The Rent Veil
“And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.” (Luke 23:44-45)
In these two verses before us we have Luke’s very brief account of our Savior’s last three hours of agony upon the cursed tree, the last three hours of torture he endured for us as our Substitute, because he was made sin for us. Let us ever read these inspired narratives with reverence, with hearts broken over sin, and yet rejoicing at the forgiveness of sin obtained at such a price. May God the Holy Spirit sanctify our hearts and minds as we once more attempt to meditate upon our Lord’s sufferings, and seek to know and worship him who suffered all the hell of God’s holy wrath for us.
The Spirit of God here tells us that there was darkness over all the earth for three hours. This was not a natural solar eclipse, but a supernatural one, an eclipse specifically performed by God on this occasion. It was the eclipse that the prophet Amos prophesied. — “It shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos 8:9).
The darkness lasted for three hours. Men in other parts of the world, who had no idea what was going on in Jerusalem, spoke of it. A man named Dionysius, living in Egypt at the time, said, “Either the Divine Being suffers, or suffers with him that suffers, or the frame of the world is dissolving.” Apparently, this eclipse was a complete eclipse of the sun engulfing the entire world with darkness at one time! For three hours, from high noon until three o’clock, the sun refused to shine. Thus the Lord God gives a vivid, symbolic display of four things.
1. The Heinousness of the Crime Being Committed — Though our Savior died and was slaughtered by the hands of wicked men exactly according to the purpose, will, and decree of God almighty for the salvation of his elect, God’s decree did not in any way excuse their sin in crucifying him (Acts 2:22-23).
2. The Blackness, Darkness, and Blindness of Men’s Hearts By Nature — No impression was made upon these men, though God performed miracles unheard of, before or since, all around them. The fact is man’s heart by nature is so blind that no acts of providence, either in goodness or in judgment, can be seen by him, unless God takes the scales off his eyes.
3. The Emptiness and Darkness of Christless Religion — Judaism had become mere ritualism. As such, it was altogether darkness. Religion without Christ, without life, without faith is darkness, no matter how orthodox it appears!
4. The Darkness that Passed Upon and Engulfed Our Savior’s Holy Soul When He was Made Sin For Us — Matthew tells us, at “about the ninth hour,” about three o’clock in the afternoon, which was about the time of the slaying and offering of the evening sacrifice, which was an eminent type of Christ, “Jesus cried with a loud voice.” He cried out as one in great distress, having been silent during the three hours darkness, patiently bearing all his soul’s sufferings, under a sense of divine wrath, the hiding of his Father’s face, and his conflicts with the powers of darkness; but now, in the anguish of his soul, he breaks out with a cry that pierces the darkness, “saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Here our Savior speaks as a man, the man chosen, made, ordained, and anointed by God with the oil of gladness above his fellows. As a man, our Lord was upheld and strengthened by the Father, just as we are. As a man, he trusted God, loved him, and prayed to him, just as we do; only he did so perfectly, without sin. Though now the Father hid his face from him, still he expresses strong faith in him and love for him.
When he is said to be, “forsaken” of God, the meaning is not that he was separated from the love of God or did not know the reason for his abandonment. Our Surety now stood in our place bearing our sins. He, therefore, had to endure abandonment by God the Father to satisfy justice.
This cry, “My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” expresses the very soul of his sufferings as our Substitute. Indeed, all the wailings and howlings of the damned in hell to all eternity will fall infinitely short of expressing the evil and bitterness of sin. But here we see how vile a thing sin is. When God found our sin upon his darling Son, he forsook him in wrath! Whenever we read these words, “My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?”, hear them, or think about them, we ought to immediately realize that we have been ransomed by an indescribably great price, that the Lord our God is infinitely holy and just, that he must and will punish all sin, and that the Lord God almighty loves his people with an infinite, indescribable, everlasting love! And we should be convinced by our Savior’s cry, from his deep agony of soul, that God’s elect shall never be forsaken, neither in this world nor in the world to come!
The Veil Rent
After that, the Lord Jesus cried again, with a loud voice, and “yielded up the ghost.” Our Lord’s strength was not abated. His last word was not the gasping breath of a failing life, but the triumphant shout of a conquering King. The Son of God voluntarily laid down his life for his sheep. He did not lose his spirit; he dismissed it. His work was finished. His mission was complete. Therefore, he laid down his life for his people, voluntarily, as our Surety, suffering vicariously as our Substitute. And he did so triumphantly, conquering sin, death, Satan, and hell for us.
Then, we read, “and the veil in the temple was rent.” Matthew is more detailed and more graphic in his account. He wrote, “And, behold, the veil in the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Matthew 27:51). The typical, symbolic veil was rent. And, at the same instant, the true veil was rent. What is the meaning of this rent veil? Why was it rent?
