Series: Thru the Bible – Exodus
[NOTE: This image of the Ark of the Covenant and the altered versions used in our featured image, albumart and below is called Arca da Aliança de Deus and is being used by the contribution and courtesy of Fernando Shoiti Schatzmann from Suzano, Brasil, a user and contributor to Wikimedia Commons. Use of this picture is by permission and DOES NOT imply agreement with this message and/or associated article.]
The Ark of the Covenant & the Most Holy Place
Tonight we will cover the four remaining things we learned about the Most Holy Place and the Ark of the Covenant in its role in the Old Testament…and then see it’s spiritual fulfillment now under the New Covenant.
#1 He reigns supreme: God tabernacled among His people in the Most Holy Place between the cherubs above the lid of the Ark.
Remember that the “mercy seat” was a lid. Its greater meaning was from the fact that it served as a covering for the ark. It was in this place that God reigned and ruled over His people. Of course He was known and seen by the cloud and the fire which led them those 40 years, but where He dwelt was between the Cherubs.
Psa. 99:1-9, “(1) The LORD reigns; Let the peoples tremble! He dwells between the cherubim; Let the earth be moved! (2) The LORD is great in Zion, And He is high above all the peoples. (3) Let them praise Your great and awesome name— He is holy. (4) The King’s strength also loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. (5) Exalt the LORD our God, And worship at His footstool— He is holy. (6) Moses and Aaron were among His priests, And Samuel was among those who called upon His name; They called upon the LORD, and He answered them. (7) He spoke to them in the cloudy pillar; They kept His testimonies and the ordinance He gave them. (8) You answered them, O LORD our God; You were to them God-Who-Forgives, Though You took vengeance on their deeds. (9) Exalt the LORD our God, And worship at His holy hill; For the LORD our God is holy.”
a) He reigned then in Justice and Mercy and now He also reigns by grace.
Over time the lid of the Ark came to represent a type of “throne for God”, and while this is never specifically stated in scripture – a few scriptures would seem to support the notion. One of them is in Hebrews 4…
Heb. 4:14-16, “(14) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (15) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
God reigns over all His works but His kingdom is within His people.
#2. He is Conqueror & Victor:
The Jewish people would sometimes bring the Ark into battle with them to ensure victory and this always worked so long as the people were walking in obedience to God.
- He IS our victory.
- We enjoy lives of triumph through relational trust in Him.
- The question is NOT if God comes with us, it is if we go with Him.
- 1Jn. 5:4-5, “(4) For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (5) Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
- 2Cor. 2:14, “(14) Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” Which introduces our next point – that we…
#3 We carry His presence:
We cannot carry a presence we do not know. Consider the compound word represent. It comes from re- which means again. Present which means “that which is given”. So logically we can only re-present, what has first been presented to us.
This word illustrates the adage that you cannot lead someone where you have not been.
- Exod. 30:6, “And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you.”
- God meets with us in holiness before the testimony He gives of Himself. It is the conditions of our communion and the subject of our speech. We communion over the testimony of His character – glory – our transformation into the character of those words. Being transformed as we look into.
- We shoulder the responsibility and privilege of bearing His presence before each other, all creation and the world.
- How we shoulder this responsibility has direct implications for the rest of the body and the world.
2Cor. 2:14-17, “(14) Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. (15) For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. (16) To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? (17) For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.”
1Pet. 4:10-11, “(10) As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (11) If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
The Box (Ark) and the Lid
As I have been telling you, the word “Mercyseat” is literally translated as “LID”. Just like the word “ark” is literally translated as “BOX”.
As I have also said, the transcendent meaning of the lid is in its job of providing a covering for the ark. So the only way to appreciate the covering lid, is to appreciate what it is covering.
