Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45b
The Curtain Comes Down
The temple was an elaborate structure, particularly Herod’s temple in the time of Jesus. God gave detailed and intricate instructions concerning the tabernacle which preceded the temple (Exodus 25-30, 35-40), and later for the temple itself (1 Kings 6-7 & 2 Chronicles 2-4) which was based upon the instructions for the tabernacle. (Please note: God cares about beauty, especially when it comes to His house.) The temple was designed such that the deeper one went into it, the more sacred the space one occupied. Herod’s temple consisted of a court for gentiles where God-fearing non-Jews might go to pray to the true God, a court for women, a court for men, a court for priests, the Holy Place where priests offered incense, and the Most Holy Place which only the high priest entered once a year on the Day of Atonement. Between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place was a curtain separating the two places, which God ordained in Exodus 26:31-35. I am informed again by the notes in my ESV Study Bible that this curtain “was an elaborately woven fabric of 72 twisted plaits of 24 threads each. It was 60 feet (18m) high and 30 (9.1m) feet wide” (1887). In other words, this wasn’t the curtain in your mother’s living room; this wonder work of embroidery was a monster, a beautiful and magnificent monster to be sure, but a huge piece of tapestry that took one’s breath away.
Well, the passage we read today tells us that upon Jesus’ death, this awe-inspiring curtain was torn in two, “from top to bottom.” Given the height and thickness of the material, this was a miracle all its own. But what is its meaning? We remember that in John’s Gospel, miracles are called “signs” because they point beyond themselves to some deeper truth about our Lord. And that truth is simply this: The tearing of the curtain symbolizes the tearing of our Lord’s body, through whom we now have access to the One true God and Father. The blood of goats and bulls has been superseded forever by the supreme sacrifice of the Son, the Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). The Old Testament regulations were prelude, anticipations, and types of the realities to come: “we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Hebrews 8:1-2). And because he is seated at the right hand, we now have access to the throne of grace. God is holy, and you just can’t go before Him. He’s not angry with you; it’s just His nature to be holy, and ours not to be. And so, we need a mediator, the God-man who can go between, because he is worthy. The curtain has come down and we can go in – because of Christ.