The Rending of the Veil

Taken from, “The Rent Veil”
Written by, Horatius Bonar

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The symbolic veil was rent…

              …and at the same moment the true veil was also rent.

                                             It is this that we have now to consider….

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 “Behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom”

–Matt. 27:51

In considering them we must endeavour to realise the scene of which this is a part. The passage transports us to Jerusalem; it sets us down upon Moriah; it takes us into the old temple at the hour of evening sacrifice, when the sun, though far down the heavens, is still sending its rays right over turret and pinnacle, on to the grey slopes of Olivet, where thousands, gathered for the great Paschal Sacrifice, are wandering; it shows us the holy chambers with their varied furniture of marble and cedar and gold; it brings us into the midst of the ministering priests, all robed for service. Then suddenly, as through the opened sky, it lifts us up and carries us from the earthly into the heavenly places, from the mortal into the immortal Jerusalem, of which it is written by one who had gazed upon them both, “I saw no temple therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”

For we must take the earthly and the heavenly together, as body and soul. The terrestrial sun and the sun of righteousness must mingle their radiance, and each unfold the other. The waters of the nether and the upper springs must flow together. The Church must be seen in Israel, and Israel in the Church; Christ in the altar, and the altar in Christ; Christ in the lamb, and the lamb in Christ; Christ in the mercy-seat, and the mercy-seat in Christ; Christ in the shekinah-glory, and the shekinah-glory in Him, who is the brightness of Jehovah’s glory. We must not separate the shadow from the substance, the material from the spiritual, the visible form the invisible glory. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

Even the old Jew, if a believing man, like Simeon, saw these two things together, though in a way and order and proportion considerably different from what our faith now realises. To him there was the vision of the heavenly through the earthly; to us there is the vision of the earthly through the heavenly. He, standing on the outside, saw the glory through the veil, as one in a valley sees the sunshine through clouds; we, placed in the inside, see the veil through the glory, as one far up the mountain sees the clouds beneath through the sunshine. Formerly it was the earthly that revealed the heavenly, now it is the heavenly that illuminates the earthly. Standing beside the brazen serpent, Moses might see afar off Messiah the Healer of the nations; standing, or rather I should say sitting, by faith beside this same Messiah in the heavenly places, we see the brazen serpent afar off. From the rock of Horeb, the elders of Israel might look up and catch afar off some glimpses of the water of life flowing from the rock of ages; we, close by the heavenly fountain, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, look down and recognise the old desert rock, with its gushing stream. Taking in his hand the desert manna, Israel could look up to the true bread above; we, taking into our hands the bread of God, look downward on the desert manna, not needing now with Israel to ask, “What is it?”

But let us look at

The rending of the veil. This was a new thing in its history, and quite a thing fitted to make Israel gaze and wonder, and ask, what meaneth this? Is Jehovah about to forsake His dwelling?

1. It was rent, not consumed by fire. For not its mere removal, still less its entire destruction, was to be signified; but its being transformed from being a barrier into a gate of entrance. Through it the way into the holiest was to pass; the new and living way; over a pavement sprinkled with blood.

2. It was rent while the temple stood. Had the earthquake which rent the rocks and opened graves, struck down the temple or shattered its walls, men might have said that it was this that rent the veil. But now was it made manifest that it was no earthly hand, nor natural convulsion, that was thus throwing open the mercy-seat, and making its long-barred chamber as entirely accessible as the wide court without, which all might enter, and where all might worship.

3. It was rent in twain. It did not fall to pieces, nor was it torn in pieces. The rent was a clean and straight one, made by some invisible hand; and the exact division into two parts might well figure the separation of Christ’s soul and body, while each part remained connected with the temple, as both body and soul remained in union with the Godhead; as well as resemble the throwing open of the great folding door between earth and heaven, and the complete restoration of the fellowship between God and man.
4. It was rent from the top to the bottom. Not from side to side, nor from the bottom to the top: which might have been man’s doing; but from the top to the bottom, showing that the power which rent it was from above, not from beneath; that the rending was not of man but of God. It was man, no doubt, that dealt the blow of death to the Son of God, but, “it pleased the Lord to bruise him; He hath put him to grief.” Beginning with the roof and ending with the floor, the rest was complete; for God, out of His own heaven, had done it. And as from roof to floor there remained not one fragment of the old veil; so from heaven to earth, from the throne of God, down to the dwelling of man, there exists not one remnant nor particle of a barrier between the sinner and God. He who openeth and no man shutteth has, with His own hand, and in His own boundless love, thrown wide open to the chief of sinners, the innermost recesses of His own glorious heaven! Let us go in: let us draw near.