What was the “box”? It was called by many names…
- Ark of the Covenant – Num. 10:33 (41x)
- Ark of the Lord – Joshua 3:13 (35x)
- Ark of God – 1Sam. 3:3 (33x)
- Ark of the Testimony – Exod. 25:22 (13x)
- Ark of the God of Israel – 1Sam. 5:7 (5x)
- The Holy Ark – 2Chron. 35:3 (1x)
So the ark is associated with:
- God’s name – Lord, God
- His Holiness
- His Covenant
- His Testimony
- His relation to His people (- “of Israel”)
THIS is what was being covered.
We spent SOME time last week discussing His holiness and it would serve us all well to go back and listen to that again from time to time to remind us WHO we are calling Father.
As we examine the prayer of our Lord, He holds the relationship and name of Father in perfect tension with the knowledge of His holiness.
As I was reading something from Spurgeon today he commented on Jesus’ prayer and our relationship to God in Prayer as both our Father and the One Who is MOST Holy… After Jesus started with the words “Our Father” Spurgeon says, “close at the heels of that condescending name, in order to remind us that our Father is still infinitely greater than ourselves, he has bidden us say, “Hallowed be thy Name; thy kingdom come”; so that our Father is still to be regarded as a King, and in prayer we come, not only to our Father’s feet, but we come also to the throne of the Great Monarch of the universe. The mercy-seat is a throne, and we must not forget this.”
As we said last week the name of God represents all He is!
Psa. 148:1-14, “(1) Hallelujah! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise Him in the heights. (2) Praise Him, all His angels; praise Him, all His hosts. (3) Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all you shining stars. (4) Praise Him, highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens. (5) Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded, and they were created. (6) He set them in position forever and ever; He gave an order that will never pass away. (7) Praise the LORD from the earth, all sea monsters and ocean depths, (8) lightning and hail, snow and cloud, powerful wind that executes His command, (9) mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, (10) wild animals and all cattle, creatures that crawl and flying birds, (11) kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all judges of the earth, (12) young men as well as young women, old and young together. (13) Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted. His majesty covers heaven and earth. (14) He has raised up a horn for His people, praise from all His godly ones, from the Israelites, the people close to Him. Hallelujah!”
Psa. 138:1-2, “(1) I will praise You with my whole heart; Before the gods I will sing praises to You. (2) I will worship toward Your holy temple, And praise Your name For Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For thou hast magnified above all the name of thy holiness.”
The lid is also covering God’s covenant with man and His testimony of Himself – though not in that order.
It is due to God’s self-revelation…His self-disclosure to His people in His word that they were able to know Him and in knowing Him came to realize how much mercy the really needed. They and all humanity became entirely depleted and bereft of God’s purity – His undefiled nature. God tells us that His thoughts and ways are as separate as the heavens are from the earth and as different as sand is from air. It is an insurmountable gap!
In the ark was the Testimony God gave of Himself of His character- outside the ark was the testimony of Man’s relationship of rebellion against God – a testimony of our character.
Inside the ark was the standard outside of the ark and attached to it, was the writings of Moses telling man HOW to live in accordance to God’s character.
Above the ark with the testimony within and the law without – was God’s presence abiding above the lid and this is the setting in which that covering takes on such depth of meaning.
The Lid (Mercy Seat)
The lid or the covering of the ark of the covenant was made of pure gold. On it and before it the high priest sprinkled the blood of the expiatory sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. This was the location where the Lord promised to meet His people and where the Lord appeared in Shekinah glory before the High Priest on the day of Atonement once a year (Exod. 25:17; Exod. 25:22; Lev. 16:2, Lev. 16:14-15).
That this lid has significance is implied by the fact that it is NOT one with the box but is of course separate. Also, it is SOLID GOLD not gilded wood. Finally it has two Cherubim on top covering the lid with their wings and gazing down at it.
The depth of meaning does not come from it’s name – LID, but on what a LID does!
In the Old Testament the word was Kapporeth and it was the principal part of the Holy of Holies. In fact in when David gave his son Solomon the pattern for the tabernacle as recorded in 1Chron. 28:11 he referred to the Most Holy Place as “the house of the Capporeth” meaning the House of the lid. The Jewish Philosopher Philo calls the Capporeth “the symbol of the mercy of the power of God.”
