Christian Churches of God

No. CB109




Altar of Incense


(Edition 1.0 20070909-20070909)


We have seen from The Tabernacle in the Wilderness (No. CB42) and The Temple Solomon Built (No. CB107) that the number of the pieces of furniture expanded. In this lesson we will look at the Altar of Incense and see how it changed in its presentation from the Tabernacle in the Wilderness to the future Temples. We will also review the symbolism associated with incense. 



Christian Churches of God

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(Copyright ã 2007 Diane Flanagan, ed. Wade Cox)



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 Altar of Incense


We have seen from previous papers that God the Father had set up a plan for the priesthood and His dwelling places on the Earth. In this lesson we will look at the Altar of Incense in detail. We will start the lesson by looking at the first heavenly Altar of Incense. See the papers The Tabernacle in the Wilderness (No. CB42) and The Temple Solomon Built (No. CB107).


Altar before God’s Throne


We see from Revelation there is an altar of incense before God’s Throne.


Revelation 8:3 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. (KJV)


Revelation 9:13  And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God. (NASV)


From these two scriptures we see there is a golden altar before God’s Throne on which the prayers are offered and important events transpire or happen.


But what was incense in the physical sense, and how does this apply spiritually?


“Incense is an aromatic gum or other substance producing a sweet odour when burned used esp. in religious ceremonies; the perfume or smoke arising from. To burn, incense for; perfume with incense” (The Living Webster’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1977).


Incense (SHD 7004): NASV key study states this is a fem. Heb. noun traceable to 6999. It means a fumigation (sweet) incense (Ex. 30:1ff.; Lev. 4:7; 10:1) an offering of incense; perfume (Prov. 27:9) the fat parts of a sacrifice (Ps. 66:15). It denotes what produces a sweet-smelling odour when it is burned.


From Exodus 29:34-38 God tells the Israelites that the four requirements for the incense were that it be: beaten fine, salted, pure and holy. We are cautioned never to make this incense for our own use.


So we see incense is a physical substance that has to be burned or have fire/heat applied to it to produce a smell. Spiritually our prayers are likened to incense.


Psalm 141:1-2  O Lord, I call upon Thee; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to Thee! May my prayer be counted as incense before Thee; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.


Our prayers are to be beaten fine.


We are to be gathered in prayer at the time the incense was offered and that is why at the Feasts the services are typically at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Luke 1:10 and 1Chronicles 23:30-31 both indicate the time of the sacrifices.


Luke 1:10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside the hour of the incense offering.


Here we see an indication that when we meet with our brothers on God’s Sabbaths and Feasts and Holy Days, we should be assembled in prayer and study at the times of the morning and evening offering.


1Chronicles 23:30-31 and to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord and likewise at even; and to offer all burnt sacrifices unto the Lord in the Sabbaths, in the new moons, and on the set feasts, by number, according to the order commanded unto them, continually before the Lord: (NASV)


God is not looking for sacrifices now, rather that we have a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart (Ps. 51:17). We do need to be worshiping and obeying the One True God all the time


Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.


We also learned that the incense is one of the four things considered Most Holy to the Lord (Ex. 30:36 and fn. to Lev. 2:3 in The Companion Bible).


We also learn that crowns on people or things are important. In his footnote to Exodus 25:24, Bullinger states that there are three crowns of gold: (1) Ark (Ex. 25:11), the crown of the Law. (2) Altar of Incense (Ex. 30:3), the crown of the priesthood. Its incense fired only by the fire from the altar of burnt offering [which was supernaturally ignited by fire initially (Lev. 9:24; 2Chr. 7:1)].  (3) Table of Shewbread (Ex. 30:3), the crown of the kingdom.


Therefore, let us look at the priesthood and the altar of incense in the various dwellings of God.


