With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Mark 15:37-38.
This event is clearly of great significance because it is recorded by Matthew and Luke as well as Mark, but in what does its significance lie? Well, we need to understand that this curtain was the fine linen curtain that hung before the Most Holy Place to shut out God’s people from God’s presence. It was a veil, embroidered in scarlet and purple and blue, that depicted upon it the cherubim which God had placed in Eden to close for Adam and Eve and all their offspring the way to the Tree of Life.
But now, on this Friday afternoon, 2000 years ago, as Jesus dies, something happens that has the priests throwing themselves on the floor in terror. That great curtain is ripped in two from top to bottom, as if by some mighty, unseen hand. The cherubim are separated, swept apart … and the way to the Presence, the way to the Tree of Life, is symbolically thrown open by God himself to all who will enter.
Wonderful imagery! But is there perhaps even more truth here than we are seeing? Note what the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says at 10:19-22: “Therefore, brothers, 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 in full assurance of faith …”
What does he mean — the curtain is the body of Jesus?
I think again of that curtain in the tabernacle. I see how, though it appeared to separate man from God, it did in fact connect the two — one side relating to God in his love and mercy, the other side relating to man in his need. And I see that it just needed to be torn apart for man in his need to meet God in his love. I think again of Jesus — how does Graham Kendrick describe him? “Manhood and deity in perfect harmony, the man who was God” — and I see how Jesus stood between God in his love on one side, and man in his need on the other. I see how he was joined to man in his humanity and to God in his divinity. And, I see how on Calvary that curtain that was his flesh was in fact torn apart so that I in my need can, in fact, in reality, “draw near in full assurance of faith” and meet God in his love.
This surely is the significance of that great rending on the temple mount on Good Friday afternoon.
Lord, I come to your awesome presence,
From the shadows into your radiance;
By the blood I may enter your brightness,
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness.
Shine on me, shine on me.