The Day the Veil Was Rent And the Earth Shook
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.
— Matthew 27:50,51
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that on the day Jesus was crucified, the sky turned eerily dark at the sixth hour of the day. Matthew 27:45 says, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.”
Notice the choice of words Matthew uses to describe this event. First, he says that “there was darkness.” The words “there was” are from the Greek word ginomai, which describes an event that slowly crept up on them before they knew what was happening. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the clouds started rolling over the land, becoming darker and darker until finally an ominous, dark gloom filled the entire sky and loomed over the landscape. The word “dark” is the Greek word skotos, used all over the New Testament to depict something very dark.
Verse 45 says that this sudden and unexplainable darkness covered all the “land.” The word “land” is the word ges, the Greek word for the earth, and it refers to the entire earth, not just a small geographical region. The Greek word ges emphatically tells us that the whole world literally became simultaneously darkened.
The historians Phlegon, Thaddus, and Julius Africanus all referred to the darkness that covered the earth at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Critics of the Bible have attempted to explain away this supernatural darkness by alleging that it was due to an eclipse of the sun. This is impossible, however, for the Passover occurred at the time of a full moon.
The Bible informs us that the darkening of the sky started at the sixth hour (see Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:45). This is significant, for the sixth hour (noontime) was the very moment that the high priest Caiaphas, arrayed in his full priestly garments, began the procession in which he would enter the temple to slaughter a pure, spotless Passover lamb. This darkness that covered the land lasted until the ninth hour — the exact moment the high priest would be making his entrance into the Holy of Holies to offer the blood of the Passover lamb to cover the sins of the nation.
It was at this moment that Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). As He heaved upward to breathe for the last time, Jesus gathered enough air to speak forth a victory shout! His assignment was complete! After proclaiming those words with His last ounce of strength, Matthew 27:50 tells us that He “…yielded up the ghost.”
What Matthew tells us next is simply amazing! He writes, “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom….” The word “behold” is the Greek word idou. This is a very difficult word to translate, for it carries such intense feeling and emotion. The King James Version most often translates this word as behold. But in our contemporary world, it might be better rendered, Wow!
This word idou carries the idea of shock, amazement, and wonder. It’s almost as if Matthew says, “Wow! Can you believe it? The veil of the temple itself rent in twain from top to bottom!” Matthew wrote about this event many years after the fact, yet he was still so dumbfounded by what happened that day that he exclaimed in effect, “Wow! Look what happened next!”
There were two veils inside the temple — one at the entrance to the Holy Place and a second at the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest was allowed to pass through the second veil once a year. That second veil was sixty feet high, thirty feet wide, and an entire handbreadth in thickness! One early Jewish writing states that the veil was so heavy, it took three hundred priests to move or manipulate it. It would have been impossible humanly speaking to tear such a veil.
At the exact moment Jesus was breathing His last breath on the Cross at Golgotha, Caiaphas the high priest was standing at his station in the inner court of the temple, preparing to offer the blood of a spotless Passover lamb. At the very instant Caiaphas stepped up to kill the Passover sacrifice, Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished!” At that same instant, miles away from Golgotha inside the temple at Jerusalem, an inexplicable, mystifying supernatural event occurred. The massive, fortified veil that stood before the Holy of Holies was suddenly split in half from the top all the way to the bottom!
The sound of that veil splitting must have been deafening as it ripped and tore, starting from the top and going all the way down to the floor. It was as if invisible, divine hands had reached out to grab it, rip it to shreds, and discard it.
Imagine how shocked Caiaphas must have been when he heard the ripping sounds above his head and then watched as the veil was torn in half, leaving two sides of the once-massive curtain lying collapsed to his right and his left. Just think what must have gone through this evil high priest’s mind when he saw that the way to the Holy of Holies was opened — and that God’s Presence was no longer there!
You see, when Jesus was lifted up on that Cross, that Cross became the eternal mercy seat on which the blood of the final sacrifice was sprinkled. Once that sacrifice was made, it was no longer necessary for a high priest to continually make sacrifices year after year, for Jesus’ blood had now settled the issue forever!
For this cause, God Himself ripped the veil of the temple in half, declaring that the way to the Holy of Holies was now available to everyone who came to Him through the blood of Jesus! This is why the apostle Paul wrote that Jesus “…hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Ephesians 2:14).
Jesus’ death was such a dramatic event that even the earth reacted to it. Matthew 27:51 says, “…the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.” The word “earth” is the word ges, the same word seen in verse 45 (see above) that describes the whole earth. The word “quake” is the Greek word seiso, which means to shake, to agitate, or to create a commotion. It is where we get the word for a seismograph, the apparatus that registers the intensity of an earthquake. It is interesting to note that Origen, the early Christian leader, recorded that there were “great earthquakes” at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.
I find it so amazing that although Israel rejected Jesus and the Roman authorities crucified Him, creation always recognized Him! During His life on this earth, the waves obeyed Him; water turned to wine at His command; fishes and bread multiplied at His touch; the atoms in water solidified so He could walk across it; and the wind ceased when He spoke to it. So it should come as no surprise that Jesus’ death was a traumatic event for creation. The earth shook, trembled, and shuddered at the death of its Creator, for it instantly felt its loss.
The earth shuddered so violently when Jesus died that even “…the rocks rent.…” The word “rocks” is petra, referring to large rocks. The other word that could have been used for “rocks” is the word lithos, which meant small stones. But Matthew tells us that huge, large rocks were “rent” by the shaking of the earth. The word “rent” is schidzo, meaning to rend, to tear, to violently tear asunder, or to terribly fracture. This was a serious earthquake! It makes me realize all over again the incredible significance of the death of Jesus Christ!
When Jesus’ blood was accepted at the Cross as final payment for man’s sin, the need to habitually offer sacrifices year after year was eliminated. The Holy of Holies, a place limited only to the high priest once a year, has now become open and accessible to all of us! As “believer-priests,” each of us can now enjoy the Presence of God every day. This is why Hebrews 10:19,22 says, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.… Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience….”
Since the way to the Holy of Holies has been thrown wide open to us, we need to take a few minutes each day to enter into the Presence of God to worship Him and to make our requests known. Because of what Jesus did, we can now “…come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Since this is God’s promise to us, let’s drop everything we’re doing and come boldly before that throne of grace for a few minutes today!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I thank You for destroying the veil that separated me from Your Presence. By taking away the veil, You made it possible for me to come boldly before Your throne of grace to obtain mercy and receive help in my time of need. Because of what You did for me, today I am coming boldly to tell You what I need in my life. I present my case to You, and I thank You in advance for helping me just as You promised in Your Word.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I have a God-given right to come directly into the Presence of God. Jesus removed the wall of separation — and because of what He did, I have no reason to feel unworthy or beggarly when I come before the Lord. Indeed, I am washed by the blood of Jesus, and God beckons me to come to Him with confident expectation. Therefore, I boldly come and make my requests known to God, and He answers me when I pray.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. When you come to God in prayer, do you feel bold and courageous or afraid and ashamed?
2. Is there any sin in your life that is causing you to avoid coming into God’s Presence every day? Be honest!
3. What is that one request you would like God to give you if you could go to Him and make your request today? Why don’t you go ahead and make your request, because God is just waiting for you to ask Him!