Matthew 27:51
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
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(51) The veil of the temple was rent in twain.—Better, the veil of the sanctuary, or, if we do not alter the word, we must remember that it is the veil that divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies that is here meant. The fact, which the high priests would naturally have wished to conceal, and which in the nature of the case could not have been seen by any but the sons of Aaron, may have been reported by the “great multitude of the priests” who “became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). The Evangelist’s record of it is all the more significant, as he does not notice, and apparently, therefore, did not apprehend, the symbolic import of the fact. That import we learn indirectly from the Epistle to the Hebrews. The priests had, as far as they had power, destroyed the true Temple (comp. John 2:19); but in doing so they had robbed their own sanctuary of all that made it holy. The true veil, as that which shrouded the Divine Glory from the eyes of men, was His own flesh, and through that He had passed, as the Forerunner of all who trusted in Him, into the sanctuary not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (Hebrews 10:20-21). All who fulfilled that condition might enter into that holiest place, but the visible sanctuary was now made common and unclean, and there too all might enter without profanation.

The earth did quake, and the rocks rent.—Jerusalem was, it will be remembered, situated in the zone of earthquakes, and one very memorable convulsion is recorded or alluded to in the Old Testament (Isaiah 24:19; Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5). Here, though the shock startled men at the time, there was no widespread ruin such as would lead to its being chronicled by contemporary historians.



Matthew 27:51

As I suppose we are all aware, the Jewish Temple was divided into three parts: the Outer Court, open to all; the Holy Place, to which the ministering priests had daily access to burn incense and trim the lamps; and the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest was permitted to go, and that but once a year, on the great Day of Atonement. For the other three hundred and sixty-four days the shrine lay silent, untrodden, dark. Between it and the less sacred Holy Place hung the veil, whose heavy folds only one man was permitted to lift or to pass. To all others it was death to peer into the mysteries, and even to him, had he gone at another time, and without the blood of the sacrifice, death would have ensued.

If we remember all this and try to cast ourselves back in imagination to the mental attitude of the ordinary Jew, the incident of my text receives its true interpretation. At the moment when the loud cry of the dying Christ rung over the heads of the awestruck multitude, that veil was, as it were, laid hold of by a pair of giant hands and torn asunder, as the Evangelist says, ‘from the top to the bottom.’ The incident was a symbol. In one aspect it proclaimed the end of the long years of Israel’s prerogative. In another it ushered in an epoch of new relations between man and God. If Jesus Christ was what He said He was, if His death was what He declared it to be, it was fitting that it should be attended by a train of subordinate and interpreting wonders. These were, besides that of my text, the darkened sun, the trembling earth, the shivered rocks, the open graves, the rising saints-all of them, in their several ways, illuminating the significance of that death on Calvary.

Not less significant is this symbol of my text, and I desire now to draw your attention to its meanings.

I. The rent veil proclaims the desecrated temple.

There is a striking old legend, preserved by the somewhat mendacious historian of the Jewish people, that, before Jerusalem fell, the anxious watchers heard from within the sanctuary a great voice saying, ‘Let us depart hence!’ and through the night were conscious of the winnowing of the mighty wings of the withdrawing cherubim. And soon a Roman soldier tossed a brand into the most Holy Place, and the ‘beautiful house where their fathers praised was burned with fire.’ The legend is pathetic and significant. But that ‘departing’ had taken place forty years before; and at the moment when Jesus ‘gave up the ghost,’ purged eyes might have seen the long trail of brightness as the winged servitors of the Most High withdrew from the desecrated shrine. The veil rent declared that the sacred soil within it was now common as any foot of earth in Galilee; and its rending, so to speak, made way for a departing God.

That conception, that the death of Christ Jesus was the de-consecration-if I may coin a word-of the Temple, and the end of all its special sanctity, and that thenceforward the Presence had departed from it, is distinctly enough taught us by Himself in words which move in the same circle of ideas as that in which the symbol resides. . .. You remember, no doubt, that, if we accept the testimony of John’s Gospel, at the very beginning of our Lord’s ministry He vindicated His authority to cleanse the sanctuary against the cavils of the sticklers for propriety by the enigmatical words, ‘Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will build it up,’ to which the Evangelist appends the comment, ‘He spake of the Temple of His body,’ that body in which ‘all the fulness of the Godhead’ dwelt, and which was, and is to-day, all that the Temple shadowed and foretold, the dwelling-place of God in humanity, the place of sacrifice, the meeting-place between God and man. But just because our Lord in these dark words predicted His death and His resurrection, He also hinted the destruction of the literal stone and lime building, and its rearing again in nobler and more spiritual form. When He said, ‘Destroy this Temple,’ He implied, secondarily, the destruction of the house in which He stood, and laid that destruction, whensoever it should come to pass, at their doors. And, inasmuch as the saying in its deepest depth meant His death by their violence and craft, therefore, in that early saying of His, was wrapped up the very same truth which was symbolised by the rent veil, and was bitterly fulfilled at last. When they slew Christ they killed the system under which they lived, and for which they would have been glad to die, in a zeal without knowledge; and destroyed the very Temple on the distorted charge of being the destroyer of which, they handed Him over to the Roman power.

