Mark 15:38 (NLT)
And the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
TIME OF DAY:
Mark 15:33 informs us that Jesus died, ‘at the ninth hour’, which in Hebrew time keeping is 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
I expect the Holy Place within the temple would probably have been quite a dark place, lit mainly by a large candle stick & torches. I have introduced a glowing cross with radiating light rays, bursting out of the ripping curtain, which is symbolic of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross tearing the curtain in two.
Three shocked priests.
This scene forms part of the Easter series, from Mark’s Gospel.
This is my interpretation of the verse above, ‘And the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.’
One of the first things I had to do, when coming to design the scene was to determine what the curtain looked like, how large it was, where it was, etc. Surprisingly I found very little reference material on the internet as to what the temple curtain might have actually looked like. Many other artists have simply made their curtains stripy, or non-descript red, or blue colours, with very little surface design!
Significance of curtain torn in two.
The top of the curtain was normally well out of reach of people (the curtain might have been upwards of 60 feet high!) yet verse 38 says that the curtain was torn “from top to bottom”. I conclude that the curtain was supernaturally torn in two by God, to indicate that man’s separation from God was at an end, after the death of Jesus.
Veils, screens, curtains.
Bibles & Bible commentaries refer to “veils” both in the desert Tabernacle & the Temple in Jerusalem, referring to curtains of woven cloth, used to screen from view, & therefore separate, one area from another.
The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary has this to say about the curtain (also called a veil):
‘VEIL (Hebrew: paroket). The screen separating the Holy Place and Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and Temple. It was this piece of tapestry that was rent by the earthquake at Christ’s crucifixion (Matthew 27:51; etc.).’
This dictionary refers to the curtain/veil as a piece of tapestry; clearly I was on the right lines to draw the curtain/veil as woven cloth.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has a very helpful entry regarding the various curtains or veils, as they are often referred to:
‘VEIL (parokheth; ?atap?tasµa, katapétasma; the King James Version vail): In Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, the veil that hung between the two holy chambers of the tabernacle is mentioned 23 times (Exodus 26:31, etc.). In several places it is termed “the veil of the screen” and it is distinguished from “the screen for the door of the tabernacle” (Exodus 35:12, 15; Exodus 39:34, 38). By the latter is meant the curtain that hung outside the holy place, i.e. at the tabernacle entrance. Exodus 26:31 informs us that the veil was made of fine-twined linen, and that its colors were blue and purple and scarlet. It was embroidered with cherubim. At each removal of the tabernacle the veil was used to enwrap the ark of the testimony (Numbers 4:5). From its proximity to this central object of the Hebrew ceremonial system, the veil is termed “the veil of the testimony” (Leviticus 24:3), “the veil which is before the testimony” (Exodus 27:21), etc. In Solomon’s Temple the veil is mentioned but once (2 Chron. 3:14). It was protected by doors of olive wood (1 Kings 6:31). In the later temple it is alluded to in 1 Macc. 1:22. Its presence in Herod’s temple [which is what I am illustrating here!] is attested by the statement in each of the Synoptists that at the time of Christ’s death the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom, or in the midst (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45; compare in Mishna, Mid. ii. 1; iv.7). This fact is the basis of the profound truth expressed by the writer to the Hebrews that Jesus, by His sacrificial death, opened for all believers a way into the holiest “through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Hebrews 10:20).’
Curtain/veil: which one was torn in two?
There seems to be some debate among Bible scholars & commentators about which curtain/veil was torn in half, since there were in fact two of them, both in the desert Tabernacle & the Temples of Jerusalem. Referring specifically to the permanent temple building, there was 1) a curtain/veil which separated the forecourt from the Temple (visible to all visitors to the building) & 2) another curtain/veil, inside the temple building, which separated two parts of the temple: the Holy Place, from the Most Holy Place. This second, inner curtain/veil was only visible to officiating priests within the temple building itself, & not anyone outside the building.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary refers to both curtain/veils in this way:
‘Simultaneous with Jesus’ death the curtain (veil) of the temple (naou, “sanctuary”; cf. 11:11) was torn in two from top to bottom. The passive verb and the direction of the tear indicate that this was God’s action. It was no doubt observed and reported by the priests (cf. Acts 6:7) who at that moment were conducting the Jewish evening sacrifice [*1]. This could have been the outer curtain hung between the sanctuary itself and the forecourt (Ex. 26:36-37) or the inner curtain separating the holy place from the most holy place (Ex. 26:31-35). If it was the outer curtain, then the tear was a public sign confirming Jesus’ words of judgment on the temple, later fulfilled in a.d. 70 (cf. Mark 13:2). Probably the inner curtain was torn, for it was a sign that Jesus’ death ended the need for repeated sacrifices for sins, and opened a new and living way of free and direct access to God (Heb. 6:19-20; 9:6-14; 10:19-22).’
[*1] Remember that in Hebrew time keeping, 3 o’clock in the afternoon was considered “the 9th hour”, & only 3 hours before the start of the next day, which began at 6pm.
Referring to The Bible Knowledge Commentary entry above, there was great significance to all humanity of the event, regardless of exactly which curtain/veil was torn in two, the inner or the outer one. See below for more on the significance of the curtain/veil being torn in two.
Most Bible commentaries seem to suggest that it was the inner curtain/veil which was torn in two, & in the end this is what I have elected to illustrate.
How thick was the curtain/veil?
There is a good article on the internet which tries to answer this question. According to that, it seems that the curtain/veil may well have been pretty thick, up to “a hands breadth” or approximately 4 inches (10.16 cm).
Design: what did the curtain/veil look like?
