God created humans in His own image. We are meant to live in connection with Him. He is the fuel that drives our engines; we don’t run well at all without Him. The history throughout the Bible tells of mankind’s ups and downs that depend on whether the access to God is clear … or not.
In the beginning, access to God was easy. God put Adam into the garden, showed him around, and told him about the trees there (including only one from which he was not allowed to eat) (Genesis 2:15-17). God brought animals to Adam to be named, and in search of one that was a proper complementary ally for him. When no mate was found, God provided Eve (Genesis 2:18-24). God would walk in the garden with Adam and Eve. Imagine the delight of strolling through a beautiful garden while talking with the God who created it!
Only one rule, one chance to choose between obeying God vs. doing their own thing…and they chose to rebel. 🙁 They chose separation from God, and that’s what they received. They had to leave the garden, where they were able to walk and talk with God. Instead, they had to make their way in the world beyond the garden, where God was not so readily accessible to them. A guardian was placed to prevent them from returning, not only to the Tree of Life, but also to God’s presence. 1
Conditional, Limited, Temporary Access
Later, when God was forming a nation out of Abraham’s descendants — the ex-slaves that He was leading from Egypt to Canaan — God provided a way for them to meet with Him. He directed the construction of the tabernacle, with its increasingly-holy spaces leading toward God as the focus. A huge curtain, or “veil”, walled off the focal point of the tabernacle. That portion could not be accessed while associated with any sin at all. To attempt to do so meant instant death. Meeting with God in the tabernacle (and later in the temple) was conditional, limited, and temporary.
Access was conditional.
Their sin had to be removed from them. How? God accepted a transfer, onto an animal substitute. When that animal was killed, the sins that it carried were considered to be cleared, or “atoned“.
Access was limited.
The animal sacrifices only covered certain sins. Some covered general sinful nature; some covered specific, but unintentional sins; some covered specific, intentional sins or those directly against God’s holiness 2. Even all of these could not give each individual direct access to God. They only kept the person in decent standing, “clean”, before Him.
The only one who could eventually come all the way into God’s presence was the High Priest, and then only once a year. At that time, he would take the blood from a special sacrifice on behalf of the entire nation behind the veil, into the Most Holy Place where God made His presence known. Only he could enter that place, and only after sacrificing on his own behalf first 3.
Access was temporary.
The sins kept being repeated, so the sacrifices had to be repeated also. Someone could go to the temple in repentance and obedience, offer their sacrifice and go away clean from sin…then disobey or dishonor God on the way home and need a fresh sacrifice. Hundreds and thousands of sacrifices over centuries, and still there was always new sin not yet atoned for. Exhausting!
The animal sacrifices were temporary, acting as a stop-gap and a foreshadowing of the true final-answer substitute who would atone for all sin, for all people, for all time. When Jesus — God Himself who had chosen to become a sinless human — died as sacrifice for all sinful humans, that veil of the temple was torn in two…from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51, Mark 15:37-38, Luke 23:44-46). God had opened the way for everyone to enter the Most Holy Place, entering directly into His presence. The separation caused by sin had been bridged.
Side note: I wonder what the priests in the temple thought when the curtain tore? It tore seemingly by itself, from top to bottom, during an un-explained mid-day darkness, at the exact moment that Jesus died.
- Did they make the connection?
- If not, what explanation did they give themselves?
- Did they get a glimpse inside the Most Holy Place?
- If so, did they hide their eyes to avoid being struck dead? Or did they sneak a peek at what only the High Priests had been allowed to see for over 1000 years?
- Did they try to repair the curtain? How? Did they hang a sheet across the opening temporarily?
Enquiring minds want to know!
See Hebrews chapters 9 and 10 for a fuller discussion of Jesus as the fulfillment of the tabernacle sacrifices.
Access Available Now
That access to God is now available to everyone who will take advantage of Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf.
(If an individual refuses to accept that sacrifice, however, the way will remain closed. It must do so until their sin is removed, and no one is capable of removing it on their own.)
Now, because of Jesus, we can go to God at any time. We don’t need a priest, or another sacrifice, or any special action or prayer. We can just…go to Him.
In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.John 16:26-27
This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.Ephesians 3:11-12
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.Hebrews 4:15-16
Not only can we go to Him, but — for those who have accepted Jesus — He has come to us. One of the hallmarks of the un-earned privilege given to the Christian is God’s Spirit literally becoming a part of them. He takes up residence alongside their original human spirit, and is always there to provide guidance and comfort. We can access all of God’s power and wisdom whenever we need, and can talk to Him as a close Friend at any time. What a privilege!
(Here is Alan Jackson singing about that privilege. Enjoy!)
Once all of time is ended, those rescued by Jesus will be together with Him in Heaven. At that time, access to God will never again be limited. He will be the very light that illuminates the entire realm, and everyone in it will be free to gather around His throne and bask in that light.
No longer will you have the sun for light by day,Isaiah 60:19-20
Nor for brightness will the moon give you light;
But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light,
And your God for your glory.
“Your sun will no longer set,
Nor will your moon wane;
For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light,
And the days of your mourning will be over.
…And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them…Revelation 22:3-5
That is something to look forward to!