The death of Christ is, then, the desecration and the destruction of that Temple. Of course it is; because when a nation that had had millenniums of education, of forbearance, of revelation, turned at last upon the very climax and brightest central light of all the Revelation, standing there amongst them in a bodily form, there was nothing more to be done. God had shot His last arrow; His quiver was empty. ‘Last of all He sent unto them His Son, saying,’ with a wistful kind of half-confidence, ‘They will reverence My Son,’ and the divine expectation was disappointed, and exhaustless Love was empty-handed, and all was over. He could turn to themselves and say, ‘Judge between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done that I have not done to it?’ Therefore, there was nothing left but to let the angels of destruction loose, and to call for the Roman eagles with their broad-spread wings, and their bloody beaks, and their strong talons, to gather together round the carcase. When He gave up the Ghost, ‘the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.’

A time of repentance was given. It was possible for the most guilty participator in that judicial murder to have his gory hands washed and made white in the very blood that he had shed; but, failing repentance, that death was the death of Israel, and the destruction of Israel’s Temple. Let us take the lesson, dear brethren. If we turn away from that Saviour, and refuse the offered gifts of His love, there is no other appeal left in the power of Heaven; and there is nothing for it after that except judgment and destruction. We can ‘crucify the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame.’ And the hearts that are insensitive, as are some of our hearts, to that great love and grace, are capable of nothing except to be pulverised by means of a judgment. Repentance is possible for us all, but, failing that, the continuance of rejection of Christ is the pulling down, on our own heads, of the ruins of the Temple, like the Israelitish hero in his blindness and despair.

II. Now, secondly, the rent veil means, in another way of looking at the incident, light streaming in on the mystery of God.

Let me recall to your imaginations what lay behind that heavy veil. In the Temple, in our Lord’s time, there was no presence of the Shekinah, the light that symbolised the divine presence. There was the mercy-seat, with the outstretched wings of the cherubim; there were the dimly pictured forms on the tapestry hangings; there was silence deep as death; there was darkness absolute and utter, whilst the Syrian sun was blazing down outside. Surely that is the symbol of the imperfect knowledge or illumination as to the divine nature which is over all the world. ‘The veil is spread over all nations, and the covering over all people.’ And surely that sudden, sharp tearing asunder of the obscuring medium, and letting the bright sunlight stream into every corner of the dark chamber, is for us a symbol of the great fact that in the life, and especially in the death, of Jesus Christ our Lord, we have light thrown in to the depths of God.

What does that Cross tell us about God that the world did not know? And how does it tell us? and why does it tell us? It tells us of absolute righteousness, of that in the divine nature which cannot tolerate sin; of the stern law of retribution which must be wrought out, and by which the wages of every sin is death. It tells us not only of a divine righteousness which sees guilt and administers punishment, but it tells us of a divine love, perfect, infinite, utter, perennial, which shrinks from no sacrifice, which stoops to the lowest conditions, which itself takes upon it all the miseries of humanity, and which dies because it loves and will save men from death. And as we look upon that dying Man hanging on the cross, the very embodiment and consummation of weakness and of shame, we have to say, ‘Lo! this is our God! We have waited for Him’-through all the weary centuries-’and He will save us.’ How does it tell us all this? Not by eloquent and gracious thoughts, not by sweet and musical words, but by a deed. The only way by which we can know men is by what they do. The only way by which we know God is by what He does. And so we point to that Cross and say, ‘There! not in words, not in thoughts, not in speculations, not in hopes and fears and peradventures and dim intuitions, but in a solid fact; there is the Revelation which lays bare the heart of God, and shows us its very throbbing of love to every human soul.’ ‘The veil was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.’

The Cross will reveal God to you only if you believe that Jesus Christ was the Incarnate Word. Brethren, if that death was but the death of even the very holiest, noblest, sweetest, perfectest soul that ever lived on earth and breathed human breath, there is no revelation of God in it for us. It tells us what Jesus was, and by a very roundabout inference may suggest something of what the divine nature is, but unless you can say, as the New Testament says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,’ I fail to see how the death of Christ can be a revelation of the love of God.

