Mark 15:33-41 33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” 40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
The moment that Jesus died upon the cross there was a strange miracle. A curtain was torn in two in the Temple in Jerusalem. This miracle coincided with the last breath of Jesus as He cried out, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). Why was this so significant? The Temple and the Tabernacle before it (the Tent of Meeting that Moses was commanded to build in the wilderness when the Law was first given on Mount Sinai) had three main divisions. There was the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. No person entered into the Most Holy Place except the high priest and this only once a year with the blood of atonement and the smoke of incense. As Bishop William Rufus Nicholson writes:
“In the outer Court, in the sight of the people, stood the brazen altar and the brazen basin- symbols of what is needed in order to draw near to God. There can be no approach to Him without passing the place of blood sacrifice, and in that blood being cleansed as in a basin. In the Holy Place, in the sight of the priests who had just come from the bloody altar and the cleansed basin, were the table of showbread, the golden candlestick, and the golden altar of incense- symbols of union and fellowship with God. In the Most Holy Place, for the eyes of the high priest alone, were the Ark of the Covenant, its golden cover- the mercy seat, the cherubim, and the Shekinah- the cloud of glory, symbols of the throne of God's presence and power and grace. Thus, in the structure of the Tabernacle we have God's own symbolism of such truths as are involved in a sinner's acceptable worship of Him. Also it was symbolized that there were obstructions to such worship.”
Most people today, if they actually believe in God, don’t seem to think that there is anything interfering with their worship of God. But God made it absolutely clear to the Jews who were given the very oracles of God that there was something separating them from direct access and worship of God. Even though the Jews could and should worship God in the manner that God had declared to them through Moses, there were curtains involved. Not one but two. The ordinary Jew could not enter into the Holy Place. Only the priests were allowed in past the first curtain but they were allowed to go no further. Only the high priest was allowed in past the second curtain and this only once a year. I can just imagine how curious the people must have been wondering what it was like past the first curtain and for the priests there must have been the same curiosity and desire to even get a glimpse past the second curtain. How special was the high priest to have the honor to be the only person in the entire nation to enter into the Most Holy Place.
The two curtains reveal the privilege and intimacy that could be known with God that only a few special and chosen men within the nation of Israel could realize. Again, how cheap and trivial and insignificant do many people today view their relationship with God. There are many people who believe that they can live as sinful a life as they want and still have a relationship with God. The two curtains, the high priest, and the sacrificial system makes it clear that this is not true. The Jews knew that holiness was required to enter into the presence of God and to be among the chosen to go beyond the curtain and for the high priest himself to go even closer.
But when Jesus Christ died upon the cross the inner curtain was torn in two. As Nicholson also writes:” It was "torn from the top to the bottom"- in a straight line downwards, and completely through. It was not jerked apart by some intruder from below, but cleanly cut by an invisible hand from above.” This was a miracle but it was also meant to be witnessed. Jesus died at 3 pm. This was the very time of the beginning of the evening sacrifice so there were priests in the Holy Place in the witness of the second curtain. Can you imagine how shocked they must have been? I suspect they were afraid for their very lives. How could this be? What had just happened? In all likelihood they would have been confused by the darkness that began at noon until three but now they witnessed this miracle inside the Temple. All of a sudden the inner curtain was torn. They could now see everything inside the Most Holy Place. But now what could they do as priests? With the inner curtain being destroyed the outer curtain held no purpose and in turn the entire sacrificial system also served no purpose. What had happened in Jesus’ death to bring this about? The priests would have been astonished and confused.
When Jesus died upon the cross He paid the penalty for sin. Our ransom was paid in full. The curtains revealed that although a Jew could have fellowship with God and worship God and intimacy could be known with God, there was still a veil, a curtain that needed to be removed. The penalty for sin had not yet been fully paid. The animal sacrificial system was a type that God accepted when a person acted in faith in the Christ who was to come. But no animal could die for your sins: only the Son of God could; only the God-man born in our likeness could. Only the perfect man could be sacrificed in our place. Intimacy with God can be known because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ no matter who you are. You do not need to be a high priest or a priest. You do not even need to be a Jew. Anyone can know intimacy with God and have a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The curtain had been removed not only for the common people in Israel but also for all the nations.
How intimate is your relationship with God? Is it precious to you? Is God special to you? Are you eternally thankful that the curtain has been torn? Or do you act like this miracle never happened? Does the blood of Jesus Christ mean nothing to you? Jesus Christ alone is our Lord and our Savior. The curtain that was torn in the Temple proves this.
Pastor Murray Hack