Exodus 40.1-4, 21-23, 34-35
Everyone both loved and feared the One behind the curtain. Once a year when the High Priest went behind it, they all waited with a sense of awe. Would he live? Would he hear the voice? Would he return glowing like Moses? The priests lived in tension with that curtain. There were times when it frustrated them; when they most needed the blessing of the Almighty they couldn’t go in. But there were times when they were grateful for it; when sin was rife no one desired the Holy Light.
God told Moses to use the curtain to shield the Ark of the Testimony. The Ark was an ornate gold box. Inside was the Testimony: Ten Commandments. This was Israel’s agreement with God. The Almighty manifested His presence where the written agreement was. The curtain was not a shield to protect God, but a shield to protect Israel. Everyone knew that God was like a consuming fire. He made the good glow and the bad burn.
Then it happened. What no one expected. As the man that was crucified gave his last cry the ground shook and the curtain tore from top to bottom (Mt 27.51). Everyone knew it was the Almighty, and the message was clear: He was breaking out! He was through with the curtain. More than that; he no longer wanted the building. It had never been his ideal; he wanted to be among his people. Jesus was the transition. He said he would destroy the temple and raise it in three days; and he did, but it was his body he was talking about (Jn 2). Jesus considered his body to be the real temple of God and when he ascended to heaven he invited everyone who believed in him to be that temple. He made this clear by pouring his Spirit into them. Today the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, is God’s Temple.
It’s often taught that the candlestick and table of show bread (Ex 40.22-24) are symbols of steps we take to get into God’s throne room, but in the light of God breaking out from behind the curtain we see God’s presence and power going in the other direction. We see it being distributed to his people. The seven armed candlestick starts to look like a distribution of God’s Spirit not unlike the tongues of fire at Pentecost, and the twelve loaves (one for each tribe) looks like a distribution of the Bread of Life not unlike the five loaves feeding five thousand. The power from behind the curtain has come upon us and in us; some people refer to it as God’s kingdom.
Now after God has been among us, someone might say “There was a presence and I fell.” Yes, that could happen before the King behind the curtain. Someone else might say “My hands were tingling.” Yes, the power from behind the curtain flows through us. Someone else might say “I spoke in a new language.” Yes, the One from behind the curtain speaks all languages including the heavenly ones (1Co 13.1). In fact the gifts of the Spirit are the distribution of God’s abilities to his people; God’s mind shows up in supernatural knowing, God’s eyes show up in supernatural discernment, God’s hand shows up in supernatural healing (1Co 12.7-12). But the main concept I’m pushing here is this: The flow is from the One behind the curtain to the many outside. Even having his power in Jesus was not enough for God; this is why Jesus said it was better that he went and the Spirit came (Jn 16.7), then the power in him would be in everyone. And so the ‘one man show’ where the pastor does everything is contrary to what God is aiming at. If pastors do not move the power from the platform to the pews they are a barrier to the process; something that’s liable to be ripped in two.
But power is not the only thing that flows from behind the curtain; holiness flows too. It is the Holy of Holies after all. And this is where we need to be careful. The fact that Jesus has paid for our sins does not mean we can get away with being unholy. God is still a holy fire and the incident with Ananias and Sapphira (Ac 5) tells us that we cannot take his grace for granted. The fact that we have not suffered the same fate indicates that some aspect of that curtain still exists. Jesus made the way for it to be removed, but its removal is both now and not yet; and it will be completely removed when Jesus returns. Now we have moments when the power among us increases for a season; and when it does we must be ready, because increased power requires increased purity. God cannot indorse sin. And so fear of the One from behind the curtain is both reasonable and healthy.
But let’s leave the fact that the fire burns the bad and return to the fact that it causes the good to glow. We have a curtain call; a call to represent the One from behind the curtain. A people touched by tongues of fire, a people that speak with God’s mouth and sees with God’s eyes. A people that live where the curtain was; one part of us staring into the glory of the Almighty and another facing a world that needs Him. What a place, what a challenge, what a mission.