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Where Does the Bible Say the Veil Was Torn?

The New Testament states that the veil was torn in the temple after Jesus died, an odd little detail that doesn't seem to mean much at first. Once you see where that veil came from and what it signified, this event becomes hugely important.

Where Does the Bible Say the Veil Was Torn?

When we talk about Easter events, we often forget what happened right after Jesus died. The Gospels record several shocking events, one of them being that in the temple, a heavy veil was torn in two from top to bottom. 

God first came to live with a people thousands of years ago in a physical place. On God’s instruction, Moses had the Tabernacle constructed for people to worship and travel with the Lord’s presence. Several generations later, once settled in the Promised Land of Canaan, Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. 

While the Tabernacle and Temple were both signs that God was with the Israelites as his chosen people, the whole structure was built on separation. There were different stages and “courts” throughout. The Outer Court held non-Israelites, the ceremonially unclean, and women. The Inner Court was for Israelite men. Then you had the Holy of Holies, a little room that housed the Ark of the Covenant, signifying the manifest presence of God. 

Moses draped a thick veil across the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Only one person, the High Priest, could enter there once a year. Upon the death of Jesus, a significant change transpired. 

Which Gospels Mention that the Veil Was Torn?

The Bible says that after suffering upon the cross for hours, Jesus committed his spirit to his Father and died. Immediately, the veil was torn down the middle along with other descriptions.

This event is included in three of the four Gospels, each slightly different. In Matthew 27, the tearing of the veil was accompanied by an earthquake, rocks splitting, and graves opened with resurrected people walking around the city. The Roman centurion in charge of guarding Jesus said, “This is truly the Son of God!” 

Mark 15 is almost the same but left out the earthquake and resurrected dead. Luke 23 details how the sun went dark and the veil was torn just before Jesus died. Also, the centurion used different words, “Surely this was a righteous man!” 

Of the Gospels, John is unique for many reasons, and he gives details not covered by the other three writers, but he doesn’t include the torn veil. 

Overall, the apostles and early church found this singular moment important for the Good News of Jesus. As Jews, they understood the significance of that veil between God and humanity. 

What Purpose Did the Veil of the Temple Serve?

In the Old Testament, God makes it clear that he can’t directly interact with people. Otherwise, they would die. 

We begin the discussion at Mount Sinai when God meets with Moses and gives the Ten Commandments and the Law. A massive cloud of flame and darkness covered the top of the mountain, and God told Moses to relate a message to the people. The Israelites should stay away from the mountain. If they touched it, they would die. Even their animals would. (Exodus 19) The people were frightened enough of the fiery cloud that they didn’t even want to get close. “Moses, you go. We’ll stay here.” 

Moses did go up the mountain, and while God was dictating the law and the design of the Tabernacle, Moses longs to see more of God and asks. God’s response was that he could only show Moses his back, not his face. If Moses saw his face, then that would kill him. (Exodus 30:20-33)

Moses came down the mountain, his face shining. The Israelites were afraid of him and begged him to cover his face. He did. With a veil. 

Why Did the Temple Have a Veil?

After Moses comes down from the mountain, the Ark of the Covenant is built and placed in the Holy of Holies. The Ark was removed for special events and battles, but the general rule remained that it had to stay in that little room behind a veil. Only the High Priest could enter that room once a year, and it took extensive cleansing and ritual for that to happen (Hebrews 9:7). To go outside of those boundaries meant that God would break out and kill them. 

In fact, the whole ritual system of sacrifices and incense was designed to cover up the stench of sin, a system of constant death and blood, a continual reminder that the penalty for disobedience was a violent, destructive end. The system had to exist for God to dwell with them. The wrong incense got Aaron’s sons killed. (Leviticus 10:1-2)

By the days of Jesus, the fear of God was such that the Jews tried to refrain from even saying God’s name at all, just in case they broke one of the commandments and took the Lord’s name in vain. This is why the term is often "kingdom of heaven," instead of "kingdom of God." Some modern Jews won’t write out the name, using G-d. 

Fear and punishment; death and blood. Separation from God and each other, even in the middle of worship. Doesn’t sound much like a God of love. Doesn’t sound like reconciliation with a Father. 

The problem was simple: the corrupt and rebellious hearts of people that no law could fix, even a holy one. But that’s all we had. 

Unless it’s all torn apart somehow.

What Did it Mean that the Veil Was Torn?

In the Old Testament, God promised something different in an odd prophecy repeated in the New Testament. 