5. It was rent in the presence of the priests. They were in the holy place, outside the veil, of course, officiating, lighting the lamps, or placing incense on the golden altar, or ordering the shewbread on the golden table. They saw the solemn rending of the veil, and were no doubt overwhelmed with amazement; ready to flee out of the place, or to cover their eyes lest they should see the hidden glories of that awful chamber which only one was permitted to behold. “Woe is me, for I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isa. 6:5). They were witnesses of what was done. They had not done it themselves; they felt that no mortal hand had done it; and what could they say but that God Himself had thrown open His gates, that they might enter in to precincts from which they had been so long debarred.

6. It was rent that it might disclose the mercy-seat, and the cherubim, and the glory. These were no longer to be hidden, and known only as the mysterious occupants of a chamber from which they might not go out, and into which no man might enter. It was no longer profanity to handle the uncovered vessels of the inner shrine; to gaze upon the golden floor and walls all stained with sacrificial blood; nay, to go up to the mercy-seat and sit down beneath the very shadow of the glory. Formerly it was blasphemy even to speak of entering in; now the invitation seemed all at once to go forth, “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace.” The safest, as well as the most blessed place, is beneath the shadow of the glory.

7. It was rent at the time of the evening sacrifice. About three o’clock, when the sun began to go down, the lamb was slain, and laid upon the brazen altar. Just at the moment when its blood was shed, and the smoke arose from the fire that was consuming it, the veil was rent in twain. There was an unseen link between the altar and the veil, between the sacrifice and the rending, between the blood-shedding and the removal of the barrier. It was blood that had done the work. It was blood that had rent the veil and thrown open the mercy-seat: the blood of “the Lamb, without blemish, and without spot.”

8. It was rent at the moment when the Son of God died on the cross. His death, then, had done it! Nay, more, that rending and that death were one thing; the one a symbol, the other a reality; but both containing one lesson, that LIFE was the screen which stood between us and God, and death the removal of the screen; that it was His death that made His incarnation available for sinners; that it was from the cross of Golgotha that the cradle of Bethlehem derived all its value and its virtue; that the rock of ages, like the rock of Rephidim, must be smitten before it can become a fountain of living waters. That death was like the touching of the electric wire between Calvary and Moriah, setting loose suddenly the divine power that for a thousand years had been lying in wait to rend the veil and cast down the barrier. It was from the cross that the power emanated which rent the veil. From that place of weakness and shame and agony, came forth the omnipotent command, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors.” The “It is finished” upon Golgotha was the appointed signal, and the instantaneous response was the rending of the veil. Little did the Jew think, when nailing the Son of the carpenter to the tree, that it was these pierced hands that were to rend the veil, and that it was their being thus pierced that fitted them for this mysterious work. Little did he suppose, when erecting a cross for the Nazarene, that cross was to be the lever by which both his temple and city were to be razed to their foundations. Yet so it was. It was the cross of Christ that rent the veil; overthrew the cold statutes of symbolic service; consecrated the new and living way into the holiest; supplanted the ritualistic with the real and the true; and substituted for lifeless performances the living worship of the living God.

9. When the veil was rent, the cherubim which were embroidered on it were rent with it. And as these cherubim symbolised the Church of the redeemed, there was thus signified our identification with Christ in His death. We were nailed with Him to the cross; we were crucified with Him; with Him we died, and were buried, and rose again. In that rent veil we have the temple-symbol of the apostle’s doctrine, concerning oneness with Christ in life and death,— “I am crucified with Christ.” And in realising the cross and the veil, let us realise these words of solemn meaning, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

The broken body and shed blood of the Lord had at length opened the sinner’s way into the holiest. And these were the tokens not merely of grace, but of righteousness. That rending was no act either of mere power or of mere grace. Righteousness had done it. Righteousness had rolled away the stone. Righteousness had burst the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron. It was a righteous removal of the barrier; it was a righteous entrance that had been secured for the unrighteous; it was a righteous welcome for the chief of sinners that was now proclaimed.

Long had the blood of bulls and goats striven to rend the veil, but in vain. Long had they knocked at the awful gate, demanding entrance for the sinner; long had they striven to quench the flaming sword, and unclasp the fiery belt that girdled paradise; long had they demanded entrance for the sinner, but in vain. But now the better blood has come; it knocks but once, and the gate flies open; it but once touches the sword of fire, and it is quenched. Not a moment is lost. The fulness of the time has come. God delays not, but unbars the door at once. He throws open His mercy-seat to the sinner, and makes haste to receive the banished one; more glad even than the wanderer himself that the distance, and the exclusion, and the terror are at an end for ever.

