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THE END OF THE BEGINNING
"By now it was noon. The whole earth became dark, the darkness lasting three hours -- a total blackout. The Temple curtain split right down the middle. Jesus called loudly, 'Father, I place my life in your hands.' Then He breathed His last.
"When the captain there saw what happened, he honoured God. ‘This man was innocent. A good man and innocent.'
"All who had come around as spectators to watch the show, when they saw what actually happened, were overcome with grief and headed home. Those who knew Jesus well, and the women who had followed Him from Galilee, stood at a respectful distance and kept vigil." Luke 23:44-49 (The Message).
So many unusual things happened that day! Those who were responsible for His death and those who came to watch the show, had witnessed many a crucifixion (after all, they did not have television!), but never had they seen a man die like this. Even the Roman captain said so!
Why did they slink away, grieving? What was it about the bloodied corpse suspended on a cross by a few nails that got to them? They heckled Him when He was writhing in agony, but now they left because they could no longer look at Him. Was His dead body a silent rebuke to their callous hearts? They got what they wanted and now they could not reverse it.
Why was there total darkness for three hours? This was much more than an eclipse of the sun, which usually lasts no more than a few minutes? Was the Father shielding His Son's suffering from prying eyes? Was He turning away from the sight of His Son absorbing the sin of the world? Was creation responding to this crime against its Creator? Was this symbolic of the darkest deed human beings had ever perpetrated against God?
And, back in the city, something unusual happened in the Temple. The thick curtain separating the Holy Place, where the priests did their daily rituals, from the Most Holy Place, was torn in two from top to bottom. For anyone other than the high priest, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement, to enter the Most Holy Place, let alone see into it, would have been instant death.
It was in the Most Holy Place that the Ark of the Covenant, a wooden box overlaid with gold and decorated with two golden angels with wings touching, stood, upon which a mysterious light glowed between the overshadowing angelic wings. This light was the visible representation of God's presence.
The Jews believed that the curtain represented God's clothing, protecting them from His awesome presence. Was the supernatural ripping of the curtain at the moment of Jesus' death a message? Was God saying that He was now accessible to all people because Jesus had atoned for their sin?
"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is His body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews 10:19-22 (NIV).
There is significance in Jesus' final loud cry. The Hebrew people had been taught to give the first fruits of their harvest, roughly one fortieth, to the high priest, which took care of his family's needs, but also guaranteed God's blessing on the rest of their harvest. This became an offering (terumah) when it was lifted up to God and placed in the hands of the high priest. This was symbolic of a greater harvest of people who would be gathered in and resurrected with Jesus on His return.
"But Christ had indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man." 1 Corinthians 15:20-21 (NIV).
Likewise, Jesus was 'lifted up' (John 12:32), and He placed Himself into His Father's hands (Luke 23:46). He became both a sin offering and a 'terumah' offering, guaranteeing a harvest of believers who would be raised to life in the presence of God with an incorruptible body like His own.
This was the end of Jesus' earthly life but the beginning of eternal life for all who believe in Him.
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