God speaks through the prophet Amos, and as is common with those ancient writings, God corrects the disobedience of Israel and other nations. God’s love and promises of restoration are also common, and Amos is no different:

“‘On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down and repair its damages. I will raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ says the Lord who does this thing.” (Amos 9:11-12)

The tabernacle of David? What was that?

Back in the days of Samuel the priest and judge, the Ark of the Covenant was taken in battle (1 Samuel 4:11). After God gave the Philistines tumors that killed them (1 Samuel 5), they sent it back to Israel where it stayed in a remote town in a man’s house. David becomes king after Saul and decides to bring the Ark back to Israel. 

But David doesn’t bring the Ark of the Covenant back to the Mosaic Tabernacle; he brings it to his newly conquered capital, Jerusalem. Outside the city, David erected a big, open tent and set up constant worship and singing. The Ark, the manifest presence of God, was open for all to see in the middle of this tent. Israelites, Gentiles, men, women, the unclean, the lame, everyone and anyone could come and worship as one and on equal footing. (2 Samuel 6:17)

With all that we’ve discussed, you’d think that God would be upset with David. He broke the rules in a major way, went outside of the legal system. However, David's tabernacle wasn’t outside of God’s heart. The Father wanted open relationship and communication with people, because he is a God of love. He is love. 

Solomon built the Temple and stuck the Ark back in a little room behind a curtain, all by God’s guidance. But Amos tells us that God was going to do something phenomenal in the future, rebuild that tabernacle of David. That prophecy includes the Gentiles coming to worship God. 

When the veil was torn during the crucifixion, that meant the separation between God and humanity was done. The blood of Jesus on that cross broke down the enmity between us and God and between Jew and Gentile, any nation or enemy, a blood of eternal peace, a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant that through his descendant (being Christ) all nations would be blessed (Genesis 22:18). Not the Israelites only but all people. The crucifixion and resurrection killed the very nature of sin for all who repent and follow God. 

Moving forward into Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas describe how the Gentiles are coming to Jesus and being filled with the Spirit, and the leaders of the first-generation church quote from Amos 9. That prophecy was fulfilled. Jew and Gentile reconciled with each other and with God through Jesus. (Acts 15:16)

What Does The Veil Was Torn Mean for Us Today?

The writer of Hebrews also refers to the torn veil, explaining that we can now boldly enter the Holy of Holies through the split veil (Hebrews 10:19-22). By saying this, the writer further shows that the true veil was the flesh of Jesus. Remember, the problem was our human nature, broken and corrupt and rebellious, and God couldn’t dwell with people. Jesus, being both human and divine, made a way back to God through himself. 

That way includes our own self-sacrifice. If we decide to follow, we must take up our personal crosses, like he did (Luke 9:23). Seeking to save our own lives will end them, but when we give our life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel, we find the abundant life we’ve always longed for (Matthew 16:25). 

We are now the temple and house of God (Hebrews 3:6), both individually and corporately. God no longer lives in physical buildings made with human hands (Acts 17:24), whether tent or stone, but in people. In me and you and us together. The manifest presence is now within us, greater than the Ark ever was. 

Moses came down the mountain and placed a veil on his face. That veil was torn, too. The shining face of Moses was temporary. Ours is eternal, and we don’t cover it. We are the walking inhabitation of God, and where two or more are gathered, Christ can be seen (2 Corinthians 3:13).

When the Temple veil was torn 2000 years ago, God did break out. Not to kill, but to bless, to love, to end conflict and division through a new home, a born again people that cover the earth and bring the Good News of the Kingdom to all, not limited to one building in one city but uncontained and running wild with love through his children going out to all the corners of the earth. 

Peace. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images/inxti

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney (with his amazing wife, Becca) has lived as a missionary in Korea, traveled for missions to several countries, and now lives in Suwanee GA as a church planter that works bi-vocationally with Phoenix Roasters, a missional coffee company. He has a podcast about the Kingdom of God called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author with Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

Learn more about the meaning and significance behind the Easter holiday and Holy Week celebrations:

What is Palm Sunday?
What is Maundy Thursday?
What is Good Friday?
What is Holy Saturday?
What is Easter?

At Easter, the Son of God took on the world’s sin and defeated the devil, death, and grave. How is it, then, that history’s most glorious moment is surrounded by fearful fishermen, despised tax collectors, marginalized women, feeble politicians, and traitorous friends?

In The Characters of Easter, you’ll become acquainted with the unlikely collection of ordinary people who witnessed the miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection. This FREE podcast provides a fresh approach to the Lenten season and can be used as a devotional or study for both individuals and groups. 

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