From Top to Bottom

By John Frye

From Top to Bottom

The Synoptics all report the curtain in the Temple being torn (split) from top to bottom. Matthew and Mark time it with Jesus’ last cry from the cross while Luke times it with the noonday darkness. In view of the Book of Hebrews, many suggest that it was the inner curtain of the Temple that was torn. This tearing is the first in a series of dramatic, apocalyptic events literally shaking the earth. God is up to something big! Was the curtain torn to let the Jewish, confined God out, so to speak, in order to permeate the world? Or was it torn to let all humans have access to the one true God? Pentecost (Acts 2) would suggest the first and the Book of Hebrews would argue the second (e.g., Hebrews 10:19-22). Either way, Jesus replaces the Temple and High Priest and access to God is now through Jesus the Christ and him alone.  Immersed in these events, a Roman centurion makes a startling confession, “Truly he was the Son of God!” R. T. France comments that apart from what the centurion may have meant “…for Matthew (as for Mark) it conveys nothing less than the full christological sense” (NICNT Matthew, 1084). William Lane suggests the centurion meant more than he knew declaring the “transcendent dignity” if not deity of Jesus as “the Son of God” (vis-a- vis Colwell’s rule).

Everything is changing in these tumultuous moments of judgment and redemption as one troubling Jewish man hangs bloody and dead on a Roman cross. Cosmic renewal is at the starting blocks and Jesus’ resurrection will be the starter-pistol shot. Amazing. Simply amazing. I wrote this:

                    Torn Curtain                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

The sword cuts a deep gash in human flesh,
The holy curtain from top to bottom
On the Temple mount rips, mysteriously separates.

Two Temples purposely, violently damaged;
A Roman cross corpse and Holy of Holies curtain
Change places as God startles the planet.

The last deep breath of the Nazareth teacher
From a criminal’s hard, bloody planks
Breathes as King new life into the world.

A seasoned soldier, wearied by so much death,
Seeing, hearing a human’s cry like no other,
Declares unwittingly on the spot his disloyalty
To the forever false king, Caesar.

What a dangerous world with God roaming free!

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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