William Bell Scott: “The Rending of the Veil”

19 12 2011

Below is a painting from the Victorian period by William Bell Scott.  Based off of the following passage found in Matt 27.45-51:

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.  But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

The veil in the Temple was meant to separate God who dwelt in the Most Holy Place  from the people.  Only the high priest would come behind the veil, only once a year and not without blood (Heb 9.2-7).  Jesus sacrifice on the cross is a sacrifice that permanently removes the barrier between God and the people forever.  The significance of the veil being torn testifies to this fact.  As you can see from the painting, Scott is keen to stress this as a mighty wind appears to be rushing out from the Most Holy Place into the world much to the surprise and terror of the priests.  Note the sacrificial lamb on the altar as well as the crucifixion taking place just above the walls on the upper right hand side of the painting.  For an extended treatment of this topic in scripture see Heb 9.11-10.22.   How could you even begin to preach on this?  The sheer weight of the ancient plan of God unfolding in the seconds after Jesus’ death is too staggering for words.  This painting, for me, is the best attempt I’ve seen outside of Scripture to give the proper weight to that fearful, glorious, and joyful moment.


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