Try to picture what was happening in Jerusalem. Just a short distance from Mt. Calvary stood Mt. Moriah and the Jews’ temple. It is at the hour of the evening sacrifice. The sun has been darkened by the hand of God for three hours. Thousands were gathered in Jerusalem for the passover. Many were still at Calvary. Others had made their way to the temple. The priest in all his gorgeous robes is going through the now empty rituals of the Jews’ Passover. As he meanders around in the holy place, suddenly, the veil of the temple, separating the holy place from the most holy place, was ripped apart before his eyes, ripped from top to bottom, as if God himself had taken it in his hands and ripped it.
Can you imagine the shock of that pretentious priest? Can you imagine the shock of the people as they looked within the holy of holies? It was, except for the priest, utterly empty! The ark of the covenant was not there. The mercy-seat was not there. Though the temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity, the ark of the covenant and the mercy-seat were never recovered and never brought into Solomon’s temple.
“There were five things in Solomon's temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, which were not in the second temple, which was erected after the Babylonish captivity. Five memorials or tokens of God's special presence were there wanting. One was the ark of the covenant; another, the fire from heaven upon the bronze altar; the third, the Shechinah, or cloud that rested upon the mercy-seat; the fourth, the Urim and Thummin which were in the breast-plate of the high-priest; and the fifth, the spirit of prophecy. For though there were the prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, at the time of, and shortly after, the restoration; yet the spirit of prophecy ceased with Malachi, and did not reappear until John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord Jesus.” (J. C. Philpot)
For centuries, the Jewish priests faked keeping the passover! We can only imagine the criminally selfish motives behind their actions. But now their empty, sham religion was exposed to all.
Suddenly, as though the sky opened, we are lifted up and carried from the earth into heaven, from the carnal into the spiritual, from mortality into immortality, of which it is written by John when he was in the Spirit, — “I saw no temple therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” — In that Temple all is full!
We have no need of a physical temple, for we are the temple of God. Seated now in the holy place with Christ, we understand and see clearly that Christ is all. Everything in the carnal, earthly, material temple spoke of him. Christ is our Priest and our Altar. He is the Lamb of God, our sacrificed Passover, and our Mercy-seat. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Shekinah-glory, the brightness of the glory of the triune God. Let us now turn aside, as Moses did at the bush, and see this great sight. What does it mean?
1. The veil was rent, not consumed by fire. — Had it been consumed with fire, we might miss the meaning of the picture. Our Lord by his death did not destroy the way of access to God. He opened it. Now, we go through the rent veil by his blood into the holiest. The new and living way, by which we come to God, is paved with gold and sprinkled with blood.
2. The veil was rent while the temple was still standing in Jerusalem. — Had the earthquake, that rent the rocks and opened graves, struck down the temple or shattered its walls, men might have said that it was the earthquake that rent the veil. But now it is made clear to all that no natural convulsion of the earth threw the veil open, making the holy of holies as accessible as the outer court, which all might enter, and where all might worship.
3. The veil was rent in twain. — It did not fall to pieces, and was not torn to shreds. The rent was clean and straight, made by the invisible hand of the invisible God. Perhaps this exact division into two parts symbolized the separation of Christ’s soul from his body in death. Perhaps it symbolized the throwing open of the great door between earth and heaven, as John saw in his vision, indicating the complete reconciliation of the fellowship between God and his people by the blood of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Revelation 4:1-2).
4. The veil was rent from the top to the bottom. — It was not rent from side to side, or from the bottom to the top, which might have suggested that it was simply worn out from usage. It was rent from the top to the bottom, showing that the power which rent it was from above, not from beneath. The rending of the veil was not of man, but of God. It was man that crucified the Lord of Glory, but “it pleased the Lord to bruise him; He hath put him to grief.” Beginning with the roof and ending with the floor, the rent was complete; for God in heaven had done it. From the roof to floor, there remained not one fragment of the old veil. So from heaven to earth, from the throne of God, down to the dwelling of man, there is not one remnant, not one particle of a barrier between redeemed sinners and the God of Glory. He who “openeth and no man shutteth” has, with his own hand, and in his own boundless mercy, love, and grace, thrown open to the chief of sinners the throne of grace, and bids us come in and draw near (Hebrews 4:16).
The rent veil declares that Christ is the end of the law. He finished and fulfilled it. He satisfied and completed it. Now, we have free and open access to the throne of God. The rending of the veil was done, as if the temple itself mourned for and testified abhorrence at the crucifixion of Christ. The temple rent, as it were, its garments at the death of its Lord. The veil was rent to show that the Lord, who had taken up his residence in the most holy place between the cherubim, over the mercy-seat in thick darkness, had now moved out and left the house desolate. The rending of the veil signified the rending of Christ’s flesh, the breaking of his body for us, which was typified by the veil (Hebrews 10:20). The veil was rent to signify the clear, full revelation of God and his saving grace proclaimed in the Gospel, proclaiming the way into the holiest of all, into heaven itself, where Christ is, who entered by his own blood, as our Forerunner (Hebrews 10:9-22).
