Hebrews 6:19 – What is “the veil” referring to here?
The book of Hebrews was originally written to Christians of Jewish ethnicity who were considering leaving Christianity to return to Judaism due to severe persecution from their fellow Jews. The Hebrew author wanted to show the superiority of Jesus over the Mosaic system in an effort to persuade them to stay. Therefore the book of Hebrews contains a lot of references to what was done under the Law of Moses.
The tabernacle, and later the temple, of the Old Testament was divided up into two sanctuaries, the outer sanctuary called the Holy Place and the inner sanctuary called the Most Holy Place. Inside the Most Holy Place was the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, the golden altar of incense, Aaron’s staff which had miraculously budded, and the tablets on which were written the ten commandments (Heb. 9:3). A veil or curtain separated the two sanctuaries (Ex. 26:31-35). Throughout the year, regular priests would enter into the first sanctuary, the Holy Place, to perform their regular duties (Heb. 9:6; cf. Ex. 27:20-21; 30:7-8; Lev. 25:4-9). However, once every year only the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place behind the veil and offer an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people (Heb 9:1-7; cf. Lev. 16). By his atoning sacrifice, the high priest would make intercession to God on behalf of the people for forgiveness of their sins.
One of the themes of Hebrews is that Jesus is the Christian’s high priest (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 7:1-10:25). Another theme of Hebrews is found in the concept of these Old Testament rituals being copies or foreshadowing of spiritual, heavenly truths taught in the New Testament (Heb. 8:4-5; 9:23; 10:1). Thus, the most Holy Place behind the veil foreshadowed being in the presence of God on His throne in heaven. Since God cannot be among sin (Is. 59:1-2), only the sinless can be in His presence in heaven, the symbolism behind the Most Holy Place. The Holy Place in front of the veil, in which regular priests would perform their duties, symbolized how the gifts and sacrifices offered by Old Testament Israel were not enough to make them completely sinless and thus be allowed in the presence of God (Heb. 9:6-10; 10:1-4). A greater sacrifice was needed.
While talking about the solid hope Christians have due to the steadfast promises of a God who cannot lie, the Hebrew writer alluded again to Jesus’ high priesthood when he wrote, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (6:19-20). Just as the Old Testament high priest passed behind the curtain or veil into the Most Holy Place to intercede on behalf of the people by offering an annual sacrifice to atone for their sins, so also Jesus, our high priest, also “enters into the inner place behind the curtain” in a sense to intercede on our behalf. In other words, He had offered Himself on the cross as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins before ascending into heaven to sit at God’s right hand (the literal Most Holy Place) to intercede on our behalf as our high priest (Heb. 9:11-14, 23-28). Being made sinless by the continual cleansing of His blood and the intercession He offers on our behalf, our hope of entering heaven to be in the presence of God is now made sure.