When we think about what God was doing while Jesus hung on the cross, it shouldn’t really surprise us that He provided some visible miracles for those who were onlookers.
Whilst Christ hung on the cross, there were four miraculous events which occurred.
1. The 3 hours of darkness, Matthew 27:45/ Luke 23:44-45.
2. The veil of the temple was torn into two, Matthew 27:50-51/ Mark 15:37-38.
3. An earthquake, Matthew 27:50-52.
4. The graves opening up and dead people being raised to life, Matthew 27:50-53.
In this study, we will look at the significance of the torn veil.
When God gave Moses instructions concerning the Tabernacle. He tells him that the veil or curtain as some translations render it, was to be a divider between the holy place and the Holy of Holies, Exodus 26:31-37.
The veil was made using four colours, blue, purple, scarlet and white of the fine linen. These four colours were also used at the Door of the Outer Court, Exodus 27:16-17.
It was over seven feet high, thirty feet wide and was supported by four pillars set in bronze sockets. This curtain separated the people from the outer court of the tabernacle.
They could only enter when they brought their sacrifice to the gate as an offering for God upon the bronze altar.
These four colours were also used at the Door to the Sanctuary, Exodus 26:36-37. This veil separated the people in outer court of the tabernacle from the Holy Place.
Only priests were permitted to enter into the Holy Place after they had made the proper sacrifice at the altar and washing at the bronze laver.
These four colours were also used for the Cherubim Embroidered Covering that forms the ceiling of the Tabernacle, Exodus 26:1-6. These four colours were also used for the Ephod the high priest wore, Exodus 28:6-14 / Exodus 39:2-7.
Josephus describes the temple veil as follows.
‘…before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures.’ (The Wars Of The Jews 5.5.4)
Blue indicates heavenly and godly: “Behold your God”, Isaiah 40:9, pointing to John’s Gospel, where doubting Thomas eventually says to Jesus “My Lord and my God”, John 20:28.
Purple signifies kingship: “Behold your King”, Zechariah 9:9, pointing to Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus, the descendant of King David, Matthew 1:1, declares after rising from the dead “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to Me”, Matthew 28:18.
Red signifies blood: “Behold My servant”, Isaiah 52:13 / Isaiah 53:5, pointing to Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus says He “came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many”, Mark 10:45.
White signifies purity and real humanity: “Behold the man”, Zechariah 6:12, pointing to Luke’s Gospel, where Pilate says of Jesus “Behold, I have found not one fault in this man”, Luke 23:4 / Luke 23:14.
The veil we are speaking about is the veil which separated the holy place from the most holy of holies. This is the final door to pass through, to enter into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies.
Entry was forbidden to all except one, the high priest, but he couldn’t just stroll in there anytime he wanted. He was permitted entry only once a year, on the Day of Atonement when he brought the blood of the sacrificed goat to sprinkle on the lid, called the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant, Leviticus 16:15-16 / Hebrews 9:6-7 / Exodus 25:10-22 / Exodus 37:1-9.
In Herod’s temple, there were two veils in front of the Holy of Holies. The Talmud tells us the following.
‘It was not known whether the veil in Solomon’s temple was hung on the inside or the outside of the entrance to the Holy of Holies. When the Temple was rebuilt after the exile, they hung two veils — one on the outside of the entryway in the Holy Place and one on the inside of the entryway in the Holy of Holies.’
According to the Talmud, ‘the veils were sixty feet long, thirty feet tall and four inches thick’.
Herbert Danby says the following.
‘The veil was one handbreadth thick and was woven on a loom having seventy-two rods, and over each rod were twenty-four threads. Its length was forty cubits and its breadth twenty cubits; it was made by eighty-two young girls, and they used to make two in every year; and three hundred priests immersed it.’ (Herbert Danby translator, The Mishnah, p 161, par 5)
Jewish tradition claims that the veils were so heavy it took three hundred priests to hang them.
The size of the veil would have made it absolutely impossible for any human to tear this into two pieces. But the fact that it was torn from top to bottom, signifies that this was a work of God.
The Greek word for top is ‘anothen’ in the New Testament and it frequently means that something comes from above, that is, from God, John 3:31 / James 1:17.
God tore the veil from top to bottom to show that it was He who was making a way for us to come into His presence.
It’s often overlooked that when the veil was torn in two, there would have been many priests within the temple at this time.
We can only imagine what they were thinking as they witnessed this happening before their eyes. Imagine if you were a priest and you heard this loud noise and when you go to investigate you see the veil is torn in two.
