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When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom:

Mark 15:38-39 (NIV)

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

What made the centurion say that and what's the significance of the torn curtain? Does this event hold doctrinal significance?

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Since nobody have pointed out this fact, I will. That specific curtain is made with materials used today to make carpet. Is it possible to rip a carpet? unless you were like some kind of a sumo wrestler, it is almost immpossible. – Phonics The Hedgehog Aug 25 '11 at 18:58
Also wanted to point out that the curtain was woven in such a way that it was as thick as a man's hand (4 inches), and took 300 priests to carry (Alfred Edersheim, + various rabbinical sources). It would have been completely impossible to tear the veil by hand. It was truly a supernatural occurrence. – Bob Black Sep 4 '11 at 1:56
Also significant is that Josephus, who had served as a priest in the Temple after the time of the crucifixion, described the curtain in detail, entirely unaware that it had been torn or repaired. – Dick Harfield Jul 15 at 23:33

4 Answers 4

up vote 27 down vote accepted

First understand the architecture of the temple. There were three chambers. A large courtyard where a very large altar lay. An indoor lobby where only the priests could enter after washing and finally the Holy room which only the high priest himself could enter.

The Holy room contained the ark of the covenant. This room was shielded from the lobby by a large curtain, the curtain was said to be something like one hundred feet wide and one hundred and fifty feet tall.

Anybody that entered past the curtain into the Holy room would surely die, the high priest could only enter once a year.

When Jesus died, Jesus became our ambassador to God. No longer did we require a high priest to enter the Holy room and sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. Jesus died and once and for all completed this requirement.

Thus God tore the curtain in the temple and opened up His Holiness to the entire world, through Jesus Christ.

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Since nobody has mentioned this yet, let me add one other important point to the great answers already given (ie: that since it was from top to bottom, it shows it was God doing the ripping -@Waggers, that it meant God was opening His holiness to all men through Jesus -@Jonathon Byrd).

With the tearing of the curtain, the atonement ritual for Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) could no longer be performed.

Therefore, ever since that very moment, the Jews have not been able to perform the yearly atonement ritual required by God under the Mosaic pact (especially since the temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD). In other words, they no longer have any God-approved means of having their sins atoned for under the Mosaic pact.

By physically removing the ability to perform the atonement ritual and sacrifice, God sent the message that "it is done", and that:

  • as He promised in Isaiah, the Messiah atoned for our sins, and
  • as He promised Abraham, He provided the sacrifice.

Jeremiah 31:31 tells us that God promised He would establish a new pact with Israel. This new pact supersedes the Mosaic pact (which can no longer provide atonement for sins) and is a pact in Jesus' blood (Matthew 26:28). The tearing of the curtain also gives the picture of a contract being ripped in half. The old pact is literally torn in half, and the new one is now in effect.

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It means that everyone is directly linked to God now without priests and obstacles and rules and tests separating us from God and salvation. Done deal. Thanks. The ripping of the curtain also symbolizes the end of religion as it was known then. Not so sure it was great to start a whole new religion after this.

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Could you perhaps cite some sources for this? You make a lot of assertions but it would be much more useful in the context of this site if you could show who believes the way you have stated and how they reason all this out. Also, have you checked out our tour and faq pages? – Caleb Jun 3 '13 at 17:31

Two things are significant. The first is that the curtain symbolically divided the Holy of Holies, the most revered place in the temple where God was believed to dwell and only priests were allowed to enter, from the rest of the temple where ordinary people were allowed. Removing that division was a symbol that there was now no barrier between ordinary people and God; we no longer needed specially appointed people to intercede for us.

The second is that the curtain was torn from top to bottom, as opposed to from bottom to top. This indicates that the curtain was not ripped by man but by God.

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If I could +2 this answer I would because of your top to bottom comment, great and very important! – Wikis Aug 27 '11 at 5:55
"...we no longer needed specially appointed people to intercede for us." Probably just semantics, but I want to mention that we do need a specially appointed person to intercede for us. Hebrews is clear that Jesus replaced the need for earthly priests with Himself as our priest now. – Ben Sep 26 '12 at 13:03
Additionally, the curtain was reportedly so heavy it would have taken several teams of oxen on either side to tear it, even bottom to top – SSumner Mar 26 '13 at 20:26

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