This was the only time anyone dared set foot into the innermost chamber. It was a special place, deep within the confines of the temple. Exactly 20 cubits (about 32 feet) wide, long, and high (1 Kings 6:20), this room was where the mercy seat and the Ark of the Covenant were located. God’s presence dwelt stronger here than anywhere else on Earth; so strong, in fact, that people would die from entering in. While not found in the Bible, ancient tradition held that a rope was tied around the high priest’s ankle before he went in, so that if he died in the power of God’s presence, his body could be safely pulled out. A veil separated the holiest of holies from the rest of the temple. 2 Chronicles 3:14: And he made the vail of blue, and purple, and crimson, and fine linen. The colors of the veil were significant: blue representing the sky, or heavens; crimson meaning the red blood that had been shed; and purple being the mixture of the two colors, or heaven and earth coming together. But it was still a physical partition that separated God’s holy presence from man.
Ever since Adam’s failure, there had to be a barrier between God and humanity. When they disobeyed God’s one commandment, and ate of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve immediately knew they were no longer worthy of His presence, and hid. Genesis 3:7: And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. When they recognized their nakedness, they sewed together aprons of fig leaves to cover themselves up, and this represented the first time a veil was erected to separate God’s presence from man.
Despite that separation, some select few in Old Testament times were allowed to be in the fullness of His presence. No veil came between Enoch and God, for example. Moses was totally dependent on God’s presence from the very beginning. The moment he had his first encounter with the Lord at the burning bush, he had to remove anything separating him from the glory. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground (Exodus 3:4-5). God’s presence in the burning bush was so powerful, that even the ground around it became holy. And so the Lord instructed Moses to take off his shoes, so that absolutely nothing would come between him and His presence. Not even something as small as the soles of his shoes could come between them. The mission Moses was being called to was so important that he would need God’s presence completely, without even the tiniest separation.
A veil can be something as massive as the curtain in the temple, or as small as the soles of one’s shoes. But nothing can come between us and God.
Moses took this veil down, but later allowed another one to be put up. After leading the people to freedom from Egypt, he went up to Mount Sinai to be in the Lord’s presence and came down with the glory of God shining from his face. Exodus 34:30-35: And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him in mount Sinai. And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face. But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him. How awesome that God’s presence was so strong on the mountain that the glory shone from his face when he stepped down! But the people were so afraid when they saw that glory that Moses put on a veil to hide it. This was the last thing he should have done, because the glory of God was exactly what the children of Israel needed to look to as they followed him.
2 Corinthians 3:12-14: Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. When we Christians are in God’s presence, the glory of God will shine from our faces like Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai. But we must not hide that glory with a veil; it is something that the world needs to see, so they will recognize that there is something different about us. And they will know that they need what we have.
His presence must mean everything to us. When you pray driving to work in the morning, the inside of your car becomes the holiest of holies. And when you step out of that place, the glory of God shines from your face, so that your coworkers immediately see something different about you. When you step out of your prayer closet, your family has to see that glory. And especially when we go to church and come together to be in God’s presence, we leave bringing His glory on our faces to the world. It used to be said that on Sundays after church, people could look into crowds of church goers and tell the Pentecostals from others because they had a glow about them. Do we still have that glow, or have we hidden it out of shame?
When Jesus was crucified, the veil in the temple was torn down. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent (Matthew 27:50-51). Notice that the veil was rent from top to bottom; this proved that God tore the veil down, not man. According to Josephus, the veil was made of fine linen woven together, and was 4 inches thick. It was said to be so strong, that no human or animal could tear it apart. Only God’s power could do that, and as high as it was, only something supernatural could have started ripping it from the top down. Christ’s death signified that the partition between God and man was torn apart; and now His presence is fully poured out upon all His children. It is not a distant thing that only a high priest is allowed to go into once a year, but is given freely to all Christians without limitation.
So if there are any veils that separate us from the Lord, we are the ones who put them up, not Him. Isaiah 59:1-2: Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. Christians often wonder why God won’t answer their prayers, while refusing to examine what veils they themselves have put up that prevent Him from hearing them.
Anything can be a veil; it can be as terrible as sin or as seemingly harmless as fellowshipping with unsaved loved ones. It all has to come down; but as we learned, only God could tear down the veil. We cannot tear down the veils in our own lives, but must yield to the Holy Spirit so He can tear them down for us. 2 Corinthians 3:16: Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.
One day, there will be no more veils. Either we can tear them down today, or they will be torn down for us on the Day of Judgment. The Bible tells us that nothing will be held back on that day. Luke 12:2: For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Even in the Old Testament, Isaiah knew that day would come that all would be revealed. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations (25:7). As Christians, let us all come together and let the veils down, so that nothing will stand between us and God’s presence, and we can prepare the world for the Day of the Lord that is at hand!