And the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom.
If you look into the account of the arrangements and furniture of the Jewish temple, you will find that there were two veils — the one at the entrance into the holy place; the other between the holy place, or the sanctuary, and the most holy, or the holy of holies. This latter is called by St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, "the second veil;" and its position is thus described by him — "After the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the holiest of all;" for therein, as the apostle goes on to enumerate, were deposited the most sacred of those mystic articles, which were appropriated to the rites of the Jewish religion. The second veil is always considered to have been that which was rent in twain at the death of our Lord; so that the thing done through the rending, was the throwing open that heretofore invisible and inaccessible place, the holy of holies. Invisible and inaccessible, forasmuch as no one but the High Priest was ever permitted to pass the veil, and he but once in the year, on the great day of atonement. On that day — all whose ceremonies and sacrifices were so wondrously significative, representing as with the accuracy of history rather than of prophecy, the expiatory work of the Lord our Redeemer — it was ordered that the High Priest having slain certain victims, should carry the blood within the veil, that he might therewith sprinkle the mercy seat. There is no debate that in performing this, the High Priest was a type of Christ in His office of intercessor; for Christ after suffering without the camp, offering Himself up as a sin offering to the Almighty, was to pass within the veil — to enter, that is, into the immediate presence of God in heaven — carrying with Him His own blood, that He might plead its virtue on behalf of His church. Here is the office which Christ still discharges as Mediator — He died but once, for one offering sufficed to make expiation for the sins of the whole world, but He ever liveth to present the merits of His oblation, and through it to act in heaven as the advocate of those for whom He submitted to the death of the cross. But we can perhaps scarcely say, that the rending of the veil had reference to Christ's entrance on His office of intercessor, except that He may thus have shown that He had opened the way into the holy of holies, and had obtained a right to enter as our advocate. Until He had completed on the cross the redemption of the world, He could not become an intercessor with the Father; He must have blood wherewith to sprinkle the mercy seat; and therefore as the rent rooks and opened graves proclaimed Him victorious in death, so may the river veil have declared that He had won for Himself an access into heavenly places, there to perpetuate the work which had been wrought out on Calvary. And there are other intimations which may, perhaps, have been conveyed by the occurrence in question. It is probable, for example, that the abolition of the Mosaic economy was hereby figuratively taught. What could be more significative of a change of dispensation, than that, at the moment of Christ's death, there should have been miraculously destroyed the covering which had heretofore shrouded the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy seat; those majestic and mysterious things which looked upon by any but the High Priest, demanded the death of the presumptuous beholder? The priests may have been in the holy place, when suddenly an invisible hand tore in twain the veil, within which they had never dared to gaze, and revealed those symbols of divinity which gave an awful sacredness to the unapproached shrine. What thought they? How felt they? If the flashing light from characters traced by an unseen hand, spread consternation through the halls of the Assyrian, and caused the monarch to tremble, though girt round with guards, what effect should have been wrought on the ministering priests by the sudden shining of all that bright gold which had long been hidden from the human eye, and in whose deep rich lustres Deity might be said to have imaged His presence? Did they turn and flee, as if fearing that Jehovah was about to come forth from the tremendous solitude, and purify His temple; or did they dare to stand and look at the uncovered shrine, amazed that they might behold, and not be instantly struck dead? Nay, I know not what may have been the feelings of the officiating priests at this strange, this fearful visitation of the holy of holies; but they knew what was then transacting oh Calvary. Their voices had been loud in demanding the death of Jesus of Nazareth; and had they not been given up to a judicial blindness — a blindness justly awarded them for their long rejection of light — they could scarcely have resisted the surpassing evidence, that the Mosaic economy was now to pass by. Had, indeed, the expiring groan of Jesus of Nazareth rent asunder the veil of the temple, and thus made common things of those which for ages had been fearfully sacred? O, then, ye priests, ye ought to ]earn that your office is at an end; O quench the fires on your altars; O drive the sacrificial victims from your courts; and whilst the earth yet trembles, and appalling and portentous things tell out the majesty of your crucified King, fall down before Him whom ye have crucified and slain, and learn, as ye may learn, the most amazing thing of all, that He is compassionate enough to love His enemies, and powerful enough to save His murderers. Yes, learn that He has indeed come to destroy the law, but only that He might substitute for it a better covenant; for all that is taught you by the fact, that immediately on His giving up the ghost, "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom." But we do not thus exactly bring home to ourselves the type of the rent veil, or give it part in that continuous instruction which we look for in the prodigies which attended Christ's death. You will remember that not only was there a very quick rending of the veil, but that the graves were opened, and many bodies of saints which slept arose and came out of their graves