Many today shy away from God, viewing him as a stern and demanding authority. That’s the way people in the Old Testament viewed him. They were afraid to approach him. Afraid he would strike them down dead.
Even the high priest, who was allowed once every year into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people, approached his duties with fear. Every Israelite knew if anyone as much as touched the Ark of the Covenant – the recognized presence of God – he would be struck dead. So afraid was the High Priest that he wore bells on his robe and a rope around his ankles, leaving the end outside the door. If the bells stopped ringing, it would be assumed that God had struck him dead. Others would be there to pull him out by means of the rope without risking their own lives.
What a difference Jesus made!
When Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for man’s sin, he cried with a loud voice, “It is finished.” What was finished? His substitutionary redemptive act was done – once, for all, and for all time. At that moment, thunder vibrated the earth and the thick cloth veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the general public area was split in two (Matthew 27:50-54). Heaven was signifying that no more did people have to rely on a human mediator to atone for their sins or gain access to God. Jesus had paved the way! God was now giving mankind direct and personal access into his divine presence - anytime, anywhere.
During the earthly ministry of Jesus, instead of people shying away from him as the eternal Son of God, they wanted to crowd around him. (Matt. 14:35-36) Just to touch the hem of his garment would somehow release a divine power. Little children clamoured to sit on his lap. And people flocked to him from all over. Jews who feared even spelling out the letters of God’s name were now being taught by Jesus to address God in a new way - as “Abba” or “Father.” In Jesus, God became close and accessible.
Saint Augustine discovered the significance of the torn curtain and went from being a philosophizing Greek intellectual who viewed God as unknowable to an ardent believer in Jesus, viewing Him as “a bridge between ordinary human beings and a perfect God.”
The writer of Hebrews explores this new reality. In the past, atonement for sins revolved around a designated high priest, special rituals and animal sacrifices. Now “...the blood of Jesus gives us courage to enter the most holy place by a new way that leads to life. And this way takes us through the curtain that is Christ himself.” (Heb. 10:19-22).
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who had been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV)
The torn curtain changed forever man’s approach to God. God was signaling again His plan from the beginning to enter a personal relationship with man. (Gen. 1:26-27)