Mark 15:33-41 (spring AD 30, Friday of Passion Week)
To start with a side note, Mark doesn’t expand on it but he does mention the only people left who stuck with Jesus. Not his twelve closest friends, not the biggest beneficiaries of his miraculous healing powers, but “Some women” (v.40). They had been faithfully serving and supporting Jesus’ ministry, and when they going got tough they didn’t run – they were there. You could argue the disciples had more reason to be afraid as they were the ones out doing missionary work and associating closely with a man being killed for heresy. However, in sticking by Jesus in his moment of death, they ran considerable risk of guilt by association, and their loving, humble faithfulness is something to be aspired to.
The “curtain of the temple [that] was torn in two from top to bottom” (v.38) likely referred to the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. These were the two innermost chambers of the temple. Only the priests could go into the first, and only the High Priest could go in the latter (once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 26:33-34; Leviticus 16).
The tearing of the curtain symbolised the tearing down of the barrier between God and people. From that point on, there was no need for additional sacrifice, and no need for the priests to act as intermediaries between the people and God.
Since the time of the exodus, on that Day of Atonement, the High Priest offered sacrifices to symbolically atone for sins. First his own sins, then the sins of his family, the nation and symbolically the tent of meeting itself which was ‘stained’ by the guilt of those present. After that, the High Priest laid hands on a male goat without physical defect and, “confessed[ed] over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness…The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place…[into] the wilderness…” (Leviticus 16:21-22).
(It’s from the Hebrew word ‘zā’zēl’ and from this story, that we get the word ‘scapegoat’.)
One thousand four hundred and fifty annual sacrifices later, the ultimate scapegoat was, like the original, led away from the safety of God’s people and the presence of God, in this case to a hill outside the city. There, all God’s people’s sins were laid on Jesus so that he was literally punished for every sin of every person who would repent and have their sins forgiven by God.
2,000 years on, and Jesus sacrifice is still the only sacrifice that is enough, and the only sacrifice we need.