And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, (27:51a)
The fourth miracle that occurred during the crucifixion was the divine devastation of the sanctuary, as the veil of the temple was torn in two.
Naos (temple) does not refer to the Temple as a whole but to the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt in His symbolic presence. A huge woven veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, and Josephus reports that this massive curtain was predominantly blue and was ornately decorated.
Once a year the high priest was allowed to pass through the veil on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle blood on the altar for the sins of the people, and that only for a brief period of time. Because, like God’s presence in the Holy of Holies, even that special sacrifice was only symbolic. The ritual had to be repeated every year, anticipating the one, true sacrifice for sins that the Son of God Himself one day would offer.
When Christ gave up His spirit, that once-for-all sacrifice was completed and the need for a veil no longer existed. By coming to the Son, any man could now come to God directly, without need of priest, sacrifice, or ritual. Consequently, the veil was torn in two from top to bottom by God’s miraculous act, because the barrier of sin was forever removed for those who put their trust in the Son as Lord and Savior.
By rending the Temple veil, God was saying, in effect, “In the death of My Son, Jesus Christ, there is total access into My holy presence. He has paid the full price of sin for everyone who trusts in Him, and I now throw open My holy presence to all who will come in His name.” The writer of Hebrews admonished, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
The Father’s dramatic tearing of the veil was made while the Temple was filled with worshipers, which included not only countless priests but also many thousands of pilgrims who were at that very moment celebrating the Passover sacrifice. Although the Temple was not destroyed until some forty years later, in a.d. 70, the sacrificial system of Israel and its attendant priesthood ceased to have even symbolic value when the veil was torn in two and the Holy of Holies was exposed. The ceremonies and priestly functions continued until the Temple was destroyed, but their divine significance ended when Christ died, as the Old Covenant was abrogated and the New inaugurated.
and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, (51a)
A fifth miracle that occurred during the crucifixion was a supernaturally caused earthquake. Immediately after Jesus died and the Temple veil was torn in two, the earth shook; and the rocks were split. Making still another statement about His Son to the world, and especially to His chosen people, the Father brought a devastating earthquake to Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
Again the Old Testament gives insight into the significance of the occurrence. When God appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “the whole mountain quaked violently” (Ex. 19:18), and when He appeared to Elijah on a mountain, “a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord, … and after the wind an earthquake” (1 Kings 19:11). David sang of the earth’s shaking and trembling when the Lord became angry (2 Sam. 22:8; Ps. 18:7; cf. 77:18). Isaiah spoke of the Lord’s punishing His people through “thunder and earthquake and loud noise” (Isa. 29:6), and Jeremiah of His venting His wrath on the nations of the earth by causing it to quake (Jer. 10:10; cf. Nah. 1:5). The book of Revelation tells of God’s causing the stars to fall to earth and of mountains and islands being “moved out of their places” during the final judgment (6:13–14).
In the original creation there were no earthquakes, because the earth, like all else that God made, was perfect. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment on earth in the very presence of God. But when they sinned, not only were they cursed and separated from God but the earth they inhabited was cursed as well. Since that time, both literally and figuratively, the earth has been reeling under the destructive forces both of Satan’s evil corruption and of God’s divine judgment. One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth, but until that time when the usurper will be forever banished to the lake of fire and the true Sovereign, Jesus Christ, reigns in His kingdom, the earth will continue to suffer corruption and destruction.
Speaking of God’s judgment on unbelievers, the writer of Hebrews declares, “His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:26–27).
At the cross Jesus earned the right to take the title deed to the earth from the hand of His Father (Rev. 5:9–10). Therefore when God shook the earth at the death of His Son, He gave the world a foretaste of what He will do when one day He shakes the earth in judgment at the coming of the King of kings. Because Jesus became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” His heavenly Father “highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8–11).
51. And, lo, the vail of the temple was rent. When Luke blends the rending of the vail with the eclipse of the sun, he inverts the order; for the Evangelists, as we have frequently seen, are not careful to mark every hour with exactness. Nor was it proper that the vail should be rent, until the sacrifice of expiation had been completed; for then Christ, the true and everlasting Priest, having abolished the figures of the law, opened up for us by his blood the way to the heavenly sanctuary, that we may no longer stand at a distance within the porch, but may freely advance into the presence of God. For so long as the shadowy worship lasted, a vail was hung up before the earthly sanctuary, in order to keep the people not only from entering but from seeing it, (Exod. 26:33; 2 Chron. 3:14.) Now Christ, by blotting out the handwriting which was opposed to us, (Col. 2:14,) removed every obstruction, that, relying on him as Mediator, we may all be a royal priesthood, (1 Pet. 2:9.) Thus the rending of the vail was not only an abrogation of the ceremonies which existed under the law, but was, in some respects, an opening of heaven, that God may now invite the members of his Son to approach him with familiarity.
Meanwhile, the Jews were informed that the period of abolishing outward sacrifices had arrived, and that the ancient priesthood would be of no farther use; that though the building of the temple was left standing, it would not be necessary to worship God there after the ancient custom; but that since the substance and truth of the shadows had been fulfilled, the figures of the law were changed into spirit. For though Christ offered a visible sacrifice, yet, as the Apostle tells us, (Heb. 9:14,) it must be viewed spiritually, that we may enjoy its value and its fruit. But it was of no advantage to those wretched men that the outward sanctuary was laid bare by the rending of the vail, because the inward vail of unbelief, which was in their hearts, hindered them from beholding the saving light.
And the earth trembled, and the rocks were split. What Matthew adds about the earthquake and the splitting of the rocks, I think it probable, took place at the same time. In this way not only did the earth bear the testimony to its Creator, but it was even called as a witness against the hardheartedness of a perverse nation; for it showed how monstrous that obstinacy must have been on which neither the earthquake nor the splitting of the rocks made any impression.
51a There were two temple curtains, one dividing the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place and the other separating the Holy Place from the court. Tearing the latter would be more public, but tearing the inner curtain could hardly be hushed up. Jewish parallels are interesting (b. Yoma 39b reports the doors of the temple opened of their own accord during the forty years before the destruction of the temple) but difficult to interpret. The inner curtain is presupposed in Hebrews 4:16; 6:19–20; 9:11–28; 10:19–22. Destruction of the outer curtain would primarily symbolize the forthcoming destruction of the temple, while destruction of the inner curtain would primarily symbolize open access to God (Best, Temptation and the Passion, 99); but destruction of either curtain could point in both directions.
There is more. If the death of Jesus opened up a fresh access to God that made the OT sacrificial system and the Levitical high priesthood obsolete, then an entire change in the Mosaic covenant must follow. It is impossible to grapple with Matthew’s fulfillment themes (see comments at 5:17–20; 11:11–13) and see how even the law points prophetically to Messiah and hear Jesus’ promise of a new covenant grounded in his death (26:26–29) without seeing that the tearing of the veil signifies the obsolescence of the temple ritual and the law governing it. Jesus himself is the New Temple, the meeting place of God and man (see comments at 26:61); the old is obsolete. The rent veil does indeed serve as a sign of the temple’s impending destruction—a destruction conceived not as a brute fact but as a theological necessity. For extensive discussion, see Daniel M. Gurtner, The Torn Veil: Matthew’s Exposition of the Death of Jesus (SNTSMS 139; Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).
27:51 / Josephus records a number of remarkable events that were said to have taken place before the destruction of the Jewish temple (War 6.288–309). One was the automatic opening of one of the doors in the sanctuary.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 4, pp. 273–275). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, pp. 323–324). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 649–650). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew (p. 263). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.