Taken and adapted from, “THE COMMUNION SABBATH”
Written by Nehemiah Adams, D.D., 1856
“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom”
In the pale light, the divine sufferer was seen upon his cross between the thieves…
“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.” Simple and brief as these few words are, they relate one of the most significant and important events in the history of the world.
This vail, as originally made, and, no doubt, imitated in the second temple, was the innermost of two curtains of “blue and purple and scarlet and fine twined linen,” in front of the Holy of holies.
None but the high-priest could enter or look within this vail, and he only once a year. At that stated season, the small bells on the high-priest’s vesture were heard along the aisle of the temple toward the Holy place, and then within the outer sanctuary, till they ceased behind that sacred veil. Not even heaven itself, perhaps, was more sacred in the eye of a Jew than that sequestered, mysterious spot, concealed by the vail.
It would be death to any mortal who should presume to look with curious eye into its dread retirement. The most exalted religious personage of the nation stood alone with the God of all the earth, and offered the appointed blood of atonement.
No less inviolable therefore, than the presence of God, did that vail seem to the whole Jewish people. To see the vail of the firmament torn asunder, disclosing the third heavens, would not have been more surprising to them than the Holy of holies opened to the public gaze.
The fullness of time had come. The incarnate Word was upon the cross, accomplishing, by his one sacrifice for sin, the object of the types and ordinances under the law. He cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up the ghost. At that moment, this sacred, impenetrable veil was, without hands, rent asunder from top to bottom. They who were watching, or doing service, in the temple, [for 3 o’clock is the time of the evening sacrifice], were no doubt attracted by the noise to the spot, and there the inviolable covering of the Holy of holies was hanging in two pieces, and the sight which only one mortal eye from time to time was permitted to behold, lay open to the common gaze.
We may imagine the feelings of Caiaphas as he looked upon that rent vail. Well might he have rent his own garments. There was no more any Holy of holies.
The earthquake did not so much astound the people as this rending of the vail. They had felt earthquakes before, but since the destruction of the first temple, and the Holy of holies with it, by fire, no such event as this, so mysteriously significant with regard to their religion, had transpired.
What was that death, that outcry on the tree, that yielding up the ghost, which rent that vail? Was this the death of a martyr? Is a good man finishing his testimony and his life together? No, the Lamb of God is taking away the sin of the world…
…he is dismissing the sacrifices, he is displacing Aaron and his sons, he has become himself the offering and the priest. O Lord, what are we that we should be permitted to commemorate that event by showing forth that death, as though it had application to us. Yes, for us that vail was rent. The dim outlines of the great sacrifice, which were seen in the temple service, change to a substantial form; the shadow of him who was to come no longer holds us in painful expectation, but the author and finisher of our faith is here.
No priests are needed now for man with God. He who pretends to be a priest, now, and to offer sacrifice for sins, does an empty service, he holds an antiquated office. He is a torch bearer, a lamplighter, in the daytime; he must contrive darkness, in order to make employment for himself. The vail of the temple gave up the ghost of all the sacrifices and offerings when the Savior died.
Perhaps the unbelieving priests employed themselves to mend that rent veil; their occupation would be gone for ever did they not keep up a mystery in connection with the Holy of holies. But when Christ died, their whole service, once so sacred, became a dead body; yet to this day there are those who practice their curious theologies to make it seem alive.
We come, O joyful thought, at every communion, to behold those ceremonies fulfilled by him who is made priest not by a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. He has indeed entered within the vail, but it is a veil which instead of inclosing a dread solitude, includes the world of glorified spirits, and the innumerable company of angels, a place from which we are not debarred; for we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, and may draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.