My mother told me that I’d never really understand the New Testament until I understood the Old Testament.
My mother was right.
It turns out that the Levitical laws are exciting to study after all.
Understanding these laws turns our simple curious wonder over the veil in the Temple being torn from top to bottom as Christ died on the cross into flat-out, jaw-dropping shock and amazement.
But, of course, before we get into this, we need our mood music — our soundtrack to Jesus’ life.
As I’ve done all week, I’ve chosen a song from Michael W. Smith’s “Freedom” album. Today’s song is “The Call.”
Now I need to lay a little groundwork.
Way back at Mt. Sinai after God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He established complex laws for the Tabernacle and sacrifices.
It was a simple matter of pure holiness doesn’t mix with sin.
Think of it as infinitely worse than mixing uranium and a neutron in a blender. (Can you even do that?) Or, say, placing a nail file into your eyeglasses case. You don’t do it.
God wouldn’t allow His holiness to be stained by our sin. This really wasn’t an issue of preference. This was serious. Deadly serious.
Sin is much more grave than we give it credit for being.
We wink at sin, but God’s law reveals how far sin truly is from holiness, and how enslaved we are to it.
His law opens our eyes to our deep need of a Savior.
God gave the Israelites the Tabernacle in the wilderness as a way for them to receive forgiveness of their sin and to give a picture of the coming Savior, who would pay for sin once for all. (I Peter 3:18)
I’m not going to give a whole lesson on the Tabernacle today (although you’d love it).
I’m just going to share a few necessary basics so our jaw can properly drop every time we think about the veil being torn.
The Tabernacle 101
The Tabernacle consisted of the outer court and the Tent of Meeting. The Tent of Meeting held the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place.
God’s people, if they were ritually clean, entered through a curtain into the outer court. They brought their sacrifices for their sins to the priests. (Exodus 27:16)
In the Tent of Meeting, only the priests could enter through a curtain into The Holy Place. (Exodus 26:36)
Once inside The Holy Place, only the high priest could enter through the veil into The Most Holy Place. He could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement with the blood of the sacrifice. (Exodus 26:31-34, Leviticus 16)
Inside the Most Holy Place dwelled the presence of God over the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant. (Leviticus 16:2)
The veil separated God’s holy presence from the world.
The veil’s presence declared, “Stay away. You may not come to God because of your sin.”
But God’s plan from before the foundation of the world was to restore man back to Himself.
The High Priest
In the Tabernacle — and later, the Temple — the appointed high priest represented the coming sinless Christ and His work upon the cross to pay for all sin.
He would be our Great High Priest and would make the way back to God by His blood as the final sacrifice for sin.
In the Tabernacle (and Temple) the high priest held the most honored and sober position.
If anyone other than the high priest entered The Most Holy Place, they’d be worthy of death.
If the high priest entered The Most Holy Place at any other time than on the Day of Atonement, he’d be worthy of death.
If he entered without the blood of the sacrifice, he’d be worthy of death.
If he did anything inside The Most Holy Place other than what God had instructed him to do, he’d be worthy of death. (Are you getting the picture?)
It’s said that a rope was tied to the high priest’s ankle when he entered The Most Holy Place. That way, if he died, they could drag him out. They knew no one could go in after him.
God would accept nothing less than utmost respect for the high priest or from the high priest.
The high priest & The Great High Priest
Now, fast forward to the night Jesus was betrayed and brought before the high priest Caiaphas and the Council of Sanhedrin.
They interrogated Christ in the middle of the night in an attempt to find something on which they could condemn Him to death. Not exactly a proper trial.
But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, The Son of God.”
As I see it, Caiaphas “adjured” Christ because he saw a checkmate opportunity.
Leviticus 5:1 states:
“Now if a person sins after he hears a public adjuration to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt.”
Surely Caiaphas knew that Christ would either refuse to answer him and thus be guilty of breaking the Law, or He’d testify to being the Christ, The Son of God. Either way, he gets to find Jesus “guilty” and condemn Him to death.
Jesus obeyed Leviticus 5:1 and answered Caiaphas by quoting Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13 concerning Himself.
Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”
Caiaphas acted outraged, but I think he was actually elated. In his mind, Jesus has condemned Himself.
“Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need to we have of witnesses? Beyond, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think? They answered, “He deserves death!”
Before Caiaphas declared Christ guilty of blasphemy, what did he do?
He tore his robe!
After studying Leviticus, I was horrified and excited by this.
I was horrified because Caiaphas tore the holy robe of the high priest.
I’d have been terrified to get a smudge of dirt on it, much less tear it. We don’t tear our clothes in our day and culture, but in those days it was a sign of utmost outrage or grief.
I was horrified by his act, but I was also excited because we see in this a picture of God ripping away the priesthood from Caiaphas. It was a small glimpse into a shift of priesthoods, and Caiaphas had no idea.
Our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, stood in Caiaphas’ presence that night ready to usher in the new priesthood in the order of Melchizedek — which is another fascinating story. We’ll have to look at that soon.
Christ hadn’t come to destroy the Law of Moses. He’d come to fulfill it.
The Veil is Torn!
Hours later, Christ fulfilled the law by hanging on the cross outside Jerusalem as the perfect sacrifice.
Meanwhile over in the Temple, priests performed their rituals in the Holy Place.
I wish I could’ve seen everything that took place that day.
Were the priests whispering among themselves about the sky having grown dark in the middle of the day?
Were they even a little nervous by this bizarre development?
Suddenly, in the moment that Christ gave up His spirit, the ground shook, and the veil was ripped from top to bottom, exposing the Mercy Seat of God.
That was serious and scary. (See Leviticus 16).
“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). (See also Mark 15:38 and Luke 23:45)
No human on earth could’ve possibly accomplished such a feat.
God reached down from heaven and ripped open the veil.
He transformed the veil from a barrier, blocking our way to Him, into an open door, inviting us into His Presence.
This was more impossible to imagine than an open door policy at the White House or someone with a peanut allergy gorging on Reese’s Cups and living to enjoy it.
Daring to stand before the Mercy Seat of God was to invite a death sentence, but now, in dramatic fashion, we were invited to come boldly and enjoy it.
Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The Aaronic priesthood was no longer needed. Christ had paid it all, and the veil was ripped wide open, never to be sewn back together.
Notice that Caiaphas’ priestly robe was torn, but Christ’s robe was not. Interesting picture, don’t you think?
So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be”; this was to fulfill the Scripture: “THEY DIVIDED MY OUTER GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS.”
The priests in the Temple had no idea what was going on, although they should have from the countless prophecies Christ fulfilled before their every eyes.
I want to know how the priests reacted in the Temple when they saw veil ripped.
Did they hide their face from the Mercy Seat?
Did any of them throw themselves down on their faces and cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness?
Or did they run around doing damage control, explaining away this most miraculous event?
I guess we’ll never know this side of heaven.
What the Veil Means For Us Today
Do you understand what the veil being torn means for us today?
It means our Freedom.
It means Freedom from sin, and freedom to approach God.
It’s hard for us today to understand how incredible it was when the veil was torn.
No doubt Adam and Eve got it. They’d been driven out of the garden of Eden. God had placed an angel at the entrance to guard the way back into the garden with a flaming sword.
Sin had changed their relationship with God.
Christ changed it again.
The veil was torn. The way back to God was now open.
Have you walked to the throne of grace?
Trust in Christ today for your salvation and celebrate Easter tomorrow as a child of God.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…”
Join me tomorrow for Resurrection Day!
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