Friday, March 25, 2016

More than Access: The tearing of the veil as a sign of judgment

When Jesus died, spectacular things happened. There was an earthquake, there were tombs raised, the world went dark, rocks were split, and the temple veil was torn from top to bottom. 

The tearing of the veil is typically viewed as something positive, noting that believers now have access to God. That’s good news, right? It is true, particularly as explained in the book of Hebrews that there is a veil through which we now have access, namely the body of Christ (Heb 10.18-25). But access to where? We have access to the new holy place, the new temple, the true temple, the Lord Jesus himself is our temple. The former things were shadows. The reality is Christ. 

Jesus and the Temple: Only one shall stand! 
Back to the tearing of the veil at the crucifixion. Why was the veil torn when Jesus died? You will remember that Jesus said early in his ministry that he would tear down the temple and rebuild it (Jn 2.19). This was of course memorable, after it took 46 years just to remodel this temple. But Jesus is speaking on a different level than what they understand. The scoffers remember Jesus talking about the temple at the crucifixion, they jeer him in Mt. 27.40 for saying he would tear down the temple. He was about to die and could not even save himself. He hardly seemed up to the task of dismantling a building. Yet, only a few verses later, “behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (Mt 27.41) Maybe he was up for tearing down a temple, even on the cross.  

Theologically, here is what I think is going on. The point is not so much, “Man can go in or God came out.” The point is God in essence saying, “I’m at a different address.” God is no longer accessed via a brick and mortar (or curtain) temple, he’s accessed through the new holy place that is under construction, to be revealed 3 days later, the man, Jesus Christ. There is a debate in John 4 with the woman at the well about where to worship God. Jesus answers her question and reveals that one day “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (Jn 4.23)

Imagine being a first century Jew who suddenly had clear sight into the Holy Place. They had been told the stories. If you enter there, God will strike you dead, like Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10).  Their charade is exposed. The emperor(s) are exposed as empty peddlers of a system not true representatives of God.  

The Bigger Story: Way back in Exodus, God instructs the people to construct a tabernacle. They do. He comes down and dwells there in his glory-cloud (Ex 40). Years later, Solomon builds the permanent place for God, the Temple. He prays and God’s presence comes down (2 Chron 7). Years later, the glory-presence of God leaves prophetically depicted by the prophet Ezekiel (chs 8-11). Israel would be deported from the land, Jerusalem lost and the temple razed. Eventually, they would return from exile and rebuild the temple. But guess what never shows up in the new temple recorded Ezra-Nehemiah? The glory presence. 

It is prophesied in Haggai 2:9 that the glory of this (rebuilt) temple would be greater than Solomon’s temple. How so? It wasn’t in terms of appearance nor in terms of the glory-presence. Yet this is the temple (a remodel later) in which Jesus walks, the one who radiates the glory of God shows up in the temple, but the glory is now found in a man, Jesus Christ, not in the glory-cloud (Heb 1.3).

The glory has a new house, in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. He is the true temple. The tearing of the veil demonstrates the old way is now obsolete. Access is granted to a new and true holy place. 

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