Why Did the Veil Tear in Two at the Moment of Jesus' Death?
- Meg Bucher Writer and Author
- 2020 10 Mar
“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split,” Matthew 27:51
Matthew, Mark, and Luke documented the tearing of the veil in the temple after Jesus’ death on the cross.
- “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” Mark 15:38 reads.
- Luke wrote, “for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Luke 23:45).
- John simply records Jesus’ last words, “It is finished,” and “with that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).
The Apostle Matthew left a historical trail of Jesus’ death by recording the events that immediately followed. John, perhaps tied in knots of emotion as he remained at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother as He died, can only move on after mention of His Savior’s last earthly breath before the crucifixion.
What Happened When Jesus Died on the Cross?
Jesus, who is God the Son, went to the cross by His own free will in submission to God the Father. He came to earth to save us from the sin that separated us from the presence of God.
“The tearing of the curtain that separated the sinful people from the holy presence of God signifies what happened when the flesh of Jesus was torn,” John Piper preached, “The tearing of Jesus’ flesh secured the reconciliation between God and his sinful people. That is what the tearing of the curtain signified.”
The veil, or curtain, in the temple was torn upon Jesus’ death. Chad Ashby with thegospelcoalition.org wrote, “His final piercing cry received an echoing response from the temple: Behold, the curtain was torn in tow, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. (Matt 27:51)”
What Is the Context and Meaning of the Veil Tearing in the Temple?
Matthew, Mark and Luke, the three Synoptic Gospels (thus titled because they contain many of the same stories in the same sequence), all mention the tearing of the veil. Matthew referred to the innermost curtain, explained by Professor Daniel M. Gurtner:
“This veil, described first and most fully in descriptions of the tabernacle, was made of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubic worked into it by a skilled craftsman (Exodus 26:31; 36:35). It was to be hung before the holy of holies, which was a perfect cube of ten cubits per side. The veil was hung by gold hooks on an acacia-wood frame, which itself was overlaid with gold (Exodus 26:32-33), and the ark of the covenant was kept behind the veil (Exodus 26:33).”
The curtain symbolized the separation of God and man. Only the high priest and direct descendant of Aaron could walk through the curtain on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle the blood of the atoning sacrifice. Because of our sin, man is not worthy to stand in the presence of our Holy God.
“Only a high priest who was ritually pure and without defect could approach Yahweh without being put to death,” wrote Professor Daniel M. Gurtner, “Even Moses was forbidden to see the face of the Lord, ‘because man may not see my face and yet life.’(author’s translation of Exodus 33:20)”
The tearing of the veil in the temple was significant not only because it happened but also in the way it happened. God tore the curtain, from top to bottom, in two pieces. God made a way for us through Jesus, and so He tore the veil that separated us from Him. This curtain was ornate, massive, and specifically crafted. Nothing man-made can withstand the power of God. The curtain represented all of the laws God’s people followed in an effort to maintain right standing with God, and when it tore it signified how we all fall short of the glory of God. The way God made through Christ’s death is the only way in which we can stand in the presence of God.
In Jesus' Day, Who Would Have Found This Occurrence Significant?
“Therefore brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:19-22
The temple curtain, or veil, was extremely significant to the Jews. The holy of holies contained the Ark of the Covenant, which God instructed Moses to build to house the Ten Commandments. The Law of God, which no man was capable to keep, was kept behind a curtain only the high priest could enter once a year on the Day of Atonement. In the Book of Leviticus, laws abound as to the particular way God’s people were to live. They undoubtedly knew exactly what the apostles were communicating in the gospels by mere mention of the veil in the temple tearing.
What Should Christians Remember about it Today?
Jesus came so we could live life to the fullest (John 10:10). When He gave up His life on the cross, God tore the curtain in the temple from top to bottom to show us there is nothing we could have done to remove that curtain.
“The breaking of Jesus’ body at the crucifixion is the unprecedented means by which believers have access to the presence of God.” (Professor Daniel M. Gurtner)
The veil of sin in our lives, and the deception of our enemy, does not have to keep us from living a full life anymore. God made a way, through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, for us to come to Him. Believers may approach God boldly as children adopted through Christ. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father accept through Him. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sin. Through Christ, we are ushered into the presence of God.
God’s ancient people followed religious laws for every way of their lives, from personal to societal, even in the way they worshiped God! When the curtain, which represented so much of that, tore in two from top to bottom, it signified a new Way … a new life in Christ for all believers.
“God took our rebellion and he nailed it to the cross,” said John Piper. And as a result, the curtain tore in two. The veil has been removed. We can now live fully free in Christ. But we have to choose to walk with Him. It’s our responsibly to fully receive God’s gift of grace, daily, and take up our own cross to follow Jesus. In Him, our lives are now a living sacrifice, meant to bring glory to God. We will suffer in this life, but we will have all-sustaining joy and peace that surpasses all understanding. Hallelujah … Christ is risen!
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/mbolina
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ as an author, freelance writer, and blogger at Sunny&80. Her first book, “Friends with Everyone,” is available on amazon.com. She earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters. Besides writing, she leads a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. She lives in Northern Ohio with her husband, Jim, and two daughters.
This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!