For Whom was the Temple Curtain Torn?

October 10, 2013

by Ron Hale

Ron Hale has served as pastor, church planter, strategist (NAMB), director of missions, and associate executive director of evangelism and church planting for a state convention, and now in the fourth quarter of ministry as minister of missions.

The Jewish temple in Jerusalem was not an inviting spiritual structure. It was imposing and intimidating. I don’t imagine that smiley faces with happy handshakes greeted you at multicolored welcome centers as you entered.

God-fearing Gentiles had a segregated space for their worship and were strictly forbidden from entering the Jewish areas. A sign written in Greek read: any non-Jew who entered “is answerable himself for his ensuring death.”[1] Jewish women had a small court set aside for their use at the temple. In later years, a post for Roman soldiers was installed to maintain order and surveillance.

Inside the temple, there were two main rooms, the Holy Place (Hekhal) and the Most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies (Kodesh Hakodashim) and wise priests knew their restrictions concerning these rooms as they very carefully followed procedures and protocol.

Priests could minister in the Holy Place, but only at certain times and in prescribed ways. The priest entered this sacred place to do God’s business and then he reverently departed. Yet, there was a place even more sacred called the Holy of Holies. It was here that only the High Priest could enter.

Wearing special garments, the High Priest only entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. He brought with him the blood that would be sprinkled. The High Priest carefully walked past the temple veil (parochet) into this holy and historic place to sprinkle the blood on the golden Mercy Seat that was the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, which held a copy of the Ten Commandments. The massive 60-foot tall curtain was a constant reminder that sin separated them from the presence of a holy God.

In Leviticus 17:11, God says why he instituted temple sacrifices, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement.”[2] J.I. Packer says, “When Paul tells us that God set forth Jesus to be a propitiation “by his blood,” his point is that what quenched God’s wrath and so redeemed us from death was not Jesus’ life or teaching, not his moral perfection nor his fidelity to the Father, as such, but the shedding of his blood in death.”[3]

The Scriptures preach to us that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. Two thousand years ago, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus died for all — reconciling the world to himself. Jesus, as our substitute, stood in our place! As our shield and savior, Jesus shielded us from the retributive justice of a holy God by becoming our representative substitute, in obedience to his Father’s will, and receiving the wages of our sin in our place.[4]

The writer of Hebrews declares, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, this is, through his flesh”(Heb 10:19-20 ESV).

The book of Hebrews teaches us that Jesus entered the inner sanctuary behind the curtain on our behalf and He has become our high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek (Heb 6:19-20). As our high priest, John shows us “for whom” Christ shed his blood, “And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our only, but also for the whole world” (I John 2:2).[5]

Everything about the ancient Jewish temple shouted, “Stop! Don’t come any closer! Stay back! You are not authorized for access!” But, everything about Jesus, our Great High Priest joyfully says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened” (Matt 11:28).

The massive temple curtain was torn from top to bottom by the strong hand of God at the very moment of the death of our Savior. For that reason, asking a question concerning the intent of the atonement as it relates to the tearing of the curtain is not far-fetched. For you see, God’s plan in the atonement was to provide a punishment and a satisfaction for sin as a basis for salvation for all humanity and to secure the salvation for all who believe in Christ.[6]

Some Christians contend for a “limited atonement” and that God unfolded his great plan of salvation (over many centuries) so that it would climax at the cross of his Son bearing the punishment due for the sins of the elect alone. To say it another way, the sins of the elect only were substituted for, atoned for, or imputed to Christ on the cross.[7]

This limited view of the atonement does not stand the test of time because Gottschalk of Orbais (AD 804-869) was the first person in church history who explicitly held belief in limited atonement.[8]

While the Jewish temple shouted “access denied” at so many points of entry, the rending of the temple curtain signifies access to the Lord God of Israel by means of the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus the Christ (Romans 6:10).

Last, the torn curtain declares to the world that God Himself is no longer the exclusive possession of Israel, for he is no longer hidden away and veiled. The presence of God will no longer be housed in a tabernacle or temple but will be poured out on all flesh (Acts 2:17) and “whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

The result is obvious to those who have studied the work of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts as the Gospel crashes through social and ethnic barriers and breaks down veiled spiritual biases. Access once denied to so many is opened to Gentiles, Samaritans, women, Romans, yes, ALL SINNERS — as they put their trust in the One who shed his blood for all, for he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Jesus, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25).

© Ron F. Hale, October 7, 2013

[2] Packer, 186

[3] Ibid. 186

[4] Ibid. 189

[5] William W. Stevens, Doctrines of the Christian Religion, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1967), 186.

[6] David L. Allen, The Atonement: Limited or Universal?, in, Whosoever Will: A Biblical- Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, ed. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2010), 64.

[7] Ibid. 63

[8] Ibid. 68