Evelyn R. Smith: This is my beloved son...
It is Easter time, and all of the old, familiar stories will be told and retold. Just as at the Noel, the memories grow more precious each year. One account we’ll hear again is the rending of the temple veil at the death of our Lord on the cross. What was its significance? I’ve wondered. I know from reading Exodus 26:31-33, that the veil separated the people from the presence of God. But could the tearing of the temple veil at the moment of our Lord’s death mean something more? Could it in any way relate to the Biblical custom of rending garments in moments of grief?
Researching this custom, I found that men in Bible days, wore a cheap outer garment with a large V-neckline that slipped over the head. It could be removed easily for washing, and it protected the more expensive clothes beneath from soil. This outer garment was also used at “rending ceremonies.”
Even today, the most striking Jewish expression of grief is the rending of garments by the mourners prior to a funeral service. It is performed by grief stricken family members in a very special way. One bare hand is placed on each side at the neck of the garment, and it is ripped from top to bottom, a signal to all that their hearts are broken.
In Scripture, I found examples of this practice. When Jacob saw Joseph’s coat of many colors drenched with what he thought was his son’s blood, he rent his garments. Job, at the loss of his children, rent his garment, as well. Rending was a signal to friends and relatives standing nearby that the father was grief stricken and beyond comforting.
Does this ancient custom have anything to do with the death of our Lord on the cross? Does the verse in Matthew 27:51 have deeper significance — other than the fact that with the veil gone, there was no separation between man and God anymore? I think so.
In the Jewish temple built by King Herod in 18 B.C., the outer court was open to all Jews. However, the inner sanctuary of the temple was known as the “holy of holies,” the place where the very presence of Jehovah God dwelt. Shielded from view by a heavy, ornately embroidered curtain, it was inaccessible to the common worshipers. Only the high priest was allowed to enter that room — and even then, just once a year on the Day of Atonement. Behind that veil, the priest met Jehovah God and presented the blood of a lamb, sacrificed for the sins of the people.
Now, I cannot explain the Triune God, for I know there is just one God in Heaven; not two or three, or more. I believe that my Lord Jesus Christ was Almighty God Himself — albeit in human form. Our God in Heaven above chose to enter our world as a little baby boy. The only way God could meet and have fellowship with His human children was by becoming one of us.
After all, Jesus claimed to be, and we believe Him to be, God in the flesh; indeed, the sacrificial lamb of God who died for our sins, and not ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
Once the temple veil was torn from top to bottom, the final battle for man’s redemption was over. Never again would God’s children be separated from the presence of their Father. The profound truth of that is clearly expressed in Hebrews 10:19-20, “We have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the torn curtain, that is, through His flesh.”
In that it shielded God from view of all but the High Priest, the veil in the temple in Jerusalem was God’s garment. At the very moment Jesus died, Matthew 27:51 records, “And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from top to bottom.”
Is it not plain? Our Divine Father used the customary Jewish mourning gesture to tell the world His heart was broken. God, by this one quick, conclusive and profound, gesture, let us know that He was at His Son’s side at the moment He took His last breath. Grieving, our Heavenly Father did what any devoted Jewish father would have done at the death of a precious son. To let everyone know that “This is My beloved Son,” He rent His garment.
Evelyn is a resident at Edgewood Summit. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.