It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.Luke 23:44-46
God had given Israel precise instructions in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25 – Exodus 27) and the temple (1 Chronicles 28). There was a room called the “Holy of Holies” or “The Most Holy Place” where God’s presence lived. This room was only entered once a year, by the High Priest, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. There were very specific instructions on what the priest was to do (Leviticus 16), including cleansing, sacrificing animals, and sprinkling blood. If the High Priest entered any other time, or without following God’s specific instructions, the consequence was death. The purpose was “atonement” (reparation for a wrong committed) for the sins of Israel. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).
He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.Leviticus 16:15-16,34
Then Jesus died the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. This symbolized a change in the way things were done – a new covenant on how sins would be atoned and a new operating system:
- Jesus came as the new High Priest and the blood he brought was his own perfect blood. (Hebrews 9:11-14)
- No longer does a High Priest need to enter the temple every year to atone for sins, Jesus did it once and for all, when he entered heaven after sacrificing himself. (Hebrews 9:24-28; Hebrews 10)
- Atonement from our sins, and salvation, is through believing in Jesus. (John 3:16-21, John 14:6)
Under the new covenant, the punishment for sin is still death, but we have a High Priest who already died. His blood paid our price and atoned our sins. The temple is no longer a physical building, but it is the human bodies of those who believe in Jesus. God lives in us.
So what does this mean for us? If you haven’t already put your faith in Jesus, I encourage you to read the verses I have linked and spend time reading both the Old Testament and New Testament. God loves you and sent His Son to die for you, at no cost to you. For those of you who have put your faith in Jesus, thank him for his sacrifice. And then live for him, loving others, meeting together with other believers, and encouraging them to do the same.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, 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 and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Paul, Hebrews 10:19-25