I next had to determine what design to incorporate into the heavy woven fabric curtain/veil. Although there is a brief, enigmatic description of what the original Tabernacle curtain/veil design should look like (see Exodus 26:31-33, below) I have not found any satisfactory images on the internet to inform my own design.
In the description of the curtain designed by God for the Tabernacle (which came before both Solomon’s & Herod’s Temples were built as permanent structures), we read:
Exodus 26:31-33 (ANIV) – ‘“Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman. 32 Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. 33 Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the Testimony behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.”’
Whilst in the first permanent Temple building, we read that King Solomon replicated the Lord’s design from the earlier mobile Tabernacle:
2 Chronicles 3:14 (ANIV) – ‘He [King Solomon] made the curtain of blue, purple and crimson yarn and fine linen, with cherubim worked into it.’
From these references I was sure I could use blue, purple and scarlet colours for the design.
My research reveals that the curtain/veil was constructed of 72 seperate woven pieces, sewn together.
From the dimensions of the Temple mentioned in the Bible & various commentaries I have reasoned that the curtain/veil was twice as high as it was wide, & so in my drawing the design reflects a 6 × 12 grid of separate pieces, totaling 72 in all.
Apparently ‘eighty-two myriads of damsels worked at it, and two such veils were made every year. When it became soiled, it took three hundred priests to immerse and cleanse it.’ (same source as the above.)
Textile design today benefits from mechanisation which allows for exact replication of a design over & over again. The curtain/veil in the temple was all sewn/woven by hand, without the benefits of a standardised design due to mechanisation. For this reason I have deliberately made the various Cherubim look different from each other, as they each would have been woven by different women, with slightly different skills, & with slightly different ideas about what a Cherubim might look like.
What are Cherubim?
I decided to include Cherubim in my curtain/veil as they were specifically referred to both the original Tabernacle & Solomon’s Temple curtain/veil designs & have illustrated them in gold.
The New Century Version Dictionary defines them as:
CHERUBIM (CHAIR-uh-bim) heavenly beings with wings and the faces of men and animals.
1) guarded the garden of Eden, Genesis 3:24
2) on the Ark of the Agreement, Exodus 25:18-22; 1 Kings 6:23-28
3) seen by Ezekiel, Ezekiel 10:1-20
Ezekiel’s vision of angelic beings, or Cherubim informed my design:
Ezekiel 1:5-12 (ANIV) – ‘5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, 6 but each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, 9 and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved. 10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out upwards; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body.’
Witnesses of the curtain/veil tearing in two.
‘The rending of the veil was evidently witnessed by many priests. Three o’clock was the time of the evening sacrifice and they were serving in the temple at that very moment. This must have had some effect on them. At any rate, we note later on that many of the priests came to a saving knowledge of Christ. “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). This reveals that many of the priests believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and we have every reason to believe that some of them were serving in the temple at the time of the Crucifixion.
The fact that the very moment when He gave up the ghost was the moment that the veil was rent in twain is not accidental by any means. They are specifically stated together.’
(Source: Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee.)
I was in some doubt whether or not to put any people in my scene, since I reasoned that the inner curtain/veil may not have had any priests present to witness the sudden tearing of the curtain. However, both The Bible Knowledge Commentary & the J. Vernon McGee quotes above gave me confidence to add some shocked-looking priests with reasonable confidence that someone was actually there to witness the event!
Significance of the Temple curtain tearing from top to bottom.
Several quotes from Bible commentators are useful here:
‘The veil of the temple was rent—This rending of the veil was emblematic, and pointed out that the separation between Jews and Gentiles was now abolished, and that the privilege of the high priest was now communicated to all mankind: ALL might henceforth have access to the throne of grace, through the one great atonement and mediator, the Lord Jesus.
See this beautifully illustrated in Hebrews 10:19-22.’ [*2]
(Source: Adam Clarke’s – A Commentary and Critical Notes.)
‘“The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” This curtain cut off the holy of holies, the temple’s most inner room, which could only be entered once a year by the high priest, bearing sacrificial blood. This curtain was visible evidence in Old Testament religion that there was no direct access to God for the worshiper. The tearing of the curtain showed that now, through the death of Jesus, the way to God was open to all.’
(Source: The Teacher’s Commentary.)
‘… the Mosaic covenant [the covenant through Moses] and the legal dispensation were still in operation throughout the lifetime and up to the death of Christ, when “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51). This momentous event signified that a “new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20) was open for all believers into the very presence of God with no other sacrifice or priesthood necessary save Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:1-8; Hebrews 10:19-22). It was only as a result of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), and the preaching of the gospel of grace that actually saw the outworking of the New Covenant.
(Source: The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary.)
Matthew 27 – Death of Jesus – Scene 05 – Curtain torn in two
To see how I drew the temple curtain, in Matthew’s Gospel…
Follow this link to see this Bible Cartoon on the BC Gallery page, with download & purchase options:
Bible Cartoon: Matthew 27 – Death of Jesus – Scene 05 – Curtain torn in two
Hebrews 10:19-22 (ANIV) – ‘19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.’
Hopefully it can be seen that the significance of the temple curtain being torn in two for Christians includes:
1) Jesus’ death on the cross completed the old Mosaic covenant, such that animal sacrifice is no longer necessary as an atonement for our sins.
2) We no longer require human representation (in the form of a high priest) to atone for our sins, since Jesus (described as our great High Priest (see Hebrews 4:14)) has paid for our sins once, for all. His sacrifice is a continual, & continuing atonement; no other is required.
3) We now enjoy continual, uninterrupted access to our heavenly Father, as a result of Jesus’ death upon the cross.