At the cross we see five miracles. Each of the miracles has a distinctive message. The first miracle, three hours of darkness in broad daylight, symbolized that Jesus took upon Himself the sins of the whole world. The second miracle, the miraculous splitting of the veil, symbolizes that we are all welcome into the presence of God. This is how God always wanted to relate to us.
Each year millions of people go to the holy Indian city of Haridwar to bathe in the River Ganges. These multitudes come believing that this Hindu ritual will wash away their sins. Such extreme measures may be uncommon, but people try all sorts of things to build a relationship with God. The splitting of the veil reminds us that the death of Christ upon the cross gives us a way to have a relationship with God.
Matthew reported that the tearing of the veil happened simultaneous to Jesus breathing his last breath. (Matthew 27:50-51) Scholars debate which veil is being referenced. The temple would have had two curtains or veils—one separating the outer court from the Gentiles and another separating the inner court from the Holy of Holies. Since none of the Gospels indicate which veil, we do not know exactly, but in either case the issue is one of separation. The veil reminded that there was a barrier between sinful humanity and Holy God.
Understanding the purpose of the veil helps us to see the significance of this miracle. The tearing of the veil symbolizes several aspects of the nature of our salvation.
First, we see that salvation involves the removal of a barrier. The veil in the temple was a barrier. The first veil kept non-Jews from entering the inner courts. The second veil kept all, except the most High Priest, and this only once a year, from going into the Holiest of Holy Places. Sin is our barrier, but at the tearing of Christ’s flesh on the cross, the temple veil miraculously tore apart, thus symbolizing the removal of the barrier.
Second, in the tearing of the veil, we are reminded that God initiates salvation. Salvation is God’s idea, not our idea. Some have remarked that the Gospel writers were sure to indicate that the veil was torn from top to bottom. Perhaps this imagery is symbolic of God from Heaven ripping down the curtain.
Third, in the tearing of the veil, we are encouraged that God invites all to be saved. The temple being torn dramatically announces that access to God is open to all.
Finally, the tearing of the veil insists that God is the only way of salvation. The simultaneous tearing of the veil with His death announces that we gain access to God only through the cross.
Yes, I think much more was happening than just a tearing of a veil. God was announcing through this miracle, as the writer of Hebrews declared, “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” (Hebrews 9:12) Hallelujah to the Lamb!