“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his
spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from
top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51).
The Bible says that the moment Jesus died, the veil in the Temple tore down the middle. What significance does this torn veil have for us today and above all, the tearing of the veil at the moment of Jesus' death? This event dramatically symbolized that His sacrifice, the shedding of His own blood, was a sufficient atonement for sins forever. It now signified that the way into the Holy of Holies was open for all people, for all time, both Jew and Gentile.
During the lifetime time of Jesus, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish religious life. Here was the place that animal sacrifices were carried out and worship according to the Law of Moses was followed faithfully. Hebrews 9:1-9 tells us that in the Temple a veil separated the Holy of Holies—the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence—from the rest of the Temple where men dwelt. This signified that man was separated from God by sin (Isaiah 59:1-2). Only the High Priest was permitted to pass beyond this veil once each year (Exodus 30:10; Hebrews 9:7), enter into God's presence for all of Israel, and make atonement for their sins (Leviticus 16).
Solomon's Temple was 30 cubits high (about 50 feet) (1 Kings 6:2) but Herod had increased the height to 40 (about 65 feet) cubits according to the writings of Josephus, a first century Jewish historian. There is uncertainty as to exactly what a cubit equaled in our feet and inches, but it is safe to assume that this veil was somewhere near 60 feet high. Josephus also tells us that the veil was four inches thick, and that horses tied to each side could not pull the veil apart. And the account in the book of Exodus teaches that this thick veil was fashioned from blue, purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen.
The size and thickness of the veil makes so much more momentous the events described as occurring at the exact moment of Jesus’ death upon a cross. “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51a).
So what do we make of this? What significance does this torn veil have for us today? Above all, the tearing of the veil at the moment of Jesus' death dramatically symbolized that His sacrifice, the shedding of His own blood, was a sufficient atonement for sins forever. It now signified that the way into the Holy of Holies was open for all people, for all time, both Jew and Gentile. On top of this, the ARK OF THE COVENANT was missing since the days of Jeremiah, but the people did not know it! It was the dirty little secret of the day, that only a few HIGH PRIEST knew that the Ark was gone, now that the veil was ripped exposing the Holy of Holies to everyone, so that all Israel could see that there was no Ark and that they have been lied to by their leaders (does this sound familiar?). If the Ark wasn't there, that meant GOD WAS NOT THERE! The Temple was no longer the resting place for the Ark. This exposed the leaders for what they really were: LIARS, CHEATS and THIEVES... Exactly what Jesus had called them!
When Jesus died, the veil was torn, and God moved out of that place never again to dwell in a Temple made with hands (Acts 17:24). God was through with that Temple and its religious system and worship, and the Temple and Jerusalem was left “desolate” (destroyed by the Romans) in 70 A.D. just as Jesus prophesied it would in Luke 13:35. As long as the Temple stood, it signified the continuation of the Old Covenant. Hebrews 9:8-9 refers to the age that was passing away even as the New Covenant was being established (Hebrews 8:13).
In a sense, the veil was symbolic of Christ Himself as the only way to the Father (John 14:6). This is symbolized in the fact that the High Priest had to enter the Holy of Holies through the veil. Now Christ is our more superior High Priest, and as believers in His finished work, we partake of His better priesthood. We can now enter the Holy of Holies by Him. Hebrews 10:19-20 says that the faithful enter into the sanctuary by the “blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the veil, that is, through his flesh.” Here we see the image of Jesus’ flesh being torn for us just as He was tearing the veil for us.
The veil being rent from top to bottom is a fact of history. The profound significance of this event is explained in glorious detail in Hebrews. These things were shadows of things to come, and they all ultimately point us to Jesus Christ. He was the veil to the Holy of Holies, and through His death, the faithful now have free access to God.
The veil in the Temple was a constant reminder that sin renders humanity unfit for the presence of God. The fact that the sin offering was offered annually and countless other sacrifices repeated daily was meant to show graphically that sin could not truly and permanently be atoned for or erased by mere animal sacrifices. Jesus Christ, through His death, has removed the barriers between God and man, and now we may approach Him with confidence and boldness (Hebrews 4:14-16).