In the New Testament the word is hilastḗrion which means to propitiate, expiate or be merciful.
The words propitiate and expiate are outdated terms in English and so require some explanation.
The word propitiate means to appease one offended and render him favorable.
Expiate means to atone for; to make satisfaction for; to extinguish the guilt of a crime by which the obligation to punish the crime is canceled out. To expiate guilt or to expiate a crime, is to perform some act which purifies the person guilty; or some act which is accepted by the offended party as satisfaction for the injury; that is, some act by which wrath is appeased, and forgiveness procured.
This is why Paul used this term in reference to Christ Himself in Romans chapter 3.
Rom. 3:21-28, “(21) But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, (26) to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (27) Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. (28) Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”
Paul assures us that Christ was the true mercy seat, the reality which the cover on the ark of the covenant served as but a symbol – a shadow (Heb. 9:5). Therefore, the lid of the ark in some sense is connected with the altar outside the tabernacle since both are a place of conciliation, of expiation. It does not refer to the expiatory sacrifices themselves. Jesus Christ is designated as hilastḗrion in Rom. 3:25 because He is designated not only as the place where the sinner deposits his sin, but He Himself is the means of expiation.
He is not like the high priest of the OT whose expiation of the people was accomplished through the blood of something other than himself (Heb. 9:25).
Heb. 9:19-28, “(19) For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, (20) saying, “THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD HAS COMMANDED YOU.” (21) Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. (22) And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. (23) Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (24) For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; (25) not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— (26) He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (27) And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, (28) so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”
The lid was sprinkled with the blood of the victim slain on the annual Day of Atonement. The Greek word hilastḗrion as “mercy seat,” is not technically accurate but it is symbolic in that the word hilastḗrion means the propitiating thing or the propitiatory gift….that which causes God to deal with us mercifully and the word seat in English can mean the place of. SO mercy seat is a good representation of what the lid was and did. It was the place where the sacrifice was placed – obtaining mercy for God’s people. The place of mercy.
Now, mercy and grace are entirely different subjects. It is in fact initially God’s Mercy that brought us His Grace.
This is the connotation given by Paul in the passage we just read in Romans chapter 3. Paul depicts Christ as the lamb slain, Whose blood cleanses us from the state of being a sinner as well as cleansing us from the stains and guilt of our lives of sin before we came to Christ. This whole truth is beautifully represented in 1Jn. 1:5-7.
1Jn. 1:5-7, “(5) This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. (6) If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (7) But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Subsequently it also, cleanses us from individual acts of sin once we are born anew. This is represented a few verses later in 1Jn. 1:9,
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Christianity is unique in MANY ways – regardless of what the secular world and media would have us believe.
In heathen religions – the people who sacrifice did so to appease their god and believed that they were placating them in order to manipulating their god to their will. Sacrifices were offered to insure blessings for fertility or crops or victory in battle.
In our faith it is never people who take the initiative but God. Even under the Old Covenant, it was God Who told man HOW to secure His mercy, forgiveness and blessing – not man who created a vain attempt to secure something that was not promised. Additionally in the New Covenant fallen man didn’t even make the sacrifice. God Himself did. Out of His great love for sinners, God provided the way by which His wrath against sin might be averted while saving the sinner – in and through the death and resurrection of His Son.
The effect of Christ’s work on the cross is the salvation of the sinner, who then becomes capable of fellowship with a Most Holy God.
In the OT, God taught the way by which a sinful man or woman might approach Him utilizing a system of sacrifices in order to teach man that a sacrifice was necessary – but also to cause them to know that any efforts on their part yielded only partial and temporary results.
Sin brings death, which in ALL of its forms is separation from God WHO IS life.
Adam & Eve before the fall and Jesus in His earthly life could not be killed. Adam and Eve surrendered to separation through the fall and that separation caused death beginning in their spirit, spreading like a disease and claiming their souls and beginning the process of slow physical death through susceptibility to disease and the ravages of age. Jesus said that no one could take His life – He had to lay it down willingly (John 10:17,18).