after His resurrection and appeared unto many. The leaking of the earth was as much as to tell us that Satan's dominion was overthrown — that dominion of which the earth was the seat. The solid globe shook to its centre, indicating the falling to ruin of that empire of evil which had been erected upon it. And the rocks were rent; mountains had been piled up between God and man; the barrier was as that of the everlasting hills; but the Redeemer in dying broke into shivers the vast impediment, and reconciled the world to its Creator. But the parable was yet more explicit — the graves were opened. It had been through apostasy that death had entered the world; it was one of the most fearful and comprehensive of the consequences of sin; and, therefore was its abolition to be looked for, as one of the chief results of the interference of a surety. Hence the opening of the graves. In dying, Christ destroyed death; and therefore did the sepulchres at once throw open their gloomy doors, as though in confession that they had no longer right to hold fast their prey. And if the bars are loosened, and the prison gates opened, may not the captives march instantly forth? What can longer hinder the emancipation of the dead? Yet here there is a pause; a delay intervenes; and the evangelist specially notes that it was after the resurrection of Jesus, that many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came out of the graves. Does not this figuratively teach that Christ was to be raised again for our justification: that although the sacrifice of the cross had perfected our redemption, in respect of God shaking the earth, rending the rocks, opening the graves, there yet remained a further act to complete it towards us? Resurrection must follow on death, otherwise would the prison be opened, and yet the prisoner not discharged. As we gaze on the dying Redeemer, and listen to the piteous exclamation which marks how He is deserted of the Father, we are tempted to doubt whether it be indeed as a conqueror that He departs from this earth, whether He has indeed vanquished our enemies and those of God, as He hews His head and gives up the ghost. But soon is heard a sound as of victory. Proof after proof crowds in upon us, that whatsoever was undertaken has been accomplished, whatsoever we needed been obtained. First, there are general symbols — a trembling earth and riven rocks. Creation has recognized her Maker in the expiring man, and confesses by the dissolving of her most solid parts, that He has now effected a wondrous transformation, extracting good out of evil, converting the fall of man into an occasion of discomfiture to Satan and of glory to God, and thus virtually turning the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters. But I seem to crave yet more specific testimony. I know that creation has before now been disquieted, when it was no message of comfort to man which was written in its struggles and uttered through its groans; and I have the more specific testimony. What shall I say to opened graves and quickened bodies? I remember the Saviour to have said, "The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." And now the voice which they have heard, and on which they stirred in their narrow beds, is the voice which had exclaimed, "It is finished." O beautiful token that in dying Christ hath indeed mastered death, and that what He finished on the cross is my rescue from the powers of darkness. But still I crave further testimony; I need a higher blessing; it is not enough for me to be emancipated from corruption; I long for admission into the world which is radiant with the presence of the Lord God Almighty; I long for companionship with angels; I would walk where they walk; I would wait with cherubim and seraphim in the court of the celestial King, gazing on His glories, and delighting to execute His will. Is this possible? A creature of dust — where are the wings with which I may soar, where the path which I may tread, and find that it conducts me within the veil? Within the veil! Why, whilst I look on the graves which Christ hath opened by the greatness of His might, and feel that though they tell me of a resurrection, they do not tell me of entrance into the celestial courts, there come tidings which announce that the veil of the temple has been rent in twain — that very veil which I have always regarded as being before the holy of holies, to show me that there is no admission for such as myself into the place where Deity is specially manifested. The veil is rent. Then with it should be rent away all doubt and all unbelief. The door of heaven, as well as the door of the grave, is thrown open through the work of mediation. I may not only rise from the dust; I may tread the firmament; I may enter by the gate of pearl, and I may walk the street of gold. There is a remarkable prophecy in the writings of Micah, which seems closely to bear upon the subject of our present discourse: it is this — "The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out of it; and their King shall pass before them, and the Lord at the head of them." Now, here is presented to us a magnificent procession, led by a chief under the expressive title of the breaker; He heads a vast company, He directs them through some gate, which He presses open by His own energy or labour; and they follow in triumph, and pass on like marching conquerors. Who is this but the Lord Jesus Christ, who, having vanquished death, and opened the closed gate of everlasting life, has gone before that He may prepare a place for His followers, who through faith and patience, shall inherit His promise. And do you observe how the title of the breaker, as applied to our Redeemer, is verified or vindicated by the prodigies which throng the crucifixion! The broken earth, the broken rocks, the broken graves, the broken veil of the temple — how do all these teem to correspond with the name of the breaker! Oh! that in our own case we might be able to add broken hearts to the list, and thus prove that Christ is still a breaker; but a breaker who breaks only with the gracious purpose of making whole.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.