Daniel M. Gurtner , PhD, serves together the Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of brand-new Testament interpretation at the southerly Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the writer of numerous books, including The torn Veil: Matthew’s Exposition of the death of Jesus.

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Daniel M. Gurtner , PhD, serves together the Ernest and also Mildred Hogan Professor of brand-new Testament interpretation at the southerly Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous books, including The torn Veil: Matthew’s Exposition of the death of Jesus.

ABSTRACT: The Gospel writers tell us that, straight after the death of Jesus, the veil that the holy place was take it in two, from optimal to bottom. The meaning of the veil’s tearing is wrapped increase in that is old-covenant role to different the Israelites from the direct presence that God. Matthew in particular narrates the tearing the the veil in a way that expose its epoch-turning significance. Since Jesus has died on the cross, the entrances to God’s presence are open, and also the age of the new covenant has dawned.

We inquiry Dan Gurtner, professor of brand-new Testament interpretation at the southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to define the an interpretation of the tearing that the veil because that our series of feature write-ups by scholars because that pastors, leaders, and also teachers. You deserve to download and print a PDF that the article.

And behold, the veil of the temple was take it in 2 from optimal to bottom. (Matthew 27:51 NASB)

From the Bible, we understand that the death of Jesus is a glorious truth, foundational to our Christian faith. It sponsor us tranquility with God (Romans 5:1), redemption and also the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:14). However how walk the holy bible express the meaning of Jesus’s death in narratives, prefer the Gospels? This is specifically what we discover at the crucifixion of Jesus and the tearing that the holy place curtain (or veil) instantly after his death. Despite the tearing that the veil is described in all 3 Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 27:51; note 15:38; Luke 23:45), none of them stops to define it. Presumably, they believed the event was clear enough to their initial readers. But what room we to do of it?

To complicate matters, the account in the Gospel the Matthew recounts a hold of extraordinary events that puzzle us today. However in castle the apostle Matthew, ever before with his mind steeped in Israel’s spiritual Scriptures, helps us to know the significance of the historic realities roughly Jesus’s death. And all this wake up on an excellent Friday, wherein we see the quality of God in Christ on display screen in anticipation the Easter Sunday.

What Veil Is Matthew talking About?

It might seem strange to readers the Matthew refers just to “the” veil that the temple, without any kind of explanation as to which that the many hangings, curtains, and veils in the Old testimony tabernacle and subsequent holy place he had in mind. Interpreters must simply presume that Matthew would have actually expected his readers to recognize what that meant. Due to the fact that Matthew makes such constant appeals to the Old testament (Matthew 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 5:17; etc.), presuming it to be critical authority for his readers, that is come the Old testimony we should look.

The word because that veil provided by Matthew (katapetasma) is a technological term that, in the Greek version of the Old testament (Septuagint), is offered for three different hangings in the tabernacle and temple. Yet the syntax the Matthew’s declare “veil of the temple” (Matthew 27:51 NASB) says only one hanging have the right to be in view: the within veil prior to the divine of holies. This veil, described very first and most completely in descriptions of the tabernacle, to be made of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and carefully twisted linen, through cherubim worked into the by a skilled craftsman (Exodus 26:31; 36:35). It was to it is in hung prior to the holy of holies, which was a perfect cube the ten cubits per side. The veil to be hung by yellow hooks on one acacia-wood frame, i beg your pardon itself was overlaid v gold (Exodus 26:32–33), and the ark that the agreement was kept behind the veil (Exodus 26:33).

Generally, this veil served to different the holy place indigenous the divine of holies (Exodus 26:33) and shielded the atonement slate1 that the ark (Exodus 26:34). The veil was likewise used to cover the ark of the testimony while in move (Numbers 4:5). Sin offerings were made versus the veil (Leviticus 4:6, 17), and entry behind it to be permitted just for a ritually pure priest, Aaron or a descendent, that would enter behind the curtain top top the job of Atonement (Leviticus 16:2, 12, 15). In Solomon’s temple, patterned after the tabernacle, there was a veil “of blue, purple and also crimson yarn and fine linen, v cherubim operated into it” (2 Chronicles 3:14 NIV).