5. The veil was rent in the presence of the Jewish priests. — They were in the holy place, outside the veil, of course, officiating, lighting the lamps, or placing incense on the golden altar, or arranging the showbread on the golden table. When they saw the solemn rending of the veil, they must have been terrified. I can picture them covering their eyes lest they should see the hidden glories of that holy chamber they were forbidden to enter. Perhaps Isaiah’s words rang in their ears, — “Woe is me, for I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
6. The veil was rent before their eyes to declare that Christ, our Passover, the true Passover, has opened the way for man to come to God. — It is as though the Lord God himself declared, “It is okay for you to come in. It is no longer profanity for you to handle the holy things of the sanctuary, to gaze upon the sacrificial blood, approach the Mercy-Seat and sit down in the presence of the glory of God.” Truly, the safest and the most blessed place for our needy souls is the Mercy-Seat, Christ Jesus. He bids us come into the holy place and handle him (1 John 1:1-2:1-2).
7. The veil was rent at the time of the evening sacrifice. — About three o’clock in the afternoon, as the sun began to set, the lamb was slain and laid upon the brazen altar. Just at the moment when its blood was shed, and the smoke arose from the fire that was consuming it, the veil was rent in twain. There was an unseen link between the altar and the veil, between the sacrifice and the rending, between the blood-shedding and the removal of the barrier. It was blood that had done the work. It was blood that had rent the veil and thrown open the door of access to God, the blood of “the Lamb, without blemish, and without spot.”
8. The veil was rent precisely at the moment when the Son of God died on the cross. — His death did it! His death opened God’s heaven for our souls. His death opened for us the way of life and brought us into life. It was from the cross that the power emanated which rent the veil. From that place of weakness and shame and agony came forth the omnipotent command, — “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors.” Our Savior’s triumphant cry, “It is finished”, upon Golgotha, was the appointed signal; and the instantaneous response was the rending of the veil. The pierced hands of our accepted Sacrifice rent the veil separating God and man. It was the cross of Christ that rent the veil and opened the new and living way into the holiest of all.
9. When the veil was rent, the cherubim embroidered on it were rent with it. — Those cherubim symbolized the Church of God’s elect. Being embroidered into the veil, we see a picture of our identification with Christ in his death. We were nailed with him to the cross. We were crucified with him. With him, we died, and were buried, and rose again. In that rent veil we have the temple-symbol of the apostle’s doctrine concerning our union and oneness with Christ in life and death. — “I am crucified with Christ.” — “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”
10. The rent veil declares that all the law is fulfilled, satisfied, and ended. — “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.” — “There is therefore, now, no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”
The broken body and shed blood of our Lord Jesus opened the sinner’s way into the holiest. These were the tokens of grace and of righteousness. The rending of the veil was not merely an act of God’s power. And it was not merely an act of his grace. Righteousness had done it. Righteousness had rolled away the stone. Righteousness had burst the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron. The barrier of separation has been righteously removed. We have a righteous as well as a gracious entrance into the holy place. God gives sinners a righteous as well as a gracious welcome at his throne!
That which the blood of bulls and goats could never do, Christ has done with his own precious blood! Thank God forever; his is better blood! It knocks but once, and the gate flies open. As soon as the blood touches the sword of fire, it is quenched. Not a moment is lost. The fulness of the time has come. God has unbarred the door! He has thrown open his Mercy-Seat to poor, needy sinners, and rushes to receive his banished ones!
The veil, then, has been rent in twain from the top to the bottom by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The way is open. The blood is sprinkled. The Mercy-Seat is accessible. And the voice of our Great High Priest, seated on that Mercy-Seat, bids us enter in, and to enter in boldly, without fear. — “Having, therefore, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, and having an High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in the full assurance of faith.”
Let us therefore enter in and find the mercy and grace we need in him. Entering in is our only security and our only joy. The only way we can enter in by Christ the Way is in the confident boldness of “the full assurance of faith,” trusting him alone as our all-sufficient, gloriously effectual Savior. Not to come with such boldness is unbelief. Not to come in the full assurance of faith is presumption. To draw near with an “evil conscience” is to declare our belief that the blood of the Lamb is not of itself enough to give the sinner a good conscience and a fearless access to the throne of grace.
Do you ask, “May I draw near, just as I am, by the blood of Christ?” Yes, you may! How else could you come? If ever you see the blood upon the Mercy-Seat, that will give you the boldness and full assurance of faith by which you may enter in. Do you see it? Has God the Holy Spirit given you eyes to see? Then come boldly in the full assurance of faith. The Triune God looks on the blood, and says, “Welcome”. The Mercy-Seat is the place of pardon. No sinner who enters into the holy place, no sinner who comes to the throne of grace by the precious blood of Christ can ever be extracted from it.
The rent veil is liberty of access. The sprinkled blood is boldness, boldness for needy sinners. The rent veil has a voice. The blood is the voice. It speaks pardon, peace, salvation, and eternal life to sinners. “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart!” Make haste and enter in!
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