The Holy Place & The Holy of Holies
A place to stand before God and to hear His voice.
The word tabernacle means “tent.” In the center of the complex that God designed for the worship of the nation of Israel was a fairly simple looking rectangle tent, or tabernacle, covered with animal skins for protection and waterproofing. It was divided into two rooms: the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, each with its own furnishings and function, divided by a massive veil.
The Tabernacle structure deﬁned clearly the access that was allowed. Anyone could be outside the Tabernacle compound. Only Jewish men were allowed inside the compound as far as the Brazen Altar. Only the priests and Levites were allowed access beyond the Brazen Altar and up to the entrance of the Tabernacle. Only priests were allowed in the Holy Place. And only the High Priest was allowed inside the Holy of Holies and that but once a year during the Feast of Atonement.
With animal skins as covering, the outside of the Tabernacle was not particularly attractive. It was inside where the beautiful tools of worship gleamed. Here was a glimpse of Heaven. The Tabernacle served a symbol of Christ for whom the Bible says, “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance, nothing to attract us to Him” (Isaiah 53:2). But in the dual nature of Christ as fully human and fully divine, we ﬁnd the unparalleled beauty of His internal divine nature that shone beautifully through.
In the Holy Place there were several furnishings: the Golden Candlestick, the Table of Incense and the Table of Shewbread (to be considered in future editions of the War Cry online). Three of the walls of the Holy Place were boards plated with gold while the fourth was the richly embroidered veil (see below). With the aroma of incense, the candlelight and the fresh bread, the Holy Place was a feast for the senses. These three elements speak of our need before God: the bread for sustenance, the incense representing our prayers rising to God and the candlelight for the light that only God can give.
Exactly half the size of the Holy Place, the Holy of Holies was the most hallowed place of all. Inside was the Ark of the Covenant with the Mercy Seat serving as its covering (also to be considered in future issues of the War Cry online). Unlike the Holy Place with its candlestick, there was no source of light—the glory of God provided all the illumination necessary. The Holy of Holies was a place of absolute stillness. When the High Priest entered on the Day of Atonement no other activity was going on in the compound or beyond it. The whole nation of Israel faced the Tabernacle in solemn assembly as the High Priest met with God. The quiet would ensure that the only thing heard was God’s voice with His message to His people. The High Priest was not only to listen but also offer the sacriﬁce for the sins of the nation. It was the Holy of Holies because here the most sacred offering was offered and the most sacred message in all Creation spoken.
Separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was an ornate veil. It was richly decorated in blue, purple and scarlet wrought in ﬁne twisted linen. The blue represented Heaven; the purple the royalty of God; the scarlet the blood of Christ. Against this rich background were woven cherubim, one of the types of angels (Exodus 26:31). It was exquisitely beautiful even in the dim light of the candles. Jewish tradition claimed the veil was four inches thick. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the veil was 40 cubits high (60 feet) in Herod’s Temple. As such, it was incredibly heavy and virtually indestructible. Even ﬁre would take a while to burn it given its mass. The veil made it clear that there was a division between the holy and the unholy. It guarded the Holy of Holies as a reminder that access to God was not to be taken lightly, that only those who were worthy could approach Him.
Yet the veil was destroyed. Matthew 27:50, 51a records, “Then Jesus shouted out again, and He released His spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Given the thickness and the length of the veil, it is hard to gauge the force that ripped it in two. Signiﬁcant as well was that it was torn from top to bottom rather than the more expected bottom to top. What are we to make of this?
The moment the veil was torn was when Christ died on the cross. It was the climactic point in human history when the Son of God sacriﬁced Himself as the ultimate offering for the ages, for all people in all places. In that moment redemption was sealed so that you and I can turn to God in repentance and be forgiven. The cost of our sin, the sentence for our crime was paid in that moment. But there is more to it than that.
The veil restricted the access to the Holy of Holies where God’s presence was made known, where He spoke. When the veil was torn asunder, access was opened to all to approach God, to stand before Him and to hear His voice. We do not need a priest to go between, we do not need the blood of a dead animal smeared upon us. We only need Christ. Not only is Christ sufﬁcient but He is the exclusive means of access to God.
Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor–in–Chief & National Literary Secretary.