Christ as Melchizedek’s Antitype Summoned Against Levi
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.
WHEN it is very quiet in heaven you can depend upon it that a storm is in the offing. When John heard heaven maintaining a silence for “a half hour” in his vision on Patmos, he immediately also saw the seventh seal opened; the signal of a world-storm had been lifted. This was also the case on Golgotha. Heaven held its peace. It was the hour and the power of darkness. But hardly has the spirit of Christ gone on its way to the Father before the storms break loose. The catastrophes of the last judgment first realized themselves in Him in the invisible world, and heaped all their tumultuous violence upon Him within the walls of His spiritual house (page 115). But now these catastrophes become externally visible. Are these, however, catastrophes of the last judgment, you ask? If that were true, Christ would have suffered in vain, and the moment of His death would that very moment have been proclaimed a vanity. Well, then, are these convulsions possibly the travail accompanying the birth of unmixed grace? No, that cannot be; for His cross cannot gain the effects of grace without the power of the Passover and of Pentecost. Hence the catastrophes which now are made manifest are signs, and these signs speak a twofold language. They spell judgment against those who despise the death of Christ and refuse to take their life from His death. And they proclaim grace to those who are willing to come to the temple, led by this Priest. Yes, these are catastrophes, but they are not the catastrophes of the curse. Nor are they the catastrophes of the blessing simply. They are signs of curse and blessing both; for curse and blessing both have now been released by Christ.
Brace yourself now, for God is performing greatly. He is splitting the earth, tearing the graves asunder, putting the dead on their feet again, bursting the rocks, and rending a curtain into pieces. Many centuries have been at work on this curtain, and the exhausted love of a whole nation hangs suspended in its folds. The curtain of the temple is rent in twain.
Revere this God now, for He begins at the beginning. Just as the Son who has now died did not come to “the dogs,” without having first done full justice to “the children,” and just as He ever took His departure from Jerusalem, so God also would begin at Jerusalem. Jerusalem lives in the temple. That is where the heart of the people is beating. Hence God’s first utterance after Christ’s separation is a temple address. God makes His majestic appearance at its portal, and He addresses His people from its front steps. It may be that an earthquake turns everything topsy-turvy for us, but the order of God is not disturbed by it. The seismographs of heaven do not indicate the slightest variation. The hour in which God rent the earth and spoke in catastrophes was most orderly.
The first catastrophe was the opening of the temple. The curtain of the temple was rent in twain. Do not linger too long over the many questions that arise. Many have wondered just what was meant by the curtain which was rent on this occasion. Well, we know that two well known curtains hung suspended in the temple. One of these shut off the “holy of holies.” This was the inside or rearmost of the curtains. And there was another curtain which shut off the “holy place.” Just how beautiful these curtains were we can learn from old books of history in which their glory has been eulogized. We shall not pause to consider that. The only significant question is: which curtain is meant?
Many maintain that the inner curtain is intended, the curtain which had to be drawn aside in order to enter the Holy of Holies. They base their interpretation on the thought that this curtain which occupied the last place in the public worship had the greater liturgical significance, and that it possessed more symbolically suggestive virtue than the other. The Holy of Holies was the real “dwelling place” of God. Only one person was allowed to enter it. It was the most intimate, the most special place in the temple. In opposition to this, however, others aver that the first curtain, which gave on the Holy Place, had more real significance. After all, the rearmost curtain was seen only by the priests; but the other forbade admission to the people and consequently was seen by the masses themselves. Hence this foremost curtain made a far greater impression upon the imagination of the people than the other; and thus this would be the more likely one in which to manifest a sign intended for all the people. If we accept, besides this reason, the fact that the Greek word which is used here for “temple” has reference to the temple in its broadest sense, we have good reasons for choosing the interpretation which says that the curtain which was rent in twain was the one which hung in front of the Holy Place, and not the one which shut off the Holy of Holies.
However, the question is not particularly important. The preaching of the miraculous sign which God shows here remains the same in either instance. In epitome we can say that the access to the temple, in which Levi and his priests, separated from the people, had to perform their office, is now opened to all. Levi’s house now is dismissed. Now God emerges from His cleft, from His prison, leaves His exclusive dwelling place. Thus the order of Melchizedek becomes law in the house of Levi. Melchizedek returned, and was fulfilled in Christ. Well, it was not the hand of Christ as Melchizedek’s antitype which tore Levi’s curtain asunder. But observe this: the spirit, the strength of Melchizedek and his right, invade the house of Levi and throw his gates wide open to all those unfortunates who up to this time were deprived of the temple and prohibited from seeing God in His own house.
