And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightning…
In the foregoing part of this chapter, which tells of the two witnesses, we have seen how the path along which they were led resembled that of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. They had fellowship with him in ministry, in suffering, and in triumph. It is ever so with the servants of Christ. And now in this verse our thoughts are sent back to those miracles which were attendant upon his death. In Matthew 27:50, 51, etc., we are told of the veil that was rent from the top to the bottom, and of the earthquake, and of the opened graves. And so in this chapter, which tells of the winding up of the Jewish dispensation, we see the innermost recesses of the temple thrown open, and all that it contained laid bare to men's sight and approach, as it had never been before. So was it when on the cross Christ said, "It is finished!" so is it now in this vision in which the end of all that old order of things is portrayed. But what meant that rent veil there, and this opened temple and ark of the covenant disclosed to all eyes? They have a meaning. "To the few eyes that witnessed that rending of the temple veil it must have been a most mysterious spectacle. Our Lord died at the third hour after midday, the very hour when eager crowds of worshippers would be thronging into the courts of the temple, and all would be perparing for the evening sacrifice. Within the holy place, kindling, perhaps, the many lights of the golden candlestick, some priests would be busy before the inner veil which hung between them and the holy of holies - the dark secluded chamber within which once lay the ark of the covenant, with the cherubim above it shadowing the mercy seat, which no mortal footstep was permitted to invade, save that of the high priest once only every year. How strange, how awful, to the ministering priests, standing before that veil, to feel the earth tremble beneath their feet, and to see the strong veil grasped, as if by two unseen hands of superhuman strength, and torn down in its centre from top to bottom; the glaring light of day, that never for long centuries gone by had entered there, flung into that sacred tenement, and all its mysteries laid open to ruler gaze!" Now, that which this disclosure of the most holy place meant when our Lord was crucified, is meant also by what St. John tells us here in his vision. But more than this is meant. For when the veil of the temple was rent no ark of the covenant was seen. That had long ago disappeared, having been either burnt or carried off when Jerusalem and the temple were overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar. Hence neither in the second temple, nor in that of Herod, in the days of our Lord, was there any ark of the covenant. It seems never to have been replaced (cf. Esdras, Josephus, Tacitus). But here, in St. John's vision, the ark of the covenant is seen again. Fuller meaning, therefore, is to be found in the vision than in the rent veil. Much is common to both; something, however, belongs peculiarly to each. Let us, therefore, note -
I. WHAT IS SPECIAL TO EACH. And:
1. As to the veil rent in twain. "It is not fanciful," says one, "to regard it as a solemn act of mourning on the part of the house of the Lord. In the East men express their sorrow by rending their garments, and the temple, when it beheld its Master die, seemed struck with horror, and rent its veil Shocked at the sin of man, indignant at the murder of its Lord, in its sympathy with him who is the true Temple of God, the outward symbol tore its holy vestment from the top to the bottom" (Spurgeon). But, with far more certainty, we may see in it the symbol of our Lord's sacred humanity. The Epistle to the Hebrews expressly tells us this in Hebrews 10:19, 20, where we read, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh." "The weak, human, mortal flesh was the state through which he had to pass before he could enter into the holiest in the heavens for us, and when he put off that flesh the actual veil in the temple was rent in twain." That perfect human life, this life in our suffering humanity, opened to our sight and to our feet the way to God. Recall the ancient type. Ere ever the high priest could enter into the holiest of all, he must push aside or lift up the separating veil which hung before it. Now, that veil symbolized Christ's flesh, that is, his life in the flesh - his earthly, human life. And, ere he could enter into the holiest for us, he must live that life, must pass through it as through the veil And this is what he did. And now, relying on that blood of Jesus which atones for us with God, because it evermore makes our flesh, that is, makes our life, pure, trustful, consecrated, as was his life - so, by this "new and living way" we must draw near, keep drawing near, to our Father and our God. His way into the holiest is our way, only the way for him was far more severe than ours. For he had to be perfectly holy, "as a lamb without blemish and without spot," and to suffer as none other ever did or could. But our marred and imperfect holiness is accepted for the sake of his, which was all perfect, and so, even through the coarse and tattered veil of our flesh, we shall enter, by his grace, into the presence of God.
2. The vision of the ark of the covenant. We may take this as telling
(1) of the unchangeableness of God. When St. John wrote, the very foundations of the earth seemed to be shaken and in course of being moved. That Judaism of which the temple was the centre was dying, dying hard. Jerusalem and her people were in the last throes of their national existence, and the old order was changing every hour and, amid sore travail, giving place to new. To many eyes it seemed as if all was lost, and the end of all things was at hand. Now, what a reassuring vision this would be! The ark of the covenant that enshrined God's holy Law; the ark that was covered with the mercy seat, that told of the eternal grace of God; that ark of the covenant, now seen in beatific vision, said to the beholder, "The Lord liveth, the Lord holy and full of compassion, just, yet delighting in mercy, he liveth." Moreover it told
(2) of the certainty of victory over all foes. It was the ark of God's strength, God's resting place, where he dwelt between the cherubim. Under its shadow Israel had dwelt, as under the shadow of the Almighty. At its presence the rushing river rolled back its flowing flood, and piled up its awestruck waters, and held them bound until all the people of God had passed by. At its presence the walls of Jericho had fallen fiat, and under its leadership Israel had gone on from victory unto victory. It had made them invincible a thousand times. And now the persecuted people of God beheld this ark of the covenant once again. "When the enemy came in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifted up the standard against him." It was an omen of victory, a prophecy of good, a lifter up of all hearts that were cast down. It meant all that.
II. WHAT IS COMMON TO BOTH - to the veil of the temple rent and this vision of the ark of the covenant. One chief meaning belongs to both - that meaning which our Lord declared when on the cross at the moment of his death he cried, "It is finished! The veil and the shrine wherein the ark was seen represent the whole of the Mosaic ceremonial, the system of types, the Levitical Law, the whole body of Jewish ordinances. And the rent veil, and the vision of the ark alike show that all that is done with and forever. Freedom of access is given to all, and we are bidden therefore to come boldly to the throne of grace. The veil is not rolled up, but rent, so that it cannot be put up again;" and in this vision there is no sign of it at all. Now, this means that all that separates the soul of the believer from God is clean gone forever.
1. All legal ordinances. And yet how slow men are to believe this - to believe that the worshippers whom God seeks are those who worship him in spirit and in truth! It is not papists alone, but so-called Protestants also, all too many of them, who have not yet realized what the rent veil, and the ark of the covenant visible to all, mean. Hence the often hurried sending for ministers of religion to pray by the sick and dying. Hence, too, those many evidences which we meet with that men's minds are not yet emancipated from reliance on certain persons, ordinances, and the like; and that they yet know not that none can make them more acceptable to God, or as acceptable, as when they themselves come through the blood of Christ.
2. All guilt. This separates indeed, and would forever do so, had not the veil been rent and the way opened.
3. All depravity. The evil bias of our nature - that in us which makes us do the things we would not, and forbids our doing those we would. And:
4. The flesh itself; for this veil, too, will one day be rent, and then our soul, escaped as a bird out of the hand of the fowler, shall go into the presence of God forever. Conclusion. Then if all that separates, every veil, be done away, let me draw near, as I am bidden to do - in prayer, in praise, in communion; asking or giving thanks for blessings on my soul, in pardon, peace, purity, consolation, strength; blessings on others, those whom I love, those who love me, and for all for whom I am bound to pray. We may, we should, we must. - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.