In the Old Testament we read of many mentions of altars. The first mention of an altar comes from the story of Noah in Genesis 8:20, which states:
20 And Noah built an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
From this passage we can understand the purpose of the altar. They were used for sacrifices and offerings and for sacred ordinances, which are sacred ceremonies that have a spiritual meaning and effect. We know from the Law of Moses that these altars were used for sacrifices, to pay respects to the ultimate and final sacrifice, our Savior, Jesus Christ. After the death of the Savior, the practice of sacrifice by the shedding of blood ceased, because the Law was fulfilled through Him. In today’s Latter-day Temples, there are still altars. However, they are used differently from how they were used during the Old Testament, up to the time of Christ’s death.
Our temples today are used for ordinances that will bless us now and in the future. In many of these ordinances, the altar plays an important role in how we show our readiness to know God and have a relationship with Him. In Doctrine and Covenants 59:8, we are told to “offer a sacrifice to the Lord your God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit:” This is what we offer on the altars of the temple. So what does it mean to have “a broken heart and a contrite spirit”? Very simply, it means that we are willing to humble ourselves and follow the will of our heavenly Father. This is much easier said than done. However, we again have a perfect example of how to do this through Jesus Christ and his Gospel. His Gospel includes increasing our faith in Him, repenting of our sins and performing sacred ordinances such as baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. To the world, these may seem like sacrifices, but they are actually small things we can do to receive the great and miraculous blessings God has for us. They are also all examples of how we can learn to have a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
An altar is a significant part of how we form a relationship with our Father in heaven in the temple. When we show our willingness to sacrifice ourselves, our time and our energy, we are blessed in many ways. The blessings that come from the Temple are important in this life and will help us on the way back to our heavenly Father. If you would like to learn more about the Temple and the specific ordinances performed inside, you can schedule a visit or chat with a church representative on this website!