Two Veils not One
No one who really believes in God would deny that He must be worshipped. The question is how? The world's religions differ greatly: the response of the Hindu, for example, is not that of the Moslem. This is understandable. What is difficult to understand is the enormous diversity of thought as to worship in that which claims the name of Christ - from the traditional liturgical incantations that are centuries old, to the ever–changing songs, dances and worship bands of the modern era. Indeed there are those sheltering under the umbrella of so–called Evangelical Christianity who would argue that how the believer worships is up to the individual, and their concept of worship therefore includes almost everything and anything. This is simply the “way of Cain” (Jude 11), for Cain brought an offering of the fruit of his own ideas and labours. Now while there is nothing to indicate that it was not his very best that he brought, it was still from an earth that was cursed - it was not in accord with the mind of God. It is vital we understand that approach to God is determined by God.
Truths in Twos
Bibles truths often come in pairs - each truth in the pair being distinct and separate though at the same time linked to the other. Thus we have the truth of God's sovereignty distinct from, and yet linked to, the truth of man's responsibility. Again, there is God’s work for us by Christ, distinct from, yet linked to, God’s work in us by the Holy Spirit. Yet again, we have the truth of God’s approach to man in revelation distinct from, yet linked to, man’s approach to God in worship. Now revelation and worship are the truths enshrined in the subject that I desire to bring before you - the teaching of the two veils.
If God is to be known by man, it must be by revelation. Despite all his abilities man can never find out God. At best his mind can never rise beyond the basic fact that there must be a God. God Himself is not known. Science (the word is derived from the Latin scio: I know) may know much and may reason rightly that God exists, but it is totally incapable of finding Him out. If God is to be known, He must reveal Himself. Thus from earliest days, there was that in which God was pleased to make Himself known, albeit in a limited way. In creation, for example, man was able to apprehend “both his eternal power and divinity” (Rom. 1: 20). However, even this very limited knowledge of God was only possessed because God had been pleased to manifest it to man (Rom. 1: 19) - man's knowledge of God is always determined by God's revelation of Himself to man.
Revelation Under Law
When God took up the nation of Israel and made Himself known to them, He did so by revealing Himself by the name of Jehovah: “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as the Almighty God; but by my name Jehovah I was not made known (or did not make myself known) to them” (Ex. 6: 3). God revealed Himself to the patriarchs as the Almighty God, but to Israel the revelation was as Jehovah - and the difference is instructive. Now in our day a name identifies a person and little more, but in the Bible it indicates a person's character. As Jehovah, God is revealed as “I AM THAT I AM” (Ex. 3: 14) - the eternal self–existing One. It was in conjunction with this revelation that the ten commandments (see Ex. 20: 1–17) and the whole system of law was given. Furthermore, this revelation to Israel of God as Jehovah led to the instructions for the construction of the tabernacle, the ordering of the priesthood, the details of all the sacrifices and offerings and everything else involved in the way in which Israel was to approach and worship God. The patriarchs had none of this. Put simply, the way in which God made Himself known determined man’s approach. God’s revelation of Himself to Israel was new, and so consequently was the method of approach demanded of them. Moreover it was God who determined the method of approach and worship under the Levitical system, not man.
Now God’s revelation to Israel was through an apostle - Moses. An apostle is one that is sent from God to man: “And God said moreover to Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: Jehovah … hath sent me unto you” (Ex. 3: 15). The apostolic office is identified with revelation, that is God’s approach to man. The revelation of the mystery, for example, was revealed to “his holy apostles and prophets in [the power of the] Spirit” (Eph. 3: 5). Thus Moses, as the apostle of revelation in the Levitical system, received from God all the instructions for inaugurating that system. Yet once established, it was Aaron's responsibility as high priest to maintain its operation. Hence while the apostle is linked to God’s approach to man in revelation, the priest is linked to man’s approach to God in worship. Now approach is dependent on revelation and so Aaron was always subordinated to Moses. If there had been no apostle, there would have been no priest. The relevance of all this is seen in Heb. 3: 1 where the writer says “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of [the] heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus”.
Revelation under Grace
“For the law was given by Moses: grace and truth subsists through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only–begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him]” (John 1: 17, 18). In the Son of the Father we have the greatest and most wonderful revelation of God, but it is important to appreciate that this revelation is not complete nor absolute for we read of God “dwelling in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6: 16). The Greek word used for the English word revelation in the NT carries with it the idea of drawing aside a curtain to make something seen that was previously hidden. The words “No one has seen God at any time” are repeated by John in his epistle (1 John 4: 12) and show that all that has come out through Christ has not set aside this truth. No Scripture says that God as such has been revealed (John 1: 18 says “declared” not “revealed”.) In the OT Manoah may say to his wife “We shall surely die, because we have seen God” (Jud. 13: 22), Job may declare “yet from out of my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19: 26), and Hagar say “Also here have I seen after he has revealed himself” (Gen. 16: 13), but all these are merely the imperfect expressions of men and women. They in no way set aside the twice repeated words “no one has seen God at any time”.
