With Easter coming up, I wanted to share a few excerpts from my book Miracles in Mark. This is one of my favorite chapters. I hope you enjoy it as well! This is the second excerpt from the chapter, “God’s Greatest Sign.”
Jesus was crucified at the third hour or about nine in the morning. At the sixth hour or around noon, darkness covered the land until the ninth hour or three in the afternoon. After hanging on the cross for six hours, Jesus gave a loud cry and “breathed his last.” This reminds the hearer of the commissioning sequence in chapter one in which the Holy Spirit came onto (and by implication of the Greek into Jesus). At His death, He seems to expel the Spirit. At this moment, Mark notes that two things happened. The first was that at the moment of Jesus’ death, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom.” The second thing that happened was that when the attending Roman centurion, “who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”
In describing the curtain being torn in two, Mark takes us back to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, when God gave Him the vision of the heavens being torn open at His baptism. The word that Mark uses to describe the curtain being torn is a derivative of schizo. The root word is the same as in 1:10 when Jesus had His vision of Heaven being torn open. At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, He had a vision of heaven being ripped open. Here at the moment of His death the veil or curtain in the temple that covered the Holy of Holies was ripped open. This was “the shielding curtain” described in Exodus 26:31–35 and 40:20–21. It was designed to keep people out. Only the priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place, and that was only once a year.
The concept here is stunning. As Jesus dies, God pulls the “veil” away from His face in the ultimate theophany. God’s “face” or “presence” had for years been hidden behind the veil in the Most Holy Place. Now, at the moment of Jesus’ death God is showing His “face” in His Son. This is the ultimate picture of self-revelation. Access to the Divine Presence is now available for everyone. This includes the Gentile centurion who will be the first non-Jew to recognize Jesus’ true identity. Jesus’ death did not mean an end to the presence of God on the Earth. On the contrary, with the tearing of the curtain in the Temple, God’s presence was now being released to the whole world, Gentiles as well as the Jews.
Mark had told us earlier in the chapter that when Jesus was crucified there was a sign, probably affixed to the cross, with the charge against Him: “The King of the Jews.” This idea of His kingship was also part of the taunts He had to endure while hanging on the cross. “Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Now, at the moment of His death, Mark shows the reader the truth of the statement. He clearly shows that Jesus is “enthroned not on the ark or cherubim, but on the cross.”(author’s italics) This is the ultimate sign. No doubt, the meaning and the purpose of the crucifixion would be validated by the resurrection, yet it was the cross that was the culmination and fulfillment of Jesus’ commission.
To be continued…