And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the middle.
At the time when Jesus died it is exceedingly probable that there would be priests in the "holy place." It was now afternoon, it was drawing toward the time of evening sacrifice; they would be in attendance rendering the service of the sanctuary; they would certainly be aware of what was happening just outside Jerusalem, and would be powerfully affected by the fact. Suddenly, as if grasped and rent by unseen hands, that most sacred veil interposing between the antechamber and the reception-room of God himself, was torn in twain, "from the top to the bottom." The incident was undeniably miraculous. No Jew would have dreamed of daring to do an act that would have been so impious in a man. A Divine hand must have been there, and when they entered into the mysterious darkness and felt the earthquake, must not these priests have asked themselves whether the rending of the veil did not signify a new epoch in the kingdom of God? May not the conversion of a "great company of the priests' (Acts 6:7) be partly accounted for by this striking and significant event? But what did it symbolize?
I. THAT GOD HAD ADOPTED A NEW METHOD OF ASSERTING HIS HOLINESS AND IMPRESSING IT ON THE MIND AND HEART OF THE WORLD. That veil was an essential part of a system of carefully graduated approach to God. It divided the "holy" from the "most holy" place, and beyond it none might pass but the high priest, and he only once a year. It was intended to teach the absolute holiness of God - that it was only as men were prepared, and as they were separated from sin that they could be admitted to his presence. It was not without effect on the Jewish mind; that nation had thus grasped the idea of the purity and perfection of God. But now his character was so revealed that all such symbolism was no longer needed. The death of Jesus Christ his Son, as the Sacrifice for the sin of the world, was an expression of Divine holiness incomparably superior to the symbolism of the temple and for ever superseding it. Henceforth, when men wanted to know what God felt about sin - how he hated it, what he thought it worth while to do and to suffer in order to expel it - they would look to that cross at Calvary, and there read his mind and know his will. Holy places were no longer needed.
II. THAT GOD HAD NOW PROVIDED ANOTHER AND BETTER WAY OF MERCY FOR MANKIND. Behind the veil was the innermost chamber; and of this chamber the furniture was the ark with the two tables of the Law, and the mercy-seat above it; we read of this compartment thus: "within the veil before the mercy-seat." Mercy was thus resting on Law. Mercy always must be founded on holiness; lot without holiness there can be no mercy worthy of the name. And on the great Day of Atonement the high priest entered this "holy of holies," and sprinkled blood upon the mercy-seat for the cleansing of the sins of the nation. But the cross of Jesus Christ spoke of the Divine mercy as no temple furniture could do; there needed nothing to teach the supremacy of mercy above Law after the dying love of the Redeemer of mankind, and there needed no more sprinkling of blood upon a mercy-seat after this great Day of Atonement, when "by one sacrifice of himself for ever" the spotless Lamb of God presented "a Propitiation for the sins of the world." The temple rites then became obsolete; its services were past; there need be no more guarding of one sacred place from another; let the sacred curtain be taken down or rent in twain.
III. THAT THE WAY TO THE HOLY ONE HIMSELF IS NOW OPEN TO ALL MANKIND. 'That veil was an instrument that not only secluded, but excluded; through it no eye might venture to glance, no intruding hand might reach, no presumptuous feet might step. To pass that limit was to incur the heaviest penalty; "the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest." But now "the good High Priest is come, supplying Aaron's place" and having offered up the one all-sufficient sacrifice, having obtained thereby "eternal redemption," that excluding veil is rent in twain, that barrier is broken down; there are no more limitations, no more distinctions; there is access for every child of man to the mercy-seat of God - to the Holy One himself, to seek his grace and find his favor. Are we drawing nigh? Are we entering in? Are we availing ourselves of this priceless privilege, this glorious provision for our spirit's need? In many words and ways God invites us to draw nigh to himself: he did so when his invisible hand rent in twain that separating veil. "Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus... let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith." - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.