The sacrificial system was a way whereby God provided the means of approaching Him through escaping sin and its consequences. In this sacrificial system another died in the sinner’s place. This was never another man, but an animal. The individual Israelite was instructed to bring an animal for sacrifice whenever he approached God; the family was to kill and consume an animal at the yearly observance of the Passover; the nation was represented by and in the high priest annually on the Day of Atonement when the blood of the offering was sprinkled upon the mercy seat (hilastḗrion) on the ark of the covenant within the Most Holy Place.
At the end of the Old dispensation, Jesus appeared as the offering that was to take away “the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In God’s plan there was a progression: one sacrifice for one nation in a lamb, one sacrifice for the world – in Jesus Christ.
Israel was atoned for by being one with the Priest and the sacrifice. We through faith become one with the Jesus as our sacrifice and are not just atoned for, but fully purified!
The way to relationship and intimate fellowship with God is now open to anyone who will come, a fact symbolized by the rending of the veil of the temple (which separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple) at Christ’s death.
When we come to the Apostle Paul’s use of the word hilastḗrion or Mercy Seat in Rom. 3:25, he clearly did not mean it as though Jesus was the seat itself on which the blood was sprinkled – this is clear in the grammar of the Greek in that he does not use the def. art. What Paul was saying was that Jesus is the expiation not the thing representing the expiation – because it was through Christ that humanity has gained the favor and forgiveness of God.
Differences between the Old system and the redemption found in Christ:
- In the OT, the people selected the animal to be sacrificed.
- In the NT, God the Father provided the Lamb.
- In the OT, there were two lambs or goats. One for sacrifice and one who bore the sins of the people.
- In the NT, Jesus does both IN HIS OWN BODY.
- In the OT, the sacrifice was killed by the priest and offered by the High Priest.
- In the NT, Jesus was the sacrifice, He was priest sacrificing Himself and the High Priest Who presented His Own blood before God’s presence in the Most Holy Place.
Sinner can only benefit from that sacrifice, not through repeating it, but through faith in the once for all sacrifice for them. Believing and accepting the actual bodily sacrifice of Jesus Christ in shedding His blood is a spiritual exercise of man which is sufficient to satisfy the justice of God. We have to realize that the end game for God was bi-directional union through intimate fellowship. This requires NOT just the WORK of God, but the response and trust of man. THIS is where the inclusionists and the universalists miss the entire POINT of the gospel!
Romans 3:25 tells us that under the Old Covenant, God was simply “passing over the sins of Israel”. This is important because the words reveal much of the difference between what happened under the Old Covenant and that which has happened in Christ under the New. The “sins” which God “passed over” did not involve the sin nature of man, but simply the concrete invididual acts of sins which is made clear by Paul’s use of the Greek word hamar-tḗ-mata (G265). The acceptance of the OT sacrifices in connection with the mercy seat demonstrated the forbearance and tolerance of God – not His absolution as indicated by the Greek word anochḗ (G463). Anoche means God’s heart attitude towards man’s sin before Christ. It was an attitude of forbearance, indulgence and temporary long-suffering.
So through the sacrifices of the OT we have God’s toleration of sin; through sacrifice of Christ we have the punishment of sin through the wrath of God poured out upon His Son Who BECAME sin FOR US and subsequently we enjoy the total removal of sin and its power over those who will submit and believe. Sin is no longer tolerated – it is destroyed by the power of His redeeming blood.
In the passage we read in Romans 3 that the righteousness of God is actually God’s “constant righteousness” (dikaiosúnē [G1343]) (a.t.), which is what God requires for justification. This is why Paul asks the rhetorical question which seemed to him as absurd – “If grace abounds where sin is – should we sin in order to have grace about more? Certainly not – How can we who have been freed from sin – live any longer in it?
We will continue to discuss the symbolisms of the Holies of Holies with the Ark of the Testimony and some ways in which it serves as a type and shadow of today under the New Covenant…next week!
There is more information in the audio/video of the actual message. I hope you listen, learn and enjoy!
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