Altar of Incense in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness

The Altar of Incense was located directly in front of the veil or curtain into the Holy of Holies. It was a cubit long and a cubit wide and two cubits high. Its horns were of one piece. It was made of acacia wood and also overlaid with pure gold. It too had a moulding around the top like a crown. There were two rings on each side of the altar on its corners (Ex. 37:3,13). The poles to carry it were made of acacia wood overlaid with gold (Ex. 30:1-5; 37:25-29).


The priests tended the Altar of Incense twice a day (Ex. 30:6-8; Lk. 1:9-11). There is to be perpetual incense before the Lord throughout our generations (Ex. 30:8). The incense was made from precious spices and under God’s direction (Ex. 30:34). It could not be used for any other purpose. The priests were instructed not to offer any strange incense on this altar (Ex. 30:9) or use any strange fire to light it.


Initially, the fire to ignite or start the fire on the burnt altar was supernaturally supplied (Lev. 9:24; 2Chr. 7:1). For more details, see Bullinger’s footnotes to Leviticus 10:1 and 16:13 and Hebrews 8:5.


The collection of the Church’s prayers ascending to the Father could be depicted in the Altar of Incense. David gave us an example of prayer being as incense in Psalms 141:2. We know that the twenty-four Elders and the four Living Creatures around God’s Throne continually monitor the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8). God’s people should always be in prayer. Here we can also see the concept of praying at least twice a day. For more information on how to pray see the papers Lesson on Prayer Part A Teacher’s Guide (No. CB31) and Lesson on Prayer Part B Worksheet (No. CB32).


We also know that some have offered strange fire to God.


Strange fire and prayers that are an abomination to God


We see from Leviticus 10:1ff. what happened to Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two oldest sons, when they offered strange fire on the incense altar.  They did not do what God had instructed them to do, so fire from the Lord consumed them and they died.


The same applies for us spiritually if we do not worship the One True God, fully and completely.


It is to our shame if we don’t know who the One True God is.


1Corinthians 15:34 Become sober minded as you ought, and stop sinning for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.


If we don’t obey and follow God’s Law or instructions, God does not hear our prayers.


Proverbs 28:9 He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination.


If we are not listening and obeying God we will be spiritually dead until we repent and change our ways.


The lesson of strange incense tells us not to pray to or worship false gods. For more information see the papers Satan’s Days of Worship (No. CB23) and The Ordination of Aaron and His Sons (No. CB43).


As we have seen, God has a golden altar before His Throne and the 24 Elders are responsible for monitoring the prayers of the saints (Rev. 8:5). Let us now look at the earthly dwelling places of God and see how the altar of incense is represented there.

The Altar of Incense


Exodus 30:1-6 "You shall make an altar to burn incense upon; of acacia wood shall you make it. 2 A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth; it shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height; its horns shall be of one piece with it. 3 And you shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and its sides round about and its horns; and you shall make for it a molding of gold round about. 4 And two golden rings shall you make for it; under its molding on two opposite sides of it shall you make them, and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. 5 You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 6 And you shall put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with you. (RSV)

The veil was to separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (see Ex. 26:33) or the Holy of Holies. It stood as a barrier to the congregation of Israel. At this time, Atonement could be made only once a year. At the very moment when Christ died the veil was torn in two (see also Mk. 15:38; Heb. 6:19-20; 10:19-22). From then on we could meet God in the Holy of Holies, meaning we could pray directly to God in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Atonement Sacrifice

It is important to note which pieces of furniture in the Temple had the atonement blood placed upon them yearly.


God gave the Israelites very clear instructions as to who would be allowed to perform the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement.  The High Priest had total responsibility for duties that occurred within the Tabernacle of the Wilderness and the Temple, on the Day of Atonement.  This was to point towards Christ who was to come, and he would become the Atonement sacrifice by giving his life to make atonement for us and redeem us from sin. 


On the Day of Atonement no other priest could be in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness or the Temple until the High Priest completed all his duties.

Leviticus 16:17 And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.


