“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…” —Matthew 27:50-51
There were four phenomena that occurred before, during, and three days after Jesus’ crucifixion. First, darkness fell, though the day was new. Second, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies—where the Ark of the Covenant had rested—from the rest of the Temple, was torn in two. Third, the earth quaked and rocks were split. Fourth, tombs were opened, and saints were raised from the dead.
These events are found, to varying degrees, in both the Word and other historical records of the time. They show that even the most cynical of the time—such as the High Priest Caiaphas, who had been the first instrument of Jesus’ death by sending Him to Pilate—questioned to one degree or another whether Jesus was the Son of God or not. Even those who did not believe Him to be the Son of God, questioned whether or not He was a holy man along the lines of Moses—sent by God Himself.
These ‘extra-biblical’ accounts teach us something unique about the events that took place. From Pilate’s letters to the Roman leadership (regarding his own admiration and interactions with Jesus; even describing the dark clouds that covered the Temple after Jesus had been sentenced), to Caiaphas’ self-preserving letters to the authorities. Caiaphas spoke of his partial yet miraculous change of view regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection—giving account not only of the miraculous things that occurred after Jesus’ resurrection, but even of his own encounter with Jesus before He ascended to Heaven!
Yet, regarding the rending of the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the inner sanctuary of the Temple, little is found outside of the Word. A number of reasons why this could be include:
1. Those who could enter that far into the Temple were a select group. Only the High Priest himself was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies and only certain Levites and perhaps kings of years long past could even come close to the veil. This limited the number of eyewitnesses.
2. Most of those who witnessed the event, or knew of it, would have desired that information hidden—save those who believed after—and may have done much to quench that knowledge. Everything from position, faith, ability to remain in power, etc., all hinged on the belief that they—those who could enter that far—were indispensable for forgiveness and access to God.
3. Because the earthquake occurred at the rending, it may be that those in power tried to maintain that it was the earthquake itself that caused the rending of the veil and not Jesus’ death—despite evidence to the contrary… such as it corresponding to the moment Jesus gave up His Spirit and the way the heavy veil tore from top to bottom despite an intact Temple structure.
Why was the veil important?
Herod Antipas—son of Herod the Great who tried to kill Jesus as a babe—writing in his defense to Tiberius Caesar of sentencing John the Baptist (Yochanan the Immerser) to death, said of the temple:
“…for the Jews think this temple the next place to heaven.” (THE ARCHKO VOLUME; Or, The Archeological Writings of the Sanhedrim and Talmuds of the Jews)
In many ways Herod Antipas’ assumptions in regard to the views of the time were correct, despite his disdain for God and His servants. For both the first and second Temple had been the center of Jewish religion since the time of King Solomon, and it was there that God was sought.
Yet, what does the importance of the Temple have to do with the veil? What was the importance of the veil that lay within the Temple walls?
“For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat…”—Hebrews 9:2-5
The veil served as a physical sign of God and His holiness to those who saw it—for the Jewish sages state the very breath of God made the heavy veil move constantly. Further, it served as a layer of protection from the mighty presence of God. None could enter the presence of the Lord found in the Holy of Holies and live, save for one day a year when the High Priest would enter with blood, to atone for the sins of himself and the people of Israel.
Even a glimpse of what was behind the veil could destroy because of the awesome power of God.
Still, we may wonder why the rending of the veil, especially when accompanied by an earthquake, would be so impressive…
Well, one could reason that the impressive nature of the rending is that God, prior to that moment, had only allowed the first Temple to be destroyed when His people departed from His ways. The first temple veil may have been destroyed by fire or slicing, likely from the bottom up, along with the Temple itself. Thus, for God to allow the second Temple veil’s destruction from the top to bottom—while letting the Temple remain—would have been unprecedented.
Further than that is the size and weight of the veil—it being far too large for man or natural phenomenon to easily destroy. It was at least 60 feet long, 30-40 feet high, and some in the Talmud say as much as a hand’s breadth in thickness—4 inches! Additionally, some sources claim it took 300 men to move and hang in place with any ease. Add to that the impossibility of someone moving past DOZENS of priests with a remarkably tall ladder hoping to rip or slice the veil, renders man-induced rending highly unlikely. Additionally, the sheer size of the veil combined with a completely intact Temple structure disallows any earthquake damage to such a degree.
30-40 feet high, 60 feet wide, thick enough to cloak the glory of the Lord, likely weighing thousands of pounds, and yet torn from top to bottom with ease!
When that massive veil was rendered in two, the separation between God and man was destroyed along with the separation of Jew and Gentile, and both remain so to this day. All thanks to the blood of Jesus restoring that which had been in the Garden. God’s perfect design.
With the rending of the veil God was showing the shift in how we were to approach Him, while simultaneously declaring to all the earth that Jesus—our Messiah and the Son of God—was, is, and is to come.
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 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?”—Hebrews 9:11-14
Many were against this for reasons ranging from personal doubt, to a greed for power and prestige. As a result, it is likely that those in power suppressed the rending of the veil as well as they could. They may have viewed this as God having left them and the Temple, resulting in their own positions and belief in God compromised or changed. Still, many who worked in the Temple that day saw and came to believe.
The three other signs were much harder to ignore and impossible to suppress—the darkness, rock-splitting earthquake, and raising of the saints. Once these were seen and news spread, the revelation of who Jesus was and all that had shifted brought believers in untold numbers to the Kingdom of God—in spite of those desiring the promise and revelation stopped.
Today we know God on a much more personal basis thanks to the blood Jesus—Yeshua—shed on the cross. He allowed us to be sanctified and cleansed so that we might approach the throne room of God, know our Father, and of course, have permanent access to the Holy Spirit. And the veil that was torn that day… was torn in our hearts as well, allowing access to the Holy of Holies 365 days a year.
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”—1 Corinthians 3:16-17
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”—1 Corinthians 6:19-20