The Gospel writers make it very clear: Jesus died when He gave up His spirit. He was unjustly tried and beaten, as we discussed last week; but He died in the precise manner and at the precise moment that aligned with the will of God the Father. And at His death, the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom (Matt. 27:50-51).
The curtain was about sixty feet high and it separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The fact that it was torn from top to bottom signifies that this was the initiative of God. The writer of Hebrews helps us understand what all of this means. He says we now have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh (Heb. 10:19-20). Sin has become the dividing wall between God and man. But Jesus absorbed sin into His flesh on the cross. For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin. In the tearing of His flesh, the partition between God and man has been removed. Before this, only one man (the Jewish high priest) had access to God’s presence on one day of the year (the Day of Atonement). But the tearing of the curtain signals that now, instead of this system, the Kingdom of God is available to everyone.
We don’t know the precise year Jesus was crucified, but we have good reason to believe it was the year AD30. If that’s the case, it’s interesting to note that several Jewish writings describe some unusual events that took place that year — forty years before the destruction of the Temple. One writing notes that during this year, the western light kept going out in the Temple. The western light refers to the center lamp of the menorah standing in the first room of the Temple. In the rabbinic tradition, this light symbolized God’s presence in the Temple. But instead of shining like it always had, in the year AD30, this light mysteriously kept going out. Josephus notes that in the same year, the heavy doors at the temple kept swinging open, too.
Most significantly, some of the Jewish writings record an odd occurrence concerning the scapegoats on the Day of Atonement. On that day, two goats were typically presented to the high priest; one was chosen to die, the other was chosen to live. The goat who was chosen to die was killed at the altar; the high priest would take its blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it on the mercy seat (the lid of the ark of the covenant). After this, the priest would come out and put his hands on the second goat, which symbolically transferred Israel’s sins to the goat. Then the priest would chase the animal out into the wilderness.
Before chasing the animal out into the wilderness, a red ribbon was tied on the horn or the neck of the goat. And according to the rabbinic account, year after year the red ribbon miraculously turned white, showing that God had forgiven the sins of Israel for that year. But in AD30, the rabbis said that the ribbon stopped turning white. Instead, there had been a change in this whole system of forgiveness and atonement.