O wondrous power of the cross of Christ! To exalt the low, and to abase the high; to cast down and to build up; to unlink and to link; to save and to destroy; to kill and to make alive; to shut out and to let in; to curse and to bless. O wondrous virtue of the saving cross, which saves in crucifying, and crucifies in saving! For four thousand years has paradise been closed, but Thou hast opened it. For ages and generations the presence of God has been denied to the sinner, but Thou hast given entrance, — and that not timid, and uncertain, and costly, and hazardous; but bold, and blessed, and safe, and free.

The veil, then, has been rent in twain from the top to the bottom. The way is open, the blood is sprinkled, the mercy-seat is accessible to all, and the voice of the High Priest, seated on that mercy- seat, summons us to enter, and to enter without fear. Having, then, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,—by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in the full assurance of faith. The message is, Go in, go in. Let us respond to the message, and at once draw near. To stand afar off, or even upon the threshold, is to deny and dishonour the provision made for our entrance, as well as to incur the awful peril of remaining outside the one place of safety or blessedness. To enter in is our only security and our only joy. But we must go in a spirit and attitude becoming the provision made for us. If that provision has been insufficient, we must come hesitatingly, doubtingly, as men who can only venture on an uncertain hope of being welcomed. If the veil be not wholly rent, if the blood be not thoroughly sprinkled, or be in itself insufficient, if the mercy-seat be not wholly what its name implies,—a seat of mercy, a throne of grace; if the High Priest be not sufficiently compassionate and loving, or if there be not sufficient evidence that these things are so, the sinner may come doubtingly and uncertainly; but if the veil be fully rent, and the blood be of divine value and potency, and the mercy-seat be really the place of grace, and the High Priest full of love to the sinner, then every shadow of a reason for doubt is swept utterly away. Not to come with the boldness is the sin. Not to come in the full assurance of faith is the presumption. To draw near with an “evil conscience” is to declare our belief that the blood of the Lamb is not of itself enough to give the sinner a good conscience and a fearless access.

“May I then draw near as I am, in virtue of the efficacy of the sprinkled blood?” Most certainly. In what other way or character do you propose to come? And may I be bold at once? Most certainly. For if not at once, then when and how? Let boldness come when it may, it will come to you from the sight of the blood upon the floor and mercy-seat, and from nothing else. It is bold coming that honours the blood. It is bold coming that glorifies the love of God and the grace of His throne. “Come boldly!” this is the message to the sinner. Come boldly now! Come in the full assurance of faith, not supposing it possible that God who has provided such a mercy-seat can do anything but welcome you; that such a mercy-seat can be anything to you but the place of pardon, or that the gospel out of which every sinner that has believed it has extracted peace, can contain anything but peace to you.

The rent veil is liberty of access. Will you linger still? The sprinkled blood is boldness, — boldness for the sinner, for any sinner, for every sinner. Will you still hesitate, tampering and dallying with uncertainty and doubt, and an evil conscience? Oh, take that blood for what it is and gives, and go in. Take that rent veil for what it indicates, and go in. This only will make you a peaceful, happy, holy man. This only will enable you to work for God on earth, unfettered and unburdened; all over joyful, all over loving, and all over free. This will make your religion not that of one who has everything yet to settle between himself and God, and whose labours, and duties, and devotions are all undergone for the purpose of working out that momentous adjustment before life shall close, but the religion of one who, having at the very outset, and simply in believing, settled every question between himself and God over the blood of the Lamb, is serving the blessed One who has loved him and bought him, with all the undivided energy of his liberated and happy soul.

For every sinner, without exception, that veil has a voice, that blood a voice, that mercy-seat a voice. They say, “Come in.” They say, “Be reconciled to God.” They say, “Draw near.” They say, “Seek the Lord while He may be found.”

To the wandering prodigal, the lover of pleasure, the drinker of earth’s maddening cup, the dreamer of earth’s vain dreams,—they say, there is bread enough in your Father’s house, and love enough in your Father’s heart, and to spare,—return, return. To each banished child of Adam, exiles from the paradise which their first father lost, these symbols, with united voice, proclaim the extinction of the fiery sword, the re-opening of the long-barred gate, with a free and abundant re-entrance, or rather, entrance into a more glorious paradise, a paradise that was never lost.

