The Curtain Is Torn In Two

This is the time of year that I think most vividly about what Christ has done for us on the cross and I am always drawn to a single passage from Matthew, Mark, and Luke – the Synoptic Gospels: ‘The curtain, or the veil, of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.’

Let’s begin by reading the account in Matt. 27:45-56. Mark’s record of this event is very similar to Matthew’s, so now let’s read the account given in Luke 23:44-48.

I know many of you know the meaning of these familiar verses, but the Lord has led me to remind us all of their importance to our relationship with Him. Jesus, the Messiah for the world, the Passover Lamb of God, has been sacrificed on a cross and the new covenant promised by God has begun. No more would God require animal sacrifices daily and for all the wrongful acts committed against Him. Whenever I read through Leviticus, I am amazed by all the sacrifices that God required and am so grateful that I live in the Messianic Age and I am not required to be obedient to all the requirements set forward then. Let’s start at the last part of these verses and work our way back to the torn veil.

In all the accounts we read that many people were a witness to moment Jesus died and Matthew says that the earth shook, the rocks split, and tombs broke open. It was so startling that the centurion was convinced that this man was truly a god of some kind. Keep in mind, he was a Roman and Romans believed in many gods. Seeing all the events happening during this crucifixion – the darkened sky for three hours, the earth shaking violently, the rocks splitting – it was obvious to him that this is no ordinary man and no ordinary crucifixion. It is not hard to imagine that this leader of a hundred soldiers had witnessed many crucifixions, and this one was unlike any other! Being a pagan, I don’t believe that this moment was a moment of conversion for the centurion. He was not confirming that Jesus was truly the Messiah, the Anointed One of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He just clearly recognized that He was some kind of god and Jesus did say He was the Son of God, so the centurion was agreeing that this man was who He said He was. But he probably added Jesus to his long list of gods to whom he prayed for favor or whatever he needed, for that was the way of the Romans at that time. They definitely believed in gods, but they did not believe in only one god, and they prayed to the long list of gods they in which they believed whenever they needed a god in the hope that one of them would be able to help in his time of need.

The Word also states that others were a witness to all this. Luke tells of ‘beating their breasts and going away’. Mark and Matthew specifically recall the women who knew Jesus so well, including His mother, being there at a distance, and seeing all these things. Perhaps that is why three of the gospels tell this tremendous, moving moment. Try to imagine what it was like! The sky is dark for three hours. Finally, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, the earth shakes violently forcing rocks to split apart and tombs to open. The graves of that day were most often in caves or carved out of rock above ground and were covered by large stones and many of these stones rolled away. This earthquake was surely felt in Jerusalem, too. It was so strong that it was mentioned by Roman writers, who resided clear across the Mediterranean Sea! Have you ever been in an earthquake? I grew up in the San Francisco area and have experienced a few little ones. They are memorable. Big ones are unforgettable!

Now I want you to go with me to the temple. It is 3:00 p.m and the time of prayer and the evening sacrifice in the temple. The priest is in the Holy Place of the temple offering sacrifices, burning incense. At the same time that the earth shakes violently, the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place is torn in two, from top to bottom!

Matt 27:51 says: ‘Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom’; NKJV. ‘Behold’ has the meaning: ‘Turn aside, and see this great sight, and be astonished!’ Just as our Lord Jesus died, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, and upon a solemn day, when priests were officiating in the temple, and would surely be eyewitnesses of it, the veil of the temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn by an invisible power.

Remember, this was the day before the Passover Sabbath was celebrated. There would be no shortage of priests in the temple. But how would the disciples know the curtain was torn in two? And do you remember what the veil was being used to conceal? Let’s turn to Exodus 26:30-35.

The curtain is made of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen with cherubim worked into by a skilled craftsman. What are cherubim? They are winged heavenly beings, angels. The curtain separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. In the Most Holy Place, behind this curtain, was the Ark of the Covenant – the dwelling place of God on earth. So what is the Most Holy Place? It is a type of heaven, for God dwells in heaven.

Let’s go to Leviticus 16:1-10 and read God’s instructions to Moses about this sacred place (read and preach). The instructions continue with elaborate detail. Jump to vs. 11-13. Then 15-17. Then 20-22. Then 29-34.

Are you getting the picture in your mind? Only the high priest is to make atonement and only he is to enter into the Most Holy Place, also called the Holy of Holies. This event takes place only once a year, on the 10th day of the 7th month. What day is this? The day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – in the fall of the year. It is the most solemn day of the year for the Jewish people.

You can see the significance of this curtain – it is huge! Only one priest, the high priest, and only once per year ever pulls this curtain aside and enters the Most Holy Place. And then he must fill the room with the smoke of incense to keep him from seeing the mercy seat, lest he die!

Now come back with me to the time of Christ’s death. It was the duty of the officiating priest, on the evening of the day of preparation, at the hour of the evening prayer, which corresponds with the time of our Lord’s death, to enter into the Holy Place, where he would be between the two curtains. The outer veil separated the Holy Place from the outer court where the people remained and the inner veil separated him from the Most Holy Place. It would then be his business to roll back the outer veil, thus exposing the Holy Place to the people, who would be in the outer court. The inner veil was sixty feet high and eighteen feet wide. While the priests were in the temple and offering evening sacrifices, this huge curtain was torn! Imagine the noise of this heavy yarn and twisted linen curtain tearing from the top to the bottom! It would be as though the very holy hands of God grabbed hold of the top of the curtain and tore it down the middle. Imagine the looks of horror on the faces of the priests! They found themselves looking into the Holy of Holies! Surely they would die, for they were not prepared nor were they worthy to even look upon it. Please keep in mind, the ark of the covenant was not there, because it was never seen again after Solomon’s temple was looted and destroyed by the Babylonians. But this was still the very dwelling place of God. This event would be the ‘talk of the town’! All those who were in the outer court would have heard the noise and perhaps seen the damage when the outer veil was opened.

