The Grand Reveal

“And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.” Luke 23:45Luke 23:45
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.  

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Today I was greatly privileged to attend my first services at Asheville Bible Church, led by Pastor Patrick Leahy. In preparation, I had visited their Sermon Audio page (what a great resource!) to get up to speed on the most recent messages, as the teachings are coming from Luke 23.

Last week’s sermon continued with the Miracles That Accompanied Christ’s Death, specifically as found in Luke 23:45Luke 23:45
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.  

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; and I would heartily recommend Pastor Leahy’s preaching on the passage for everyone’s edification.

As I was listening, more things came to my mind that amplify the meanings and I wanted to share them while they were still relatively fresh in my thinking.

One of the over-arching themes of the message in this passage is that the tearing of the veil signified – in a most concrete and visible manner – how the atoning death of Christ has now provided access for all men to enter into the Most Holy Place to once again fellowship with God the Father; as opposed to the Old Covenant when only the High Priest may enter, and only once a year (on Passover) in order to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice upon the mercy seat of the top of the Ark of the Covenant.

There’s a hidden treasure in this scripture, but to understand it, we need to understand a bit about Jewish life and culture in the time of Christ.

The atmosphere of the people of Israel in the years leading up to the birth of Christ was both nationalistic and Messianic. The people remembered the glorious Maccabean revolt which ousted hated Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes who defiled the temple in Jerusalem by the brazen sacrifice of a pig on the altar. Now the Romans had conquered and Herod the Great was given rule by his father Antipater (who had himself been awarded governership of Judea by Julius Caesar.) Herod, however, was a Nabatean. Though he followed Jewish customs and considered himself a Jew, the “natural” Jews of Israel did not consider him such. To burnish up his credentials, he married Mariamne, daughter of Simon ben Boethus (whom Herod appointed as High Priest) and granddaughter of Alexander Janneaus, king of Israel during the Maccabean period.

“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come;” (Gen 49:10Gen 49:10
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.  

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Herod overthrew the nephew of the governor Antigonus and proclaimed himself king of Judea in 36BC.

Josephus records this threw God-fearing Jews into a panic, proclaiming:

“Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come!”
Josephus, Antiquities, 20:9.

Worse still, the high priests were selected not by Aaronic descent but from appointment by the Roman prefect. At the time of the passage of Luke 23, the High Priest was Caiaphas, of whom we know no heritage. However, the former high priests were also not of the Aaronic bloodline (such as Aristobulus III, brother of Mariamne.)

The people saw their nation under the heel of a foreign ruler,
married to the princess grand-daughter of their last grand king,
appointing foreigners to lead services
in a temple he built himself.

Can you see why they were upset?

Now, if you were an observant, God-fearing Hebrew, there was only one place to be when Passover occurred: at the temple in Jerusalem. It was during the Passover service that the High Priest would take the blood of the sacrifice and enter the Holy of Holies, a sacred inner chamber of the temple which housed the Ark of the Covenant.

The Holy of Holies was blocked from view by a huge curtain – Pastor Leahy goes into great detail – that was 60 feet high and was so thick and strong that it could not be pulled apart by teams of horses.

Inside the Holy of Holies resided the Ark of the Covenant, upon which the High Priest would dip a hyssop branch into the basin of blood and sprinkle the blood across the top of the Ark between the figures of the cherubim – an area known as the Mercy Seat, where the Shekinah glory of God was to appear.

Only then were the sins of the Israelites for the past year covered in the sight of God.

Imagine the scene!

You’re an olive farmer from Ramallah and you’ve brought your family up for the sacrifice! Perhaps you’re explaining to your son how the High Priest is about to make appeasement to our God, the God of Israel.