Now if God is to be known in the fullest way possible, then the One who makes Him known must Himself be God. Again, if God is to be made known in the fullest way possible to man, then the One who is to make Him known must Himself be man. There is only One who can meet both these criteria - the Son of God. He is our Apostle, the One sent from God. This is how He is presented to us in Heb. 1–2: 4 where the writer weaves a garment of the glories of this blessed Person using the threads of both His deity and His manhood. Likewise John presents Him in his gospel as the Apostle, speaking of Him as “sent” more than any other gospel writer. In John He is sent by God and by the Father, not just to the lost sheep of the house of Israel as in Matthew (Matt. 15: 24), but into the world (John 10: 36).
Yet while it is clear that the Son has been seen in manhood, the Holy Spirit takes care to guard His Person for it is written “no one knows the Son but the Father” (Matt. 11: 27). However, this verse then goes on to say “nor does any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom the Son may be pleased to reveal [him]”. This is our revelation: God as Father made known by the Son. In answer to Philip's request “Lord, shew us the Father”, the Lord replied “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14: 8, 9). The Father is only seen in the Son. All that we will ever know of God in an objective sense is in the Son.
People often speak of God being revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, usually engaging the service of Matt. 28: 19 as proof. Now while this Scripture certainly speaks of this name (in the singular), the context clearly indicates that it has nothing to do with revelation but with discipleship and baptism. Revelation is identified with the Father and the Son - never the Holy Spirit - simply because revelation by its very nature must be objective, that is something outside and independent of myself. So Paul, writing to the Christians at Corinth in 1 Cor. 8: 6 says “yet to us” (that is, entirely objective) “[there is] one God, the Father,” (not Father, Son and Holy Spirit). In contrast to the many gods in idolatrous Corinth, to the Christians there was but One - the Father. While Scripture testifies clearly that each in the Godhead is in themselves God, the One particularly identified with Deity in the Godhead is the Father. Witness the phrases used extensively in the NT such as “God our father” (1Tim. 1: 2 etc.) and “God [the] Father” (2 Tim. 1: 2 etc.). In the economy of grace, the Godhead is generally identified objectively with the Father and Lordship with the Son - 1 Cor. 8: 6 goes on to say “and one Lord, Jesus Christ”. The Holy Spirit is not mentioned at all in 1 Cor. 8: 6 because He takes the subjective place in Christianity, being the spiritual power in us for the appreciation of that revelation.
The Two Veils
At last this brings us to the subject of the veils. Now there are two distinct veils in the NT. The first is the veil of the temple (Matt. 27: 51, Mark 15: 38, Luke 23: 45) and the second is the veil of the tabernacle (Heb. 6: 19, 9: 3, 10: 20). The temple veil was rent when Christ died; the tabernacle veil was never rent. Both facts are of equal importance although many speak of ‘the rent veil’ as if there was only one. To understand the difference between these two veils, one must understand something of the contrast between the temple and the tabernacle.
The Temple and the Tabernacle
There are both similarities and differences between the temple and the tabernacle. Each had a holy place and each had a most holy place or holy of holies. Separating the holy place from the holy of holies in both cases was a veil. Again, while there were similarities between the furniture placed in each, the only item in the holy of holies of both the temple and the tabernacle was the ark.
The instructions given to Solomon for the building of the original temple are given in 1 Kings 6 and 2 Chron. 3, 4. Clearly it was a magnificent building, not only internally but externally - you did not have to go inside to appreciate its beauty. Tradition tells us that it glistened in the sun and could be seen from afar. Even the subsequent and inferior temple of Herod took 46 years to build (John 2: 20) and caused the disciples to exclaim “what stones and what buildings!” (Mark 13: 1). The temple was thus a vehicle of display.
By contrast, all the glory of the tabernacle was inside - nothing met the eye outside except its coverings of animal skins (Ex. 26: 14). Coupled with this was the fact that whereas the temple was stationary and permanent, the tabernacle was essentially an adapted tent moved from place to place.
The Temple Veil
Now when the Lord Jesus was here on earth, He did not liken Himself to the tabernacle but to the temple, and this is recorded in the very Gospel where He is presented as the Apostle or Sent One of God. In John 2: 19–21, He speaks of the temple (naos - the inner sanctuary) of His body - not the tabernacle of His body, for it was a question of making God known and revealing Him as Father. For this the temple, the vehicle of display, was the suited figure, not the tabernacle. Similarly in 1 Cor. 3: 16, 17 Paul asks the Corinthians whether they knew that their bodies were the temple of the Holy Spirit - as such they were responsible for making God known in the world.
In each of the three synoptic Gospels we are told that the veil of the temple was rent. This has nothing directly to do with man going in to God but the very reverse. In each of the three accounts, the Spirit of God could have simply said that ‘the veil was rent’ and the context would have made it perfectly plain that it was the temple veil that was in mind. However, adding the words “of the temple” leaves us in no doubt that it was the temple veil, and no other, that was rent. In the old Levitical economy of law God was hidden, dwelling in thick darkness behind the veil in the temple (1 Kings 8: 12, 2 Chron. 6: 1). The temple veil was rent for God to come out. While the revelation of the Father in the Son was complete in His life here, the revelation of the love of God in all its fullness only came out in the death of Christ - a revelation symbolised by the temple veil being rent.
