The Temple on Good Friday
The death of Christ meant something for the temple. “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51). The curtain tore from top to bottom, symbolizing that God Himself was doing this. The tearing of the curtain exposed the holy of holies to the holy place of the temple (Exodus 26:31-35). This new symbolism made it plain that access to God would no longer be mitigated to so few. The dividing wall between God and man had been torn down in the death of Christ (Romans 3:24-26; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 John 2:1-2). “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
This is an association of Christ’s death with the temple. Christ’s death grants us access to the holy of holies: access to God. His death secures for us a priesthood of our own (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9), where we may come to God for ourselves and cry, “Abba” (Romans 8:15). This was a significant development, because the tabernacle/temple represented the glory of the Old Covenant. Jesus’ death spoke directly to this glory and said, “Something more glorious than the Old Covenant is here” (cf. Matthew 12:41-42). This is what the book of Hebrews argues for – Jesus is greater than angels (ch. 1-2), Moses (ch. 3-4), and Aaron’s priesthood (ch.5-10). As One greater than these, He administers also a more glorious covenant (8:1-13).
If you have been in church for a few years, then you probably have heard a sermon or a Sunday school lesson on what I have just described. Many Christians are familiar with how Christ’s death interacts with the temple. However, do we know how Christ’s resurrection interacts with the temple?
The Temple on Easter
Jesus wants us to be thinking about the temple when we study the resurrection.
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.John 2:19-21; cf. Mark 14:58
His bodily resurrection was a raising of the temple. This point, which John chose to make plain at the beginning of his Gospel, becomes historically apparent in chapter 20. Mary Magdalene, when she saw that the stone had been taken away from Christ’s tomb (v.1), told the disciples (v.2). Peter and John ran to the tomb for an investigation (vv.3-4). John looked in first, and saw only linens (v.5). Peter looked second, and he too saw only linens (vv.6-7). Assuming that Jesus’ body had indeed been stolen (v.2), Peter and John left (vv.9-10).
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” She now, for the first time, stooped to look into the tomb (v.11). Where Peter and John saw only linens, Mary “saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet” (v.12). She was looking for Christ inside the tomb (v.13), but Christ was not to be found in the tomb: He had risen (vv.14-18).
What Mary saw in the tomb was a small, focused image of the tabernacle/temple. Here were two angels attending to the presence of God in a small, secret room. In the holy of holies, the wings of two heavenly creatures touched at the tips, as they presided over the Ark of the Covenant. In the tomb, the two heavenly messengers presided over Christ’s bed, head and foot.
However, something was different. Something vital was missing in this picture: where was God? Where was the presence of God in the holy of holies? He was standing behind Mary (v.14), outside the tomb. The presence of God no longer attended the holy of holies. He no longer condescended to one location, He now forever would be pre-eminently glorified and known and experienced in the person of Jesus Christ. The Messiah is the true and greater temple, and if He is risen, there is no need for the fading glory of Jerusalem’s structure. “What once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory” (2 Corinthians 3:10-11).
Now the full weight of New Covenant wonder begins to seep-in, and the end of Old Covenant is in sight. We have a priesthood of our own because of His death, yes – but only because He lives to make intercession as our true and greater high priest. Our priesthood depends on His priesthood. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14).
And Mary Magdalene was the first person to witness this resurrection lesson on the temple. The veil tore that all men might know God, not simply one at a time. God left the holy of holies that women too might know God. This does not undo distinctions between men and women, but rather more deeply reflects the glory of the New Covenant – for now also the sign of the Covenant will be administered to women as well as men (from circumcision to baptism).
This is the grand, unified image of the temple which Christ’s Messianic fulfillment presents to us. In Christ, the veil is torn and the temple is alive. In Christ, we have access to the presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ.