Brighton Church of Christ
The Veil Of The Temple Was Rent
Question: What does it mean when the Bible tells us that the veil of the Temple was rent (Mt. 27:51)?
Answer: About the ninth hour of the day of Jesus' crucifixion, "Jesus, when He had cried out with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom… (Mt. 27:50ff)." In this passage and others we read of the miraculous events accompanying Jesus' death, evidently for the purpose of accentuating the divine significance of the crucifixion and anticipating what was soon to occur on the First Day of the Week. Jesus also proclaimed "It is finished" at this same time, according to John 19:30, with the apparent result of the centurion declaring his conclusion that Jesus was the Son of God (Mt. 27:54), thus the wrong man being put to death. To clarify the significance of the rending of the Temple veil and the centurion's declaration, it is wise for us to note some Old Testament background for this event.
The veil referenced here was that curtain in the Third Temple (built by Herod), though the Tabernacle earlier also had its veil/curtain from the time of its construction at Sinai in Exodus 26, as did the first two Temples. Hebrews 9 provides additional details concerning the veil and other furnishings of the Tabernacle/Temple in the context of showing that the Old Testament system had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ under the New Covenant. The meaning of it all is also seen in verses 6-9:
Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience — concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
Verses 11-15 presents God's solution to this problem of limitation/imperfection in the Old Testament system by showing that Christ solved this deficiency when,
"not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance."
The point of all this is that the veil and its entire system signified that the One who would enter through it into the true Holiest of Holies (Heaven) was still to come. In other words, the Law of Moses (Old Covenant) did not meet the divine objective, but anticipated Jesus as the fulfillment thereof (Rom. 10:4). For the fifteen centuries of the Law's operation from Sinai to Calvary, God was pointing to Jesus Christ through the object lessons of the Old Covenant. When He tore/rent the veil at the time of His death, He demonstrated some things about Himself, the Old Mosaic System, and the New Covenant.
The Most Holy Place (Heaven) was no longer inaccessible.
God's presence, symbolized in the High Priest's presence in the inner room, where His presence was manifested, on the Day of Atonement, was now evermore available (Heb. 10:19-20).
Our access is now direct, because Christ has torn the veil and assured our access to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). No man stands between us and God!
Our relationship with God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) is even more intimate than it was under previous covenants (Mt. 28:19-20).
God now manifests His presence in different temples: in Christians individually and in the church collectively (1 Cor. 6:19; 3:16).
Several changes have transpired: A different Mediator has established a different covenant, resulting in no more animal sacrifices, no more earthly priestly class mediating for us, and no more Sabbath or tithing observance.
God's separation from His people, as symbolized by the veil and the mediating priesthood, taught the people about God's holiness and their sin. In Christ's propitiatory work we realize our forgiveness, sanctification, and access/right to draw near to God (Heb. 2:17-28; 13:12; 10:22).
Surely God/Jesus accomplished much when He miraculously tore the veil from top to bottom. Remember that it all was for you and me!
Bobby L. Graham