See Leviticus 16 for complete details of how the High Priest needed to carry out all the duties on the Day of Atonement. We will pick up the duties with aspects that occurred with the Altar of Incense.


Exodus 30:10  Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year; with the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations; it is most holy to the LORD. (RSV)


After the bull and ram were selected Aaron prepared to take a censer of coals into the Holy of Holies. This was the first time the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.

Leviticus 16:12 And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail:  13And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not:


Aaron then went out of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and there was a priest holding a container of the blood from the bull that was sacrificed for Aaron and his household. Aaron returned to the Holy of Holies a second time with the blood of the bull and sprinkled it seven times on the mercy seat

Leviticus 16:14 And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.


Aaron now walked out of the Holy of Holies and killed the goat of the sin offering. He returned to the Holy of Holies for the third time with the blood of the goat. He sprinkled the mercy seat seven times with the blood of the goat of the sin offering.


 Leviticus 16:15 Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:  16And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.


Aaron leaves the Holy of Holies and mixes the blood of both sacrifices and sprinkles the blood seven times on the Altar of Incense.


Leviticus 16:18-20 And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about. 19 And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.  20 And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat:


The remainder of the blood was poured at the bottom of the brazen altar (Lev. 4:7).


From the above texts we see the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies three times – the first with the incense, the latter two with the blood of the bull and goat. Three is the number of completeness. For more details see the paper Symbolism of Numbers (No. 7).


The Holy of Holies, the altar of incense in the holy place and brazen altar all had atoning blood sprinkled or poured on them on the Day of Atonement.  He would have sprinkled blood 7 times 3 (7x3) for a total of 21 times. Twenty-one is the number tied to sanctification. For more details see the papers Sanctification of the Nations (No. 77); Sanctification of the Simple and Erroneous (No. 291); Sanctification of the Temple of God (No. 241). Also, the blood covered all areas of God’s dwelling place: Holy of Holies, Holy Place, and courtyard. 


Three is the number of completeness and seven is the number of spiritual perfection (see the paper Symbolism of Numbers (No. 7)).  Therefore, we see complete spiritual perfection on Atonement, if the procedures were followed correctly. We know we are the spiritual Temple now and the physical sacrifices are occurring, yet it is fitting to see all the duties and symbolism that occurred on Atonement and apply our prayers and fasting with the same diligence and effort the High Priest did each year and which Messiah demonstrated every day of his life.


We have seen the blood was taken into three areas of the Temple. Let’s try to understand what these areas may represent.


The Holy of Holies was a gold cube. The Ark of the Covenant resided there. The Holy of Holies depicted God’s Throne in Heaven. We know from Ezekiel 28:12 that all spiritual beings were created perfect, yet Satan rebelled and led one-third of the Host in rebellion against God.


We know on Atonement the High Priest first sacrificed the bull for himself and his family. Messiah is our High Priest and he is perfect and sinless; therefore, it seems likely that the first time the blood was sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant was for the spiritual rebellion. Since Messiah was sinless he did not need to make atonement for himself. Yet his spiritual family had members that rebelled and needed atonement offered for them.


The second animal that was sacrificed was the goat of Atonement for the sins of the people of Israel. Here we see the blood again was sprinkled on the Ark.


Then the blood of the two sacrificed animals are mixed and sprinkled for the last lot seven times on the altar of incense. Here man and Host can come to God through prayer.


The altar of incense is located in the Temple proper, where only priests can enter. Therefore, we might speculate that the atoning blood in the Temple covers the rebellion of the priesthood/Church that has rebelled over the ages.


The blood is then taken to the court and poured on the base of the burnt altar (Lev. 4:7). The courtyard is where people/Gentiles could worship. We know we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23; 5:12); therefore the remaining blood atones for sin of all mankind.


The Day of Atonement is a Shabbath (SHD 7676)  Shabbathown (SHD 7677)  (Lev. 23:32). It is the holiest of all days and is rich in symbolism and meaning.

