earthly. The earthly temple veil was torn in two at Jesus death and I think this is significant in explaining Hebrews 9:2&3

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  • The golden θυμιατήριον Strong 2369 mentioned in Hebrews 9:4 can be translated as either golden censer or golden altar (i.e. altar of incense). See the answer to a similar question on Biblical Hermeneutics.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 12:20

3 Answers 3

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This is an interesting observation. In Exodus the incense altar is positioned in the first compartment of the tabernacle, called the holy room. While in Hebrews it seems to be positioned in the second compartment, called holiest of holy. Why?

The best solution seems to be that Hebrews portrays the situation after Jesus’ death on the cross when the curtain that divided the holy place and the holiest of holy was torn asunder.

Thus the altar of incense that stood away from the candle stick and showbread table, close up towards the curtain that divided the two rooms, was after the curtain rip seen as instead belonging to the next inner room.

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  • Interesting point. The two sections became one, once the veil was rent. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 12:53
  • Rending of the veil signifies that the earthly sanctuary has lost its function, now that Jesus the lamb of God has died and the heavenly sanctuary is about to be opened.
    – One Face
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 2:34
  • Hi One Face...my theory is that Jesus dying on the Cross has removed the need for the veil that separates us from the Glory of God on the throne (the mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant). Since Jesus died for us, we may now "come boldly before the throne of God" (Hebrews 4:16) If you recall, Nadab and Abihu (Aarons two sons) came boldly before the throne with "strange unholy fire"...they were immediately struck down, after entering the MHP, by the glory of God. The heavenly sanctuary description in Hebrews 9 reflects this truth.
    – Adam
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 9:00
  • Nadab and Abihu did not come into the Most Holy Place. They came into the holy place bearing strange fire in their censer. Only Aaron was authorized to enter the Most Holy place. Daily ministry happens in the Holy place and Yearly ministry (day of atonement) happens in the Most Holy place and there cannot be a merge between these two distinctive works. Remember, the earthly Sanctuary was modelled after the heavenly sanctuary
    – One Face
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 10:09
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Perhaps we are misinterpreting Ex 30:6 Put the altar in front of the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law – before the atonement cover that is over the tablets of the covenant law – where I will meet with you. Perhaps "in front of the curtain" was from God's perspective, and the altar of incense was always in the most holy place, despite what we have been taught down the years. The verse does go on to say, "before the atonement cover that is over the tablets of the covenant law – where I will meet with you".

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    Maybe the incense could have been between the veil and the ark. The same Hebrew word pânı̂ym used for it's relationship to the veil and the ark can mean both before and behind. Therefore the incense could have been behind the veil and before the ark but if it was behind the veil it couldn't have been serviced daily. Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 21:16
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Hebrews 9:1 first covenant/earthly tabernacle. Altar of incense was in Holy place. Incense offered daily couldn’t have been in Holy of Holies. Not sure why not listed but again this is the description of prior to Jesus death or first covenant

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    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 13:59

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