The veil was close to the an extremely center of the tabernacle, saying a location of holiness the is also reflected in the top quality of that is construction. Similar to the various other hangings in the tabernacle, the veil was made the “finely twisted linen” (Exodus 26:31 NIV), a fine grade the linen. The curtains were violet — or, as some suggest, blue-purple or a darker purple compared to the lighter purple. This shade was occasionally thought to it is in the color of the sky,2 i beg your pardon may assist account for its association v the heavenly firmament (Genesis 1:6) in later on Judaism. This color, which required twelve thousands murex snails to yield only 1.4 grams the pure dye, was known for its association v both divinity and also royalty in the old Near East, i beg your pardon lends itself to the id that Yahweh was both the sacred divine being and the King enthroned in the middle of Israel in ~ the tabernacle.

The usage of imperial colors and materials need to come as no surprise, as the tabernacle in general and also the angelic wings over the veil in specific are regularly thought to stand for the kingly existence of Yahweh amongst his people. This is shown by the description of Yahweh’s visibility with Israel as being “enthroned in between the cherubim” (1 Samuel 4:4 NIV; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 majesties 19:15; 1 Chronicles 13:6; Psalm 80:1; 99:1; Isaiah 37:16), which, once coupled v a reference to oh my god enthronement “in heaven” (Psalm 2:4 NIV), might support the id that the divine of holies was thought to be a replica that heaven.

What walk the Veil Do?

Integral come interpreting the tearing that the veil is part explanation that its purpose and function. Surprisingly, couple of interpreters look explicitly to the Old testimony to resolve this issue. However we uncover some information around the veil that is imperative because that interpreting the meaning of that tearing at the death of Jesus.

As we have seen, the distinctive workmanship compelled for the veil is directly related come the visibility of cherubim top top the veil. These figures symbolized the presence of Yahweh and also were woven of upstream quality, “the occupational of a sent workman” (Exodus 26:31 NASB). In biblical tradition, cherubim offered a guardian function from their first appearance in canonical texts, whereby they guarded “the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24 NASB). They were sculpted on walls approximately Solomon’s temple and Ezekiel’s visionary holy places (e.g., Ezekiel 10:1–20; 11:22; 41:18–25).

Elsewhere, the cherubim are current at male meeting with God (e.g., Exodus 25:22; number 7:89), and they room the winged throne top top which God sit or mounts to fly (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalm 18:10). Yahweh instructs Moses to do “two cherubim the end of hammered gold” (Exodus 25:18 NIV), with wings spread upward and also overshadowing the atonement slate. They were to be arranged in together a manner regarding face each various other (Exodus 25:20; cf. Hebrews 9:5), whereby they to be guardians that the atonement slate native which the divine Glory would speak to Israel (Exodus 25:1–22). Probably the cherubim top top the veil, then, an in similar way served to guard the means to the sanctuary that God within the divine of holies, as their presence argues the visibility of Yahweh enthroned amongst his people.

The veil’s primary duty was to separate the holy place native the holy of holies (Exodus 26:33). This separation is at the love of the entire priestly password of the sacrificial mechanism (e.g., Leviticus 11:1–45): to different (badal) between the unclean and also the clean. Likewise, in Ezekiel’s vision that the temple, over there is to be separation that “the holy and also the profane” (Ezekiel 42:20 NASB; cf. Ezekiel 22:26; 44:23). The veil, then, to be a physical barrier that both represented and enforced the separation native the divine presence that the enthroned Yahweh within from Aaron and his young — the violation that which brought death (Numbers 18:7; cf. Leviticus 16:2).