Before we go on, therefore, we must pause to adjure Jerusalem, and tell her that Jesus Christ is very great. They may cast Him outside of the gate, and time and again regard Him as an outcast, but He succeeds in making history nevertheless. Whether He be good or evil, Christ or Antichrist, does not matter just now. In any case He is of historical significance. After all, a torn temple curtain, a temple door thrown wide is a thing for which not only God yearns but Satan also. The rent curtain of the temple hangs on the way of the Antichrist as well as on the way of Christ. An opening of the temple, an opening of the house of God, is the eager desire of the Antichrist. Both aim at the temple. The only question is, Who is to break it open, who and for what purpose? Who will tear the curtain into pieces, who, and for what purpose? The temple of the service of shadows proceeds on the assumption that there is a holy place in which the service of God is ministered officially and that outside of this lies that profane area which is not dedicated to God nor permeated by His grace. Hence the only question is on whose victorious tour will the curtain of the temple be rent, on the tour of Christ, or on that of the Antichrist, of God, or of Satan? If Satan wins the victory, he will storm into the temple from that profane area, introduce the unclean into the Holy Place through the torn curtain, and thus make the holy profane. On the other hand, God through Christ would now take the opposite course, God would now leave the temple, by going out of it from within, by stepping away from the curtain behind which He has been concealed, in order to make that which was common and profane holy also. Yes, the only question is: Who is to rend the veil of the temple? It will be torn in any case. But who and when? The histories of temples can never be silenced. The curtains of temples always hang in the wind. If Satan can thrust aside the curtain, and open the entrance, the whole world will enter it, swallow it up, and make everything “a world.” But if God is to rend the curtain, the spirit of the temple will enter into the world, throw every obstacle aside, and then the stream of grace will overleap every boundary, and the church will be borne out into the world.
Thus we learn to see in a rent temple-veil an event of world- historical significance. The great conflict of Good Friday, and also of the dies ater of the Beast, is always: how does the curtain become torn? By revolution, or by reformation?
Now Good Friday gives us the answer to this question. The curtain of the temple was torn by God. In His own way and in His own strength He came from the other side of the old veil, and entered the world. The hour had come in which the statement “No admittance” could now be erased from God’s murals forever.
For it was a fact that a world sorrow had attached itself to this temple veil. We pointed out before that in the time of the shadow-service the world continued to be a profane area. Revelation, the ministration of atonement, had limited itself to one people, the people of Israel; and among that people it had limited itself to one city, the city of Jerusalem; and within that city it had limited itself to one house, the temple. Behind the walls of that temple, and more particularly behind the folds of this curtain, God was hidden. There the service was administered by the hands of the priests but — pro omnibus: one for all. The “common man” might not approach this place; no pagan might enter it. The priesthood was a secret caste; it enjoyed privileges which were not open to the “common man.” The furnishings of the temple were a delight to the eye; but they spelled out two terrible words: No admittance! The approach to God was closed. Throughout the course of many centuries this temple had passed through many revolutions; but, irrespective of how everything had changed, the protecting veil continued to occupy its place. God was separated from the people, and the children of Levi stood overagainst the children of God in the poorest relationship known to the world, the tragi-comic relationship of a hierarchical system. The famous veil served as a sign of the hierarchy, and as a vindication of it; the people did not know any better; they thought the curtain belonged there. In the days of Christ’s sojourn upon earth the temple had not even been completely restored; the renovation which was begun in the year 20 B.C. was not completed until the time of Albinus in 62- 64 A.D. However, whatever else it may have lacked, the curtain was hanging there a long time. That was, so to say, the first necessity. Now this whole temple really was a great fort, a bulwark. The middle court also was separated from the rest by a stone wall; placards of warning threatened the death penalty against the unqualified who came too near it. Hence this veil became a world issue. Heathendom was kept away from it, and the people of Israel too in its common ranks was prohibited from passing through it.
