What the priests saw!
The priest stood before the altar of incense, the golden censer in his hand. Born of the tribe of Levi to be a priest, this was his big moment, the day for which he had waited.
There were, by this time, so many priests in Israel that only once in a lifetime was it an individual priest’s privilege to burn incense before God — in some cases, not even once — and nothing could mar the experience now.
The priest was permitted on this special day to choose two fellow priests to assist him. What did it matter to these three, that first Good Friday, that the upstart Jesus of Nazareth had been arrested and charged, and right now the sentence of crucifixion was being carried out?
There in the holy place, they were intent on their sacred duty. The incense, a token of worship, rose up before the altar, penetrating the veil into God’s presence. Gazing at the woven cherubim upon the veil, those priests knew what was beyond, although only Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests had been permitted to see it.
There was the Ark of the Covenant, with the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments teaching Israel how to live before God; and Aaron’s rod that budded — heralding new life in the place of death; and the golden pot of manna miraculously preserved — reminding Israel of God’s provision in the wilderness.
Upon the Ark was the mercy seat, where the Shekinah glory of God had once dwelt between the golden cherubim illuminating the holy of holies. No longer! Yet the mercy seat and the temple furniture around it were all symbolic of God’s holy presence.
But then the priests suddenly lurched as the ground trembled. There was the rumble of an earthquake, and before their astonished gaze, the curtain shielding the holy of holies was torn apart by an unseen hand.
The barrier to sight gone, the priests gazed in awe upon a scene previously shielded from their sight. For any but the High Priest to see what they now saw (and he could only see it once a year, after ritual washing and the ceremonial shedding of blood) would hitherto have meant the death sentence.
But now they saw with their own eyes the way into God’s holy presence, and still lived. The instant Jesus died, the way into that holiest place was made plain.
This was not the only strange happening in those days. Three days later, a mighty stone sealed with the seal of imperial Rome was rolled back from the grave of Jesus of Nazareth.
His grave was empty except for the grave clothes; and many of Jesus’ followers saw that he who once was dead and buried was now alive, resurrected from the dead.
Can it be wondered that at the Feast of Pentecost fifty day later, among the five thousand who turned to Christ that Whitsuntide were many of the priests who had seen Bible prophecy fulfilled before their eyes?
And were those three who had seen the inner curtain of the temple torn in two that Good Friday among that number?
Those who believe in Jesus Christ are part of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). We too can stand within the holy place of his presence and offer up our worship. We can, by faith, be conscious that, through Jesus Christ, God is always near.