I need not occupy time in dilating upon the contrast between this solid certitude, and all that the world, apart from Jesus Christ, has to lay hold of about God. We want something else than mist on which to build, and on which to lay hold. And there is a substantial, warm, flesh-and-blood hand, if I may so say, put out to us through the mist when we believe in Christ the Son of God, who died on the cross for us all. Then, amidst whirling mists and tossing seas, there is a fixed point to which we can moor; then our confidence is built, not on peradventures or speculations or wishes or dreams or hopes, but on a historical fact, and grasping that firm we may stand unmoved.

Dear friends, I may be very old-fashioned and very narrow-I suppose I am; but I am bound to declare my conviction, which I think every day’s experience of the tendency of thought only makes more certain, that, practically for this generation, the choice lies between accepting the life and death of Jesus Christ as the historical Revelation of God, or having no knowledge of Him-knowledge, I say,-of Him at all; you must choose between the barred sanctuary, within which lies couched a hidden Something-with a capital S-or perhaps a hidden Someone whom you never can know and never will; or the rent veil, rent by Christ’s death, through which you can pass, and behold the mercy-seat and, above the outstretched wings of the adoring cherubim, the Father whose name is Love.

III. Lastly, the rent veil permits any and every man to draw near to God.

You remember what I have already said as to the jealous guarding of the privacy of that inner shrine, and how not only the common herd of the laity, but the whole of the priesthood, with the solitary exception of its titular head, were shut out from ever entering it. In the old times of Israel there was only one man alive at once who had ever been beyond the veil. And now that it is rent, what does that show but this, that by the death of Jesus Christ any one, every one, is welcome to pass in to the very innermost sanctuary, and to dwell, nestling as close as he will, to the very heart of the throned God? There is a double veil, if I may so say, between man and God: the side turned outward is woven by our own sins; and the other turned inwards is made out of the necessary antagonism of the divine nature to man’s sin. There hangs the veil, and when the Psalmist asked, ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord; or who shall stand in His holy place?’ he was putting a question which echoes despairingly in the very heart of all religions. And he answered it as conscience ever answers it when it gets fair play: ‘He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity.’ And where or who is he? Nowhere; nobody. Access is barred, because it is impossible that a holy and righteous God should communicate the selectest gifts of His love, even the sense of His favour, and of harmony and fellowship with Him, to sinful men, and barred, because it is impossible that men, with the consciousness of evil and the burden of guilt sometimes chafing their shoulders, and always bowing down their backs, should desire to possess, or be capable of possessing, that fellowship and union with God. A black, frowning wall, if I may change the metaphor of my text, rises between us and God. But One comes with the sacrificial vessel in His hand, and pours His blood on the barrier, and that melts the black blocks that rise between us and God, and the path is patent and permeable for every foot. ‘The veil of the Temple was rent in twain’ when Christ died. That death, because it is a sacrifice, makes it possible that the whole fulness of the divine love should be poured upon man. That death moves our hearts, takes away our sense of guilt, draws us nearer to Him; and so both by its operation-not on the love of God-but on the government of God, and by its operation on the consciousness of men, throws open the path into His very presence.

If I might use abstract words, I would say that Christ’s death potentially opens the path for every man, which being put into plain English-which is better-is just that by the death of Christ every man can, if he will, go to God, and live beside Him. And our faith is our personal laying hold of that great sacrifice and treading on that path. It turns the ‘potentiality’ into an actuality, the possibility into a fact. If we believe on Him who died on the cross for us all, then by that way we come to God, than which there is none other given under heaven among men.

So all believers are priests, or none of them are. The absolute right of direct access to God, without the intervention of any man who has an officially greater nearness to Him than others, and through whom as through a channel the grace of sacrament comes, is contained in the great symbol of my text. And it is a truth that this day needs. On the one hand there is agnostic unbelief, which needs to see in the rent veil the illumination streaming through it on to the depths of God; and on the other hand there is the complementary error-and the two always breed each other-the superstition which drags back by an anachronism the old Jewish notions of priesthood into the Christian Church. It needs to see in the rent veil the charter of universal priesthood for all believers, and to hearken to the words which declare, ‘Ye are a chosen generation, a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, that ye should offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable unto God by Jesus Christ.’ That is the lesson that this day wants. ‘Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest of all, by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is His flesh, let us draw near with true hearts in full assurance of faith.’

