|Why was the veil of the temple torn in the middle when Jesus died?|
Why was the veil of the temple torn in the middle when Jesus died?
The tearing, or rending, of the temple veil when Jesus died on the cross was a strong symbolic act of God. The rent veil shows physically that a believer's access to God is open through the value of the work of Christ.
Matthew 27:50-51 is the Bible reference that tells about the veil of the temple being torn:
(50) And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
What was the Temple and its significance?
For centuries the temple was the central point of Old Testament Jewish worship. Many chapters from the books of Exodus and Leviticus give great detail as to how sacrifices were to be conducted, how the priests were to act and dress and what days were to be celebrated. All of this ceremony centered first on Moses' Tabernacle that was carried through the wilderness journeys and then was reconstructed on even a grander scale in the building of Solomon's Temple. The central point of the Temple was the innermost room, called the Holiest of Holies, which was hidden by the heavy Veil of the Temple. Here the Ark of the Covenant was housed. Only once a year a single priest was permitted to enter to atone for the sins of the people. The Shekinah Glory of the presence of God filled the room with unapproachable light.
Hebrews 9:1-9 gives the New Testament commentary on the innermost sanctuary…
(1) Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.
Leviticus 16:11-19 tells of the annual ceremony that was conducted inside the veil.
(11) "Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself.
How big was the veil?
The veil was an immense piece of heavy cloth. Accoring to 1 Kings 6:2 "The house that King Solomon built for the LORD was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high." Thirty cubits high would make the veil about 45 feet tall.
The Jewish historian Josephus claimed that the temple height was raised to 40 cubits (60 feet) tall. Alfred Edersheim, in his book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah tells about its thickness. "The Veils before the Most Holy Place were 40 cubits (60 feet) long, and 20 (30 feet) wide, of the thickness of the palm of the hand, and wrought in 72 squares, which were joined together; and these Veils were so heavy, that, in the exaggerated language of the time, it needed 300 priests to manipulate each."
There is also an apparently false reference in the Ryrie Study Bible in Exodus 26:31-35 about what Josephus claimed about the veil. “Josephus reported that the veil was 4 inches thick, was renewed every year, and that horses tied to each side could not pull it apart." But no such reference can be found in Josephus' writings (see Josephus Wars 5.5.4 for Josephus' original description of the veil).
What is the symbolism of the torn veil?
When the veil was torn open, at least three teachings of Christ became evidently clear.
First, the atonement ceremony that the priest had to perform once a year was shown to be obsolete. The sacrifice and shed blood of Christ provided a new way into the holiest of all.
(19) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,
The famous quote from Jesus in John 14 is a reference to our ability to speak directly to our heavenly Father. John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Second, the pathway into the very presence of God is opened once and for all for both Jews and Gentiles. The Temple was strictly off limits to any Gentile worshipers ever since its grand opening. But the death of Christ created a new unity between the two groups as stated here in Ephesians.
(11) Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands--
Third, the opening of the Holiest of All revealed to the priests and to the whole world that the Shekinah glory had left the Temple. Jesus spoke on several occasions about the abandonment of the Temple by God.
Luke 13:35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'"
Luke 13 refers to a coming time of judgment against Israel in which the city, the temple and the land would be plundered and abandoned during a period of exile. It can be assumed that the priests repaired the torn veil and continued their empty rituals, but the torn veil showed the world that God had already abandoned the place.
Sin has always been an obstacle for man to approach God since Adam was exiled from the Garden of Eden. God chose to dwell among his people in the Holiest of Holies from the time of Moses to Christ but with severe restrictions. One priest, once a year, could come to the Holiest of All with the blood of an animal to cover his sins and the sins of the people. But when Jesus died, he completed the requirements of the sacrifices once and for all. The rending of the temple veil was physical evidence that the way was opened forever and for all people. We now approach God with the boldness of one who carries the value of the blood of Christ.
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