The Rending of the Veil

19 Aug
Temple Veil

from Google Images

I wonder how one would explain the fact that, if Jesus’ crucifixion took place at either of the two most popular locations, how any of the Gospel writers could know that the veil of the Temple was torn from the top to the bottom. If the writers of the Gospel wrote only what they witnessed or what other disciples witnessed (cf. Luke 1:1-3), how was it known how the veil of the Temple was torn or even when it occurred on that day? After all, both popular crucifixion sites are found on the other side of the city and behind the Temple. The only possible location for the crucifixion to have taken place, and for the disciples to actually see what occurred in the Temple was east of the city on the top of Mount Olivet!

According to Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century AD:

“The Temple had…golden doors of fifty-five cubits altitude and sixteen in breadth;[1] but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea…. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, representing living creatures.” [JOSEPHUS: Wars of the Jews; Book V, Chapter 5, Paragraph 4 (Section 207-214)]

At about the ninth hour the veil of the Temple was torn in two (Luke 23:45). According to Matthew 27:51, “…the earth did quake and the rocks rent,” which implies that the veil was rent as a result of the earthquake. Indeed an apocryphal gospel record in Hebrew, the Gospel of the Nazarenes is mentioned by Jerome in one of his epistles.[2] He says that the Hebrew Gospel points out that the lintel over the doors to the Holy Place, to which the veil was fastened and from which it hung, broke as a result of the earthquake. This lentil was a stone work of great weight, so, as it came crashing to the Temple floor, it severed the veil from top to bottom. In the Gospel of the Nazarenes the veil isn’t actually mentioned at this point; only the lintel is recorded to have collapsed and fell to the floor of the Holy Place. The tearing of the veil is implied in the apocryphal gospel in that the veil hung from the lintel.

All three Synoptics record that Jesus cried out, but none of them record what he said (Luke 23:46; cf. Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37). Only John records what Jesus said, but he doesn’t say the words were cried out with a loud voice, but his testimony immediately follows Jesus’ receiving of the vinegar (John 19:30), just as Matthew and Mark (Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36). What John records is that Jesus said (cried out), “It is finished!” These words make sense in the context of the trumpet being blown in the Temple, announcing the time of the sacrifice of the official Passover lamb. This was done at the ninth hour (cir. 3 PM as we reckon time). The time had come for Jesus to die. Everything had been done or fulfilled by him during his ministry. All that was left to do was to allow himself to fulfill the death of the Passover lamb. He shouted, “It is finished!” Then, both Mark and Luke tell us he expired (G1606) or gave up the ghost (Luke 23:46; Mark 15:37). Matthew, on the other hand, tells us it was a more deliberate act. He says Jesus yielded up or sent forth (G863) the ghost (Matthew 27:50), but before this, John records that Jesus bowed or reclined (G2827) his head in a rested position (John 19:30). This deliberate act implies Jesus **presented** his body to his Father, as the Passover Lamb was sacrificed. The whole act of dying was a deliberate presentation to the Father. It wasn’t an accidental act that suddenly occurred.

In Luke 23:47-48 Luke records the response of the centurion and the people to what had just occurred. The centurion concluded that Jesus was innocent of the charges against him (Luke 23:47). Although the official Roman accusation for Jesus’ execution was that he was the King of the Jews (Luke 23:38), the final accusation for which Pilate was blackmailed into executing Jesus was that he claimed to be the Son of God (John 19:7). Both Matthew and Mark record the centurion saying, “Truly this was the Son of God” showing that the Romans knew the actual ‘crime’ for which Jesus was executed.

The people who had followed Jesus to Golgotha, perhaps wondering if Jesus, the miracle worker, could save himself, instead, returned to Jerusalem, striking their breasts in shock over the things they had seen. What had they seen? What had the centurion seen? The centurion and those who were with him saw the “earthquake and those things that were done” (Matthew 27:54). The earth quaked, and the lintel over the doors of the Temple collapsed and came crashing to the floor, tearing the Temple veil from top to bottom. The only place in the world where Jesus could have been crucified, which would permit the centurion and the people see these things, would have been the Mount of Olives, and, of course, Luke knew about all these things, because Jesus’ disciples were there too (Luke 23:49; cf. Luke 1:1-3).


[1] That is, about 90 feet by 24 feet.

[2] Epistula ad Hedybiam 120.8

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Posted by on August 19, 2018 in Gospel of Luke


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