Matthew 27:51. And behold — Immediately upon his death, while the sun was still darkened; the veil of the temple — The inner veil which divided the holy from the most holy place; though made of the richest and strongest tapestry; was rent in two from the top to the bottom: so while the priest was ministering at the golden altar, (it being the time of the evening sacrifice,) the sacred oracle, by an invisible power, was laid open to full view: God thereby signifying the speedy removal of the Jewish ceremonies, the abolition of the Mosaic dispensation, the breaking down the partition- wall between Jews and Gentiles, who were both to be now admitted to equal privileges, and the opening a way, through the veil of Christ’s flesh, for all believers into the most holy place. And the earth did quake — There was a general earthquake, probably through the whole globe, though chiefly at and near Jerusalem: God testifying thereby his wrath against the Jewish nation, for the horrid impiety they were committing. And the rocks rent — Mr. Fleming (Christology, vol. 2. pp. 97, 98) informs us, that a Deist, lately travelling through Palestine, was converted by viewing one of these rocks. For when he came to examine the clefts of it narrowly and critically, he was convinced that the rent had been made in a supernatural manner, as he acknowledged to his fellow-travellers, saying, I have long been a student of nature and the mathematics, and I am sure these rents in this rock were not made by a natural, or ordinary earthquake; for by such a concussion the rock must have split according to the veins, and where it was weakest in the adhesion of its parts; for this I have observed to have been done in other rocks, when separated or broken by an earthquake, and reason tells me, it must always be so. But it is quite otherwise here, for the rock is split athwart and cross the veins in a most strange and preternatural manner. This, therefore, I plainly see to be the effect of a real miracle, which neither nature nor art could have effected. Sandys (Trav., p. 264) has given an accurate description and delineation of this fissure; and Mr. Maundrell (in his Journey from Aleppo, p. 73, 74) tells us, that it is about a span wide at the upper part, and two spans deep; after which it closes, but opens again below, and runs down to an unknown depth in the earth.

27:51-56 The rending of the veil signified that Christ, by his death, opened a way to God. We have an open way through Christ to the throne of grace, or mercy-seat now, and to the throne of glory hereafter. When we duly consider Christ's death, our hard and rocky hearts should be rent; the heart, and not the garments. That heart is harder than a rock that will not yield, that will not melt, where Jesus Christ is plainly set forth crucified. The graves were opened, and many bodies of saints which slept, arose. To whom they appeared, in what manner, and how they disappeared, we are not told; and we must not desire to be wise above what is written. The dreadful appearances of God in his providence, sometimes work strangely for the conviction and awakening of sinners. This was expressed in the terror that fell upon the centurion and the Roman soldiers. We may reflect with comfort on the abundant testimonies given to the character of Jesus; and, seeking to give no just cause of offence, we may leave it to the Lord to clear our characters, if we live to Him. Let us, with an eye of faith, behold Christ and him crucified, and be affected with that great love wherewith he loved us. But his friends could give no more than a look; they beheld him, but could not help him. Never were the horrid nature and effects of sin so tremendously displayed, as on that day when the beloved Son of the Father hung upon the cross, suffering for sin, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. Let us yield ourselves willingly to his service.The vail of the temple - This was doubtless the veil, curiously performed, which separated the holy from the most holy place, dividing the temple into two apartments, Exodus 26:31-33.

In twain - In two pieces or parts. This was the time of day when the priest was burning incense in the holy place, and it is probable that he witnessed it. The most holy place has been usually considered as a type of heaven, and the tearing of the veil to signify that the way to heaven was now open to all - the great High Priest, the Lord Jesus, being about to enter in as the forerunner of his people. However, about the design of the tearing of the veil, the Scriptures are silent, and conjecture is useless.

And the earth did quake - Or shook. Earthquakes are violent convulsions of the ground, caused commonly by confined and rarefied air. This was probably, however, a miraculous convulsion of the earth, in attestation of the truth that the sufferer was the Messiah, the Son of God, and as an exhibition of wrath at the crimes of those who put him to death. It was not confined to Judea, but was felt in other countries. It is mentioned by Roman writers.

The rocks rent - That is, were torn asunder. Rocks are still seen at Mount Calvary thus rent asunder, which are said to be the ones that were convulsed when the Saviour died.

Mt 27:51-66. Signs and Circumstances Following the Death of the Lord Jesus—He Is Taken Down from the Cross, and Buried—The Sepulchre Is Guarded. ( = Mr 15:38-47; Lu 23:47-56; Joh 19:31-42).

The Veil Rent (Mt 27:51).

51. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom—This was the thick and gorgeously wrought veil which was hung between the "holy place" and the "holiest of all," shutting out all access to the presence of God as manifested "from above the mercy seat and from between the cherubim"—"the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest" (Heb 9:8). Into this holiest of all none might enter, not even the high priest, save once a year, on the great day of atonement, and then only with the blood of atonement in his hands, which he sprinkled "upon and before the mercy seat seven times" (Le 16:14)—to signify that access for sinners to a holy God is only through atoning blood. But as they had only the blood of bulls and of goats, which could not take away sins (Heb 10:4), during all the long ages that preceded the death of Christ the thick veil remained; the blood of bulls and of goats continued to be shed and sprinkled; and once a year access to God through an atoning sacrifice was vouchsafed—in a picture, or rather, was dramatically represented, in those symbolical actions—nothing more. But now, the one atoning Sacrifice being provided in the precious blood of Christ, access to this holy God could no longer be denied; and so the moment the Victim expired on the altar, that thick veil which for so many ages had been the dread symbol of separation between God and guilty men was, without a hand touching it, mysteriously "rent in twain from top to bottom"—"the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was NOW made manifest!" How emphatic the statement, from top to bottom; as if to say, Come boldly now to the Throne of Grace; the veil is clean gone; the mercy seat stands open to the gaze of sinners, and the way to it is sprinkled with the blood of Him—"who through the eternal Spirit hath offered Himself without spot to God!" Before, it was death to go in, now it is death to stay out. See more on this glorious subject on [1376]Heb 10. 19-22.

An Earthquake—The Rocks Rent—The Graves Opened, that the Saints Which Slept in Them Might Come Forth after Their Lord's Resurrection (Mt 27:51-53).

51. and the earth did quake—From what follows it would seem that this earthquake was local, having for its object the rending of the rocks and the opening of the graves.

and the rocks rent—"were rent"—the physical creation thus sublimely proclaiming, at the bidding of its Maker, the concussion which at that moment was taking place in the moral world at the most critical moment of its history. Extraordinary rents and fissures have been observed in the rocks near this spot.

See Poole on "Matthew 27:53".

And behold, the vail of the temple was rent in twain,.... Just at the time that Christ spake with so loud a voice, and expired, and which was at the time of the offering up of the evening incense; and so must be seen by the priest that was then offering, and those that assisted him, for the incense altar was near the vail; and which must be a very astonishing sight unto them: the vail was of a very great thickness; it was made of fine twined linen,

Exodus 26:31, and it is a rule with the Jews (t), that "where ever mention is made in the law of fine linen, or fine twined linen, it means a thread six times doubled:

and whereas this was made of blue, and purple, and scarlet, Jarchi's note on the place is, that "every kind was doubled with each thread of six threads.

His sense is more clearly expressed in his note on Exodus 26:1,

"lo! here are four sorts to every thread; one of linen, and three of wool, and every thread is six times doubled; behold four sorts when they are twisted together, make twenty four doubles to a thread.

Yea, some of them make it to be forty eight doubles (u). What a thick piece of tapestry must this be! and this makes the rending of it the more amazing; for no doubt but that the vail of the second temple was made after the manner of the first; and this was rent

from top to bottom; and which was no less than forty cubits in length, which was the height of the holy of holies in the second temple; and which made the rent the more astonishing. The account the Jews give of the vail, is this (w):

"R. Simeon ben Gamaliel said, on account of R. Simeon, the son of the Sagan, the thickness of the vail is an hand's breadth, and it is woven of seventy two threads, and every thread has twenty four threads in it: it is forty cubits long, and twenty broad, and is made of eighty two myriads; (which is either the number of the threads in it, or the sum of the golden pence it cost. Some copies read, is made by eighty two virgins (x);) two are made every year; and three hundred priests wash it.

The Syriac version renders it, "the face of the gate of the temple"; by which may be meant, perhaps, the vail of the gate of Ulam, or of the porch (y). The Jews have a tradition (z) that "forty years before the destruction of the temple, the gates of it opened of themselves. R. Jochanan ben Zaccai reproved them, saying, O temple! temple! wherefore dost thou fright thyself? I know thy end is to be destroyed; for so prophesied of thee Zechariah, the son of, Iddo, "open thy gates, O Lebanon", &c. Zechariah 11:1.