But if all these voices die away unheeded,—if you will not avail yourself, O man, of that rent veil, that open gate,—what remains but the eternal exclusion, the hopeless exile, the outer darkness, where there is the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth? Instead of the rent veil, there shall be drawn the dark curtain, never to be removed or rent, which shall shut you out from God, and from paradise, and from the New Jerusalem for ever. Instead of the mercy-seat, there comes the throne of judgment; and instead of the gracious High Priest, there comes the avenging Judge. Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ is coming, and with His awful advent ends all thy hope. He is coming; and He may be nearer than you think. In an hour when you are not aware He will come. When you are saying peace and safety, He will come. When you are dreaming of earth’s long, calm, summer days, He will come. Lose no time. Trifle no more with eternity; it is too long and too great to be trifled with. Make haste! Get these affections disengaged from a present evil world. Get these sins of thine buried in the grave of Christ. Get that soul of thine wrapped up, all over, in the perfection of the perfect One, in the righteousness of the righteous One. Then all is well, all is well. But till then thou hast not so much as one true hope for eternity or for time.

The Messiah Within the Veil

Taken and adapted from “The Rent Veil”
Written by Horatius Bonar, D.D.
Edited for space

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“For the joy set before Him He endured
the cross,
despising the shame, and is
now set down at the right hand of God.”

–Heb. 12:2

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That to which He looked forward was not so much the rending of the veil, as the result of that ending, both for Himself and for His Church, His body, the redeemed from among men.

The veil was rent; rent “once for all”; rent for ever. Yet there was a sense in which it was to be restored, though after another fashion than before. Messiah could not be “holden” by death, because He was the Holy One, who could not see corruption. Death must be annulled. The broken body must be made whole; resurrection must come forth out of death; and that resurrection was to be life, and glory, and blessedness. Through the rent veil of His own flesh, He was (if we may so use the figure) to enter into “glory and honour, and immortality.” Thus He speaks in the sixteenth Psalm:—

“Therefore my heart is glad,
Yea, my glory rejoiceth:

My flesh also shall rest in hope.
For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell;
Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Thou wilt show me the path of life:
In thy presence is fulness of joy;
At thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.”

Let us dwell upon these verses in connection with Messiah’s entrance within the veil.

The speaker in this Psalm is undoubtedly Christ. This we learn from Peter’s sermon at Jerusalem (Acts 2:25). He is speaking to the Father, as His Father and our Father. He speaks as the lowly, dependent son of man; as one who needed help and looked to the Father for it; as one who trusted in the Lord and walked by faith, not by sight; as one who realised the Father’s love, anticipated the joy set before Him, and had respect to the recompense of the reward.

 He speaks, moreover, as one who saw death before Him, — “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell“; and looking into the dark grave, on the edge of which He was standing, just about to plunge into it, He casts His eye upwards and pleads, with strong crying and tears, for resurrection, and joy, and glory, — “Thou wilt show me the path of life.” For the words of the Psalm are the united utterances of confidence, expectation, and prayer; not unlike those of Paul, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”

He speaks too as one who was bearing our curse; as one who was made sin for us; and to whom everything connected with sin and its penalty was infinitely terrible; not the less terrible, but the more, because the sin and the penalty were not His own, but ours. The death which now confronted Him was one of the ingredients of the fearful cup, against which He prayed in Gethsemane, “Let this cup pass from me”; for we read that, “in the days of His flesh He made supplication, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death.” In this Psalm, indeed, we do not hear these strong cryings and tears, which the valley of the Kedron then heard. All is calm; the bitterness of death is past; the power of the king of terrors seems broken; the gloom of the grave is lost in the anticipated brightness of the resurrection light and glory. But still the scene is similar; though in the Psalm the light predominates over the darkness, and there is not the agony, nor the bloody sweat, nor the exceeding sorrow. It is our Surety looking the king of terrors in the face; contemplating the shadows of the three days and nights in the heat of the earth; surveying Joseph’s tomb, and while accepting that as His prison-house for a season, anticipating the deliverance by the Father’s power, and rejoicing in the prospect of the everlasting gladness.

The first thing that occupies His thoughts is resurrection. The path of death is before Him; and He asks that He may know the path of life;—the way out of the tomb as well as the way into it. Death is to Him an enemy; an enemy from which as the Prince of life His holy soul would recoil even more than we. The grave is to Him a prison-house, gloomy as Jeremiah’s low dungeon or Joseph’s pit, not the less gloomy because He approaches it as a conqueror, as bringing life and immortality to light, as the resurrection and the life. Into that prison-house He must descend; for though rich He has stooped to be poor; and this is the extremity of his poverty, the lowest depth of His low estate,—even the surrender of that, for which even the richest on earth will part with everything,—life itself. But out of that dungeon He cries to be brought; and for this rescue He puts Himself entirely into the Father’s hands, “Thou wilt show me the path of life.”