Imagine as you examine it, you realise that this hasn’t been cut with a very sharp knife by someone because the tear starts from the top of the curtain not the bottom.
Wouldn’t you be thinking to yourself what does this mean?
Wouldn’t you be speaking to the other priests trying to figure out what happened and why?
Could this event be one of the reasons why a large number of priests would later become Christians? Acts 6:7.
Matthew and Luke both record that the centurion at the crucifixion saw everything which happened. Did he witness the veil tearing in two?
Some suggest that this Gentile soldier could see straight into the Holy of Holies, but I personally doubt it.
Rabbi Gabriel says the following.
‘In the Jewish Talmud, the Temple veil is spoken of as the ‘tunic of God’. Its ripping at the time of the death of Messiah speaks of the tradition of tearing one’s clothes as a sign of mourning. God tore His ‘tunic’ when Yeshua died.’
In other words, they believe the veil being ripped in two signified God tearing His ‘tunic’ as a sign of mourning when Jesus died.
Some scholars have suggested this was the curtain that separated the court of the Jews from the court of the Gentiles. This would make sense in light of what Paul said that Christ has torn down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, Ephesians 2:14.
I believe the torn veil signifies something much bigger. I believe the veil which was torn in two was the veil that separated the holy of holies from the other parts of the temple.
The word ‘veil’ in Hebrew means ‘to separate’. The veil, itself, was a symbol of our sin which separated us from God and, it reminds us that we were excluded from the presence of God because of our sinfulness, Isaiah 59:2 / Romans 3:23.
However, just as the Passover lamb was slain for the redemption of the children of Israel in Egypt, and the goat was slain so that its blood could obtain God’s forgiveness for the Israelites on the Day of Atonement, so Jesus ‘bore our sins in His own body on the tree’, 1 Peter 2:24.
It’s now possible, on the basis of faith in Jesus’ death for our sins, to stand in the presence of God as justified and forgiven people, Romans 5:1-2.
As Hebrews 10:19-22 shows, the way to the Holy of Holies has been opened up for us through the veil of Jesus’ flesh being torn on the cross.
There is a ‘new’ literally ‘freshly slain’ and ‘living’ way for us to enter. The Lord Jesus Christ is not just our freshly slain, dead offering, He is also the Living One who rose from the dead, Luke 24:5 / Revelation 1:18.
He ascended as our great High Priest, with our names on His heart, going into the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence is over the Ark of the Covenant!
When Jesus cried out, ‘It is finished’, John 19:30, this was a cry of triumph. He had accomplished the work He came to do. As the Lamb of God, John 1:29, He had now finished His work.
In the very beginning, we have the promise of the Head crusher, that is Jesus, Genesis 3:14-15. The Seed of woman, Jesus, would eventually crush the head of Satan by His death on the cross, and so, freeing mankind from the control that Satan has over mankind through sin, Romans 16:20.
In crushing the head of Satan on the cross, Jesus would bruise His heel by His own death. However, His heal would only be bruised because He would be raised from the dead.
Satan was now defeated, his rebellion against God was ruined, and his works were destined for destruction, 1 John 3:8. He was the perfect sacrifice, an innocent man dying in our place in order for us to be forgiven of our sins, Hebrews 9:22.
No one else could have done this, no one else could ever do this, Jesus alone was worthy, Revelation 5:1-10. The way to God was finally opened to everyone, regardless of their race or gender, Hebrews 4:16 / Hebrews 9:11-12.
Why did God tear the veil?
God tore the veil in two because it signalled the beginning of the end of the Jewish worship system, Matthew 24:1-2. God tore the veil in two because He didn’t want anyone to have any doubts that the death of Jesus was significant for everyone.
His Son came to die for the world, John 3:16, in order for us to have a way to be saved, John 14:6. Just like the purpose of the miracles of Jesus, God tore the veil from top to bottom to bring about faith in His Son and who He claimed to be, John 20:30-31.
The tearing of the veil from top to bottom was nothing less than another miracle from God. This miracle signified that He had opened the door for us to come in and have a relationship with Him.
Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice so the veil, or separation, was no longer needed. We can now enter His presence through Christ Himself.
As Jesus hung on the cross, many people would have witnessed the miracle of the three hours of darkness, Matthew 27:45 / Luke 23:44-45, the veil of the temple was torn into two, Matthew 27:50-51 / Mark 15:37-38, the earthquake, Matthew 27:50-52, the graves opening up and dead people being raised to life, Matthew 27:50-53.
They would have to conclude, as the centurion soldier did, that ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God,’ Mark 15:39.