Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Veil

On this Resurrection Sunday, I have been contemplating the veil of the temple. Matthew 27:50, 51 says, "And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom...."

What was the significance of the veil being rent in two pieces? And why from top to bottom? What is the veil in the first place?

The veil in the temple separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. The Holy of Holies was the dwelling-place of God's presence on earth. Only the high priest was allowed to enter and even then, only once a year to atone for Israel's sins. The veil was symbolic of man being separated from God by his sin. According to the historian Josephus, the veil was around 60 feet high and four inches thick. Josephus goes on to say that two horses pulling in opposite directions could not tear the material that constructed the temple veil.

It's significant that the veil was torn from top to bottom, so that no one could claim that human hands had perpetrated a fraudulent miracle. We know that horses couldn't tear the four-inch-thick fabric--therefore, how could this material be rent in a natural explanation? And in case someone might conceive that it could be accomplished, surely no human could tear a 60 foot veil from the top. As this is recorded specifically in Scripture and elsewhere by historians, we must conclude that this event had witnesses.

So, if the veil was torn by God and not man, why did He do it? There are a couple of theories about this. It could have symbolized God coming down to man. Charles Spurgeon said, "In the East men express their sorrow by rending their garments; and the temple, when it beheld its Master die, seemed struck with horror, and rent its veil. Shocked at the sin of man, indignant at the murder of its Lord, in its sympathy with Him who is the true temple of God, the outward symbol tore its holy vestment from the top to the bottom."

However, the most important significance of the veil being ripped was to signal the end of the old covenant. The old system was done away with. The sacrificial system had ended as Christ once and for all paid the price for sin. There was now no need to continue with ritual or to pay the interest on our sin debt--it was now fully paid! There was now no separation between God and man. Jesus' death made it possible for us to boldly come before God. Jesus is our high priest, who made atonement for our sin, not yearly as the human high priest had done, but once for all. Hebrews has a lot to say about this. In chapter ten, we read, "
And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.... Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." Also, in chapter four, it is written, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess....Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

How awesome that we now have access to the throne room of God, through Christ's shed blood!

I had heard about a billboard that was up on the highway near where I live, advertising a church. It was controversial because of some of the things written on the billboard. I finally saw the sign this week and was struck by one of the beliefs of this "church." When I looked up their website, I found: "We do not, however, believe that Jesus is the only way to know God’s presence and experience God’s salvation. That same God or spirit of life and love is present in many religions around the world." For calling themselves a "Church of CHRIST," their belief about Jesus was pretty fishy: "We are not a “liberal” church that says whatever way works for you is fine, we simply recognize that Christianity is our way into the life of God but do not confuse that as being the only way into God who will not be defined by human barriers." Their list of beliefs seemed more like a political or social club, as opposed to a church. Very little of their beliefs had anything whatsoever to do with the Bible.

In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that I find it a travesty when humans dictate to God what is right or wrong, what is sin or acceptable, or even how you can get into heaven. How dare we? Who on earth do we think we are? Living in bodies God created, living on a planet that God made, breathing the very air that God brought into being. And yet, we think we can tell God how to run the universe He created? Can we honestly tell HIM under what circumstances that we will be coming to HIS heaven? Do we seriously tell the Creator of everything what we think the rules should be? How arrogant! Can you imagine your child telling you what the rules will be in your house, telling you what they will do, how they will do it, demanding money, etc. from you? Or if a peon in a huge corporation went to the CEO and told him how much salary he demanded to make, the benefits he required, and as long as he was at it, he would rather the company manufacture something different because he wasn't really "feeling" the product? Can you imagine clay on a potter's wheel standing up and telling the potter how he should mold the clay? Of course not! It's ludicrous! God does not run a democracy, folks. It's a theocracy and you better figure out what Theos' requirements are and get in line! Yes, God is loving, but he is God and we are not.

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