Jesus was born into a Jewish world around two thousand years ago. The entire world of the Jew was wrapped around the Temple and the temple worship system. This temple was in the holy city of Jerusalem, and in the middle of the temple was the holy of holies. This holiest of sites is believed to be the spot where Abraham actually laid Isaac on an alter to sacrifice, and was separated from the rest of the temple by a huge curtain (some say 18 inches thick!).
In Solomon’s temple, the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the holy of holies. The top of the Ark was in such a way that it looked like a seat. Many described this as a place where the presence of God would come and sit. Thus the throne of God was in the holy of holies in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
The holy of holies was in located a part of the temple where only the priests could go. The Priest’s section of the temple was located in a place where only ‘clean’ Jewish men could go. That was located inside the walls of the temple, and that was inside the walls of the city of Jerusalem. All of these dividers were defended and protected by the Jewish people, to defile the temple was a bad thing, and the Jews were very protective.
I hope you can see the separation that there was between God and man. There was no walking into the presence of God, you had to be clean, a Jew, a Jewish man, a male Jewish priest, and you had to be the High Priest (who was male and Jewish) to enter into God’s presence. Even then you could only do so once a year, and only at the risk of your very life.
But it all changes, and this change starts in Rev 12. We see the image of a woman giving birth to a child, and a dragon trying to devour the child. Many scholars believe that this is the Christmas story and that the child is Jesus and the dragon is the Devil. Now the devil is given authority on the earth, and thus for God to enter earth, he must do so by defeating the Devil. Thus the life of Jesus should be seen as an invasion on the earth and the power of sin and the devil. We cannot shy away from this mentality, because it is through this understanding that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are seen in the Gospels.
This understanding is carried over into the first chapter of Mark. It is here that Jesus public ministry begins. Mark 1:9-13 talks about the baptism and the 40-day period of temptation that Jesus went through before he began teaching and mentoring his disciples. But it is in here that we see a very interesting event happen. When Jesus comes out of the water, Mark (in the NIV) says in verse 10, “…(Jesus) saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descended on (Jesus) like a dove.”
The word torn is the Greek word scitzo-and it’s where we get the word schism. It means to rip or tear in a violent way. A schism is seen as an irreparable tear. Thus when God “scitzos” the heavens, he is tearing it open and what he has done is seen as not being able to be fixed.
Next in Mark 15 we find Jesus on the cross dying. In verse 37 Jesus gives up his Spirit, and we see the effects in verse 38-the curtain of the temple (as in the NIV) was ripped open. Remember that curtain was the curtain that surrounded the holy of holies, the place where God’s presence was and where it was separated from the world. The Greek used here for torn is the word scitzo. Need I say more?
Jesus death has now ripped the world wide open. No longer are we separated from the presence of God. We can, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, have communion with our creator. Where there once was separation but now there is the possibility of union. This is the power of the death of Jesus.