And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. (Matthew 27:51 ESV)
Ever since the fall of man, recorded in Genesis 3, access to God has been forbidden. This was represented in the imagery of the angels with the flaming swords standing guard to the entrance of the Garden of Eden. Sin separates us from a holy God. Yet, communion with God is what we were made for. This presents us with a bit of a problem.
The history of the human race can be seen as man’s attempt to re-enter paradise. Various world religions, self-actualization, will to power, etc., all are fallen man’s attempt to regain paradise which was lost at the fall. Not everyone puts the quest in those words, but that is the heart of man’s quest. Unfortunately, man cannot ascend the mount to regain his lost sense of purpose and meaning because at the core of his fallen heart, he wants nothing to do with God or his ways. Fortunately for us, God has descended the mount to redeem his people. Through the promise of a covenant (the covenant of grace) made with Abraham and his descendants, God began the process of salvation that would culminate in the crucifixion of his Son, Jesus Christ.
The Jews had a privileged status as God’s chosen people. They had the covenants, the law, the ritual and ceremony, and the prophets. Yet despite this privileged status, the Jews had to approach God in a very specific manner. Jewish ritual worship had very detailed rules that must be followed. The people were not to go before God without a mediator. At the beginning, that mediator was Moses who interceded for the people before God and who served as God’s spokesman with the people; i.e., he was both a prophet and priest.
God then instituted the levitical priesthood, with the high priest serving as the mediator between God and the people. The high priest would perform the sacrifices in the tabernacle and he was also to teach the law to the people. He was also the one who would, once a year on the sacred Day of Atonement, go into the holy of holies and offer the atoning sacrifice before the Ark of the Covenant — God’s ‘dwelling place’ among the people. Before the high priest could perform the Day of Atonement ceremony, he had to go through elaborate purification rituals and offer sacrifices for himself first before offering the sacrifice for the people. Not only that, but this sacrifice had to be performed annually throughout the history of the Jewish people; a never ending reminder of the enduring stain and corruption of sin. Access to God under the old covenant was limited and guarded.
Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, mediates a far better covenant. He offered a once for all time sacrifice for the sins of his people and saves all those who would draw near by faith. He needed to offer no sacrifices for his own sin because he was sinlessly perfect. He need not repeat his sacrifice annually because HE was the sacrifice being offered; the sinless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Because of the better covenant Christ mediates, access to God is unlimited and unguarded. The old trappings of Jewish Ritualism were done away with on the cross and were symbolized by the tearing of the curtain that guarded the holy of holies; access to God has been opened! We still need a Mediator with God, and that Mediator sits at God’s right hand continuously interceding for us.
Soli Deo Gloria!