The picture of the tabernacle portrays Christ as the incarnated God who is available for us to enter. This very Christ is also all the offerings to qualify us by opening the way into God and by filling us inwardly. As a result, we are in God, and God is in us. Therefore, by the time we come to the altar of incense, we are already in God, and God is in us. Because the incense altar is in the center of the tabernacle, which signifies the incarnated God, to be at this altar is to be in the incarnated God. Moreover, when we are in God, He is also in us. At the altar in the outer court we experience the offerings, and we have the blood to cleanse us and the meat to fill us inwardly. This qualifies us to enter into the incarnated God, the One who indwells us as our food, as our life supply. Whoever comes to the incense altar is a person who is in God and who has God in him. He is one with God and mingled with Him. What a great matter this is!
Perhaps you have been a Christian for years without realizing that to pray at the incense altar is to pray in God and with God in us. However, those who pray merely in a natural way may be quite far from God, and their prayer may not have the element of God in it. Although they pray to God, they are far away from Him. When the Jews pray, they may be much closer to God than Gentiles, but they are still outside of Him. Moreover, Christians who lack enlightenment and experience or who are indifferent may have some prayer at the altar in the outer court, but they may fail to come to pray at the altar of incense in the tabernacle. Where are you when you pray? Are you at the altar in the outer court, or are you in the tabernacle, in the incarnated God? Whenever we pray we should experientially be in God, and simultaneously, He should be in us. While we are praying to Him, we should be in Him, and He should be praying in us.
Being energized through eating a healthy meal can be used to illustrate the experience of having God pray in us while we are praying in Him and to Him. Suppose there is a ministry meeting in the evening. Before the meeting I eat dinner and am energized by the food I have eaten. When I come to the meeting to speak, I am full of energy. As I am speaking, the food I have eaten for dinner is energizing me. In the same principle, when we pray in God and with God in us, He prays in us.
On the one hand, Christ is the tabernacle; on the other hand, He is the food. We enter into Him as the tabernacle and He comes into us as the food. As food, Christ is not ordinary; rather, He is holy food, food offered to God. As priests who come into the tabernacle to pray at the incense altar, we do not eat common food. We eat holy food, food that has been offered to God. We do not eat any food that has not first become an offering. In other words, we do not eat anything that is not Christ. Christ as food to us has first been offered to God. Hallelujah, we can be in the incarnated God, and this very God is the food in us energizing us!
According to typology, there is no indication that the incense altar is a place to pray. This is our interpretation. The incense altar is a place to burn incense, and burning the incense typifies praying. How should we pray at the incense altar? Now that we are in God and He is in us, and now that we are at the incense altar, we must burn the incense. But what is this incense? The incense is Christ. Christ is the tabernacle, Christ is the offerings, and Christ is also the incense. Thus, to burn the incense means to pray Christ.
Revelation 8:3 and 4 say, “And another Angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer, and much incense was given to Him that He should add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense went up with the prayers of the saints out of the hand of the Angel before God.” This Angel is Christ, the One who adds His incense to the prayers of the saints. It is this incense, not the saints’ prayers, that causes the smoke to rise. In our prayers we need to have Christ as the incense with the smoke that rises. The point here is that to burn the incense actually means to pray Christ.
If we see that to burn the incense is to pray Christ, we shall feel ashamed of the way we have often prayed in the past. We have prayed many things which are not Christ. Instead of burning Christ as the incense, we have burned strange incense. We have offered strange incense, something other than Christ Himself. However, we should not offer as incense anything except Christ. In the past there was much strange incense in our prayers; there were many things that were not Christ.
At the incense altar we should not offer the burnt offering or the meal offering; neither should we pour out a drink offering. All these offerings should be offered at the first altar, the offering altar in the outer court. On the incense altar the only thing that should be offered is incense.
When we come to the last part of Exodus 30, we shall see that the incense typifies the resurrected and ascended Christ. However, all the offerings, with the exception of the wave offering and the heave offering, are types of Christ as the One who was judged by God and who died for us. The resurrected and ascended Christ is the unique One who is acceptable to God. He is received by God, accepted by Him. Thus, He becomes a sweet savor to God. This savor, as the incense, should be in our prayer. As we have pointed out, this means that when we pray, we should pray Christ.
When some hear this word concerning burning Christ as the incense, concerning praying Christ, they may ask, “Tomorrow I shall go on a long journey. Don’t I need to pray for a safe trip?” This question indicates that in the prayer of this one there is a great deal of strange incense. I do not think that such a one prays at the incense altar in the tabernacle.
