I wish I had known sooner. For so many years, I failed to grasp the significance of the Old Testament tabernacle and sacrificial system. Of course, I knew the tabernacle was beautiful and precisely created, just as God had instructed. It was meant to reflect His glory and to be the place where His people met with Him. As for the goats, lambs, and bulls, I knew they were sacrificed on behalf of the Israelites’ sin. Yet, I didn’t see the fullness of this beautiful picture; they were but mere shadows of what was to come.
Within the innermost part of the tabernacle was the Holy of Holies. This was the very dwelling place of God which was set apart from the rest of the tabernacle by a thick veil. This veil was a visual representation of the sin that separates man from God’s presence; a signifier of the divide between a holy God and a sinful people. It was clear: the two could not mix. No man except for the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies- and then but once per year on the Day of Atonement.
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would sacrifice an animal for his own sins and for the sins of Israel. He would then enter the Holy of Holies to spread the blood from this sacrifice (known as the sin offering) on the mercy seat. The mercy seat was the lid of the Ark of the Covenant and the place where God was seated among His people. It was here, in this place of meeting, that mercy flowed abundantly from the sacrificial blood.
As I write these words it all seems so strange- so foreign. We have not known this world of blood and sacrifice, of priests making offerings on our behalf. We have not been like the worshipers of the Old Testament who could only approach God in the temple through sacrifice and prayer. No, we have only known the benefit of the New Covenant by which we can boldly approach the throne of God. This is the Covenant ushered in through the sacrificial death of Christ.
As his suffering came to an end, Jesus cried aloud and gave up his spirit. What happened next was unimaginable: “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51). The temple veil, that curtain which was at least 30 feet tall and approximately 4 inches thick, was torn. That which had represented the barrier between man and God was now open. The new message was clear: there was now a way to have direct access to the presence of God. That way was- and is- through the veil, that is, the broken body of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:20).
Amazingly, the earthly tabernacle had been but a copy of the heavenly one (Hebrews 8:5). As our great high priest, Jesus entered into the heavenly tabernacle not with the blood of goats, rams, or bulls, but with his own blood- the blood he had spilled on our behalf as our substitute (Hebrews 9:24). Until that time, all the blood of the sacrificed animals had been but a shadow of the blood that can actually cleanse the conscience of a sinner. His sacrifice was better: a completely sufficient once for all offering that secured our eternal redemption, making us holy forever (Hebrews 7:27; 9:11-12; 10:14). The blood of animals could never accomplish this. Only by the perfect blood of the Lamb did this become a reality.
And so we rejoice that the earthly tabernacle and mercy seat are now obsolete- for our hope is now secured in the heavenly places. As Hebrews 6:19-20 says: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Because Jesus is our superior high priest, we can draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). And because he holds his priesthood permanently, we can draw near whenever we have need, with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 7:24; 10:22). As our high priest, he has anchored himself in heaven’s holiest place- and because we are joined with him, we are anchored there as well (https://www.1517.org/articles/whats-an-anchor-doing-in-the-holy-of-holies).
As I reflect on all that I have written here, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the riches of God’s grace. And yet, I cannot fathom a life otherwise. I can only offer sacrifices of praise for the sure and steadfast anchor of our souls- Jesus Christ. He alone bore our sins and redeemed us from the pit of hell. And he alone is our high priest in the heavenly places. Because of his sacrifice, we are no longer objects of wrath, but a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Once separated from God’s presence, our lives are now hidden with Him in God (Colossians 3:3). To the glory of God, our anchor holds forever within the veil.
*For more on the blood sacrifices, see my blogs: Nothing but the Blood (Part I and II)