Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt offerings morning and evening.
It is significant that the first thing built as the Israelites began the Temple reconstruction project was the brazen altar, because it is at the altar that peace is made between God and man.
Peace with God… that’s a rare condition in this world. Many who think they have peace with God really only have a cease-fire. There is a difference between peace with God, and a ceasefire with God. While the ceasefire pauses the obvious signs of a struggle, it lacks the safety and security of true peace.
In the aftermath of World War II, America made peace with Japan. In the years following, the United States worked to rebuild Japan, which went on to become a world economic power, the dream that the emperor had for the country to begin with. In that peace, two opposing sides agreed to stop fighting, to reconcile, to become partners, and both became stronger as a result.
The Korean War ended with a ceasefire. Technically, the two sides are still at war, and neither feels safe or secure at the moment.
Sadly, many people today have opted for a ceasefire with God, electing to tune out the conviction of His word and Spirit, and deadening their spiritual sensors so they can enjoy the life this world offers. Many times, God gives them up, and allows this to happen. The man in this state thinks he has peace with God, but he remains in rebellion against God, and will still face His judgment.
What you really need is peace with God, which only comes through surrender to God. This involves repenting (turning from sin) and faith (trusting the Lord to save you). It’s one monumental decision to trust Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Once that happens, the Bible teaches that you have peace with God through Jesus Christ your Lord (Romans 5:1).
Then, God begins to transform you into the person He intended on you becoming. He builds you, cares for you, and provides for you, giving you a peace and security that does not come through a mere ceasefire. Then, He gives you the eternal blessing of a place in His Kingdom. You become a new person, and all things become new.
So, peace with God, which comes through your conversion to Christ, is of the utmost importance, which is why the people of Ezra’s day built the altar first. The altar is where peace was made with God.
The altar had four horns fashioned on the corners. These horns represented the judgment of God for sin. When a worshiper brought a sacrifice to the altar, that sacrificial lamb was tied to one of those horns.
Now, it is important to remember that the sacrificial lamb was a picture of Christ. Just as the lamb at the Temple was killed to bring peace with God over sin, Jesus Christ was killed to bring us peace with God once and for all. That’s why John the Baptist referred to Jesus as “The Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).”
Back to the Old Testament temple, when this lamb was tied to the horn of judgment, it demonstrated that God’s judgment would be passed from the worshiper to the lamb, just as His judgment was passed from us onto Christ.
Then, the lamb was slain, and his blood was placed upon the horn of the alter, thus the blood of the lamb covered the judgment for sin. The blood of Jesus Christ covers the judgment for our sin.
At that point, the body of the lamb was placed on the altar. In some sacrifices, such as the peace offering, the worshiper would eat part of the cooked meat to signify restored fellowship between him and God.
The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ restored our fellowship with God.
So, in the reconstruction of the Temple, with the people facing mounting pressure from their enemies, it should come as no surprise that the altar was the first thing to be built. They understood their need to be at peace with God.