Now if this remains so, if the veil is not rent, Israel will remain an excluded people, having an “exclusive” God. If that curtain cannot be put aside, the sect and not the church is God’s final purpose and eschatological fulness. Indeed, a solution must come. The world is waiting for it; heaven and hell keep their eyes fastened on that simple veil. As long as it remains hanging, there is a status quo; but so long also God will not be progressing, and, if seen properly, Satan either. One or the other: God must step out from behind the curtain, and stride into the open, or Satan must come from the outside, and step behind it. But in any case, of course, one or the other of these two must remove the curtain.
Who had sensed the tragedy of this veil more excruciatingly than Christ? This proud temple building was the building of His Father; but the words on the curtain “No admittance” affected Him also. For Christ was from the point of view of the world unanointed and unconsecrated. He had no priest’s cloak, and was not ritually allowed to go into the Holy Place behind that curtain. His Father’s house remain closed to Him. His priesthood was not acknowledged.
That is no wonder. His priesthood was of another order. It was a priesthood of the order of Melchizedek, and Melchizedek is the priest who without a priestly genealogy and without an inherited commission stands in the world quite alone by virtue of his own peculiar calling. Thus he ministers the office to which he is called of God. Abraham, and in him Levi, had fallen down at the feet of the Melchizedek in former days. Abraham and Levi had reverently bowed before him and as a token of his superiority had given him tithes. But when Christ came into the world and wanted to be Melchizedek’s antitype, admittance to the house of Levi was denied Him. Levi did not bow before Melchizedek; He had forgotten how to bow. Levi had exacted tithes of Him. The assessment levied by the temple, Christ had obediently raised. This was a topsy-turvy world (see pages 179-182), for Melchizedek is not now being enriched by Levi, but must give of his riches to Levi.
 Christ on Trial, chapter 2, p. 24.
Christ had died in this kind of relationship. God had given Him nothing as a loot out of the temple of Levi. On the contrary, the temple had rejected Him, and God Himself had cooperated in the rejection. Jesus’ murderers sat there and prayed there, and praised God behind the curtains. God was supposed to be of their company still. Yes, the suspense is awful: something must happen.
Yes, it had to happen. But Christ Himself had never sought to gain by the means of the revolution. He had not taken it upon Himself to raise a single finger against the beautiful veil of the temple. Not to tear that curtain apart, but to sear the placard “No admittance” with the fire of God’s righteousness. That was the way He wished to gain the temple for His people, and that was the way in which He wanted to place God on the broad roads of the life of the world.
And now He had died, in order to purchase the right to do this Himself and for His people. Now He had gone on to fulfill the shadow; never had He forcibly rebelled against the shadow-service. But hardly had He breathed His last, before God proclaims that Christ is Melchizedek’s antitype, and that He may justly open the temple wide. He carries the key in His dead hand. Heaven opens, a whirlwind so overwhelming that it cannot be heard, blows toward the temple, and sweeps all the priests aside. A hand seizes on the curtain, tears it to pieces, and God testifies that the work of the Son was perfect, that admittance is open to all who ask for God.
Thus Good Friday becomes the day of prophecy. The Prophet has died, but prophecy immediately goes on. No wonder; His death also was a fulfillment of the prophecy. And now when the Prophet is mute in death, God shows a sign. This is a sign designed not to accompany the prophecy of Christ, but to seal it, and also to prepare for the prophesying of the Christ which will take place in the future by the Spirit of Pentecost. God Himself accordingly is witnessing that this Nazarene has made the temple a place of fellowship and communion not by revolution but by reformation. Moreover, God is not only prophesying, but He is also beginning the new dispensation. The exclusive caste of the priesthood is deprived of all its privileges. Hereafter all those who believe and through their faith approach God, will be called priests. That which Pentecost will realize to the full has its beginning here. The temple is placed in an intermediate position between Good Friday and Pentecost. Woe to that house of God which does not regard such an intermediate condition as being very terrible (see page 500). The moratorium has been declared, and all the priests know that they must hasten to repent. They have not yet been annihilated. They simply have this one thing to learn: they must be able to bear an approach to God characterized by the same righteousness as is the approach of the least of His people. On this Great Day of Atonement our High Priest did not step behind the curtain with the symbolical blood, for a higher reality is here now. This reality is not a curtain, but one who rends the curtain in order that He may enter into the Most Holy Place with His own blood.
