“Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51 HCSB)
It was the time of the evening sacrifice. The priests in Jerusalem milled around the temple grounds, preparing to offer the lamb. On a hill a few miles away, the most heinous crime ever committed was being carried out. A man—the son of man—innocent and blameless, hung dying on a Roman instrument of torture. The King of the Jews had been rejected. This One, who referred to Himself as the true temple, had been beaten, mocked and crucified.
In His final moments, He cries out and breathes His last. Suddenly, the massive curtain, 60 feet tall and as wide as the palm of your hand, is ripped apart by an unseen hand. The priests are speechless. How can this be? What does this mean?
The rending of the veil, the tearing of this curtain, was a divine object lesson with deep and abiding meaning.
The curtain had been placed between the Holy Place in the temple, and the Most Holy Place, the “Holy of Holies.” No one was allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies, except the high priest, and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and only if he carried the blood of an unblemished animal as a sacrifice to cover his own sins and that of all the people. For anyone else, at any other time, in any other way, to enter behind the curtain would mean certain death.
No other sinner could enter into the holy presence of a holy God and live. The curtain was a stark reminder of this truth. This curtain that would take a dozen men to move, that would nearly fill this auditorium, was a stark reminder that God was inaccessible.
The sinful soul shall die. “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he may not come whenever he wants into the holy place behind the veil in front of the mercy seat on the ark or else he will die…” (Leviticus 16:2 HCSB).
But now, this curtain, this massive barrier between man and God, has been torn. It was torn from the top to the bottom. This the work of no man. God Himself initiated this move. He tore the veil. He opened the way.
No longer were men and women kept out from the presence of God. When Jesus died on that bloody cross, the final sacrifice was paid. The true High Priest had finally come. The true Lamb of God had finally been offered. His blood had been spilled. His body had been sacrificed. The payment had been made.
“It is finished!” The sacrificial system was fulfilled. It was done away with now, now that the ultimate sacrifice had been made. All the blood of bulls and goats that had been spilled for over a millennium was only a picture of what was needed, only a shadow of things to come. But now the reality has appeared. The price has been paid. We now have free access into the presence of a holy God. The blood of Jesus, the body slain, opens the way for all of us to enter into the Holy of Holies. “19…we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh),” (Hebrews 9:19-20 HCSB).
There is now no “Keep Out” sign, no notice saying “No Trespassing”. Nothing saying, “Unauthorized Personnel Forbidden”. The Lord Jesus has opened the way to God for us. Not only has He opened the way, but He is the only way. Whereas before, to enter God’s presence in the Holy of Holies meant death, now, to not enter God’s presence through the death of Christ, means death—eternal death. Christ is the one way, the only way, since He is the only true, unblemished and perfect sacrifice for sins.
The tearing of the curtain was a foretaste of or precursor to the destruction of the temple. On that day, the veil was torn. In 40 years, the entire temple would be destroyed by the Roman army under Titus. Judgment was going to fall. An end would be put to the sacrificial system in the temple. The final sacrifice had been offered. The picture of God provided by the physical temple in Jerusalem had served its purpose and could now be removed. Jesus Himself was the new temple. “19 Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and I will raise it up in three days.” 20 Therefore the Jews said, ‘This sanctuary took 46 years to build, and will You raise it up in three days?’ 21 But He was speaking about the sanctuary of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. And they believed the Scripture and the statement Jesus had made” (John 2:19-22 HCSB) “ I did not see a sanctuary in it, because the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its sanctuary” (Rev. 21:22 HCSB).
What do we do now? How do we respond to this tearing of the curtain in the temple sanctuary? There are at least two appropriate responses:
- Believe. The way has now been opened to God. Access has been granted. The sin that separated you from a holy God has been paid for. The Lord Jesus Christ is the veil and He is the temple. He is the embodiment of God Almighty, and through His death His body was torn, that veil was ripped and now the way is made clear into God’s presence. Believe and you will be saved. As Jamison, Fausett and Brown said, “…before it was death to go in, now it is death to stay out.” Christ is our only hope.
- Rejoice. Come to God boldly and rejoice! The writer to the Hebrews says, “19 Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), 21 and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-22). Let our hearts be full of praise today for what Christ has done for us. Let us praise God that now we can have confidence to come into God’s presence. Our sins are great, but Christ’s sacrifice is greater still.