On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest fulfilled all the duties within the Temple until he changed into his High Priest’s garments. As we have seen from the other lessons, Messiah fulfills all aspects of the sacrifices and Temple duties from being the burnt sacrifice – the lampstand or the bread of the presence.


The Jubilee horn is blown from Atonement since it is from Atonement that the planet is reconciled back to the Father. Messiah was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. On Atonement we yearly review the Plan of God.


From here we see that God’s Plan will be fulfilled; people will follow God’s Laws and reap the blessings. It may take time for them to repent and change, thereby prolonging the suffering. God is a God of perfect law and order and will not let things get in the way of stopping His Plan.


 For more information see the papers The Day of Atonement (No. CB99) and Atonement (No. 138).


Now that we have reviewed some basic facts about the Altar of Incense let us look at how the Altar of Incense appeared in the Temple that Solomon built


Temple Solomon Built


Exodus 30:1-3 and 37:25-28 tell us that the altar of incense was one cubit long by one cubit wide and two cubits high. The side of the altar of incense and top of the table of shewbread are both 1 cubit by 2 cubits.  Its horns were one piece with it. It was also overlaid with pure gold. Here we see the prayers of the saints being represented and ascending to Eloah, and being monitored by the 24 Elders (Rev. 5:8; 8:3). The altar of incense was located in front of the veil to the Holy of Holies.


There was a two-leaved door between Holy of Holies and the Holy Place overlaid with gold (2Chr. 4:22); it had golden chains across the doors (1Kgs. 6:21). There was also a veil of blue, purple and crimson and fine linen (2Chr. 3:14). We see the Tabernacle in the Wilderness also had a veil of blue, purple, scarlet and fine linen (Ex. 26:33). See the paper The Tabernacle in the Wilderness (No. CB42). The altar of incense would be located in front of these doors/veils.


In Solomon’s Temple, the altar was referred to in 1Kings 7:48, 1Chronicles 6:49 and 28:18.


The altar of incense seems to remain constant in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and in the Temple Solomon built. It is the one golden altar before the Throne of God or Holy of Holies.


We really do not see any detail given to the Altar of Incense in the Temple that Solomon built. We do know it existed and it was golden.


1Chronicles 28:13ff. seems to indicate that Solomon made an Altar of Incense. There was certainly one present.


1Chronicles 28:13-18 Also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the LORD, and for all the vessels of service in the house of the LORD. 14 He gave of gold by weight for things of gold, for all instruments of all manner of service; silver also for all instruments of silver by weight, for all instruments of every kind of service: 15 Even the weight for the candlesticks of gold, and for their lamps of gold, by weight for every candlestick, and for the lamps thereof: and for the candlesticks of silver by weight, both for the candlestick, and also for the lamps thereof, according to the use of every candlestick. 16 And by weight he gave gold for the tables of shewbread, for every table; and likewise silver for the tables of silver: 17 Also pure gold for the fleshhooks, and the bowls, and the cups: and for the golden basins he gave gold by weight for every basin; and likewise silver by weight for every basin of silver: 18 And for the altar of incense refined gold by weight; and gold for the pattern of the chariot of the cherubims, that spread out their wings, and covered the ark of the covenant of the LORD. (KJV)


Here we see that silver is used in the Temple also. So in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple Solomon built both have the three metals of bronze, silver and gold within them.


The Altar of Incense appears to remain the same as in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness in that there is only one Altar of Incense and it was tended twice a day. It was placed before the Most Holy Place.


1Chronicles 28 tells us David gave Solomon the plans for the organization of the priests and how the work was to be accomplished.

1Chronicles 28:13 David also gave Solomon his plans for dividing the priests and the Levites into groups, as well as for the work that needed to be done at the temple and for taking care of the objects used for worship. (CEV)


We know the earthly priesthood was modelled after the heavenly priesthood, where we see the 24 Elders dressed in white with crowns of gold on their heads worshipping God and monitoring the prayers of the saints (Rev. 4:4; 5:11; 7:11).