In this we see that Christ is a Priest after the order of Melchizedek. For Melchizedek is the man who ministered the office of the priest, not because he had inherited the prerogative, because the office was traditionally handed down to him, but because a wonder which entered into and clung to him, enabled him to do the work spontaneously, self-sufficiently. All this was fulfilled in Christ. The temple had never acknowledged Him. The plot of Levi against Melchizedek had been set in motion behind that curtain. Now that the fulfilled Melchizedek has not gone to the trouble of laying His hand on that curtain, but has calmly awaited what the God of Abraham should do for Him, now God Himself places the crown on Melchizedek’s blood-stained head. Hardly has our great Melchizedek been robbed of all the treasures, of all the “tenths,” and of all the “hundredths” which the earth had left Him, before God announces to the children of the house of Levi that they must pay Him their tenths ten times.
 Naturally this is meant in a relative sense.
Will they refuse? Let us hope the best for them; for when we read later that a great group of priests became obedient to the faith, we may suppose that it is possible and probable that their repentance had its first preparation in the form of the tearing of the veil. Be that as it may, the children of Levi cannot blame this Melchizedek for enriching himself at their expense. In principle, after all, Melchizedek’s usurpation of the temple is an act of sheer service. He did not come storming into the temple from without, but wanted to take God from inside the temple and to place Him outside. Moreover, Melchizedek Himself was consumed in this work of religious service. The zeal of the veils had eaten Him up, for the Bible points out — read Heb_10:20 — that this temple opening on the part of the Antitype of the old Melchizedek was done at the cost of His own life. We know that He Himself was the temple of God in perfection. In Him God dwelt; God Himself was hidden behind His humiliated and broken body. God dwelt in the Nazarene; but men did not see that. Accordingly, the body of Christ is a thing which keeps God concealed. As long as the flesh of Christ, behind which God is hidden, remains unbroken, God could not reveal Himself to the world, nor share Himself with the world. Thereupon the body of Christ, which served as the veil that concealed God, was torn asunder, in order that the way from God to the people might be cleared. On Golgotha the veil of the supreme temple was rent in the form of the body of Christ. Hence the veil of the lesser temple was broken simultaneously. What could that lesser temple possibly do if the tension is at its greatest in that highest temple? The veil behind which the priests concealed themselves had merely a symbolical, a liturgical significance. But in the temple of the body of Christ the service of the reality was perfected.
It is true, is it not, priests of Levi, that you can blame Him for nothing? He supported you with His wings but was broken in the same hour. He took your tithes, but immediately gave them to God, and keeps nothing for Himself except a pitiable death.
Thus the feast of Pentecost already entered the world in its incipiency. Captivity was taken captive, God Himself stepped out into the freedom which He had gained for Himself by means of this Son. A royal people and a royal priesthood is being born on the same day. Today it is being conceived, and on the feast of Pentecost the whole host will be born. The moment of Christ’s death is made actual and is sharply accentuated by God.
We know that God has made very plain to all those who are willing to hear that He is the breaker of the old curtain. We know that the curtain was rent from the top to the bottom. This means not only that the rent was a radical one, but also that this was a wonder. No human hand rent the veil; the hand came from above. It was just as anonymous as the moving hand which once frightened Belshazzar when it wrote the characters of heaven upon his palace wall. God does the writing and God does the erasing. God recalls His former statement: See that ye do it according to the pattern, according to the type, which was shown you on the mount. For the veil which was shown Moses upon the mount was conceived in heaven indeed, and thereupon revealed on an earthly mountain, on Sinai, but now that it “waxeth aged it is nigh unto vanishing away.”
Thus Christ remains a living offense. This is His destiny, for He comes to His Word. The Jews hated Him first because of His cleansing of the temple when He made the profane holy once more. He found that holiness knows no aging, and can never disappear. But now the Jews will hate Him because as they see it He has defiled the temple. They blame Him from this time forth as one who has made the sacred profane. They do not know that He has made everything which was profane holy, for they do not acknowledge His priestly work.
We, therefore, would obediently follow Him to God, would approach God without an intermediary link, without a priest, without any person or any force standing in our way. Thus we would fulfill the law of the veil that was rent.
 The original includes a poem of Joachin Oudaen which has defied translation.