But whether this may be referred to in the above version, or has any reference to the evangelic history, I will not say. Other writers, as Josephus (a), and Egesippus (b), speak of the eastern gate of the city, which was of brass, and as much as twenty men could shut, opening of its own accord, before the destruction of the temple; which perhaps the Jewish tradition rather regards. This rending of the vail was done, as some think, in token of mourning for, and testifying abhorrence at the crucifixion of Christ; the temple rending its garments, the vail, at the death of its Lord, proprietor, and type, as the high priest did his at supposed blasphemy; or 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, was now about to remove, and leave the house desolate; or it signified the rending of Christ's flesh, the breaking of his body for us, which was typified by the vail; see Hebrews 10:20, and may also denote both the fulfilment and abrogation of the ceremonial law, which had its end in the death of Christ; and likewise the more clear discoveries of the mysteries of grace under the Gospel, in which they are laid to open view, and are beheld with open face: to which may be added, that this pointed out, that the way to the holiest of all, to heaven, of which this was a figure, was now made manifest; and was plain and accessible, as it was, first to Christ, who entered by his own blood, as the forerunner; and also to his people, who likewise have boldness to enter by the same,

And the earth did quake: whether this earthquake reached only to the spot of ground where Christ was crucified, and on which the city and temple of Jerusalem stood; or whether it extended to other parts of the earth; since, in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, as Pliny (c) relates, there was an earthquake, in which twelve cities in Asia fell, is not certain. However, it was an indication of the divine anger and resentment, and in detestation of the sin of crucifying Christ; see Psalm 18:7, and was an emblem of the shaking and removing of the Jewish church state and ordinances, Hebrews 12:26.

And the rocks rent; which were near Mount Calvary, and about Jerusalem; and, as we are told, the clefts are to be seen to this day, and which appear to be supernatural. This was also a token of divine wrath and fury, Nahum 1:5, and a rebuke of the stupidity and hardness of the Jews, who were unmoved when rocks were rent asunder, being harder than they; and an emblem of the future conversion of many through the powerful ministry of the word, and in consequence of Christ's death; when hearts, as hard as rocks, were broke in pieces, stony hearts taken away, and hearts of flesh given; of which the three thousand being pricked to the heart under Peter's sermon, were an instance,

(t) Maimon. Cele Hamikdash, c. 8. sect. 14. Kimchi in Sepher Shorash rad. (u) T. Hieros. Shekalim, fol. 51. (w) Misn. Shekalim, c. 8. sect. 5. Shernot Rabba, sect. 50. fol. 144. 2. Bernidbar Rabba, sect. 4. fol. 183. 2.((x) Vid. Bartenora & Yom. Tob. in ib. (y) Vid. Bartenora in ib. (z) T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 39. 2. Jarchi & Kimchi in Zech. xi. i. Ganz Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 25. 2.((a) L. 8. c. 12. (b) L. 5. c. 44. (c) L. 2. c. 84.

{14} And, behold, the {q} veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

(14) Christ, when he is dead, shows himself to be God Almighty, and even his enemies confess the same.

(q) Which separated the holiest of all.

Matthew 27:51 f. Not an ordinary earthquake, but a supernatural phenomenon, as was that of the darkness in Matthew 27:45.

καὶ ἰδού] “Hie wendet sich’s und wird gar ein neues Wesen” [at this point the history enters upon a fresh stage, and something entirely new appears], Luther. The style of the narrative here is characterized by a simple solemnity, among other indications of which we have the frequent recurrence of καί.

τὸ καταπέτασμα] הַפָּרֹכֶת, the veil suspended before the holy of holies, Exodus 26:31; Leviticus 21:23; 1Ma 1:22; Sir 30:5; Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 9:3; Hebrews 10:20. The rending in two (for εἰς δύο, comp. Lucian, Tox. 54; Lapith. 44), of which mention is also made by Mark and Luke, was not the effect of the convulsion in nature (which was a subsequent occurrence), but a divine σημεῖον, accompanying the moment of decease, for the purpose of indicating that in this atoning death of Jesus the old dispensation of sacrifices was being done away, and free access to the gracious presence of God at the same time restored. Comp. Hebrews 6:19 f., Matthew 9:6 ff., Matthew 10:19 f. To treat what is thus a matter of divine symbolism as though it were symbolical legend (Schleiermacher, Strauss, Scholten, Keim) is all the more unwarrantable that neither in Old Testament prophecy nor in the popular beliefs of the Jews do we find anything calculated to suggest the formation of any such legend. The influence of legend has operated rather in the way of transforming the rending of the veil into an incident of a more imposing and startling nature: “superliminare (the lintel) templi infinitae magnitudinis fractum esse atque divisum,” Evang. sec. Hebr. quoted by Jerome. See Hilgenfeld, N. T. extr. can. IV. p. 17. The idea underlying this legend was that of the destruction of the temple.