Very blessed and glorious did resurrection seem in the eyes of the Prince of life, of Him who is the resurrection and the life. Infinitely hateful did death and the grave appear to Him who was the Conqueror of death, the Spoiler of the grave. He had undertaken to die, for as the second Adam He came to undergo the penalty of the first, “dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return”; yet not the less bitter was the cup, not the less gloomy was the valley of the shadow of death; not the less welcome was the thought of resurrection.

The next thing which fills His thoughts is the presence of God,—that glorious presence which He had left when He “came down from heaven.” His thoughts are of the Father’s face, the Father’s house, the Father’s presence. Earth to Him was so different from heaven. He had not yet come to the “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” but He felt the difference between this earth and the heaven He had quitted. There was no such “presence” here. All was sin, evil, hatred, darkness; the presence of evil men and mocking devils; not the presence of God. God seemed far away. This world seemed empty and dreary. He called to mind the home, and the love, and the holiness He had left; and He longed for a return to these. “Thy presence!” What a meaning in these words, coming from the lips of the lonely Son of God in His desolation and friendlessness and exile here. “Thy presence!” How full of recollection would they be to Him as He uttered them; and how intensely would that recollection stimulate the anticipation and the hope!

Of this same Messiah, the speaker in the psalm, we read afterwards,In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1); and elsewhere He speaks thus of Himself: “Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old; I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was…I was by Him, as one brought up with Him, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him” (Prov. 8:22,30); and again, He, in the days of His flesh, thus prayed: “O Father, glorify Thou me with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5). Thus we see that the “presence” or “face” of God had been His special and eternal portion. His past eternity was associated entirely with this glorious presence. No wonder then that in the day of His deepest weakness,—when the last enemy confronted Him with his hideous presence, He should recall the Father’s presence; anticipating the day of restoration to that presence, and repossession of the glory which He had before the world was.

“Thy presence,” said the only-begotten of the Father looking up into the Father’s face! He speaks as the sin-bearer, on whom the chastisement of our sins was laid, and between whom and heaven these sins had drawn a veil; He speaks as an exile, far from home, weary, troubled, exceeding sorrowful even unto death; He speaks as a Son feeling the bitterness of separation from His Father’s presence, and of distance from His Father’s house; He speaks as one longing for home and kindred, and the unimpeded outflowings of paternal love. “Thy presence,” says the Man of sorrows looking round on an evil world;—oh, that I were there! “Thy presence,” says the forsaken Son of man, for “lover and friend hast Thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness”;—oh, that I were there! “Thy presence,” not this waste howling wilderness, this region of pain, and disease, and sin, and death, and tombs. “Thy presence,” not these temptations, these devils, these enemies, these false friends; not this blasphemy, this reproach, this scorn, this betrayal, this denial, this buffeting, this scourging, this spitting, this mockery! “Thy presence,”—oh, that I were there; nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.

Only through death can He reach life, for He is burdened with our sin and our death; and death is to Him the path of life. He must go through the veil to enter into the presence of God. Only through the grave,—the stronghold of death, and of him who has the power of death,—can He ascend into the presence of God; and therefore, when about to enter the dark valley, He commits Himself to the Father’s guidance, to the keeping of Him who said, “Behold my servant whom I uphold,” the keeping of which He himself, by the mouth of David, had spoken: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth, Capernaum, Gethsemane, Golgotha,—these were all but stages in His way up to “the presence”—the presence of the Father; and it is when approaching the last of these, with the consciousness of His nearness to that presence, only one more dark passage to wind through, that He gives utterance to this psalm,—His psalm in prospect of resurrection and glory,— “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved: therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in hope; for Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine holy One to see corruption; Thou wilt show me the path of life: in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Horatius Bonar (19 December, 1808 – 31 May, 1889) was a Scottish churchman and poet. The son of James Bonar, Solicitor of Excise for Scotland, he was born and educated in Edinburgh. He comes from a long line of ministers who have served a total of 364 years in the Church of Scotland. One of eleven children, his brothers John James and Andrew Alexander were also ministers of the Free Church of Scotland. He had married Jane Catherine Lundie in 1843 and five of their young children died in succession. Towards the end of their lives, one of their surviving daughters was left a widow with five small children and she returned to live with her parents. Bonar’s wife, Jane, died in 1876. He is buried in the Canongate Kirkyard.