On the ark of testimony in the Holy of Holies there was a lid, a cover, called the propitiatory cover. That cover, made of gold, was the place where God met with His people. The King James Version describes this lid, this cover, as the mercy seat. Eventually, the mercy seat in the tabernacle in Exodus becomes the throne of grace spoken of in Hebrews 4. This means that the throne of grace is the propitiatory cover, the lid covering the ark of the testimony. On the one hand, with respect to propitiation, this lid is the propitiatory cover. On the other hand, with respect to God’s dispensation, it is the throne of grace, the place where God dispenses His grace to people. Furthermore, according to the book of Revelation, it is also the throne of authority, the throne of divine administration. Therefore, one item is the mercy seat, the throne of grace, and the throne of administration.
In chapters two and three of Revelation we have the church, and chapters four and five portray the throne of God. The throne in Revelation 4 and 5 is the throne of authority, the throne of the divine administration over the entire universe. Therefore, to the universe as a whole, this is the throne of God’s authority, but to us, it is the throne of grace. It is the place, the propitiatory cover, where we may contact God and receive grace.
In the book of Revelation the incense altar is directly in front of the throne of God’s authority. According to Revelation 8, Christ as another Angel comes and adds His incense to the prayers of the saints. This incense then ascends to God at the throne of administration, and God answers the saints’ prayers. As a result, fire comes down to earth to execute the divine judgments recorded in the remainder of the book of Revelation. This is a picture of the incense altar being the administrating throne of God for God to execute His judgments in His administration. It is important for us to see that the execution of God’s administration is motivated by the prayers offered to Him from the incense altar.
Suppose you come to the incense altar to pray. How will you pray at this altar? Will you pray about a trip you are about to take? Will you pray about your job? It is pitiful that so many of today’s Christians pray only about such matters. If they did not pray concerning material things, they would have little else to pray for. It seems that they do not know how to pray for God’s economy. To them, it sounds strange to hear about praying Christ. These words are a foreign language to them. Actually, it is not strange to pray Christ; rather, it is strange to pray for many other things instead of Christ. It is very normal for believers to pray Christ. Should we continue to pray about transportation, housing, and jobs, God may say, “Why do you pray about so many strange things? Why do you pray for a better house or for a better job? My desire is that when you pray, you pray Christ.”
Thousands and thousands of prayers are offered to God by Christians, but there is very little execution of God’s purpose. Christians pray again and again, yet there is very little dispensation of the supplying grace of God. Who today knows how to pray in such a way as to motivate the throne of grace to dispense God’s life supply as grace to all the needy ones? Hardly any believers know how to pray like this. Also, who knows how to pray to motivate the throne of authority to execute the divine administration? Once again, very few know how to pray in this way. In a practical sense, many of those who pray are not even in the outer court, much less in the tabernacle. When they pray to God, they are actually far away from Him.
In light of what we have covered in this message, we all need to see three matters. First, when we pray, we should be in the tabernacle. Second, when we are about to pray, we should first be satisfied by eating holy food. Third, when we pray, we should offer incense to God. This means that when we pray, we should pray in God, we should pray with God within us as our energizing supply, and we should pray with Christ as the incense. Then we shall burn incense to God. I believe that if we have this view concerning prayer, our prayer life will be revolutionized. May we all see this view and experience such a revolution.
In the previous message we emphasized three important matters related to the incense altar. First, when we pray, we need to be in the tabernacle, which signifies the incarnated God. Second, in order to pray at the incense altar, we must first be filled and satisfied by eating the holy food, our portion of the offerings. Third, when we pray, we should offer incense to God. If we have a clear view of these matters, our prayer life will be revolutionized. Instead of being occupied in prayer with material needs or personal concerns, we shall pray for the executing of God’s purpose, for the carrying out of the divine administration, and for the dispensing of God’s supplying grace.
Matthew 6:33 is a verse often quoted by today’s Christians: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This indicates that if we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, whatever we need—food, clothing, housing—will be added to us. This shows that there is no need for us to be occupied in our prayer with things such as food and clothing. Instead, we should pray for God’s kingdom.
What is the kingdom of God today? God’s kingdom is the church. But what is the church? The church is Christ. Therefore, to seek God’s kingdom is to seek Christ with the church.
According to Matthew 6:33 we should also seek God’s righteousness. What is God’s righteousness? God’s righteousness is Christ expressed through the church. Thus, to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness is to seek Christ and the church. Our prayer should be related to God’s kingdom and His righteousness, that is, to Christ and the church.
What is sad is that many Christians know how to pray for a better job, a larger house, or their safety on a journey, but they do not know how to pray for Christ or the church. When some pray for the church, they do not pray directly for the church, but instead pray for business matters related to the church. We should forget about praying in such a way and pray instead for Christ and the church. When some Christians hear this word regarding their prayer life, they may say, “This word is troublesome. It seems that you are robbing me of all my prayers. After hearing this word, I don’t know how to pray. It seems that any way I try to pray is wrong.”
