The Burnt Offering Altar was the first item to be seen after entering through the Door into the Tabernacle's Outer Court. It was an impressive construction: made from acacia wood overlaid with bronze, it stood 1.4 metres high and 2.3 metres wide and broad (square).
Wood is a biblical figure of man (Psalm 1:1,3 & Jeremiah 5:14). Acacia wood is a strong, high quality wood, signifying the best humanity, that of Jesus. Bronze in the Bible speaks of God's judgement, particularly His judgement over our rebellious thinking and speaking against Him (as in Numbers chapter 16:29-40 and Jude v11). Since the wood is overlaid with the bronze, the Burnt Offering Altar reminds us of man under God's judgement for our rebellion against Him. Since the wood is acacia wood, this speaks of Jesus bearing the judgement of God for us on the cross.
At the Burnt Offering Altar the priests sacrificed various Offerings to God; some offerings were for their own sins and for the sins of the people. The point of the burnt offering was that, by it, a person might become accepted before God and forgiven (Leviticus 1:4). For the burnt offering a male animal was sacrificed: a ram, a goat, a bullock or a turtle-dove (or a pigeon) (Leviticus 1:3-17). The offering had to be without blemish, the very healthiest and best available. This foreshadows the Lord Jesus, Who was examined by Pontius Pilate, who declared "I find no fault in Him at all" (John 18:38).
The blood of the offering was poured out round the base of the altar, foreshadowing the Lord Jesus, whose precious blood flowed out when His side was pierced on the cross by a Roman spear (John 19:34 & I Peter 1:19).
The whole concept of blood sacrifices is quite disturbing to the 20th century western mind-set. Some explanation may help to understand God's perspective in the Bible. In Ezekiel 18:4, God says "All souls are Mine... The soul that sins shall die". The penalty of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Sin was defined by the law, the 'Torah', the first five books of the Bible. The righteous requirement of the law was without pity: "a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Deuteronomy 19:21).
This then is the legal position: we belong to God, He made us and we are His by right.
But we have done our own thing, lived our own life without God: we have sinned.
We always try and make out that our sinfulness is not so bad. However, in God's eyes everything matters, every last little thing. Since we have robbed our lives back for ourselves from God to Whom we really belong, we have sinned.
According to the righteous requirement of the law, we should die for our sin. However, there is a provision: "the life of the flesh (of a burnt offering or sacrifice) is in the blood, and I have given it you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul" (Leviticus 17:11,8). So, either you must die, or the offering can die in your place, a life for a life. If the offering dies, then (through its life-blood) there is atonement for your soul, at-one-ment, restoration to the God to Whom you belong (Leviticus 1:4).
This is God's way, His provision. Unjust to the animal? It is because we have been unjust towards God, by not living unto Him, that makes an offering become necessary. And this is faith: believing in God's provision, when we can do nothing for ourselves. As Abraham told Isaac in faith "God Himself will provide a lamb for the burnt offering" (Genesis 22:8), and He did: a male lamb hanging on a tree (Genesis 22:13) within eye-shot of Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:2,14), which is where the Temple Mount still is today, in Jerusalem. In fulfilment of all of these indications, God did not withhold His only Son (Genesis 22:16 John 3:16), the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the lamb provided by God: He was crucified within eye-shot of Mount Moriah at the Feast of Passover in 33AD, "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Believe in Him. Seeing Jesus die, even the Roman centurion declared: "Truly, this man was the Son of God" (Mark 15:39).
After its blood was poured out, the burnt offering was entirely consumed by burning, the only products being ashes and aroma. The ashes were removed from the camp to a "clean place" (Leviticus 6:8-13). The burning offering was a pleasing, sweet aroma to God (Lev.1:9,13,17) to make the person accepted before God and forgiven (Lev.1:3-4). In Ephesians 5:2, Paul shows us clearly that the burnt offering was an exact picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, who "loved us and gave Himself up for us" on the cross, "an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma".
Psalm 22 describes graphically and prophetically the utterances of Jesus from the cross as God lays upon Him the sins of the entire world "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Psalm 22:1), and the agony of being crucified: "all my bones are out of joint (Psalm 22:14). Then follows the heat of the fire of death: "My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd and My tongue clings to My jaws" (Psalm 22:14-15) - the burnt offering. In His final gasp, the offering is complete and Jesus cries "It is finished!" (John 19:30). "He has done it!" (Psalm 22:31).
The final part of the fulfilment, the carrying of the ashes to a 'clean place', came as Jesus' dead body was taken down from the cross: "in the place where He was crucified there was a garden and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. They laid Jesus there" (John 19:41-42). John, an eye-witness to all this, wrote "he who has seen bears testimony, true testimony, so that you also may believe" (John 19:35).
When we were at the Door of the Outer Court we heard the words of Jesus "I am the Door; if any man enters through Me he shall be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture" (John 10:9). Jesus is not only the Door, He also tells us "I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11), to help us to enter through the Door. Furthermore: "The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (John 10:11), so Jesus is the offering at the Burnt Offering Altar as soon as we get through the Door.
Rightfully we belong to God: we are His people and the sheep of His pasture, the flock in His care, hearing His voice (Psalm 95:7). The problem is we have rebelled against God our Maker, we have not listened to His voice. The normal destiny of any sheep entering into the Tabernacle was certain death. However, Jesus has laid down His life in our place, ie for us His sheep. When the wolf of death came, Jesus did not run away, as would a hired shepherd, who did not own the sheep (John 10:12-13). In Jesus' own words "I am the Good Shepherd; and I know My sheep, ... I lay down My life for the sheep" (John 10:14-15). And the sheep He refers to are not just those of the house of Israel "Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16).
This is the good news of the Burnt Offering Altar: whether we are Jew or Gentile, we are all under God's judgement because of our evil thinking, speaking and doing. However, the Lord Jesus, "Who did no sin, neither was there any deceit found in His mouth" (I Peter 2:22) became the offering slaughtered in our place. By believing in His death, "carrying up our sins in His body onto the tree" (I Peter 2:24), we can be made acceptable to God, restored to the Shepherd and to His flock (I Peter 2:25). Then we can enter into His courts with praise and thanksgiving (Psalm 100:3-4).
A lamb was burnt at the Burnt Offering Altar every morning and every evening (Exodus 29:38-42). Learn to come to this altar every day to confess your sins to God and to remember (by offering thanks and praise, Hebrews 13:15) that the Lord Jesus died in your place to forgive you and to cleanse you from all sin by His blood (I John 1:7-9; Hebrews 8:12; 9:14), so that you might live not for yourself but to Him (II Corinthians 5:15).
The Burnt Offering Altar and the Laver form a combined experience of Christ. Further information is also available on the other types of Offerings.