Exception for entering the divine of holies to be made just in the paper definition of the day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:11–28), as soon as the high priest would take the providing behind the veil as a sin or purification giving (Leviticus 16:11). Here the blood to be taken right into the divine of holies and sprinkled on the atonement slate that the ark (Leviticus 16:14). On the job of Atonement, Aaron was to usage the blood the the sin providing to purify and consecrate the altar (Leviticus 16:19). Yet the guy entering have to be the high priest and may not get in “whenever that chooses,” states the Lord, “for i will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover” (Leviticus 16:2 NIV; number 7:89).

Even top top the day of Atonement, once the high monk was allowed physical access to God in ~ the holy of holies, the atonement slate was surprise from vision by the cloud, in this method saving the high priest from death (Leviticus 16:12–13). The is, the physics restriction was expanded to the visual (e.g., Exodus 35:12; cf. 39:20b ). Even while in transit, the veil was supplied to conceal the ark indigenous sight, together it was the most sacred object of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:10–22), wherein the lord spoke come Moses. Looking ~ above the holy things, even by a high priest and also even because that a moment, incurred fatality (Leviticus 16:13; cf. 1 Samuel 6:19–20). Thus it appears the veil offered as a physical and visual barrier, protecting the priest from the lethal existence of the enthroned Lord and reinforcing the separation between God and also humankind.

The prohibitive duty of the veil — conveyed implicitly and also explicitly in the Old testament — underscores the restrictions put upon Israelite worship based on the holiness that God. This is important because worshipers in the old agreement were limited in their access to God in the temple, and also could technique him just through sacrifice and also prayer, and not at any kind of time lock chose. Just a high priest that was ritually pure and also without defect could method Yahweh there is no being placed to death. The severity the this punishment primarily pertained to the holiness of God himself and also the sanctity the objects directly related come worshiping him (cf. Exodus 33:19–23). Even Moses to be forbidden to watch the face of the Lord, “because man may not see my face and also yet live” (Exodus 33:20 author’s translation).

The Veil in Jesus’s Day

There were a few legends about the veil that the holy place in the work of Jesus. One native the Dead Sea Scrolls explains angelic worship in the heavenly sanctuary, wherein animated cherubim, embroidered in the curtain, song praises come God.3 some rabbis, writing lengthy after the temple was destroyed by Rome in ad 70, depict the veil as symbolic that the heavenly firmaments (cf. Genesis 1:6). In this way, the veil was a barrier between heaven and earth, behind which magnificent secrets were kept, recognized only come God.4 The Jerusalem temple during the days of Jesus had actually been substantially renovated through Herod the an excellent (rule 37–4 BC).5 The historian Josephus, himself a priest, defines the structure, including the veil, in part detail.6 He says it to be made of “Babylonian tapestry,” scarlet and purple, clearly depicting royalty. The “marvelous skill” with which it to be made was rich in symbolism that portrayed the facets of the universe. Embroidered into the veil to be “a panorama the the heavens,”7 definition it resembled the heavens, most likely the heavenly firmaments (Genesis 1:6) or the sky.8

The Veil in Matthew’s Narrative

Matthew’s account that the fatality of Jesus (Matthew 27:50–54), which most scholars presume expands on the parallel account in mark (Mark 15:38–39), includes some distinctive features throughout in the instant context (Matthew 27:35–54). We should constantly recall, however, that all of these functions are automatically relevant come the major subject matter of the passage — the fatality of Jesus. The i is replete through irony: that is mocked with a sign indicating the he is “King that the Jews,” however in fact he yes, really is! that is cajoled to save himself and also come down off the cross, “if you room the son of God” (Matthew 27:40) — the precise language provided by the devil in the temptation (Matthew 4:1–11) — and also yet his saving activity is completed for others, no himself, by staying on the overcome (cf. Matthew 27:42). Once he cries out in a loud voice (Matthew 27:46), his quote native Psalm 22:1 (Hebrew Eli, Eli) is confused by the bystanders through Elijah — that has currently come in the person of man the Baptist (Matthew 11:14).