The Time of the Golden Censer in Heaven


From Hebrews 9:4,5, we learn there was a golden censer in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.


Hebrews 9:4-5 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; 5 And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. (KJV)


In Revelation 8:1ff., we are told of the time in the not too distant future when an angel will use the golden censer in Heaven and usher in the Seventh Seal with the Seven Trumpets. When the Seventh Seal is opened there is silence in heaven for half an hour…


The seven angels stood before God with seven trumpets. Revelation 8:3 states 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 all the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar before the throne.


Revelation 8:3 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. (KJV)


The smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints ascended before God.


The angel took the censer and filled it with fire of the altar and cast or threw it to the Earth and there were voices, thundering, and lightning and an earthquake. The seven angels prepared to thunder.


Here we see the heavenly enactment involving the Altar of Incense. The footnote to Revelation 8:4 in The Companion Bible says of smoke: Greek kapnos, one of 13 times used, all in Revelation, except Act 2:19. All other times it is associated with “judgment” or “the pit”.


So here we see a ministering spirit of God going before God in Heaven with a golden censer, and judgment is rendered or given

Altar of incense in the Millennial Temple of Ezekiel

Ezekiel does not describe the Altar of Incense in much detail either. There is a reference in Ezekiel 41 that appears to be referring to the Altar of Incense.

Ezekiel 41:22 The altar was of wood, three cubits high, and its length of 2 cubits its corners, its base and its sides were of wood. And he said to me “this is the table that is before the Lord”


Since in Exodus God stated the incense and tending to the Altar of Incense was a perpetual covenant, we would have to imagine that when the Temple becomes operational in the Millennium the Altar of Incense would again be located in front of the Holy of Holies.


Altar of Incense in City of God


From Revelation 21 and 22 we gain an understanding of what the City of God will be like.


We know there will not be any Temple because God and the Lamb are its Temple (Rev. 21:22). We know God will reign forever and ever (Rev. 22:5) and therefore we will worship and praise Him forever and ever (Rev. 4:8-11; 19:4-6; 22:9).


We see from 1Chronicles 24:1ff. (The following chapters outline the organization of the musicians, gatekeepers, etc.) David set up the priesthood to be in 24 divisions or units just as there were 24 Elders around the Throne of God.


The priests and High Priest are to wear white garments. See the The Garments of the Priest (No. CB61).


We will remember the High Priest also had to wear other special items compared to the regular priests. Also, remember that the white garments are for all the saints who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and keep the Commandments of God and Testimony of Jesus Christ (Rev. 12:17; 14:12; 22:14).


Revelation 22 describes what things will be like for us in the future.

Revelation 22:3,4  and there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond servants shall serve Him; and shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.


Just as the High Priest had a gold plate on his bonnet, so to we will all receive a new name (Rev. 2:17) and have the Lord’s name on our foreheads. See also Revelation 3:12; 7:3; 14:1.


The Church, as the body of kings and priests, is required to offer prayers each day, both morning and evening (Ex. 30:7-8). The preparation and prayers of the morning precede the timing of the offering of the morning sacrifice; and the prayers of the evening follow after the evening sacrifice. Thus our prayers act as the incense offering that stands before the Holy of Holies, and intercede with God for the world. That is why the 24 Elders are charged with monitoring our prayers and assisting us (Rev. 5:8-10). See the paper Psalms from the Temple Worship (No. 87) for more details. 




We have seen that God has a golden altar in Heaven and on which the prayers of the saints are cast. We know the 24 Elders monitor our prayers. The priesthood was originally responsible for the morning and afternoon incense offerings. 


We are all to be functioning as priests or bondservants to Eloah, continually. Let us pray without ceasing and offer continual sacrifices to El Shaddai and complete His work while we are still able to work and before the golden censer in Heaven is thrown to Earth.