Tearing open the heavens

“Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down,
That the mountains might quake at Your presence”
Isaiah 64:1

1. Allusion at Jesus baptism

This particular verse is significant and alluded to at Jesus’ baptism. All three Gospel accounts, apply similar Greek words in describing the events of Jesus’ baptism. However it is Mark’s account that is of particular interest:

“Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
Mark 1:10-11

One of the key themes that seems to be addressed and realised in this particular event in Isaiah, is the coming of Yahweh (God) to his people, and dwelling with them. Isaiah 63, has many questions being asked of God. One of particular notice is in verse 11:

“Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them?”  Isaiah 63:11b

This itself is an allusion back to the days of the Exodus; so in the baptism of Jesus; it seems to echo the idea that God is now with his people, as he promised; and that is through and in the man Jesus Christ.

2. Allusion at Jesus’ death.
The phrase ‘torn open’ in Mark’s account is a very specific Greek word (σχίζω schizō) that occurs again during the time of Jesus’ death.

“The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”  Mark 15:38

(As an aside, the occurrence of the earthquake in Matthew’s account only strengthens and complements the allusion between this event and Isaiah 64:1).

Most people would understand already how the temple curtain being torn signifies that we now have direct access to God; and understand that being torn from top to bottom, is to represent that it is an act of God to humanity.

In understanding the connection to Isaiah 64:1 properly (and apparently, Josephus in Antiquities, affirms the same conclusion that is made here); one needs to understand that the earthly sanctuary is supposed to reflect the heavenly sanctuary, namely heaven itself, as noted in Hebrews:

‘They [the priests of the law] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.'” Hebrews 8:5 

In understanding this, we can certainly affirm the common understanding that the tearing of the curtain means direct access to God, in every sense. It signifies that the work on the cross is finished and complete; but that God himself accomplished it. In that case, along with the resurrection as well, the writer of Hebrews can also write:

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain”  Hebrews 6:19


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