WHY WAS THE TEMPLE’S VEIL RENT WHEN CHRIST DIED?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Turning to Matthew chapter 27, we read these words of God: “ 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;  And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,  And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” This tearing of the veil of Herod’s Temple is also recorded in Mark 15:38 and Luke 23:45.
Why was the veil of the Jerusalem Temple ripped in two? Various and sundry explanations have been offered. Some say the Mosaic Law ended here and the Dispensation of Grace began. Others further claim this tearing of the veil signifies the abolishment of the distinction between Jew and Gentile, all people now having equal access to the God of the Bible. Are these correct views? Could there be another reason? “For what saith the Scriptures?”
At Jesus’ death, the veil of the Temple was torn in two, “from the top to the bottom.” The nature of the split indicates God did it as opposed to man: man would have torn it from bottom to top, but Divine working would have caused it to tear from top to bottom. According to the Mishnah, this curtain was 60 feet (18 meters) long, 30 feet (9 meters) tall, and as thick as man’s palm. It was so heavy it took 300 men to lift it when wet! This was the partition between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Behind it, once a year (Day of Atonement), the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place with animals’ blood and, on the Mercy Seat, make atonement for his sins and the sins of Israel (cf. Leviticus chapter 16). God’s presence—also known as “the Shekinah glory”—hovered above the Mercy Seat, the lid of the Ark of the Covenant (cf. Exodus 25:17-22, for example).
This veil as touching the Tabernacle was first constructed according to Exodus chapter 26: “ And thou shalt make a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubims shall it be made:  And thou shalt hang it upon four pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold: their hooks shall be of gold, upon the four sockets of silver.  And thou shalt hang up the vail under the taches, that thou mayest bring in thither within the vail the ark of the testimony: and the vail shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.  And thou shalt put the mercy seat upon the ark of the testimony in the most holy place.  And thou shalt set the table without the vail, and the candlestick over against the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south: and thou shalt put the table on the north side.” You may also see Exodus 36:35-36 and Hebrews 9:1-7. A similar arrangement was followed in King Solomon’s Temple 500 years later (2 Chronicles 3:14). Zerubbabel’s Temple was constructed 500 years after that, and King Herod the Great refurbished it a few decades before Christ’s birth.
Why was the Temple veil ripped in two in Matthew chapter 27? Firstly, let us deal with the supposition the Mosaic Law was rescinded (cancelled) when Jesus died and the veil was rent. No one who reads the Bible with an open heart could ever suggest this to be true. Either they have not actually read the verses, or they have read the verses and chosen to ignore them for sake of maintaining denominational traditions! It is absolutely, categorically wrong to say the Law ended at Calvary and the Dispensation of Grace began at Calvary. All we have to do is turn to Ephesians chapter 3, and read the first two verses: “ For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,  If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:….” If the Bible is correct—and it is!—then the Dispensation of Grace could in no wise begin until the Apostle Paul. Saul of Tarsus is a lost or unsaved man in Matthew chapter 27, and he will not be converted until a year later (Acts chapter 9).
Furthermore, the Mosaic Law was not abolished at the cross, for Christ Himself commanded His disciples to observe the Law and teach men to do the same so they could be great in the Kingdom. Matthew 5:17-19, spoken before the cross: “ Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew chapter 23, also spoken before the cross: “ Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,  Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:  All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”
Matthew 28:18-20 now: “ And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” What were the “things” Jesus commanded them? Was it not the Law, as we just read? No one is told anywhere here, “You are not under the law, but under grace.” We do not find such language until the Apostle Paul (namely, Romans 6:14-15).
Even after Calvary, Temple worship is still ongoing. No one in these passages is under the impression that they are under grace and not law! “And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen” (Luke 24:53). “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,…” (Acts 2:46). “Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour” (Acts 3:1). There is absolutely no question about it. Even though the Temple veil was rent, Law observance was encouraged and continued. Temple worship remained.
Now, let us deal with the claim the rending of the veil means there is no longer a difference between Jew and Gentile. This too is false, nothing more than a baseless assumption. The cross of Calvary did not abolish the distinction between circumcision and uncircumcision. Again, if we have eyes to see, we can clearly see the middle wall of partition is still up post-resurrection. The nation Israel is still considered separate and distinct from the nations of the world, and God’s messengers restrict His Word to the Jews even into the early Acts period. “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Read the Apostle Peter’s famous sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2: “ But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:….  Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:….  Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Whom is Peter addressing? The whole world? No, the nation Israel! Again, “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole” (Acts 4:10). “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).
The “no difference between Jew and Gentile” is applicable beginning with the Apostle Paul’s ministry in Acts chapter 9 onward. Someone will inquire about Peter visiting Gentile Cornelius in chapter 10. Here, we will notice this followed Paul’s salvation and the beginning of his ministry (chapter 9!). God directed Peter to Cornelius’ house so that he may defend Paul’s “all-men” message in chapter 15 many years later. Paul wrote, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference” (Romans 3:22). “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Romans 10:12). For more information, see our Ephesians 2:18-22 article linked at the end of this study. Also, read all of Ephesians chapters 2 and 3, which speak of the difference between Jew and Gentile being removed in the Church the Body of Christ—an entity that did not exist until Paul’s salvation and ministry.
Having handled the misconceptions, we can now offer two reasons why the Temple veil was ripped apart when the Lord Jesus died.
Firstly, back in Matthew chapter 23, Christ had told Jerusalem, “The Temple is now your house!” Notice: “ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” No longer was the Temple His house (Matthew 21:13) or His Father’s house (John 2:16). With the veil rent, it is clear to all in the Temple that the Shekinah glory of God is absent! They have rejected Him, and they have rejected His Son (crucified Him), and now He has given them over to the error they so passionately desired. The Temple vacated, the Antichrist can enter and occupy (Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)!
By the way, at the time of Christ dying and the Temple veil rending, the priests would have been there offering the animal sacrifices. No doubt they knew God Himself took that veil and tore it. While not recorded in the Bible, it is said they stitched the veil back together and continued with their vain religious system!
The second reason the Temple veil was rent is found in the Book of Hebrews, information God revealed many years after Calvary. Go over to chapter 10: “ 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;  And having an high priest over the house of God;  Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised; )  And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
When the writer of Hebrews speaks of “a new and living way,” he refers to something beyond the Mosaic system. This is the transitioning from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In fact, read chapters 8-10, carefully noting 8:7-13, 9:1-28, and 10:1-25. As explained in Hebrews 10:19-20, the Temple veil being split was a picture or symbol of Christ’s flesh—His death—opening the way for Israel to approach God differently. Through Christ’s shed blood, the New Covenant can now be ratified. It will be instituted at His Second Coming, as seen in the following two passages (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Romans 11:25-27: “ For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.  And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:  For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” Acts 3:19-21: “ Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.  And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:  Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
Why was the Temple veil rent in Matthew 27:51? Contrary to popular belief, it was not because the Dispensation of Law ended and the Dispensation of Grace began. Also, it was not because the middle wall between Jew and Gentile was abolished. These are true with respect to the Apostle Paul’s ministry, which is over a year away. The veil was torn because it was a sign of God judging Israel, His absence from the Most Holy Place now evident. No glory or presence of God is visible in Herod’s Temple because this is the way Israel has chosen it to be! Through later Divine revelation unveiled in Hebrews—information not known at the cross—we learn the veil symbolized Christ’s flesh. With the shedding of His sinless blood, the New Covenant can be confirmed and the Old Covenant can pass away.