What does the temple curtain being torn have to do with Jesus’ death on the cross? Everything!
The Veil and the Separation
God put the temple curtain there for the safety of His people for no one can enter into the Holy of Holies and live. Only the high priest could do this and then only once a year but they tied a rope around his waist in the event he did something wrong and if he died as a result, they could drag him out from behind the curtain since they couldn’t go in and get him and they too would perish. The veil represents the separation of a Holy God from sinful mankind because our sins have separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2). The size and thickness of the curtain ensured that no one would accidentally fall into the Holy of Holies as the veil was 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, and was about one inch thick and was so massive and heavy that it took 300 priests to manipulate it so there was no way that someone could inadvertently trip and stumble into the Holy of Holies and subsequently die as a result.
The Tearing of His Body
Jesus’ own body was given as atonement for our sins and His death satisfied the wrath of God. What was due to us, He took because He paid a debt He did not owe for a debt we could never pay. The flesh of Jesus’ body was literally torn and as Isaiah write “many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isaiah 52:14). The Romans were experts at scourging. They used a wooden rod that had several 18-24 inch long straps of leather attached to it and at the end of it were sharp, rugged pieces of metal, wire, glass, and jagged fragments of bone and cut deeply through the victim’s skin and into his flesh, shredding his muscles and sinews. This was so effective that much of the tissue was removed and often the spine itself was visible by the time they were finished. Jesus’ literal flesh was torn to shreds and the skin which protects the internal organs and bones was torn and fell away by the scourging so Jesus’ own body was torn.
The Tearing of the Curtain
At the very moment that “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (Matt 27:50) “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matt 27:51). The curtain was torn at the exact moment of Jesus’ death because our separation from God by our sins had been paid for by Jesus on the cross. Notice that the temple curtain was torn from the top down to the bottom indicating that it was torn from the top by God Himself. What no human could possible tear by human strength, God did by the death of the Son of God. Now we can go behind the curtain and have access into the Holy of Holies. It wasn’t Jesus’ torn flesh that ended our separation from God but His sinless life, death, and resurrection. Now “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19).
What a price God paid to redeem us from an eternal separation from Himself. How could anyone ever imagine such a priceless thing? Since He didn’t spare His own Son for us (Rom 8:32), don’t we have an obligation to tell others how they might be saved (Acts 4:12)? Shouldn’t we feel compelled to tell others what God has done for us?
May God richly bless you,
Pastor Jack Wellman[ssba]
Image source: CC BY John Mitchell
modifications: cropped, text added
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