Was he a bit bummed that he was on duty that day? Did he know what was happening outside and really wanted to be there, watching what the Sanhedrin was doing to Jesus, rather than being here, offering up the evening incense in the holy place . . . standing just this side of the curtain which veiled the ark and the Most Holy Place? As he tended to the duties of the temple, was he distracted by thoughts of the “offering” that was taking place outside the city? I don’t know.
But what I do know is that this lowly priest heard something and saw something that made his jaw drop.
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 27:50-51a ESV)
The Son of God hung upon a cross. The Lamb of God offering Himself as the once for all sacrifice for all sin, for all men, for all time . . . the Author of Salvation declaring the work finished (John 19:30) . . . the Author of Life yielding up His spirit, committing it to His blessed Father (Luke 23:46) . . . and then, He breathed His last. And as He did, a lowly priest . . . in an empty temple . . . going through his religious routine . . . beheld the way into the Holy of Holies opened up.
Was his back turned at that moment? Did he hear the “Rip!” before he swung around only to see the thick curtain hanging to each side? Did it cause him to recoil in horror as that which was to only be encountered by the High Priest was suddenly laid bare in open view? Once he realized he was still alive and standing before the Most Holy Place, did he go facedown as the place where the glory resides was opened before him?
Once he realized that he had been exposed to the ark . . . once he processed that he was looking upon the mercy seat . . . after the initial shock of encountering that of which he had only heard of . . . did he think to myself, “Did I do that? Did I do something wrong? Is God angry?” Or, as he looked upon the reality of that which had only been a shadow before, did he sense that something new was coming down?
Again, I don’t know But I wonder. What would it have been like to have been that guy . . . on that day . . . at that precise moment when access into the presence of God had been made available to all men?
It’s something I can take for granted being this side of the cross. But for that dude, he heard the “rip!” . . . he was there for the unveiling . . . he was the first to stand before the throne of grace.
While the crowd gazed upon the lifeless body of the Christ, this guy looked upon the glory of God. While those before the cross thought, “This is done” . . . he who stood before the cherubim might have wondered, “What’s this leading to?” As that Roman centurion, filled with awe, whispered, “Truly this was the Son of God!” . . . this Jewish priest, filled with equal awe, might have uttered, “Truly this was an act of God!”
The curtain of the temple was torn, from top to bottom. Hear the “rip!” . . . behold the glory! Hallelujah!
Therefore, brothers, since we 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, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near . . . (Hebrews 10:19-22a ESV)