In the world to come there will be yet another temple, the details of which are given to us in Ez. 40, 41. Now while there are similarities with Solomon's temple there are also differences. In Ez. 41: 4 we have “the most holy [place]”, as in Solomon's temple, but there is no mention of a veil. The lesson of this is that once a revelation is made, it is not retracted - the temple veil is not reinstated - it is rent for ever. Thus, for example, we still know God as Jehovah (Israel's relationship) but we also now know Him as Father. However, while revelation cannot be taken back, approach is another matter. Thus associated with Ezekiel's temple there will be the various offerings (for example see Ez. 45: 17, 46: 20). This indicates that approach to God will not be the same as now, even though the present revelation remains.
The Tabernacle Veil
Just as Leviticus is the great book of approach to God in the OT, so Hebrews is the great book of approach in the NT. In the early verses Christ is presented as the Apostle, the One sent from God to make Him known in revelation - answering to Moses in the old economy. This paves the way for the main thrust of the epistle from Heb. 2: 5 onwards, which deals with Christ as our High Priest and our approach to God in worship.
Now the imagery throughout Hebrews is based on the tabernacle (for example, Heb. 8: 2) not the temple. Indeed there is not a word said anywhere in Hebrews about the temple. Thus the veil spoken of in Heb. 6: 19, 9: 3, and 10: 20 is the veil of the tabernacle. This veil was never rent and is never viewed as rent. Furthermore, the only way into the holiest of all is through that veil. In the imagery, the Holy of holies (Heb. 9: 3) represents the presence of God “where Jesus is entered as forerunner for us, become for ever a high priest” (Heb. 6: 20). Now His going “within the veil” (Heb. 6: 19) as “forerunner” clearly shows that others are to follow. Hence at the pinnacle of the Hebrew teaching we have the words in chapter ten “Having therefore, brethren, boldness for entering into the [holy of] holies by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way which he has dedicated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh” (vs19, 20). The veil is still there, unrent, and we have to go through it to enter the presence of God. Some have muddled up the temple and tabernacle veils, and say that we go through the veil, because it is rent for us to go through. Yet while God has come out in love to all (the rent temple veil), to say that we go through that veil would mean that all (unbeliever and believer alike) could go in! No, approach is through the tabernacle veil, and that is not rent.
So what are we to understand by the words “the veil, that is, his flesh”? John’s Gospel tells us “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1: 14) clearly showing that “flesh” is descriptive of the condition of manhood that the Lord entered here in this world. However, in Heb. 10 the word “flesh” refers to the condition of the Lord Jesus in death, not life. This can be seen by comparing two verses in Eph. 2. In verse 15 we read that Christ has “annulled the enmity (between Jew and Gentile) in his flesh” and in verse 16 “by the cross, having by it slain the enmity”. Combining the thoughts of the two verses, the enmity was annulled in his flesh and slain by the cross, clearly showing that the word “flesh” involves his death. Thus “the veil, that is, his flesh” (Heb. 10: 20) refers to Christ's death.
Returning now to Heb. 10: 19, 20, our title to enter the holiest is the “blood of Jesus” for His blood has removed all our sins, but the way in is through the veil. Title is one thing; actual entrance is another. God has come out in the death of Christ (the rent veil of the temple) so that I might go in the way Christ went in as forerunner (through the veil of the tabernacle). The way into the presence of God for worship is not open, it is through the veil. What does this mean? Christ went in through death and as He is the forerunner we must go in the same way by appropriating His death for ourselves as detailed in John 6: 53–57. Clearly I cannot take my sins into the presence of God but neither can I take anything in that is inconsistent with Christ's death. Natural ability has no place there. Anything that would distinguish me naturally cannot go through that veil: oratory, artistic talent and musical gift must be left behind. All such comes under the “wisdom of the world” (1 Cor. 1: 19–21). My needs cannot enter the holiest. The proper place for such is “the throne of grace” (Heb. 4: 16) not the “[holy of] holies”. Again, a saint may be a gifted pastor, teacher or evangelist. Such gifts cannot be exercised within the holiest. I do not even see that praise belongs there, for in praise I give thanks to God for what He has done for me. The holiest is for worship. Praise is the response for what God has done for me; worship is the response to revelation - who He is. Within the literal veil there was only one object - the ark. Again, in the old scheme of things, only one man ever entered the holiest of all and that only once a year - the high priest on the Day of Atonement. Typically both the ark and the high priest represent Christ: The One who is there and the One who goes in. God always has Christ personally before Him (the ark) and only of what is Christ characteristically can enter His presence. Put simply, I think it is true to say that what you can take beyond death, you can take into the holiest - anything that death cannot touch. Only that which you will take from time into eternity can ever pass through that veil into the presence of God in worship. Both natural and spiritual gifts belong to time; what is of Christ belongs to both time and eternity. What is of Christ alone can pass through the veil and into the holiest and form the worship that must be “in spirit and truth” (John 4: 24).