What was the 'Most Holy Place' or the 'Holy of Holies'?
The Holy of Holies refers to the back, inner room of Moses' tabernacle and the temples that took the tabernacle's place, starting with Solomon's Temple. The Holy of Holies was a perfect cube, and contained the Ark of the Covenant. The terms "Most Holy Place" and "Holy of Holies" are interchangeable, depending on the version of the Bible one uses.
According to the law God gave Moses, only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and only once per year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Before entering, the High Priest washed, put on special clothing, and gathered incense and the blood from a sacrificed animal. Once inside the Holy of Holies, the high priest burned the incense, then sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat of the ark (the lid with the angel figures). This act was part of a ceremony completed every year where the Israelites as a nation would ask God for forgiveness of their sins.
The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the tabernacle (and later the temple) by a large veil. The veil was woven from fine linen and blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, and decorated with intricate embroidery featuring an image of gold cherubim. The veil guarded the people from accessing the Ark of the Covenant and coming into the presence of God.
The Most Holy Place was subject to three important events in the history of Israel. At some point, the nation of Judah lost the Ark of the Covenant. Some years later, when Judah's transgressions became too great, God allowed Babylon to conquer Jerusalem. After the siege, as the people were taken into captivity, the Babylonian army destroyed the Temple and the Holy of Holies.
When the people returned from exile, Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah led them in rebuilding Jerusalem, including the wall and the Temple. About 500 years later, while Jesus hanged on the cross, the veil tore from top to bottom. Matthew 27:50-51 says, "And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split." By tearing the veil, God dramatically showed that people no longer needed a barrier to keep them from accessing God. Jesus leads us directly to God. Hebrews 10:19-20 (NIV) says, "we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body."
The third important historical event that took place related to the Holy of Holies was the destruction of the Jewish temple by the Romans in AD 70. Since that time, Jews have not had a temple in which to worship, and have transitioned to meeting in local synagogues. The Bible says the Temple will be rebuilt sometime before the mid-point of the Tribulation (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:4).
The Holy of Holies served as a representation of God's presence with the nation of Israel. The veil protected the sinful people of Israel from God's holiness. The death of Jesus upon the cross ended the need for this method of worship, opening access to God for all who would believe in Jesus as God's Son (John 3:16).
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