By J. Vernon McGee
Before going into the Holy of Holies, a brief word concerning the veil will suffice to aid us in understanding the articles of furniture therein. The veil was the third curtain that separated a holy God from sinner man. It separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. It was made of fine-twined byssus linen, in which were wrought cherubim of gold. It was dyed blue, purple, and scarlet. On the wilderness march it furnished a covering for the ark:
And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering veil, and cover the ark of testimony with it. (Numbers 4:5)
The word "veil" means to hide or to cover. It protected the holiness of God, whether on the wilderness march or when it was in its place in the Tabernacle. It protected the holiness of God from the profanity of man. In fact, it protected both God and man.
When the temple of Solomon was erected, the veil was perpetuated in the temple, only it was larger and more elaborate. It was a beautiful work of art, gorgeous in design, artistic in color, superb in the minutest detail, and rich in adornment. It was exquisitely wrought in its texture, being of "cunning work" (Exodus 26:1). Josephus tells us that it was four inches thick in his day and renewed each year. Wild horses tied to each end of the veil, after it had been taken down, were not able to rend it asunder.
The veil was a figure of the humanity of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews made this evident:
Having therefore, brethren, 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. (Hebrews 10:19, 20)
The veil stood silently reminding man that God would be manifest in human flesh.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifest in the flesh. (1 Timothy 3:16)
God was in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
The veil was a prophetic picture-parable of the humanity of Christ -- a silent symbol of the Incarnation.
As long as the veil hung in its place, it separated God and man. The sinner could come no farther than the gate of the outer court. From there to the Holy Place, only priests served. But even the priests were forbidden to pass the veil. Only the high priest could come past it, and then only once a year on the great Day of Atonement -- but he could never enter without blood. All this revealed to man how far his sin had separated him from God. The veil was the final separating object. As long as it was not rent, it was a wall of separation that shut man out. Likewise, as long as Christ walked the earth, He separated God and man. His perfect life, "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26) condemned man. His life revealed the awful chasm and deep abyss that stood between God and man. If the humanity of Christ is the requisite humanity in which God can dwell, then is the race of mankind woefully undone. If the life of Christ is the only life that is acceptable to God, then we are horribly lost. No man can measure up to Christ. It is blasphemy for a man to pillow his head at night and say even for one day that he has lived like Jesus. If we have to be as good as Christ in order to get to God, then are we forever shut out. His spotless life only mirrors our imperfections; His teachings merely reveal how far short we have come. The life of Jesus can never save us. That spotless humanity must be rent on the cross if man is to be saved. Someone once said, "I got into the heart of God through a spear wound." That is the teaching of the rent veil. It is not rhetorical style that prompted the Gospel writer to include the agonized and pierced cry of Christ on the cross with the rending of the veil in the temple:
And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. (Mark 15:37, 38)
When Christ expired, the veil was rent, telling out in a symbolic way that the way into God was now open, and that it required nothing short of the death of Christ. Thus, the purpose of the incarnation is revealed. Christ did not come in human flesh to set us an example, to teach us about God, or to propound a system of ethics. He did all this, but the primary purpose of His coming in human form was to offer that body as a sacrifice for the sin of the world.
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me. (Hebrews 10:5)
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:22)