In the Fullness of Time/Part 155

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2012
Matthew 27 details several miracles which occurred in conjunction with Jesus’ crucifixion. One of those was the tearing of the veil in the Temple. A comparison of the veils in the Tabernacle, in Solomon’s Temple and in Herod’s Temple will give proper appreciation of the magnitude of this miracle.

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The Crucifixion Verified by the Miracles. Matthew 27:51-56

The Torn Veil of the Temple. Matthew 27:51a

Mt 27:51a “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom.”

A comparison of the veils in the Tabernacle, in Solomon’s Temple and in Herod’s Temple will give proper appreciation of the magnitude of this miracle. There were two lengths used for the cubit; the Hebrew cubit was 17.72 inches long and the royal Egyptian cubit was 20.67 inches in length (cf. Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1957, p.720). Using the commonly accepted length of 18 inches, the Holy of Holies was a cube in form, measuring 15 feet in length, width and height. The inner veil was 15 feet by 15 feet, or 225 square feet in area.

In Solomon’s Temple: “The inner sanctuary in the forepart was twenty cubits in length, and twenty cubits in breadth, and twenty cubits in the height of it” (1 Kings 6:20). The inner veil, then, was 30 by 30 feet, covering 900 square feet. Much larger still was the Holy of Holies in Herod’s Temple. Mentioning Jewish tradition as his source, Edersheim wrote: “There were, indeed, two Veils before the entrance of the Most Holy Place” ( Edersheim, Alfred. Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Grand Rapids, Eerdmas, 1956; II, p. 611). The reason for this was that, in Solomon’s Temple: “for the entrance of the inner sanctuary, he made, he made doors of olive tree” (1 Kings 6:31). And, since there was a cubit width between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place when these doors were open, the Talmud says that it was not known whether the veil hung inside or outside of the entrance, and whether the wall of partition had stood in the Holy Place or in the Most Holy Place. So they decided to hang a veil on both sides!

Concerning the size of these veils: “The Veils before the Most Holy Place were 40 cubits (60 feet) long and 20 cubits (30 feet) wide, of the thickness of the palm of the hand, and wrought in 72 squares, which were joined together” (Edersheim, ibid, p. 611). The total area of these veils was 1800 square feet. Each of the 72 squares was 5 by 5 feet, or 25 square feet. If the Talmud is correct concerning the thickness as well, it would certainly taken the hand of God to tear such a massive, heavy curtain in two, from top to bottom! If the earthquake had been the cause, the veil would have been torn apart in any number of places, and not torn in two from top to bottom.

Taking this miracle in conjunction with Hebrews 9:8 and 10: 19-23, the analogy becomes clear. Before the crucifixion of Christ: “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest” (Hebrews 9:8), but now we have: “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,… Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10: 19-20, 23).

Another important event related to the rent veil is the fact that at that very time the priests were ministering in the Holy Place. No priest was ever permitted to enter the Holy of Holies except the high priest, and even he was restricted to one day in the year, namely the Day of Atonement. What fear, what horror must have gripped their hearts when they were suddenly faced with the Holiest of All! Several expositors have noted that this may have contributed to the fact that: “A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith in the earliest days of the Church in Acts 6:7.

The Earthquake. Matthew 27:51b

Mt. 27:51b “And the earth did quake, and the rocks were split.”

If the torn veil signified the fulfillment of the Law, the earthquake could also denote a revelation of God’s purpose by introducing the dispensation of Grace. Precedence for this goes back to the earthquake at the presentation of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18), since Christ fulfilled the Law: “For the Law was given by Moses, but Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). There will yet be earthquakes accompanying God’s judgments during the Great Tribulation (Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13; 16:18) and the earthquake which announces the dispensation of the Millennial Kingdom, when the Messiah descends from heaven and sets His feet upon the Mount of Olives: “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall cleave in its midst toward the east and toward the west” (Zechariah 14:4): only then it will not be a sign of the Jews rejecting their Messiah; rather, it will be that: “all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob( Romans 11:26-27).

The Opening of the Graves. Matthew 27:52-53

Mt. 27:52-53 “And the graves were opened; and many of the bodies of the saints that slept were raised; And came out of the graves after his resurrection ,and went into the holy city, and appeared to many.”

Just how and where punctuation is inserted will make possible different interpretations regarding the sequence of events. The New International Version places a period of time at the end of verse 51, then omits “And” at the beginning of verse 52 and moves the “and” from the beginning of verse 53 and places it after the word “tombs” making it appear that those sleeping saints were raised at the time of Jesus’ death, then going into the city after His resurrection: “The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

Such manipulation of the text is unwarranted:

The resurrection of the “holy people” begins a new sentence and is tied up only with Jesus’ resurrection. So Matthew does not intend his readers to think that these “holy people” were resurrected when Jesus died and then waited in their tombs until Easter Sunday…. The “holy people” were raised, came out of their tombs and were seen by many after Jesus rose from the dead. There is no need to connect the earthquake and the breaking open of the tombs with the rising of the “holy people:” the two foci must be differentiated. (Carson, Donald A. “Matthew” Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984, Vol. 8, pp. 581-582)

Both the Nestle/Aland Greek text and the Textus Receptus support the interpretation that the saints arose, came out of the tombs and appeared to many people after His resurrection. This typifies the doctrine that Christ is: “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23) and that these resurrected saints were part of the “sheaf of the firstfruits” (Leviticus 23:10), giving assurance of the full harvest to come.

To ascertain the identity of those saints who appeared is difficult, to say the least; only a suggestion is possible. They cannot be part of the Church, the Body of Christ, because the Church did not begin until the Day of Pentecost. Nor can they be part of Israel, since Israel’s resurrection does not occur until after the Great Tribulation, “the time of trouble” mentioned in Daniel 12:1-3. Thus it would seem that these saints could only include any persons saved before Abram, the progenitor of the Hebrews. How many and who they were specifically, is not revealed.

Concerning the question of what happened to them after they “appeared to many” in glorified bodies, must be that they went to heaven after the resurrection of Christ as part of the firstfruits. Otherwise there would be no reason for their resurrection at all.

The Effect of the Miracles on the Observers. Matthew 27:54-56

Mt. 27:54-56 “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and all these things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. And many women were there beholding afar off, who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him. Among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of Zebedee’s children.”

The effect upon the centurion has already been noted as part of the seven last words from the crowd at the crucifixion. Here, Matthew adds that: they who with him watching Jesus were likewise impressed. Luke 23:48 reveals also that: “all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things that were done, smote upon their breasts and returned.” If all the Gospel accounts are considered, a number of women are listed. Notably absent from these lists are the twelve apostles, although the previous mention of Peter, and the account of John with Mary, the mother of Jesus that they were still close by in the crowd. Only “in the fulness of time” will it be told how many were saved as a result.

Read Part 156

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