At his death, “Jesus cried the end again v a according to voice and also yielded up his spirit” (Matthew 27:50). Ideal afterward, Matthew writes, “and behold!” and instantly the leader is transported from Golgotha ~ above Friday (cf. Matthew 27:33) come the temple veil in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:51a), climate (presumably) to the mountain of Olives (Matthew 27:51b–53a), then right into “the divine city” (Jerusalem) on Sunday (note “after his resurrection,” Matthew 27:53), and also only then back to the step at the cross (Matthew 27:54). What has actually prompted Matthew to take his readers on together a whirlwind, and also what are we to do of it? The events — consisting of the tearing that the veil and also all the other occurrences in Matthew 27:51–53 — are just as historical as the death and resurrection of Jesus itself. Yet Matthew’s presentation that these events is done as commentary — historic commentary, of course — ~ above the definition of the fatality of Jesus. In other words, the fatality of Jesus is so profoundly far-ranging that it has actually triggered the following events, which define to some degree the meaning of Jesus’s death.

Paradise Reopened

But before we look at what these events indicate about the definition of Jesus’s death, our next step is to study what Matthew has actually already said about it. To Matthew, Jesus’s fatality is both important (Matthew 16:21) and expected (cf. Matthew 16:17; 17:22–23), albeit short-term (Matthew 17:9)! His death, prefer John’s, is the of an chaste prophet inaugurating the restoration of “all things” (Matthew 17:11–12; cf. 3:1–15). Significantly, Jesus’s death is a “ransom” for countless (Matthew 20:28) — a payment available to rescue another, perhaps obtained from the sacrificial language of the Old Testament. Matthew is explicit that Jesus’s fatality is because that the function of the forgiveness of guilty (Matthew 26:28). That is by his fatality on the overcome — as a ransom the achieves the forgiveness of guilty — the Jesus perfect his mission to conserve his human being from your sins (Matthew 1:21). Having seen what Matthew has actually already said around the death of Jesus, we have the right to now look at what else the says about it in the tearing that the veil and also the occurring narrative.

Matthew’s countless uses that “and behold” (Matthew 27:51) frequently introduce something how amazing in the stare (e.g., Matthew 2:13; 3:16–17; 17:5; 28:20). The passive-voice construction “the curtain the the temple was torn” (Matthew 27:51) suggests that God self tore the veil. This is shown by summary of the damage: “from height to bottom.” Note additionally the extent: “in two.” This singular cultic artefact is currently irreparably damaged — it can no much longer perform the duty for i m sorry it to be intended. This method that over there is no longer a physical barrier to God, saying that the theological requirement of that is in order to removed. The angelic guardians are disarmed, and reentry into the Edenic existence of God is again permitted for the first time because the fall.

The an important element here is this: all this is completed by the death of Jesus, a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), who blood perfect the forgiveness the sins and establishes the new covenant (Matthew 26:28). However Matthew insists the it is just the “pure in heart” that will watch God (Matthew 5:8; cf. Psalm 24:4). So Matthew seems to suggest what writers choose Paul do explicit: the death of Jesus perfect the forgiveness of sins and also establishes the (imputed) righteousness of the believer (e.g., Philippians 3:9). (Remember the the Gospels were composed for Christians that were already converted and also knew miscellaneous of the gospel message; cf. Luke 1:1–4.)

The turning of the Ages

But there is more! Matthew provides extr explanations come his readers than note does in his simple statement about the take it veil and the centurion’s statement (Mark 15:38–39), every one of which teach something around the significance of Jesus’s death. “And the earth shook” (Matthew 27:51b). Earthquakes were generally present in theophanic scenes (see Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18), but here Matthew color etc at least in component from Ezekiel 37 (recall the sink of dry bones), where an earthquake (Ezekiel 37:7) precedes the opening of graves and the resurrection of human being who return to the soil of Israel (Ezekiel 37:12–13). In Matthew’s context, the earthquake indicates a dramatic manifestation of God at a climactic occasion in his redemptive-historical plan. So violent was the earthquake that Matthew add to “and the rocks to be split,” demonstrating the strength of God (Nahum 1:5–6; 1 monarchs 19:11; Psalm 114:7; Isaiah 48:21). Right here the likely allusion is to Zechariah 14:4–5, whereby the lord himself will certainly come and split the mountain of Olives.

