“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”
In the Lord’s will, in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah had a vision of God and His glory. After having had the vision, Isaiah was sent by the Lord to bring further prophecies to the people of Israel.
In verse 7 we are told that a seraphim brought a coal from off the altar, and touched it to Isaiah’s lips, and thereby, “thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”, which he had admitted in verse 5. Now, we know from Hebrews 9:22 that, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” This may seem to conflict with the angel’s statement, because no blood is mentioned in Isaiah 6.
Firstly, it is important to keep in mind that Isaiah’s vision was of God’s throne room. Concerning the tabernacle of old Hebrews 9:2-10 tells us, “For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; 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; and over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.”
Two important points are made in this passage that apply to the question. The first is that as long as the tabernacle stood it was the only way into God’s presence, but only for the high priest, and only once a year. The prescribed sacrifices were illustrations of the sacrifice of Christ. But they only served to cover sin.
The second is that these things were a figure, or a parable, of heavenly things. They were not the real things, but a picture. Add to this what the Lord told Moses in Exodus 25:40, as quoted in Hebrews 8:5, “…(the priests) serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.” God required Moses to build the tabernacle specifically the way that he had seen it in the mount.
Taken together, the tabernacle was merely an image of God’s very presence. He wanted the tabernacle to look like home, where He would dwell among His people. That is why He commanded precision in how it was made. Leviticus 6:12, 13 provides a further commandment for the priests concerning the altar, “And the fire upon the altar shall be burning in it; it shall not be put out: and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order upon it; and he shall burn thereon the fat of the peace offerings. The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.” An aspect of the image, the figure, was that there was always to be fire on the altar.
Hebrews 9:23-26 tells us, “It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” The writer contrasts the bringing of sacrifice that Jesus did with that of the priests. Jesus went into the tabernacle not made with hands, that is, into God’s presence with the blood of His sacrifice: Christ didn’t go into the tabernacle, the pattern of the heavenly things, but into heaven itself.
A further point that bears on this is the timelessness of God. Time was His invention for our convenience. He exists outside of time. That being the case, Revelation 13:7, 8 tell us, “And it was given unto (the beast) to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” The last phrase is what we need to consider. Notice that Jesus is called “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” This suggests that the sacrifice of Jesus reached back to the creation. Given that God is timeless, there is a sense in which the sacrifice has permanence not only going forward, but also backward in time. It is not that Jesus has continually been on the cross. May it never be. But the value of that sacrifice in time is eternal going forward and going backward. Since it is God that died, how could it not have that kind of eternal impact? That His sacrifice is efficacious even going backward is wonderful because Adam and Eve were as much in need of His redemption as any of us.
Notice 1 Peter 1:18-20, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you…” Here we find that Christ was foreordained before the foundation of the world unto the task of redemption. This reveals that His sacrifice was not some kind of plan B that God instituted after the fall in the garden of Eden. But it has been His plan all along from before He created the world.
So, given that Christ went into heaven itself, with the blood of His sacrifice, that His sacrifice is efficacious going eternally forward, and backward to the foundation of the world, according to the plan that was established before the foundation of the world, let’s return to the vision that Isaiah had as recorded in chapter six, “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”
Isaiah was in God’s presence. That he saw an altar there is consistent with Hebrews 9, where we found that the tabernacle, including the altar, was an image of God’s presence. What else could be the sacrifice on that altar in God’s presence? There was where the blood of The Lamb Of God was poured out, in keeping with the plan that had been set before the foundation of the world, and His sacrifice was effective from the foundation of the world. The altar that Isaiah saw, the sacrifice from which the coal was taken, was that One that was slain from the foundation of the world.
Where is the blood? It was poured out under that altar from the sacrifice of Christ, slain from the foundation of the world. God’s timelessness takes Christ’s sacrifice out of time, to us 2,000 years ago, and makes it effective for Adam and Eve, and for Isaiah as he stood trembling before the Almighty God of the universe, and for us 2,000 years later, and for whosoever will until Christ’s coming. That cleansing coal of fire was from the sacrifice of Christ.