“Let us draw near to God…” - Hebrews 10:23
“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” - Matthew 27:50-51
The Old Covenant could be represented by the curtain in the temple, ordained by God to keep sinful man out. Out from God’s presence, away from Him, separated because of our wickedness. The curtain in the temple was a barrier preventing free access to God. It was put there by God, for God commanded Moses to make a curtain to separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (Ex. 26:31-33). Into that Most Holy Place (in the past called the “Holy of Holies”) that no one could enter but the High Priest, and that was only once a year, the Day of Atonement. God was demonstrating by this curtain that people were not welcome in His presence just as they were. Our sins had separated us from God, and we were excluded.
The Book of Hebrews was written to explain this to a people who understood it well, the Jews. They knew that God is a holy God, a God of righteousness, a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). They were also very accustomed to the traditions handed down from Moses, to the temple worship, to the priestly ministry of some descendent from Aaron, even if it was an unworthy man like Annas. They were used to worshiping in a synagogue with their Jewish neighbors. They were used to the cycles of feast days and to the covenant of circumcision. Their Judaism gave structure and meaning to their lives.
Then suddenly Christ came, and everything was turned upside down. Christ spoke as no man had ever spoken, He did works unlike any in history: the blind could see, demons cast out with a rebuke, hungry fed with a few rolls, weather controlled with a command, dead people raised up. His death on the cross had been shocking, but His resurrection exhilarating. The gospel had been proclaimed in His name by His apostles. Christ had come to bring in a New Covenant, and these Hebrew people had been drawn into this Covenant by simple faith. But persecution from their fellow Jews and from the religious authorities (like Annas) had tested their faith, and for many the pull back toward Judaism was irresistible. The lure of the Temple, of the animal sacrifices, of the incense, of the periodic feasts and pilgrimages to Jerusalem was working its way into the hearts of these tested converts to Christ. The pronouncements of dire consequences by governing authorities like Annas was terrifying.
The Book of Hebrews was written to warn the people not to turn back to the Old Covenant with all of its barriers to God, but rather to come into the Promised Land of full, free access to God in Christ. At the moment Jesus died, God forever testified to the end of the Old Covenant restriction by tearing the curtain in the Temple in two, from top to bottom. It had to have been done by God, and only by God… for it was God that had commanded it put there. The fact that it was torn from top to bottom signifies that God did it. The timing of it, linked immediately to the death of Christ, shows what the author to Hebrews tells us (Heb. 10:20): the opening in the curtain had been made by the body of Christ, given as a substitutionary sacrifice for sins.
"Christ spoke as no man had ever spoken, He did works unlike any in history: the blind could see, demons cast out with a rebuke, hungry fed with a few rolls, weather controlled with a command, dead people raised up."
Now, at the moment the curtain was torn, it must have been witnessed by the priests who constantly worked in the temple. That’s how we knew it was torn “from top to bottom”. Those priests, operating under the authority of the High Priest, would have run to tell him. Annas (the true High Priest… Caiaphas, his nephew, was merely a puppet), when he received the news must have been shocked. He rejected the link to Christ, since he considered Him a blasphemer and had had Him crucified. The breathless priests, reporting this miracle, were almost certainly squelched vigorously by wicked Annas. Then Annas must have arranged to have the torn curtain repaired… sown up to prevent access to the Holy of Holies, so that temple business could go on as usual. And it did go on, business as usual, until A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed the temple and its now man-made barrier to God, Annas’ repaired curtain.
In Christ and through faith in Christ we have freedom and access to God. Come close to God… when you feel alienated from Him, come close. When you are tempted, come close. When you are weak and sickly, come close. When you are flush with worldly success, come close. When you have wickedly sinned and need His mercy and forgiveness, come close. The barrier, the temple curtain has been separated by God forever. And what God has separated, let man not join!!