Matthew’s statement that “the tombs were opened” (Matthew 27:52a NASB) recalls Ezekiel 37:12–13, wherein the Lord states through the prophet, “Behold, i will open up your graves and also raise girlfriend from your graves, O mine people. . . . And you shall know that i am the Lord, once I open your graves, and also raise you from her graves, O my people.” The increasing of the dead saints, then, is a declare statement about God making known his identity, i m sorry in Matthew is through Jesus together Immanuel (“God through us,” Matthew 1:23). Those who room to be elevated in Ezekiel 37 room the righteous believers that have died prior come the coming of Christ (cf. Zechariah 14:4–5; Daniel 12:2), despite Matthew seems less pertained to with identify these people than he is with illustrating their resurrection motivated by the death of Jesus.

Furthermore, their coming the end of their tombs (Matthew 27:53a) is directly from the prophecy that Ezekiel 37:12. Yet Matthew adds a statement about timing, “after his resurrection” (Matthew 27:53b), presumably in acknowledgment that Jesus to be the first to be increased from the dead (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20–23; Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5). When Matthew says, “they got in the divine city” (Matthew 27:53c), he shows Jerusalem (cf. Matthew 4:5–6), wherein they “appeared to many” (Matthew 27:53d), look at to indicate eyewitnesses to the event.

These distinct images room all drawn from assorted prophetic texts — such as Ezekiel 37:1–14, Daniel 12, and Zechariah 14 — to indicate things the will happen in the future together depictions that salvation, regularly with the notion of deliverance and restoration native exile. The deliverance here, though, is that a various kind: the occasions anticipated in the future have arisen at the fatality of Jesus. And Jesus walk not involved save his people from exile, but from your sins (Matthew 1:21), a mission tied increase in his really name which, in Hebrew, is the exact same as Joshua and method “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” In Jesus, the salvation of Yahweh has actually been accomplished, and also the so-called “special material” is a dramatic illustration that the long-awaited turning of the eras — the hinge-point where redemptive history turns native the old covenant to the brand-new covenant — is completed here, at this really point in every history.

Notice the while note mentions just the centurion in ~ the cross, Matthew draws fist to the plurality the witnesses: “When the centurion and those that were through him, maintaining watch over Jesus . . .” (Matthew 27:54). Matthew then defines that they “saw the earthquake and also what took place.” despite this may incorporate the tearing of the veil, the much more natural analysis of this verse would certainly be that they saw the earthquake and all the other occasions thereafter. Together “events” (ta genomena) in Matthew typically occur in the life the Jesus in fulfillment of Scripture and to accumulate a response, such together repentance (e.g., Matthew 1:22; 11:21, 23; 18:31; 28:11). Yet how might a centurion at Golgotha top top Friday see events that arisen on the mount of Olives and then in Jerusalem top top Sunday? It might be the Matthew is just telescoping. That is, Matthew note the earthquake, the rocks splitting, the tombs opening, and the dead increasing — and, parenthetically, that notes the these resurrected people showed up to numerous in Jerusalem after ~ Jesus’s resurrection ~ above Sunday. Suffice it to say that Matthew took no pains come clarify, and also so maybe does no share our issue for explanation.

