Author: Ron Graham
The Torn Curtain
—Temple veil torn from top to bottom
One of the signs which accompanied Christ’'s sacrificial death, took place in the inner sanctum of the house of animal sacrifice: "Behold the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:51)
The interior of the temple proper was divided into two holy places. The part nearest the entrance was called the sanctuary or holy place. Here were kept a sacred lampstand, a table for ceremonial bread, and an altar for incense. A second area was called the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place.
This inner room once contained a golden censer for incense and a mysterious box called the ark of the covenant containing souvenirs from the wilderness wanderings: the stone tablets, Aaron's rod which budded, and a golden pot of manna. Upon this ark was placed a mercy seat, a kind of altar, with sculptured winged cherubs of hammered gold at each end.
Only the high priest could venture into this holiest place, and that only once a year with the blood of animal sacrifice for atonement. This Most Holy Place was closed off by an enormous curtain.
There's a description of the temple in Hebrews 9:1-9.
1 The Temple Curtain Torn
The temple of Jesus’s day was new. Solomon’s temple had long ago been destroyed by the Babylonians. It was rebuilt under great stress in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah with the help of Darius king of Medopersia. However it was inferior to Solomon’s temple and the one Ezekiel saw in visions.
Centuries later, about twenty years before Jesus came, work commenced to replace this temple with the magnificent structure still being completed at the time the disciples of Jesus admired it and Jesus ironically but accurately foretold its destruction (Matthew 24:1-2).
Later, at our Lord’s crucifixion, the great curtain veiling the Holiest place1 was torn from top to bottom. "Behold the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:51). The room now visible through the rend in the veil was bare, its irreplacable artifacts lost in antiquity. That made more poignant the rend in the veil.
1Note:— Which Curtain was Torn? Some say that the outer curtain was the one torn because it was the one visible from outside. But the tearing of the curtain indicated that Christ was making a new and living way, a hope that enters behind the veil where Jesus our High Priest has entered (Hebrews 6:17-20). This is the second veil or inner veil (Hebrews 9:3). Jesus has entered into the Holiest Place in the heavenly temple (Hebrews 9:11-15). Only the tearing of the second or inner curtain in the earthly temple would be sufficient to indicate these truths.
Short of letting the earthquake demolish the temple completely then and there, God could not have given the Jews a clearer sign. Christ had opened the way into the Holiest Place; the temple, its priesthood, and its blood sacrifices were now defunct.
The final sin offering had been made. God did not destroy the temple then. He gave the Jews time to make a voluntary end to sacrifice and offering, and to recognise the death of his beloved Son instead as the final sacrifice for sins.
2 The High Priest’s Prophecy
The one man who had been allowed to enter the Holiest Place through the curtain was Caiaphas the high priest. As this temple chief beheld the torn curtain, did he forget that only days ago he himself had spoken under the spirit of prophecy to the Pharisees who were plotting to kill Jesus? "You know nothing, nor do you consider it expedient that one man should die for the people" (John 11:47-53 John 18:14).
Caiaphas himself had later challenged Jesus, "I adjure you by the living God that you tell us if you are Christ the Son of God." When Jesus acknowledged that he was, Caiaphas had yelled "Blasphemy!" (Matthew 26:57,63-66).
When Caiaphas later found the temple's curtain had been torn at the very hour Jesus died upon the cross, why did Caiaphas not reconsider? Why did he not declare an end to the law of Moses and to animal sacrifice?
3 The Day Of Pentecost
Some weeks later another sign attracted the attention of all Jerusalem, at the very time devout Jews from every nation were visiting the city for special services at the temple. On that day, miraculously speaking the various languages of the pilgrims, the apostles proclaimed the gospel of Jesus.
The apostles said that the death of Jesus was according to God's predetermined plan. They proclaimed forgiveness of sins by repentance and baptism into Christ's death. A great many responded, and the first church of Christ, three thousand strong, actually met daily in the temple buildings while the message of Christ’s sacrifice was explained.
Why Christ Died
"With his own blood he entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:12).
"We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Hebrews 10:10).
"For by one offering he has perfected forever those being sanctified." (Hebrews 10:14).