One of the things I love about my current approach to Bible study is that by reading a chapter of the Old Testament along with a chapter in the New Testament each day, I can clearly see how the latter fulfills the former—especially when I’m learning from a Bible scholar like Dr. David Jeremiah.
I’ve been making my way through both Leviticus and the Gospel of Luke this week, so by now the copy of The Jeremiah Study Bible I’m using is so full of underlines and marks and comments that I think it’s gained some weight just from the additional ink.
This journey has been so profound at times, like when Jesus quotes something from an Old Testament passage that I’ve just read.
In the past week, I had one of those ah-ha moments when I read a sub-heading introducing the 9th chapter of Leviticus that reads: “The Priestly Ministry Begins” (The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV, p.140).
On that same day, I was also reading in Luke 23, which begins with Jesus being handed over to Pontius Pilate after His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and all that immediately followed.
This chapter also describes everything that Jesus endured up to and during His crucifixion, as well as the actual moment of His death.
It’s so powerful that I couldn’t read it all in one sitting.
Instead, I had to break it up so I could absorb all that Jesus suffered because of God’s great love for us.
But the ah-ha moment I mentioned earlier happened when I connected that subheading from Leviticus 9 with the moment in Luke 23:44-46 that changed everything for humanity:
“And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun being obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said ‘Father, into They hands I commit My spirit.’ And having said this, He breathed His last” (NASB).
What it was like before
I have to pause a minute so you can let that sink in.
Okay, now that we have a powerful image of the moment that changed everything, let me provide a little context-in-a-nutshell to frame my ah-ha moment.
To do so, let’s step back to the early and middle chapters of the Book of Exodus.
These sections of the Bible describe how God used Moses to help deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and the beginning of their 40-year journey toward the Promised Land.
Although He reassured them He’d be with them, there were certain rules they would need to follow for that to be possible.
Through the end of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus, God gave Moses very detailed instructions about what would be required for His sinful people to have a relationship with Him in the context of His holiness.
Those detailed instructions included constructing a portable tabernacle with progressively sacred rooms and establishing a sacrificial system as a way to compensate for sin.
Within the most sacred area of the tabernacle, the Most Holy Place, was the ark of the covenant. It was separated by a veil and could only be entered by the high priest (Aaron, Moses’ brother)—and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement (The Jeremiah Study Bible, p.132).
This area was so sacred that the high priest’s garment had bells around the bottom so those outside would know he was still alive and moving about (Exodus 28:33-35).
Here’s how Dr. Jeremiah describes this nerve-wracking scenario: “The hem of Aaron’s robe was interspersed with golden bells. The sound of the bells indicated to those outside the Most Holy Place that the high priest was alive—he had not been consumed by God’s anger while fulfilling his duties” (The Jeremiah Study Bible, p. 111).
In other parts of the tabernacle, specific types of sacrifices were offered by the lower-level priests (Aaron’s sons) according to God’s instructions.
That all might sound harsh and burdensome on God’s part, but His holiness and man’s sin are like oil and water—there’s no way they can be mixed.
That’s why all those sacrifices were necessary and why God eventually sent Jesus to do what He did.
Man’s priestly ministry begins—and ends
So what was my ah-ha moment last week?
That the priestly ministry of man that was launched in Leviticus 9 came to an abrupt and lasting end in Luke 23:44-46 when the temple veil was torn.
All those rules God established in the Old Testament to enable man’s relationship with Him are bookended by the beginning of man’s priestly ministry and the moment Jesus took His last breath.
That’s why, at the very same time, the veil in the temple that separated The Most Holy Place was torn in two.
And although Luke’s Gospel doesn’t include a key detail, both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels do: the veil wasn’t torn from the bottom, as if by men—but from the top, apparently by God.
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…” (Matthew 27: 50-51, NKJV).
“And Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15: 37-38, NKJV).
Commenting on Mark 15:38, Dr. Jeremiah’s footnote reads, “The thick veil of the temple separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, where in ancient times the ark of the covenant had rested. …The tearing of the veil from top to bottom signifies that God had opened the way for people to have a new and vital relationship with Him. The tearing of the veil from the top suggests it was torn by God” (The Jeremiah Study Bible, p. 1373).
The Bad Friday transformed to Good
So in history, what happened yesterday, on what Christians refer to as “Good Friday”—which is a seemingly questionable reference to such an apparently very bad day—is that God created open access to a relationship with Him through the ultimate sacrifice of His Son for our sin.
No more sacrificial offerings would be needed.
Because Jesus had become the sacrificial offering once and for all.
He fulfilled the requirements of the Old Covenant as described in the Old Testament and created the New Covenant as described in the New Testament.
A New Covenant made possible by what He did on the cross as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1: 29, NKJV).
And in doing so, He also assumed the priestly ministry of interceding on our behalf so we can have a relationship with the Father—which He continues to do today (Hebrews 7:22-28).
But, there’s still a rub.
If we want to have a relationship with God and spend eternity in heaven, we must do two very important things:
- Repent of our sin and admit that we need what Jesus has done for us (Romans 3:23).
- Embrace His offer of salvation through a relationship with Him as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9,10).
When Jesus was here, He was very clear that “…the only way to the Father is through me” (John 14:6).
Fortunately, that’s a path He has already made possible for each person who takes His hand and accepts the gift of salvation He has provided.
A gift driven by God’s great love for us—and made possible by His mercy and grace through the sacrifice of His Son.