What follows is peculiar to Matthew. The rocks in question were those in the immediate neighbourhood, and so also with regard to τὰ μνημεῖα. The opening of the graves is in like manner to be regarded as divine symbolism, according to which the death of Jesus is to be understood as preparing the way for the future resurrection of believers to the eternal life of the Messianic kingdom (John 3:14 f., John 6:54). The thing thus signified by the divine sign—a sign sufficiently intelligible, and possessing all the characteristics of a genuine symbol (in opposition to Steinmeyer, p. 226)—was so moulded and amplified in the course of tradition that it became ultimately transformed into an historical incident: πολλὰ σώματα τῶν κεκοιμ. ἁγίων ἠγέρθη, κ.τ.λ. For a specimen of still further and more extravagant amplification of the material in question—material to which Ignatius likewise briefly alludes, ad Magnes. 9, and which he expressly mentions, ad Trall, interpol. 9—see Evang. Nicod. 17 ff. This legend respecting the rising of the Old Testament saints (ἁγίων) is based upon the assumption of the descensus Christi ad inferos, in the course of which Jesus was understood not only to have visitsd them, but also to have secured their resurrection (comp. Ev. Nicod.; Ignatius, ad Trall. l.c.). But it is quite arbitrary to assume that in those who are thus alleged to have risen from their graves we have mere “apparitions assuring us of the continued existence of the departed” (Michaelis, Paulus, Kuinoel, Hug, Krabbe, p. 505; Steudel, Glaubensl. p. 455; Bleek). Besides, the legend regarding the rising of the saints on this occasion is, in itself considered, no more incompatible with the idea of Christ being the ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμ. (1 Corinthians 15:20; Colossians 1:18) than the raising of Lazarus and certain others. See on 1 Corinthians 15:20. It is true that, according to Epiphanius, Origen, Ambrose, Luther, Calovius (comp. also Delitzsch, Psych, p. 414), the dead now in question came forth in spiritual bodies and ascended to heaven along with Christ; but with Jerome it is at the same time assumed, in opposition to the terms of our passage, that: “Non antea resurrexerunt, quam Dominus resurgeret, ut esset primogenitus resurrectionis ex mortuis;” comp. also Calvin, and Hofmann, Schriftbew. II. 1, p. 492. In the Acta Pilati as found in Thilo, p. 810, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, and Noah, are expressly mentioned as being among the number of those who rose from the dead. The names are given somewhat differently in the Evang. Nicod.

Matthew 27:51. καὶ ἰδοὺ, introducing solemnly a series of preternatural accompaniments, all but the first peculiar to Mt.—τὸ καταπέτασμα, the veil between the holy place and the most holy.—ἐσχίσθη: this fact, the rending of the veil, is mentioned by all the Synoptists, though Lk. introduces it at an early point in the narrative. It might have happened, as a natural event, an accidental coincidence, though it is not so viewed by the evangelist. A symbolic fiction, according to Brandt. The legendary spirit took hold of this event, magnifying the miracle. In the Hebrew Gospel the rending of the veil is transformed into the fracture of the lintel of the temple: “Superliminare templi in finitae magnitudinis fractum esse atque divisum” (Jerome, Com.).—καὶ ἡ γῆ, etc.: an earthquake, preceding and conditioning the greatest marvel of all, the opening of the graves and the resurrection of many saints (Matthew 27:52-53). We seem here to be in the region of Christian legend. Certainly the legendary spirit laid hold of this feature with great eagerness, expanding and going into details, giving, e.g., the names of those who rose: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. (vide Evang. Nicod., c. 17, and The Acts of Pilate in Thilo’s Codex Apocryphus, N. T., p. 810).

51. the vail of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom] St Luke has “rent in the midst.” The veil meant is that which separated the holy of holies from the holy place. The rending of the veil signifies that henceforth there is free access for man to God the Father through Jesus Christ. Cp. “Having therefore, brethren, 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” (Hebrews 10:19-20). The incident would be observed and made known to the Church by the priests, of whom afterwards “a great company were obedient unto the faith” (Acts 6:7).

51–56. Events that followed the Crucifixion. (1) The Veil of the Temple rent; (2) the Earthquake; (3) the Saints arise; (4) the Centurion at the Cross; (5) the Watching of the Women

Of these, (2) and (3) are peculiar to St Matthew.

Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:45; Luke 23:47-49, where the grief of the spectators is an additional fact. St John omits these incidents, but records the breaking of the malefactors’ legs and the piercing of Jesus’ side.

Matthew 27:51. Ἐσχίσθη, κ.τ.λ., was rent, etc.) Therefore the approach to the Holy Places was now free.[1212]—ἡ γῆ, the earth) i.e. the globe (see Matthew 27:45), but especially the Land of Israel and the vicinity of Jerusalem.[1213]—αἱ πέτραι, κ.τ.λ., the rocks, etc.) Travellers relate that rents in the rocks, the opposite sides of which correspond to each other, are still to be seen.

