The torn Temple curtain -- Salvation unlimited

What is the meaning of the Temple curtain being torn in two at the moment of Jesus' death?

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" -- 1 John 4:10

Week 20 (May)

For nearly a decade, Barbara and I lived in a country in which the vast majority of the population claimed to be Roman Catholic. Because of that particular religious environment, one phrase in the Bible's crucifixion narrative has come to have a rich meaning for us.

It is only one phrase, and it comes immediately before the death of Jesus: ". . . and the veil of the temple was torn in two" (Luke 23:45, NASB). That's all. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention it, but none of the Gospel writers give any commentary or explanation.

However, that tearing of the Temple curtain in two is full of rich symbolism coming as it did when the new order of grace was ushered in with the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God.

No detail was overlooked, down to the divine ripping apart of the veil in front of the Holy of Holies. This veil hung as a curtain between sinful humanity and the presence of the Creator. Only a special priesthood could pass through that opening into the presence of God.

painting of a torn
pieace of thick fabric

But now, with the death of Jesus, the way was opened into the presence of God for every person. The priesthood became universal with Jesus as the High Priest.

Unfortunately, Christendom hasn't always appreciated the full meaning of that curtain-tearing although I was reminded of it every time I visited a Roman Catholic basilica or cathedral in Italy.

Along ibe if the side walls, there was always one or more elaborate box-like confessionals. These confessional booths are there because of the Roman Catholic doctrine of auricular confession.

Developed about a thousand years after the death of Christ, this dogma says that a person's every sin must be confessed to a priest who will then absolve that person of that sin as well as assign "penance" to be done. This penance normally involves a certain number of prayers or prayerful acts that must be done to signify genuine sorrow and resolution to do better.

In the light of the Crucifixion story, this doctrine seems a throwback to Old Testament times. It's as though the curtain in the Temple has been sewn back together to once more separate ordinary human beings from God's presence.

This phrase in Matthew, Mark, and Luke about the Temple veil or curtain indicates clearly that there is no need for human mediators to pronounce words of absolution or assign penance. Such mediators are unnecessary.

Why did God choose to do all of this for us? Well, as John writes in his letter: "Not that we loved God, but that He loved us . . ." (1 John 4:10, NASB). Because of His love, God went to incredible lengths to save us. I'm afraid that far too often we don't fully appreciate what Christ did to save us from our sins.

Maybe it's because we've heard the story so often that we are in danger of becoming "inoculated" against fully realizing what it meant for Christ to die in our stead.

My friend Antonio Capannoli lives in Siena, a centuries-old city about 50 miles south of Florence. A few years ago I had the privilege of helping introduce Antonio to the Lord Jesus Christ in his own living room.

Sometime later, he told me of being at his mother's home and watching a film portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus on television. Antonio's mother, who is not an evangelical, walked out of the room, saying it was too awful to watch.

Antonio, on the other hand, sat there, transfixed, tears streaming down his face as he came to realize the awful price Jesus paid for his salvation.

Discussion questions

  1. What is the significance of the Temple curtain tearing in two at the moment of Jesus' death, and what does it symbolize?
  2. What are some reasons why people may not fully appreciate the sacrifice that Jesus made on their behalf?
  3. How can Christians avoid becoming "inoculated" to the significance of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross?
  4. How does the tearing of the Temple curtain highlight the universal availability of salvation through Christ? What implications does this have for the role and position of priests and other religious intermediaries?
  5. How can Cherist-followers deepen their understanding and appreciation of the significance of Christ's death in ways that impact their daily lives and relationships with others?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It originally appeared in Standard a Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school lessons published by The Foundry.

Background: Cultural, Religious, and Theological Contexts

The tearing of the veil or curtain in the Jerusalem Temple at the moment of Jesus Christ's death holds profound significance for Christ-followers.

Cultural and Religious Context

Historical Context:

The tearing of the veil occurred during the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

The event symbolizes the end of the Old Covenant (the covenant between God and the people of Israel) and the beginning of the New Covenant (established through Jesus Christ), where access to God is mediated through Jesus rather than through the rituals of the Temple.

Theological Significance

The tearing of the veil represents the opening of a new era of salvation and reconciliation between God and humanity through Jesus Christ. It signifies the removal of the separation between God and mankind, allowing believers to approach God directly through faith in Jesus Christ. Additionally, it highlights the idea that Jesus' death inaugurated a new way of worship and relationship with God, emphasizing spiritual access over physical rituals.

What do Nazarenes believe about the Atonement?

We believe that Jesus Christ, by His sufferings, by the shedding of His own blood, and by His death on the Cross, made a full atonement for all human sin, and that this Atonement is the only ground of salvation, and that it is sufficient for every individual of Adam's race. The Atonement is graciously efficacious for the salvation of those incapable of moral responsibility and for the children in innocency but is efficacious for the salvation of those who reach the age of responsibility only when they repent and believe. (Isaiah 53:5 6, 11; Mark 10:45; Luke 24:46 48; John 1:29; 3:14 17; Acts 4:10 12; Romans 3:21 26; 4:17 25; 5:6 21; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:14 21; Galatians 1:3 4; 3:13 14; Colossians 1:19 23; 1 Timothy 2:3 6; Titus 2:11 14; Hebrews 2:9; 9:11 14; 13:12; 1 Peter 1:18 21; 2:19 25; 1 John 2:1 2)
    -- excerpt from the Articles of Faith, Church of the Nazarene

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