My favorite Catholic joke involves a conversation between a Catholic school boy and his protestant neighbor. The neighbor quizzed the Catholic about how confession worked. The catholic school boy said “we take our sins to the priest in confession and he pardons our sins.” The protestant asked, “What does the priest do with his sins.” The Catholic boy responded, “He takes them to the Bishop and the Bishop pardons him.” The comeback of course was, “what does the Bishop do with his sins?” The boys said, “He takes them to the cardinal, and the cardinal pardons him.” Of course the next question was, “What does the Cardinal do with his sins.” The answer as expected was, “He takes them to the Pope and the Pope pardons him.” Finally the protestant boy asks, “What does the Pope do with his sins?” The Catholic boy replied, “Well, he takes them to God directly who forgives him.” His neighbor jubilantly replies, “The Pope must be a protestant because that’s what we do!”

With the advent of our Great High Priest, Jesus, the system of barriers which kept the common person from God’s presence was torn from top to bottom. The Jewish system consisted of the outer court which limited a Gentile’s approach to God, the inner court in which the Jewish believers were restrained, the Holy Place where only priests could enter, followed by the Most Holy Place where only the one High Priest in every generation could enter and only once a year. As long as this system remains in effect there is no way for a normal person to establish a personal connection with God. This system was an external one and had no contact with one’s inner being. Hebrews 9:8-10 says, “By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.”

Jesus predicted that the temple and its system would be destroyed completely. Luke 21:6 tells us that Jesus said there will not be “one stone left upon another” when the Temple is destroyed. This literally happened in 70 A.D. when Titus, the Roman General, razed the Temple to the ground. The whole sacrificial system was a parable that the Holy Spirit uses to point to Jesus. His sacrifice “rent” the barriers between God and the normal person. Further, the repetitive nature of the earthly sacrifices served as a constant reminder of sin. There was no relief for sinners. Hughes summarizes his comments on this passage, “Average Joes, like most of us, were several ecclesiastical layers removed from access to God’s presence—and their consciences never rested easy.”[1]

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, vol. 1, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 229.