What was the temple veil? What is the meaning of the temple veil being torn in two when Jesus died?
In the Jewish temple, the veil served as the barrier to the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was said to be where God's presence rested and it housed the Ark of the Covenant. Only the high priest could enter this area, and then only one time per year, to make atonement for the sins of Israel (Exodus 30:10).
First Kings 6:2 records that Solomon's temple was 30 cubits high. This would have been 45 feet tall. The first century Jewish historian Josephus records that Herod extended the temple's height to 40 cubits high, about 60 feet tall. He also records that the veil was four inches thick.
Matthew 27:50-51 says, "And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom." Notice the details: 1) Jesus died, 2) the enormous 45 to 60-foot high, four inch thick curtain was torn in half, and 3) the tear was from top to bottom, clearly indicating the destruction was not man-made, but came from God.
This connection between the death of Jesus and the torn veil is not just about God's power, but is demonstrative of who Jesus is, what the cross accomplished, and the access we have to God through Christ. Hebrews 8:1-2 notes, "Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man." Jesus Himself now serves as our high priest. There is no longer a need for a Jewish high priest to stand before the Lord and make atonement for our sins. Jesus has provided for our atonement through His death on the cross.
In addition, the tearing of the veil also helped to mark the beginning of a new covenant. Hebrews 8:13 states, "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."
A powerful application of this change is described in Hebrews 4:14-16: "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Instead of coming to a priest, we can directly and boldly come before God through Jesus Christ to receive mercy and grace. Jesus meets our needs and even identifies with our weaknesses. The tearing of the veil is profoundly significant and provides a pictorial foundation for how we can approach God today. God has torn down the barrier between Himself and us through the work of Jesus.
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