Saturday, February 01, 2020

The Curtain, His Flesh

After two postings about the anniversary of the coming of the Saviour,  I thought it would be appropriate have a post on Easter, in good time,

The three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, each tell us that at  the time that Jesus died, the curtain (or veil) of the Temple in Jerusalem was rent in two, ‘from top to  bottom’  (Matthew, 27.51 ), Mark, (Mk.15.38)  has ‘And the curtain of was torn in two, from top to bottom’ and  Luke (Luke 23.45) ‘And the curtain the temple was torn in two’. Two of the accounts are placed close to the expiring of Jesus on the cross. In Mark with Jesus uttering with a loud cry, and breathing his last. In Luke before Christ’s ‘calling out with a loud voice, he said Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. And having said this, he breathed his last’. So that destructive event, the rending of the Temple curtain, is at the climax of Christ's torture,  so it seems purposely closely associated with the Cross and with what it achieved, and so intimately associated with Easter. Have you ever listened to an Easter sermon that took the topic of the torn curtain and what it signified? In the Gospels that event is associated with the darkening, and with what seems to have been a minor earthquake, and with the resurrection of some from their graves. But what of its greater effect?

If we have heard such a sermon it will make the point about the significance of the curtain  in the lay-out of the Temple. It is the separation between the Holy Place and the Holiest Place. It was only to be opened or pushed aside when the High Priest had to enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. As The Epistle to the Hebrews puts it,

The priests go into the first section [the Holy Place], performing  their ritual duties but into the second [place, the Holies Place], only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for unintentional sins of the people, By this the Holy Spirit indicates, the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing, which is symbolic for the present age.  According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal with food and drink and various, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (Heb, 9. 6-10)
These verses are part of a detailed case the writer is making for the superiority of Christ’s priesthood  over the Old Testament Levitical priesthood. Christ is a priest of the order of Melchizedek (Ch. 7) superior to the Levitical order which sprang from Abraham. He cites relevant texts……As a consequence Christ is the mediator of a new covenant (Citing Jeremiah 31 in Chapter 8) so those that are called [i.e. effectually called] may receive the promised eternal inheritance. since a death  has occurred that redeems them from the first covenant…… (9.15) (Those who are expert in covenant theology don’t seem to allude to Christ who is a priest of Melchizedek, not of Levi, and so not of Abraham.)

Christ is our Mediator, a Mediator of the whole world.  He opened a new and living way to enter the holy places through his blood, which he opened for us through the curtain that is, his flesh. So…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance  of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an  evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (10.19f.)

John Owen comments

And there is great instruction given us, in this comparison of the type and antitype, into the way and the nature of our access unto God in all our solemn worship. It is God as he was represented in the holy place to whom we address ourselves peculiarly [that is, especially]; that is God the Father as on a throne of grace: the manner of our access is with holy confidence, grounded solely on the efficacy of the blood or sacrifice of Christ,…we have our entrance into the holy place by virtue of the flesh of Christ, which was rent in his sacrifice,  as through the rending  of the veil a way was laid open into the holiest.[1]

The Epistle of the Hebrews is supplied with numerous Old Testament quotations but that inference, at the heart of what it means to pray as a Christian, in 10.21, ’through the curtain, that is, through his flesh’ is not from the Old Testament, but is an inspired inference that was drawn by whoever the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews was. What kind of inference is it?  That of a type and antitype within the birth of the New Testament era. The rent curtain is a type of Christ’s rent body. When Christians pray, they are not to forget the wounding and agony of Christ. The rent curtain tells Christ’s offering of himself as we engage in prayer,  to remind us that Christ procured this right only by his own suffering. So we have seen that both the role of the Spirit, as the replacement Comforter, and the Word of God incarnate as the Great High Priest, are suffused with Christ’s  sufferings.

For it came to pass on the death of the Lord Jesus, that ‘the veil of the temple was rent from the otp to bottom’. And that which is signified hereby is only this , that by virtue if the sacrifice, wherein hi flesh was torn and rent, we have a full entrance of  into the holy place, so that it should as would have been of old upon the rending of the veil. This, therefore is the genuine of this place, \We enter with boldness into the most holy place through the veil; that is to say, his flesh’; we do so by virtue of the sacrifice of himself, wherein his flesh was rent, and all hindrances  thereby taken away from us; of which the veil was an emblem, and principal instances, until it was rent and removed. (506)_

Easter and prayer. In the current understanding of prayer, personal prayer is simply a case of talking with Jesus, a direct consequence of ‘knowing Jesus’. And Easter is being taken over by rabbits and daffodils. The Bible itself presents us with Jesus not as a companion to his  New Testament people, but as a physically absent Saviour,  who is our Great High Priest in virtue of his sufferings. His death, resurrection and ascension formed one transaction between the persons of the Holy Trinity, the economic Trinity, as a consequence of the physical vanishing of Jesus Christ’s resurrected, ascended self. This was a loss to the church, a needy place in which the Holy Spirit has become the assurer and encourager of God’s people, and our risen and ascended became Christ the mediator of the covenant. Our worship is to be ‘solemn’, as Owen tells us, because it is an activity, wherever and whenever it takes place that is validated only by the solemnity of the purchase of Christ’s blood.  Easter was never to be a once in a year celebration, and we are to remember the death of the Saviour in every prayer we engage in.

[1] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W.H.Goold, (1855 repr. Baker, 1980), VI.507