Resurrection: Freeing God from ‘captivity’ for a new life, a new world

God refused to be held ‘captive’ any longer by human agency and the Holy Spirit was unleashed across the world.

Mar 28, 2018

By Anil Netto
At the precise moment, when Jesus died, the Gospel of Matthew 27:50-1 tells us: 50… Jesus, again crying out in a loud voice, yielded up his spirit. 51 And suddenly, the veil of the Sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth quaked, the rocks were split…

What was this “veil of the Sanctuary” inside the Temple of Jerusalem? The sanctuary consisted of two compartments separated by a heavy curtain (originally a wall), which partitioned the ‘Holy of Holies’ from the Holy Place.

The Temple itself was originally built by King Solomon in 957BC. Back then the dark chamber of the most sacred Holy of Holies, a cubical room, measured about 30 feet by 30 feet by 30 feet.

This room contained the gold-plated Ark of the Covenant, inside which were the Tablets of the Covenant. Also inside the Ark were Aaron’s rod or branch, said to have miraculous powers, and a gold jar of manna (Hebrews 9:3-5). On top of the ark were “glorious winged creatures, overshadowing the throne of mercy”.

This chamber where God was said to dwell was considered so sacred that the high priest could only enter it once a year, on the day of atonement, to sprinkle the blood of sacrificial animals.

The temple was destroyed by the Babylonians around the Fifth or Sixth Century BC and the ark disappeared.

When the temple was reconstructed in 515BC, the floor of the Holy of Holies where the ark once stood was raised slightly. The veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Sanctuary now took the form of a curtain — but it was no ordinary curtain: perhaps 30 feet high, 30 feet wide, and thick. So it would have been heavy.

The thick, heavy curtains symbolised the separation of sinful human beings from the purity and holiness of God. It was believed no one could withstand coming into the presence of God in that sinful state.

In 20BC Herod the Great, not the most religious guy around, expanded and renovated the temple building, which became known as Herod’s Temple. Like many other egotistical leaders throughout history, he thought this would enable him to stamp his mark and leave a legacy – the funding coming from taxation of ordinary people.

But when Jesus died, the curtain was torn from top to bottom. Now this curtain was quite high, so no one could reach the top without a long ladder – and yet it was torn at the moment of Jesus’ death, seemingly from above, as if to suggest that God was removing the barrier that had separated him from humanity.

No longer would ordinary people be physically separated from his presence, and it is in this sense that Jesus’ words “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” make sense (John 2: 19).

Four decades later, Herod’s Temple was finally destroyed in 70AD when the Romans put down a strong Jewish uprising.

In the old Temple, people were progressively filtered away as they grew closer inside the Temple grounds to the Sanctuary: foreigners (Gentiles) could only come to a certain distance of the Sanctuary, women and children only so far, ritually clean males a bit closer, priests even nearer, and only the high priests could actually enter the Holy of Holies – and that too only once a year.

But from the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the divine presence would no longer be limited by constraints of time, space, geographical location, gender, economic class, patriarchy, concepts of purity (clean and unclean), or ethnic and religious boundaries. Anyone with a sincere heart would be able to come into the presence of the Divine – saints and sinners, women and men, rich or poor, Jews or Gentiles, priests or outcasts.

This then was the power unleashed by the death of Jesus. God refused to be held ‘captive’ any longer by human agency and the Holy Spirit was unleashed across the world. No longer could anyone hold him back: the power of the Spirit was now available to anyone committed to the values of the kingdom that Jesus heralded — peace, love, justice, freedom and a new beginning.

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