Jesus hangs upon a cross, supported by nails driven through his hands and feet. The crown of thorns digs mercilessly into his skin. Blood and sweat drips from his brow onto the dusty ground. His breathing is ragged and labored. He cries out, “It is finished!” and breathes his last. At the moment of Jesus’ death, there is an earthquake. Amidst the tumult of dead saints rising and the earth cracking in two, something seemingly insignificant happens – a curtain tears.
This isn’t just any curtain. It is the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. It was a four inch thick curtain that rose fifteen feet in height. And at the moment of Jesus’ death, it was torn completely in two, from top to bottom – from Heaven to earth.
Why is this important? What is the significance of this event? Only two of the Gospels mention it, and in each it takes up the space of one verse. It seems as if it is pretty insignificant.
In the days of the Old Testament, when Moses had led Israelites out of slavery, God commanded the people to build the Tabernacle, a tent that was a place of dwelling for God. He gave them very specific instructions on how it was to be designed and which materials to use. The outer part of the Tabernacle was called the Outer Court. Any Israelite could go into this area and give offerings. Beyond that was the Holy Place which only the members of the priestly tribe could enter. Within that was an even smaller chamber called the Holy of Holies. No one could enter into the Holy of Holies except for the high priest, and he could only enter it on one day of the year – the Day of Atonement. On this day, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood upon the Mercy Seat (the area between the two cherubim) of the Ark of the Covenant, which was kept there. It was an elaborate sacrifice which had to be done by following certain orders and rules. But it was done so that all the sins of the people of Israel would be forgiven. Once a year, the sins of the people would be wiped clean through this sacrifice. And no one could perform the sacrifice except for the high priest.
So how is this connected to the temple veil tearing at Jesus’ death? The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the Tabernacle by a veil, a thick curtain. No one could go beyond that for within, God’s Spirit rested. No one could come before God because all were unworthy. If they entered into His presence they would be struck dead. Even if the priest did something wrong or out of order during the sacrifice, he would be struck dead. God was separated from the people by that veil.
When the veil tore in the temple on the night of Jesus’ death, it was God who tore it. He was telling the people, “Look! You are no longer separated from me! Your sins have been taken away by the ultimate sacrifice, the final scapegoat! See, I have made a way for you to be united with me!” It was showing the Jews – and us! – that there is no longer a separation between man and God. When Jesus declared “It is finished!” he really meant it. It is completely finished. God has made a way. Our sins were placed upon Christ on that cross. Our sinful nature died on that cross with him. Not only that, but through Christ’s resurrection, we are made new! We are restored to new life through Christ! There is no longer a separation between us and God. We can call Him Father, we can communicate with Him through prayer, we can praise Him and when we die, we will live forever in His presence. He has made a way and torn the veil – from Heaven to earth.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.