Do you remember the question? How did the gospel writers know about it? Who in Jerusalem didn’t? So now that you have the picture and the huge significance to the Jewish people of the first century, let’s explore the significance to us today.

At the moment that Jesus breathed His last breath, the temple curtain was torn in two pieces – top to bottom. Not just torn, but torn from top to bottom into to separate and distinct pieces. And by what means? Not by human hands, but by the Spirit of God. What does this mean? The purpose of the curtain was to keep people out of God’s Presence in the Holy of Holies – heaven on earth. Now the barrier between God and His people is torn in two and God is poured out upon His people. We have full, unfettered access to God! This is done by God’s own Hand, not by the hands of pillagers or of wicked, carnal men. God throws open the doors of heaven to all people! The way to heaven is now open to all! This is what Paul means when he says that Christ reconciled us to God.

Consider this comment:
But now, by the one atoning Sacrifice being provided in the precious blood of Jesus, access to this holy God could no longer be denied; and so the moment the ‘Christ’ expired on the cross, the ‘altar of God’, that thick veil, which for so many ages had been the dread symbol of separation between God and guilty men was, without a hand touching it, mysteriously ‘rent in two from top to bottom’: ‘the Holy Spirit thus signifying that the way into the Holiest was now made manifest’! How emphatic the statement ‘from top to bottom’; as if to say, come boldly now to the Throne of Grace, the veil is gone, the mercy seat stands open to the gaze of sinners and the way to it is sprinkled with the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit has offered Himself without spot to God. Before, it was death to go in. Now, it is death to stay out! (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown).

Remember the instructions in Leviticus? The sprinkling of blood was the atonement for sins. Now the blood of God’s own Son has been presented and accepted as atonement for all mankind’s sin. Much of the book of Hebrews is devoted to explaining what this means to us. Let’s go to Hebrews 4:14-16.

The KJV reads: ‘Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace!’ I love that thought and I hope you are now seeing the picture! This is why we so often pray that we come boldly to the throne of grace. God tells us to! In the past covenant, the sins of the high priest and his family and then the sins of the people would be atoned for once per year on the day of Atonement. Now we can go boldly to this throne at any time and receive forgiveness. Anytime!

Now, remember the scapegoat in Leviticus. Please see how the first goat that was sacrificed and its blood sprinkled over the Ark to make atonement for all the sin of the people is a symbol of the Messiah, who, as the Passover Lamb, gave His life and His blood for the sins of the world. The live goat, the scapegoat, then had the sins of the people laid upon it’s head by the high priest’s action of laying his hands on the head of the goat and praying for the sins of the people to be put on the goat. Then, remember, the goat was taken out of the Holy Place and out of the city. It was led by an appointed man who led it out to a solitary place and released it. What is the point?

All that took place in the Holy Place and especially the Holy of Holies was not seen by the people. Since the people could not witness the acts of the high priest in the Holy of Holies, it was ordered for their satisfaction and assurance that the scapegoat, upon whose head their sins were collectively transferred, should be led into the wilderness before them all, never more to be seen so that the removal of their sins might be made visible to their eyes, and they might be convinced that when God forgives, He also forgets. (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown).

All of our sins were placed upon the Head of Jesus as the Messiah, and He was led out of the city to Golgotha. The Word tells in 2 Cor. 5:21 that: ‘God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.’ You see, after His death on the cross, He rose again for our justification, to declare us ‘not guilty’, and by His resurrection gave a public and satisfactory proof that the great purpose of His atoning death was accomplished! (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown).

When God forgives, God forgets! Please turn to Hebrews 10:16-25. This is great news! The NIV says, since we have the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, but I like the phrase ‘having boldness’.

The NLT reads like this: Heb 10:16-25

16 “This is the new covenant I will make
with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts
so they will understand them,
and I will write them on their minds so they will obey them.”
17 Then he adds,
“I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”
18 Now when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.
19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.
21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, 22 let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
23 Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.
25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. NLT

What great advice for all of us! Boldly enter into heaven! Go right into the presence of God. Our evil consciences have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus to make us clean. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. I love that picture – outbursts of love! Spur one another on toward love. Do not neglect our meeting together as some people do. Apparently, even in the first century, some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not!

Are you able to see what the big deal is about the torn curtain? The dramatic tearing of the curtain was the visual evidence to the fact that the world as it was known up to the death of Jesus was now changing in a big, big way. Those who were seeking God and paying attention did not miss it or the great symbolism of the torn curtain. The question is, have you missed it? Do you see it now? The death and resurrection of Jesus completely changed the world and the symbolism is just as meaningful to us now as it was in the first century. We can now run, unfettered, to God with all of our problems, our shortcomings, our guilt, our shame, our anger, our disappointments, our failing to worship, love, and serve God as He would have us, and, as we read in Hebrews 4:16, ‘come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need’.

Is anyone here in a time of need and wanting to obtain mercy and find grace to help? Come boldly to the throne right now! God is present here now and we are going to the communion table to do as Jesus commanded: ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ Let us really remember what Christ the Lord has done for us by His Life, His willing death on the cross, and His resurrection from the grave – He has made us one with God the Father!