Through the Veil, once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies.
Hands shaking slightly, trying not to spill the precious blood he carried with him in a vessel, the High Priest slowly pulled back the Veil. Immediately the brightness of the light from behind the Veil pierced through the opening. He was standing in the Holy Place, the place that was lit by the seven lamps of the Golden Lampstand: the place where the gold panels on the walls caught the light of the Lampstand and the whole room shimmered around him. Yet the light that emanated from behind the Veil caused even the shimmering gold light around him to seem dark in comparison.
The radiance was almost palpable and it made him shake in fear. The awesome presence behind the Veil was almost too much to bear.
How can we even put into words what the awesome Shekinah presence of God would have been like for the High Priest as he approached the Throne of God?
“Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” Exodus 40:34
The Holy of Holies
The Holy of Holies was the place of the awesome presence of God. It was the place where He dwelt amongst His people, above the mercy seat, in between the Cherubim.
“O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim…” Isaiah 37:16
It was a place of infinite holiness, the Throne of God’s majesty. It was the place where none could enter, except the High Priest, once a year on the Day of Atonement, and not without blood.
From the sunshine of the Outer Court with its Brazen Altar and Brazen Laver: the place of judgment for sin, to the Holy Place which shimmered in the light of the Candlestick with its gold furniture: the place of fellowship with God. Now to the Holy of Holies: the place that had no natural light and no lamp but was the brightest by far, and lit only by the glory of God Himself. This was the place of worship.
“…He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light…” 1 Timothy 6:15, 16
Here we stand finally before the most majestic piece of furniture in the Tabernacle of Moses: the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark of the Covenant, or the Ark of the Testimony
The Ark was the most majestic item of furniture in the Tabernacle. This item not only speaks of Christ’s work in atonement, but of who He really is, ie His Personhood.
“And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around…. And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you.” Exodus 25:10-16
The Ark was the same height as the grate on the Brazen Altar. More on this later in the article.
This was the first piece of furniture, the very first item that God told Moses to make.
“In the beginning God…” Genesis 1:1
God begins with Himself, the place of His presence, because without Him all else is meaningless religion and ritual.
Once again Acacia wood of the Ark, overlaid with gold, reflects the dual nature of Christ, the God-Man: the incorruptible acacia wood, His sinless humanity; and the pure gold, His deity.
On top of the Ark was the Mercy Seat. It was sculpted of pure gold, with two Cherubim facing each other, wings outstretched. The Mercy Seat covered the tablets of the Law which were contained within the Ark and was from where God met with Moses and spoke to him.
“You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.” Exodus 25:17-22
It is of divine importance that the altar where the blood was shed was the same height as where the blood was taken and sprinkled before God.
This is because the Ark of the Covenant was the earthly seat of God’s glory, His majesty and Almightiness. But more than that even, it was also the Throne of His holiness. God is not only a potentate upon His throne ruling in absolute majesty because of His loftier position to all of creation, but He is the One who also has made a way of redemption from sin. He is our Creator and He is our Holy Redeemer.
“Something has been done in relation to sin, which establishes that throne in holiness, and gives that throne a right, the right to judge sin. It is not just the judgement of men as creatures under the hand of an Almighty God. It is the judgement of a sinful state under a holy state” T Austin Sparks
To come into His presence is to meet the divine judgment of the Ten Commandments written on the two tablets of stone. Since we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, this means certain death, for the “wages of sin is death”. None can stand before the utter holiness of God.
Yet God in His mercy has provided a way. Over the top of the tablets of Law is the golden Mercy Seat.
The Mercy Seat is a Picture of Christ Himself
The two Cherubim facing inward toward the mercy seat is a picture of the Godhead (or Trinity). All of one piece of gold, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit facing towards the Mercy Seat, which is a picture of God the Son, Christ Jesus.
The word used in Hebrews 3:24 for “propitiation”
(“…Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood through faith…” )
is “hilasterion” and is translated as “mercy seat” in Hebrews 9:5 : “and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat…”
So the same word is translated both as “propitiation” and as “mercy seat”.
“He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world… In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins” 1 John 2:2; 4:10 NASB)
Jesus Christ is the Mercy Seat, “the place of propitiation, or satisfaction, for our sins.” (Theodore H Epp)
“He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins…” Leviticus 16:14-16
Because the Cherubim faced inwards towards the Mercy Seat, they were constantly looking upon the blood. The holiness of God and the demands of the Law meant that to enter the presence of a holy God meant certain death for the wages of sin is death.
But the blood proved that someone had died for the broken law. The death had to be an innocent substitute, someone who had not broken God’s law. The death of the animal foreshadowing, of course, Christ’s substitutionary death for sinful humanity. This blood was what expiated the sin of Israel, because they could not meet the requirements of the Holy Law within the Ark and ultimately it was in Christ that justice received full payment. . It was the blood-stained mercy seat that expiated God’s wrath against sin and meant that the High Priest could enter His presence, with the blood of the one who had died for sin.
To Remove the Mercy Seat Meant Certain Death
Therefore to remove the mercy seat meant certain death. In 1 Samuel 6 the people of Beth Shemesh looked into the Ark after the Philistines returned it. Removing the blood-stained mercy seat meant literally that mercy was removed and thus they were exposed to the Law and God’s judgment against sin. The result was that God struck 50,070 men dead, because the “wages of sin is death.”
This foreshadows Christ as our Mercy Seat. He met the demands of the Law of God and His blood was shed in our place. To attempt to approach God apart from the work of His Son means certain death as our own righteousness is as filthy rags compared to His holy standard. There is only one way into the Holy Place, the place of God’s Throne and that is to first come to the Brazen Altar, ie the cross.