Friday, April 02, 2010

What's The Big Deal About A Ripped Curtain?

Today is Good Friday, or Black Friday, depending on your specific denomination/tradition.

I like to think of it as Good Friday personally, despite thinking through the betrayal, beatings, lashings, and ridiculous torture that Jesus went through today. It's hard to look at his sufferings as 'good.'

Obviously, we know the resurrection happened a few days later...but at the time, nobody knew it was going to.

April Fools! No Jesus!!

But the Bible lets us know that something very significant is happening with Jesus' death...before we even get to the resurrection. In Matthew, we have this account of the moment of his death:

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Matthew 27: 50-51a
Any Jew who would have witnessed the temple curtain tearing, or had heard about it, or read about it years later would have been pretty taken back by what had happened.

Why? What's the big deal about a curtain ripping?

Well, this particular curtain was:

  • Approximately 60 ft high
  • Made from blue, scarlet & purple material and fine twisted linen
  • Was 4 inches thick. Thick. Not wide. That's thicker than a phone book. Maybe two (small ones). Insane!
  • Said to be so strong that horses tied to each side could not tear it apart!
In short, this curtain was serious business.

And it was torn in two. From top to bottom.

The curtain in the Temple separated the "Holy of Holies" from the rest of the Temple. The Holy of Holies was where God's presence stayed in the Temple. It was only able to be entered once per year, by the High Priest after extensive preparations. And the High Priest had a rope tied to him, just in case he died because he wasn't prepared properly and the rest of the priests could drag his corpse out.


The curtain's ripping signifies that God is no longer separate from his people. That we all have access to his presence because of Jesus' death. That we were now, all priests.

But it's more than if that was not enough!

The curtain being ripped was a symbolic devastation of the old covenant. Symbolizing that the rituals, traditions, laws etc some way.

Now, for some reason, things were different.

There was no resurrection yet, but the changes already happened. It may be in Jesus' resurrection that we join with him into eternal life. But it is in his death where he destroyed the hold that things have on our lives. 

Before that, we were slaves to the law of sin and death. Our only hope was to perform the rituals and traditions to be forgiven by God. Jesus' death removed the need to perform the rituals. Removed the slavery to that law.

The slavery that people were reminded of whenever they went to the Temple. And saw that curtain.