[1212] Matthew and Mark place this rending of the veil after the death of Christ. Luke places it before the words, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Both events occurred at this same incomparable moment. Luke, inasmuch as combining the darkness of the three hours with the rending of the veil, indicates, (1) that after the darkness was ended, all the remaining events, up to the death of the Saviour, mutually succeeded one another in most rapid succession; and (2) that the rending of the veil, which occurred at the very moment of His death, has no less close connection with the supernatural darkness than with the subsequent miracles. To be left by God was the same to the soul of Jesus, as to die was to His body: the former was signified by the darkness, the latter by the rending of the veil. His quickening the Spirit followed immediately after He had drunk the cup of death the uttermost (1 Peter 3:18), and that quickening produced the greatest effects upon things visible and invisible alike.—Harm., p. 576

[1213] Those great commotions in created things went on, in continuous succession, from the moment of Christ’s death to His resurrection, exerting their influence especially in the kingdom of things invisible.—Harm., l. c.

Verses 51-56. - Signs following the death of Christ. (Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:47-49.) Verse 51. - And, behold. St. Matthew thus introduces his account of the portents which attended the death of the Son of God. The rending of the veil is mentioned by the synoptists as consequent on, and occurring simultaneously with, the completion of the ineffable sacrifice. The veil of the temple (τοῦ ναοῦ). There were two principal veils in the present temple - one between the vestibule and the holy place, and one other which is that here referred to, a constituent part of the edifce. This was the veil between the holy place and the holy of holies, which was moved aside only once a year to admit the high priest to the shrine on the great Day of Atonement (Exodus 26:33). It was large and costly, some sixty feet high, and made of rich materials. Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 5:05. 4) tells us of one of the veils in the temple, that it was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with linen in various colours, woven together with wonderful art, such as the eye loved to rest upon. Was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. An apocryphal Gospel ('The Gospel of the Hebrews'), quoted by St. Jerome, in loc., asserts that the exquisitely carved lintel to which the veil was fastened was at this moment shattered to pieces, and in its fall tore the curtain asunder. The direction of the rent would show that no human hands had torn it apart, and the rending seems to have preceded the earthquake. The violent act was supernatural, and of a typical nature, as we are taught by Hebrews 9:6-12. The sanctuary enshrined the presence of God, from which the veil excluded every one but the high priest on one special occasion, thus denoting the imperfect reconciliation between God and his people, and that the way to the holiest was not yet made manifest. The rending of this veil betokened the opening of the access to heaven through the wounded body of Christ: as we read in Hebrews 10:19, 20, "Having 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." "When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers." The distinction between Jew and Gentile was abolished, the mysteries of the old Law were opened and manifested, all rites and ceremonies were made of sacramental efficacy, and ministered grace. How soon this ominous occurrence was discovered, we know not. The priest who offered incense at the evening sacrifice about this same hour must have seen it, and spread abroad among his comrades the news, to which many would attach a meaning fatal to the security of their religion. But this was comparatively a private sign; the next one was of a more comprehensive and public character. The earth did quake, and the rocks rent. The last verb is the same as was used just before in the case of the veil. There was a local earthquake at this awful moment, as if the very land shuddered at the terrible crime that had been committed. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem is supposed to cover the Golgotha of the Crucifixion (see on ver. 33). "An opening, faced with silver, shows the spot where the cross is said to have been sunk in the rock, and less than five feet from it is a long brass open work slide, over a cleft in the rock, which is about six inches deep, but is supposed by the pilgrims to reach to the centre of the earth. This is said to mark the rending of the rocks at the Crucifixion" (Geikie, 'Holy Land and Bible,' p. 447). The fact of the earthquake is testified by Phlegon, whose words were quoted by Julius Africanus, in his 'Chronographia' (fragments of which work have been published by Routh and others), and by Eusebius, in his 'Chronicon' (the passage, no longer extant in the original, being preserved by Jerome, and in an Armenian version; see Morison, on ver. 45). The rending of the rocks is attested by St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem ('Cateches.,' 13:33), who speaks of the remarkable fissure in Golgotha, which he had often noticed. Matthew 27:51The veil of the temple

According to the Rabbis this was a handbreadth in thickness, and woven of seventy-two twisted plaits, each plait consisting of twenty-four threads. It was sixty feet long and thirty wide. Two of them were made every year, and according to the exaggerated language of the time it needed three hundred priests to manipulate it. This veil was the one which covered the entrance to the holy of holies, and not, as has been asserted, the veil which hung before the main entrance to the sanctuary. The holy of holies contained only a large stone, on which the high-priest sprinkled the blood on the day of atonement, occupying the place where the ark with the mercy-seat had stood.

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