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The Veil Was Torn

The veil was torn from top to bottom when jesus died on the cross, God's love
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A most somber moment in the Easter crucifixion narrative from the Bible is when Jesus cried out with a loud voice from His cross, He died, and at the same time the thick veil covering the sacred entrance to the most sacred Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51). That tear – from top to bottom – is usually attributed to God Himself, for a mere mortal would have torn it from the bottom to the top, had anyone been strong enough to do so. What a beautiful picture of God’s love for us.

Good point.

Why was the Veil Torn from Top to Bottom?

But when that veil was torn when Jesus died and the Holy of Holies was exposed, what would someone have seen inside there? What was in the Holy of Holies?

From the time of Moses and the first portable Tabernacle in the Sinai wilderness, the Holy of Holies was the resting place for the Ark of the Covenant and the very glory of God. Within that Ark were stored the stone tablets upon which God Himself inscribed the Ten Commandments, along with Aaron’s miraculous budding rod used during the Exodus and a sample of the miraculous manna that fell from the heavens to feed the wandering Hebrews in the wilderness (Hebrews 9:4).

When King Solomon completed the first Temple in Jerusalem, the Ark and its contents were transferred from the portable Tabernacle to the Holy of Holies in that permanent Temple.

Hundreds of years later when Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar lay siege against Jerusalem and then razed it and Solomon’s Temple (586 B.C.), many priceless Temple utensils and adornments were removed by him and taken back to Babylon. There they remained until in 538 B.C. Cyrus the Great – the conquering Persian king – decreed that the Jews could return to their homeland from captivity and rebuild the Temple, taking with them all the treasures that Nebuchadnezzar had absconded decades before. Under Ezra and later Haggai and Zechariah, the second Temple was finally completed in 516 B.C.

But what was in the Holy of Holies at that point?

That second Temple was but a shadow of Solomon’s Temple, until Herod the Great began an extravagant expansion and renovation of it in 19 B.C., hoping to appease the Jewish population with its grandeur. It was that grand Temple that Jesus visited with His parents as a boy and where He walked and taught during His ministry. Historians note that significant portions of the Temple were overlaid with enormous amounts of gold, and even those areas that were not gold-plated were nonetheless dazzling. From whatever direction one entered that Temple, the double entry gates through which they would pass were covered with gleaming, glorious gold and silver.

But what was in the Holy of Holies of that grand, gleaming Temple where Jesus walked?

Nothing.

It was empty.

Rabbinic sources tell us that the rebuilt second Temple – what became Herod’s Temple – lacked five vital elements compared to Solomon’s Temple: the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred fire, the Shekinah Glory of God, the Holy Spirit, and the Urim and Thummim (used for decision making). A bare stone slab, called the “Foundation Stone,” was there in the Holy of Holies, but the Ark of the Covenant that should have been laid on it was absent. One historian says that the Holy Place in Herod’s Temple “lay dark, empty and silent behind the double curtain.”

If there was any lingering doubt or hope about where God was during Jesus’ death on the cross, it was clarified once and for all when that heavy Temple veil was ripped open exposing an empty Holy of Holies. God wasn’t there, and indeed He had not been there for several hundred years, despite all hopes of the return of His glory once more. The veil was torn.

No, God was not hidden behind a curtain. He was nailed to a merciless cross that was planted on an ignominious, stony hill. He was fully exposed to the elements and the jeers of His enemies. He was fully exposed to death.

Jesus was hidden when darkness covered the cross for three hours as He bore the punishment for the sins of the world. Then His lifeless body was hidden for a while in a borrowed tomb.

But even then on the third day after His death, He was hidden no longer. His friends and the twelve disciples and “more than 500 brethren” saw Him not just alive, but invigorated with the power of God, because He was God.

The Holy of Holies was empty, as was the cross and the grave that failed to destroy Him.

God was not there. He was risen from the dead.

And one day – perhaps soon – God Himself will rend the veil of history, to reveal not an empty hope, but a mighty, returning King of Glory. He will be “not there” because He will be finally, forever here.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors, 
That the King of glory may come in.
Psalm 24:7

Perry C. Brown

Perry is on staff with the worldwide radio ministry “Truth For Life with Alistair Begg” (truthforlife.org). He’s taught the Bible for 40 years, and his books are available at the Amazon link below.

Books by Perry C. Brown

© 2024 by Perry C. Brown. Used by permission.
All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.

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The Prayer of Salvation

Jesus, I don't know You, and I don't know what Your plan is for me. But thank you for coming to die in my place. I'm sorry for anything I've ever done wrong in my life. I don't understand how You could ever forgive me, but if You really would, I would like to accept your free gift of grace and complete forgiveness. Please come into my life and take control, and help me trust You. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

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