“See there, how he holds the basin? See that branch as he holds it high? That’s what he’ll use to dip in the bowl and splatter the blood on the chest of the Testimony. The rope around his ankle? Well, the Ark is God’s own throne, His dwelling here on earth. If the High Priest enters His presence and hasn’t been through the purifying mikvah bathing ritual, if he isn’t clad in the vestments of the office, if he’s missed one detail at all, Adonai our God will strike him dead. So they tie a rope around his ankle and if he doesn’t come back out, they can drag out his body without entering the presence of the Most High God. Look! There he goes, under the veil! Watch, my son! Watch! Will God grant us His cleansing?”

Preparations for that grand event are already underway (Luke 23:54Luke 23:54
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

54 And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.  

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) as the next day was the High Sabbath.

What’s a High Sabbath?

Well, Passover was a week-long festival, which began when the moon was full in the month of Nisan. At some point during the week, Saturday – the day of rest (shabbat) – would occur, during which no work could take place. So then, all things must be made ready before that time; because when sundown occurs on Friday, it’s officially “Saturday” and the High Shabbat has commenced.

This tells us that Passover was underway and the entire nation of Israel was gathered at the temple precincts to receive atonement for their sins.

Meanwhile, Christ is on the cross and it is the sixth hour: high noon – and darkness covers the land.

As Pastor Leahy points out, this is no “dim” darkness. This is no eclipse (impossible, as it’s a full moon, and the darkness lasts three hours.)

The gathered assembly at the temple grows uncomfortably silent.

The veil of the temple is ripped from top to bottom, exposing the Holy of Holies.

Every person in the temple courts and every priest – except one – falls flat to the ground and buries their face in the courtyard flagstones lest they turn a sin-laden eye upon the Most Righteous glory of God and be struck dead.

Except one.

They hear a cry (perhaps John 19:30John 19:30
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.  

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‘s “Tetelestai!”)
and the earth shakes (Matthew 27:51Matthew 27:51
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;  

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…and the people rise to their feet in fear of the grand stones of Herod’s temple falling upon them and crushing them.

As they rise, they can’t help but peer into the Holy of Holies and cast their eyes upon:

… an empty chamber.

Where is the Ark of the Covenant?

Upon what has the High Priest been sprinkling the blood of the atonement all these years?

There is no atonement!

And every God-fearing Israelite cries out loud:

“Woe is me! I am *undone!*” (Isaiah 6:5Isaiah 6:5
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. undone: Heb. cut off  

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The High Priest has been shown to be no Priest at all!

The ceremonies which were to bring us closer to our God are useless!

To Whom shall we turn to make our way right with God?

“There was a Prophet – that one who baptized in the Jordan. Perhaps he would know! What became of him?”

“Herod’s wife had him beheaded, four years ago.”

“But what of that One he spoke of? The Galilean? I have heard miraculous deeds of him! What of him?”

“He died on a cross at Golgotha this very hour.”

Can you imagine?

Imagine feeling that God had abandoned you,
after once calling you His people,
that He had publicly shown yourr entire system of worship to be a lie and a falsehood;
enriching the priests
while the godly remained lost in their sins?

What then, O God-fearing Hebrew, are you going to do?

Will you return to your bankrupt sacrifice,
seeing as it’s Tradition and affords you comfort?

The disciples waited 50 days – from Passover to Pentecost – in Jerusalem before they preached to the people again as in Acts 2:1Acts 2:1
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

2 1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  

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.

For seven weeks, Godly Jews pondered.

Then come the disciples of that One, speaking in the same power and authority!

Is it any wonder that the Godly men of Israel responded:

“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37Acts 2:37
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37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  

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To be told:

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost;
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38-39Acts 2:38-39
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38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.  

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Is it any wonder that, that very first day, there were amongst the God-fearing “about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41Acts 2:41
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41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.  

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) that “gladly received his word?”

What joy, what inestimable joy, to know that God has not abandoned His people, but has made a perfect way for us to be in His presence.

The veil of this world and all its ceremonies and machinations do nothing to draw us closer to the Father;

but the Cross of Christ has purchased for us that which we could never do for ourselves!

Praise be to God for His gift to us of Christ, the atoning sacrifice!