One of the questions that people often have is, "How did the Old Testament people learn about Jesus?" In today's blog, I thought we'd depart from our normal devotional format, and talk about the important lessons God was teaching with the Temple in Jerusalem. (consult Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9 and 10)
We're told in the gospels that when Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This curtain was a thick curtain about 4" thick and separated the two rooms of the Temple in Jerusalem: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place.
The Holy Place
In this part of the Temple, the priests performed their daily functions. They offered prayers at the altar of incense and put out, each day, 12 fresh loaves of bread. These loaves symbolized the 12 tribes which made up the nation of Israel, God's chosen people. Also in this room was the golden lampstand, which symbolized the light of God shining upon his people (symbolized by the loaves of bread). Only priests could enter this room.
The Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies)
This room contained the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was a special box which contained the 10 Commadnments, a specimen of manna (the miraculous food Israel ate in the wilderness for 40 years) and the staff of Aaron which had miraculously budded. On top of this ark were two cherubim (angels) facing each other, with outstretched wings that touched in the middle. This place where the wings touched was called the Mercy Seat. In this place was the visible presence of God's glory, perhaps an orb of light or a sparkling cloud. No one was allowed in this room except the High Priest and only once a year.
Why the curtain?
The curtain did more than separate the two rooms, it separated man from God. It was a symbol of mankind's sin. Nobody could just walk into the presence of God because they were sinful. So the curtain reminded them that sin separates them from their God.
God provided a solution to sin
Once a year, the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place with the blood of a bull and the blood of a goat. The bull would die for the sins of the priests, the goat would die for the sins of the people. In each case, the High Priest would bring the blood of the animal into the Most Holy Place. He would sprinkle that blood onto the Mercy Seat.
Now here comes the cool symbolism. God's presence which looked down from the Mercy Seat and onto the Ark of the Covenant, would see the 10 Commandments - God's law. God's law had been violated by the sins of the priests and the wickedness of the people. But the blood of the innocent animals, sprinkled on the mercy seat would cover the law of God, and cover the offenses against that law. And therefore God would not punish Israel for their sin; he would accept these animal sacrifices in their place.
But these animal sacrifices weren't enough. They had to perform these sacrifices over and over again becuase these were just animals. These animals served as a teaching tool to teach Israel important lessons about sin:
• Sin violates God's law and is punishable by death (blood)
• God would accept the perfect blood of another in place of the death of the sinner
These animals taught the people that they needed a substitute and they needed a better substitute than these animals. It created in them a desire that God would one day fullfill his promise to have mercy on them by sending another, the Messiah, the Christ, who would be the final sacrifice for sin.
Why did the Temple Curtain tear in two?
Jesus Christ was that final sacrifice. His blood was the perfect blood because his life was never tainted by sin. So God accepted him as the one sacrifice to pay for all of mankind's sin once and for all time. This meant that sin no longer had to separate God and man.
So the curtain tore in two. God and man are at peace now.
Just like the ancient Israelite's looked ahead to the Messiah to be that one, final sacrifice, we look back and see that same Messiah give his life for our sins. On Good Friday, we commemorate this most important event in human history as the day God accepted a sacrifice for you and for me and for this whole world of sinners.
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