I encourage you to read again this portion of the Word. We should burn incense upon the golden altar. However, there is a serious prohibition: we must not burn strange incense. Only the resurrected and ascended Christ is acceptable; everything else is prohibited. We should not burn strange incense, and we should not even burn at the incense altar what is acceptable to God at the offering altar. This means that we should not present the crucified and judged Christ at the incense altar. Rather, we must burn as incense the resurrected and ascended Christ. We must present such a living Christ to God as incense at the incense altar.
If some saints were to ask me to tell them how to pray, I would not do it. If I told you how to pray and you prayed accordingly, that kind of prayer would still not be Christ. You may use the right terminology, but you may still be praying outside of God. You would not be praying in God, in the center of God’s dwelling place. Furthermore, while you are praying, you may not have the inner satisfaction or the inner energizing. This means that you do not have God praying in you as you are praying. When we pray, we need to pray in God, and we need to pray with God energizing us inwardly. Then we need to offer Christ to God and pray Him to God.
If you were to stay with me for a period of several days, you would learn that I am a person who much of the time is not happy. The situation of today’s Christians makes me very sad. Consider the people around you and what they are doing. What do they know concerning God’s economy? How pitiful is the situation! The Lord Jesus has delayed His coming back for nearly two thousand years. Of course, to Him two thousand years are as two days. What is a long time to us is a short time to Him. From the Lord’s point of view, two hundred fifty years is like six hours, one-fourth of a day. It is Peter who says that with the Lord a thousand years are as one day (2 Pet. 3:8). In the same chapter Peter passes over the millennium and speaks directly concerning the new heavens and the new earth in eternity (2 Pet. 3:13). This indicates that even a thousand years is not long to the Lord. But as far as I am concerned, the Lord has delayed His coming a long time.
Who today is praying that God would dispense His grace into people? Who is praying in such a way as to motivate God’s throne of authority to judge this age? Christ has a great deal of incense, but where are the prayers that are qualified to receive the incense of Christ? Is Christ able to add His incense to your prayers? I am afraid that too few of our prayers are qualified to have Christ’s incense added to them. Therefore, it is very important for us to see that concerning our prayer life, Christ is the tabernacle, Christ is the food offered, and Christ is also the incense.
According to the Bible, the two altars are linked. Exodus 30:27 and 28 say that both the altar of incense and the altar of burnt offering were anointed with the holy anointing oil. After the tabernacle and its utensils were anointed, the two altars were anointed. Exodus 30:26-28 says, “And you shall anoint with it the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the laver and its base.” Notice that the sequence in these verses is the tabernacle, the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering. Thus, the anointing connects the two altars.
The anointing signifies God’s move. According to God’s move, therefore, the incense altar and the altar of burnt offering are connected. The anointing is the connecting element.
The altars were also connected by the blood of the sin offering offered for propitiation, or atonement, on the day of Atonement. The day of Atonement, or as we would prefer to translate it, the day of propitiation, occurred once a year. On that day the most important sin offering was offered. After the blood of this offering was shed, it was brought from the altar into the Holy Place and applied to the four corners of the incense altar. A portion of the blood was also brought into the Holy of Holies, and the remainder was poured out around the altar in the outer court. This propitiating blood also connected the two altars.
Furthermore, the two altars were connected by the fire that burned on the altar in the outer court. If we read the Old Testament carefully, we shall see that no strange fire was allowed to be on the incense altar for the burning of the incense. Rather, the only fire that could be used to burn the incense was the fire from the altar of burnt offering, the fire which had come down from the heavens. That fire was not strange. Any other kind of fire, however, would have been strange. The heavenly fire, the fire that came from God, that was used to burn the offerings on the altar of burnt offering was also used to burn the incense on the incense altar. By this we see that the fire that burned the offerings was also an element that linked these two altars.
From the altar of burnt offering a sweet savor ascended to God. A sweet savor also ascended to Him from the incense altar. Hence, from both the burning on the offering altar and from the burning on the incense altar a sweet savor ascended to God for His satisfaction. There was a difference, however, between these two kinds of burnings. The burning on the offering altar was a burning of judgment, but the burning on the incense altar was a burning of acceptance.
These two kinds of burning and ascending reflect each other. In particular, the first kind of sweet savor, that from the altar of burnt offering, is reflected in the second, that from the incense altar. The sweet savor ascending to God from the altar of burnt offering is reflected in the savor that ascended to Him from the incense altar. Here in these two kinds of sweet savor we have the sweetness of Christ in His death at the offering altar and the sweetness of Christ in His resurrection and ascension at the incense altar. The fragrance of Christ in His resurrection and ascension is for our acceptance. By these three elements—the anointing, the blood, and the fire—the two altars are connected.