There was something inherently unfortunate and disturbing about the Temples in the Old Testament and early in the New Testament. Typically, the Temple was partitioned into two-tiered, unequal sections. A general, less significant Outer Court, where anyone could come in, and a special, very significant Inner Court, where only certain people could come in. Everyone knew their place. These two courts – the inner and the outer courts – became a metaphor of two categories of Israelites – the Levite-Priests and the rest. They were a compelling symbol of the discrepancy between Levites, especially Priests, and normal Israelites. Between the holy priests who could draw near to God and the ordinary people who were further away, distant to God and could not have a personal audience with him. In fact, only the High Priest could enter the most Holy Place, about once a year.
The Outer Court was the largest section and it was a common area. Nearly everyone was welcomed. It held the mixed multitudes. This was the area dedicated to ritual and performance. Those in the Outer Court never saw the glory veiled on the other side. They came close but could never get inside. They could hear mumbled sounds of men encountering God hidden away across a partition, but they could never experience it firsthand. In other words, their own experience of God was shallow and superficial in nature.
In the Outer Court, people were used to religious activities but without the reality of a personal encounter with God. They were satisfied with hearing stories and descriptions of what was beyond the veil, but could never dream of themselves seeing or touching it.
They were content to worship from afar. To them, God was not really a personal and intimate reality. This was indeed a sad and unfortunate situation. It was the reality of the Outer Court Lifestyle. On the other hand, the Inner Court experience was deep, personal and intimate. There, God met with men, spoke to them, touched them, blessed them and showed them His glory. People like Moses, Aaron, Phinehas, Zechariah, and many others tasted the glory that lay beyond the veil. But the majority did not. They were consigned to a hearsay experience, a secondhand account of what the presence of God was like. They lived and operated in the Outer Court world of religion.
Luke 1:8-12 highlights the two court realities and experiences:
“So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, [c] his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” (Luke 1:8-12, NKJV)
You can’t help but notice the reference to “multitudes” who were “outside.” Outside of what? Outside of the presence of God, of the deep encounter with God, of the realm of intimacy with the Lord. There a multitude stood as spectators to a man encountering God in the Inner Court. There the vast majority lingered, waiting to be told of the exploits of prayer and the God who speaks to men.
They were outsiders! Zechariah was an insider! He was inside the presence of God, deep and intimate with God, not a peddler of religion, not a spectator to the reality of God’s presence, but “inside” it all. At that time, a thin veil separated the two courts. It was thin, but an effective blockade. Shutting out the multitude it kept a majority of people “outside”. This is the partitioning that was ripped in two in one moment as Jesus took our burden of sin to His death on the cross:
“Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split” (Matt. 27:51)
Yes, that partition has been torn! Ephesians 2:14 uses a rather dramatic language: “For He…has broken down the middle wall of separation” (emphasis added). This means there is no more default separation of the Courts and the people of God.
It means access is open for anyone and everyone to press in beyond the superficiality and ordinariness of the Outer Court Lifestyle, into the reality of the glory, power, and blessings obtainable in the place of intimacy with God. The only partition now is the indifference, unwillingness, distractions and inertia of those who still choose to remain “outside”.
The sad reality is many Christians are still living and operating in the Outer Court Lifestyle, content with a superficial and often times second-hand experience of God. Not pressing into the Inner Court to find God for themselves. These have settled into religious Christianity, into the superficial routines of Christianity, embracing a life of distance between them and God. Often their faith is void of sincere and passionate devotion to a personal relationship with His Word and lacking in a consistent and dedicated prayer life. Periods of fasting to seek the face of God are virtually non-existent, recalcitrant or opportunistic at best.
A commitment to consecrated and holy living is flimsy. This is the kind of lackluster living that continues to exclude many Christians from the Inner Court experience with God and relegate them to a peripheral experience of the Christian life. The key to breaking free of the Outer Court life and into the intimacy and dynamic power of the Inner Court is developing hunger and thirst for the depths of God and the insatiable longings that keeps crying for more and more of God, for greater heights and depths with God (Matt. 5:6, Psalm 42, John 6:35). Those who break into the Inner Court are like Paul in Phil 3:10, constantly crying “That I might know Him…” and like Mary not being distracted but prioritizing the experience of sitting at His feet (Luke 10:39). The reality of the two-court lifestyles is very much with us today. Responsibility lays on believers to choose if they really want and long for the depths of God. Will we break free from the distractions and
attractions of sin, the world, and even religion, to lay a hold of the presence of God?
Which of the two courts is your own reality and what can you do today to pursue the Inner Court?