A Revelation from Heaven

But herein lies a secondary, little-considered duty of the tearing that the veil the is hinted in ~ both by the historical depiction that the veil by Josephus and by the Gospel the Mark. Together we have seen, Josephus defines the veil in terms of the sky, or the panorama that the heavens.9 In the Gospel the Mark, listed as a source for Matthew, the connection in between the veil and also the heavens is make explicit: the veil is take it (schizō) in ~ Jesus’s fatality (Mark 15:38), and also the heavens are an in similar way torn (again schizō) in ~ Jesus’s baptism (Mark 1:10). Include to this the fact that Mark defines Jesus’s death as a kind of baptism (Mark 10:38–39) and the literary connection becomes clear. The separating of the heavens introduce the heavenly voice revealing the identification of Jesus together God’s child (Mark 1:11), and the tearing the the veil is in component symbolic of the tearing of the heavens, and also serves to reveal to the centurion the identity of Jesus together the son of God (Mark 15:39).

Importantly, only here in Mark’s Gospel walk a human being enter into this mythological perspective: the voice from heaven declares Jesus to be the boy of God (Mark 1:11; 9:7), the evil spirits also recognize that (Mark 3:11), but in Mark’s Gospel, just at the cross does a person being identify Jesus as “Son the God” (Mark 15:39). This happens, ns suggest, when the historical event of the rending of the temple’s veil is permitted to take it on an additional, symbolic role in the Gospel narrative, equating it through the rending open of heaven as an apocalyptic revelation.10 The centurion, prefer Cornelius in the publication of action (Acts 10:3–7), obtain a unique revelation from God. And also in Mark’s Gospel, that is here at the cross wherein Jesus’s “Son that God-ness” is shown in every its fullness and also glory — the sacrificial fatality on the cross because that sins.

How this bears the end in Matthew is noticeable in the an answer of the centurion and those stand there: “they to be filled v awe and said, ‘Truly this was the kid of God!’” (Matthew 27:54). The language that “filled v awe” might be misleading, as the NIV’s “they were terrified” (ephobēthēsan sphodra) is more accurate come the sense. This solution resembles that of the disciples when Jesus is transfigured (Matthew 17:6) and suggests a supernatural screen (cf. Matthew 14:27, 30; 17:6; 28:5, 10). Their are afraid is adhered to by a statement about the identity of Jesus. In spite of objections, Jesus truly to be the son of God, as asserted by God himself (Matthew 3:17; 17:5), affirmed through Jesus (Matthew 26:63–64), and also even acknowledged by the hands-on worker (Matthew 14:33; 16:16). Yet the disciples acknowledge this identification only as soon as a wonder has arisen (Matthew 14:33), and even then, their recognition cannot it is in the result of natural deduction but rather the an outcome of a mythological revelation native the dad in heaven (Matthew 16:16–17). With the centurion’s acknowledgement that Jesus as the kid of God, the too has actually received a revelation from the Father, an acknowledgement of the true identification of Jesus to which the miraculous events surrounding his death, presented by the torn veil, be affected by each other witness.

Celebrating accessibility to the Father

The veil to be a physical, visible barrier indicating that accessibility to God was strictly prohibited because of his holiness. That is imperative to remember the the holiness the God remains unchanged from every eternity — even after the veil is torn. What has actually changed, then, is the the atoning fatality of Jesus on the cross has provided the suitable wrath-bearing sacrifice, one which the bulls and also goats that the old covenant could not administer (Hebrews 10:4).

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The author of Hebrews expounds on this really clearly: “we have confidence to enter the holy places” (Hebrews 10:19), and this is completed by the blood that Jesus. This is the “new and also living way” (Hebrews 10:20) the Christ opened for us v the veil, which, the writer says, is through his flesh. This way that the break of Jesus’s human body at the crucifixion is the unprecedented method by i beg your pardon believers have accessibility to the presence of God. This, coupled through the priesthood that Christ (Hebrews 10:21), forms the basis of the author’s exhortation to believers: attract near to God (Hebrews 10:22), host unwaveringly come our confession of belief (Hebrews 10:23), stir one an additional up come love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), and continually fulfill together come encourage one an additional in the faith (Hebrews 10:25). As we method Easter, us recall and also celebrate what Christ has actually done for us on the cross, and also heed the exhortation to fulfill habitually in church for corporate worship and also exhortation to hold rapid to “the confidence that was when for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).