The Ark of the covenant
Scripture: Exodus 25:10-22
In the tabernacle the ark of the covenant resided in the holy of holies. This piece of Tabernacle furniture is associated with the immediate presence of God. The ark is a wonderful picture of Christ as the mediator between God and men. It is in Him that God dwells among sinful men. It is in Him that God communicates to men, Exodus 25:22. Though the ark was concealed behind the veil — not to be looked on by any save the High Priest once a year and even on the move the ark was wrapped in the vail — the ark was known by the people through the Scriptures to be of special importance in the Tabernacle. What we may never see with the natural eye may be known to us by the Scriptures and seen with the eye of faith! The OT people of God looked forward to a day when the veil would be removed and when God’s Lamb would die for sin full access to the immediate presence of God would be enjoyed. The ark as the symbol of God’s presence among them was the focal point of all the ritual of the Levitical age.
As NT saints we have the vantage point of looking on the ark through the rent veil and with the light of full gospel revelation. Looking on the ark in that light we may see Christ clearly where the OT believer only saw Him dimly and concealed in shadowy type.
The ark consisted of two component parts
I The Ark proper.
This was a shittim wood chest overlaid inside and outside with pure gold, Exodus 25:10-11. The ark proper relates to the person of Christ. The dual natures of Christ’s person are seen again in the ark — His deity and sinless prepared humanity (veil pillars, boards, bars, table, altar). The person of Christ as the mediator of the covenant of grace is specially to be seen here. In order to be a mediator He must possess both natures.
The contents of the ark illustrate the offices which Christ as mediator discharges in relation to His people.
(i) The tables of the law, Exodus 25:16, 21. The ten commandments – a summary of the Moral Law, handwritten by God, was to be placed in the ark. The need for such a repository was powerfully demonstrated by the incident, future at this point, in Exodus 32:15-19. Cp Deuteronomy 10:1-5. The safe keeping of the law, unbroken and entire was ensured by their placement in the ark. Here is a picture of the God-man in His covenant role as the keeper of the law for His people. Cp Psalm 40:8. The first man broke the covenant God had made with him and so plunged his race into sin. The second man kept the Law on the behalf of His people to recover them and justify them.
Christ is further seen as the lawgiver of His people, their King. He expounds and enforces the Law as a rule of life for His people, Cp Matthew 5-7.
(ii) The golden pot of manna, Exodus 16:32-34, Hebrews 9:4. Christ as the One who is the bread of life is seen here. In His person He is the means of life for sinners, John 6:53-54. This pot contained the daily allowance for one person (Exodus 16:16) — the portion Christ supplies is all we need. Christ is further seen here as Prophet, feeding His people.
(iii) Aaron’s rod that budded, Hebrews 9:4. This was the symbol of the divinely appointed priesthood, Numbers 17:10. This miracle settled forever the question of who God’s chosen priest was. Christ is just such a divinely chosen priest greater than Aaron to do a greater work, Hebrews 5:1-6. His priesthood was settled by His resurrection.
The ark was also ornamented with a golden crown — kept the mercy seat in place. The royal person of Christ the mediator is before us as He occupies the offices of prophet, priest and king — securing propitiation and pardon for sinners. It is only as Christ fulfills these offices for us that we can be said to be the Lord’s; to have escaped the wrath to come; and to enter into the immediate presence of God.
II The mercy seat
See Exodus 25:17-18, 21.
A golden lid/cover called the mercy seat on the ends of which were two cherubim.
The work of Propitiation.
The mercy seat brings before us a view of Christ’s work. Again, person and work go together to form one piece of Tabernacle furniture. Christ is the mercy seat, Romans 3:25 propitiation here is the Greek word for mercy seat in Hebrews 9:5. In the gospel Christ is revealed as the One in whom God’s wrath against sinners is appeased. He is the One who propitiates God’s wrath.
Mercy seat is a translation of a Hebrew word – ‘to cover over’ and is commonly translated with reference to atonement (Yom Kippor – day of atonement). It is used most often in the context of making atonement — covering sin and guilt, pardon.
a) This mercy seat literally covered the law. It was the place where blood was sprinkled to cover the offences against the law, Leviticus 16:14 — propitiation, 1 John 2:2, 4:10. When the mercy seat was removed wrath was the result, 1 Samuel 6:19-20.
b) The significance of the mercy seat was that it was not so much the place where propitiation was made — that happened at the altar— but it was the place where the value of what had occurred at the altar was presented continually before God. Christ not only made propitiation but presents His blood continually to God on our behalf as the basis of our pardon and peace with God. Cp Hebrews 9:12, 24, 12:24.
The mercy seat was the place of God’s throne.
Here He sat among His people, Psalm 80:1, 99:1 (same Hebrew). How was it possible for God to dwell among a sinful people? Only on the basis of an accepted sacrifice. His throne was one sprinkled with the blood of atonement. Cp Revelation 5:6.
(i) The blood of Christ upon the throne vindicates the right of God to rule. His justice is vindicated in that He judged sin. The presented blood is proof of God’s perfect righteousness and therefore of His right to govern.
(ii) God’s rule over the world is such that it is always exercised with a view to those whom Christ has died for. The power of God is exercised for the benefit of those for whom Christ’s blood pleads — not against them in destructive judgement. Here He not only dwelt among men but from here He ruled, Exodus 25:22. The basis of His rule is His Law. God holds communion as a King with His people because of Christ, Cp Numbers 7:89.
Christ as the mercy seat sets forth the glory of God. The mercy seat was all of gold — divine glory. Redemption has one great end, the glory of God, Ephesians 1:6. The justice and mercy of God is vindicated and magnified in the work of Christ.
These angelic beings are often seen in Scripture in connection with the execution of Divine wrath against sin, Genesis 3:24. It is very striking that they shouldbe found here in the place of mercy. There is a wonderful parallel to these angels seen following the resurrection, John 20:12.
a) The justice of God is one with His mercy. Just as there was no seam between the mercy seat and the cherubim there is no conflict between the execution of judgement and the exercise of mercy. Both are reconciled in Christ.
b) The judgement of God is stayed toward believing sinners because of Christ’s work of redemption. The executors of wrath are focused upon the presented blood. They are transfixed by it and are not to be found carrying out the judgements of God. There is no sword in their hand!
c) The occupation of angelic minds with the wonders of redemption. In adoring wonder the angels consider the redeeming work of Christ. Cp Ephesians 3:10, 1 Peter 1:11-12. If their minds are so occupied how much should ours be turned in wonder to gaze upon the blood that has reconciled us to God.