Friday, April 14, 2006

The Temple Curtain

A Good Friday reflection from our 'Watch at the Cross', with the theme of 'objects around the cross'. This one is a reflection on the Temple Curtain:

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!”
(Mark’s gospel, chapter 15, verses 37 to 39)

“You shall make a curtain of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim skilfully worked into it. You shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, which have hooks of gold and rest on four bases of silver. You shall hang the curtain under the clasps, and bring the Ark of the Covenant inside, within the curtain; and the curtain shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy. ” (Exodus 26: 31-33)

This beautiful curtain formed an entrance, and a barrier, to the holiest place in the Temple, the place where no person was permitted to enter but for the High Priest – and even for him entry was permitted only once a year. For the people of Israel, to enter the Most Holy Place would be to enter into the presence of God – and for sinful humanity that could not be. Walking into holiness would bring death. The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.”
We cannot even look directly at the sun, how then could we come and look directly at the God of light and holiness – not without a covering provided by him. And so, for the people of Israel – there was one day when entry was allowed and by only the High Priest, on behalf of many, with numerous and essential conditions, on the Day of Atonement.

And just as the curtain guarded the most holy place in the Temple, so it also symbolised the barrier between sinful humanity and the heavenly sanctuary of God’s presence. Just as the people of Israel could not walk into the place that represented the presence of God, so we could not come into his holy presence… But for the cross.

For on that day, as Jesus hung nailed to the cross, as he breathed his last, and as he cried out, “It is finished,” that curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The curtain that was the barrier between the Israelites and God, the curtain that represented the ‘no entry’ sign into the heavenly sanctuary was ripped apart as Jesus completed what he came to do, as he gave up his life, as he removed the barrier between us and God.

The curtain was torn from top to bottom. ‘From top to bottom’ has a ring of thoroughness about it, doesn’t it? My mum used to use that expression a lot when she was having a blitz of house cleaning… “I’m going through this house from top to bottom!”
And the atonement of Christ on the cross could not have been more thorough – the once-for-all sacrifice that opened the doorway between God and us.

The shedding of Jesus’ blood was effective, because it was the sacrifice of the perfect Son of God. One perfect sacrifice for the sins of all.

What does it mean to us to have the curtain removed, to have the barrier destroyed? It means access to God, to his presence: when we worship we don’t only sing about God, but we draw near to him. It means we can pray, can talk to God, can stand, sit, kneel before him and talk to him – tell him our needs and concerns, our hopes and dreams, cry out for the needs of the world. It means we can walk with God, live life in fellowship with him, hear from him; be strengthened by him. It means the beginning of eternal life with him, life that continues through death. It means accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for us and living in the light of it: no-one has to walk with Jesus through the curtain, past the barrier but when we do there are both rewards and challenges.
It means help and hope.

It means that in life, and after death, we can walk through the curtain into the Most Holy Place, and live.


At June 13, 2008 4:46 am, Anonymous Gary said...

"The Curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom." This never meant much to me until I read about the sewing and the work of the curtain.
It was the THICKEST at the top, for the weight of the curtain had to be held by the top, and that was where it needed to be thickest!
Maybe several men could pull on a curtain and tear it from bottom to top! No One but God could tear it, starting at it's thickest part and tearing it from there, to the bottom!
Only God could tear it, or remove it! Only God could perform such a miracle!
Gary (

At May 10, 2009 2:31 pm, Blogger said...

You may be interested to know, Chelley, that when one Googles "why was the temple curtain torn in two from top to bottom?" your wiblog entry is the first hit given.

Fine work, dear. Please keep it up.

Bill (

At April 03, 2010 12:50 am, Blogger ©creations by peg said...

Awesome! I was just doing some research on the days of the holy week...and was contemplating the temple curtain torn. I basically knew what it represented, but I have been putting pics, scripture, etc on each day during the week on Facebook. I loved your blog concerning the temple curtain. Blessings my friend!

At June 20, 2010 7:33 am, Anonymous Jamie said...

The significance of the torn curtain has sometimes been lost on Christians - not because they do not know it happened or even because they do not understand its meaning - but its significance, so well expressed in your post proclaims it to be central to how sinful people can come close to God by accepting the sacrificial death of Jesus. The christian symbol, the cross, displays how we are forgiven but the torn curtain shows us the result, a chance to restore the relationship lost by the fall. We have that 'open door' seen by the apostle John by which we can enter heaven and stand before our God. The torn curtain makes a powerful symbol to show us what has been won for us because of the cross.


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