The Torn Veil
(Taken from The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ by James Stalker)
The first sign was the rending of the veil of the temple. This was a heavy curtain covering the entrance to the Holy Place or the entrance to the Holy of Holies--most probably the latter. Both entrances were thus protected, and Josephus gives the following description of one of the curtains, which will probably convey a fair idea of either; five ells high and sixteen broad, of Babylonian texture, and wonderfully stitched of blue, white, scarlet and purple--representing the universe in its four elements--scarlet standing for fire and blue for air by their colours, and the white linen for earth and the purple for sea on account of their derivation, the one, from the flax of the earth and the other from the shellfish of the sea.
The fact that the rent proceeded from top to bottom was considered to indicate that it was made by the finger of God; but whether any physical means may have been employed we cannot tell. Some have thought of the earthquake, which took place at the same moment, as being connected with it through the loosening of a beam or some similar accident.
At critical moments in history, when the minds of men are charged with excitement, even slight accidents may assume remarkable significance. Such incidents occur at turning-points of the life even of individuals. They derive their significance from the emotion with which the minds of observers happen at the time to be filled. No doubt the rending of the temple veil might appear to some a pure accident, while in the minds of others it crystallised a hundred surging thoughts. But we must ascribe to it a higher dignity and a divine intention.
Like the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness, it had a double face--one of judgment and another of mercy.
It betokened the desecration of the shrine and the exodus of the Deity from the temple whose day of opportunity and usefulness was over. And it is curious to note how at the time not only the Christian but even the Jewish mind was big with this thought. There is a Jewish legend in Josephus, which is referred to also by the Roman historian Tacitus, that at the Passover some years after this the east door of the inner court of the temple, which was so heavy that twenty men were required to close it, and was, besides, at the moment strongly locked and barred, suddenly at midnight flew open; and, the following Pentecost, the priests whose duty it was to guard the court by night, heard first a rushing noise as of hurrying feet and then a loud cry, as of many voices, saying, "Let us depart from hence."
Nor was it only in Palestine that in that age the air was charged with the impression that a turning-point in history had been reached, and that the ancient world was passing away...