The Ark and the Mercy Seat were the most important of all the vessels of the Tabernacle. The Ark with the Mercy Seat was the throne of God. Shekinah Glory - God focused His divine presence throughout all the years the Tabernacle was in existence. This is why this innermost chamber was called the Holy of Holies.
The Mercy Seat
Exodus 25:17-22, Leviticus 16:2, Psalm 80:1 - The Mercy Seat and Cherubim were made from one solid piece of beaten gold. This speaks of Christ’s Deity and Glory being one. The only other article similarly constructed was the Golden Lamp Stand. Note the absence of wood. Humanity was not represented in any way. The place of mercy was wholly conceived and wrought by God.
Let us now look at the word “Mercy-Seat.” There are two places in the N.T. that give us the basic meaning of this word. 1 John 2:2 says, “And He is the propitiation for our sin.” Romans 3:25 says, “Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood.” The root meaning of “Mercy Seat” (see Hebrews 9:5) is the same as “propitiation.” The Mercy Seat had to be sprinkled with blood to accomplish the work of atonement. According to the N.T., Jesus Christ became our propitiatory sacrifice, our Mercy Seat, or place of mercy. Because of the efficacy of the blood of Christ, God now can meet His people in Christ…“the Mercy Seat”…and have mercy on the sinner and forgive to the uttermost.
The Mercy Seat is a Meeting Place
The blood sprinkled Mercy Seat was where sinful mankind could meet God’s mercy. Today the blood of Jesus Christ is, through faith, our meeting place with mercy. His mediatory work at the right hand of God assures both saint and sinner alike of forgiveness of sin.
The Mercy Seat is a Resting Place
The Mercy Seat typologically speaks of Christ. Literally, a seat is a place of rest. Where else in the world could we find rest for our souls? In this world of time squandering and in this grasping-for-pleasure age, we need an anchor that is sure and steadfast, a resting place; we find this in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The Mercy Seat is a Place of Mercy
Once a year, on the “Day of Atonement,” the High Priest entered the Most Holy place and sprinkled the Mercy Seat with blood from off the Brazen altar. God saw this blood as representing that of His own Son and recognized this as an expression of faith. As a result God was merciful to His people, to the High Priest, and postponed judgment against sin.
A literal translation of “atonement” could very well be “at-one-ment.” This would signify reconciliation between God and man. The word “reconciliation” or “reconciled” are N.T. words which have the same root meaning as the O.T. word “atonement” (see Ephesians 2:15-18 and 2 Corinth 5:18-19).
The Mercy Seat is a Throne
A throne is universally accepted as a place of judgment or a place of mercy. The Mercy Seat was where God met to judge the sins of His people. When He saw the blood of the sacrifices sprinkled thereon He withheld His judgment. In other words, God suspended judgment for sin until His Son should come and pay the debt once for all. When Jesus died, He paid the sin debt, past, present and future. The Israelite’s sin was covered until the One who was prophesied to come, did come and remove the sin of all His people. Since Christ’s death, the sin of the believing Israelite and our sin today have been removed as far as the east is removed from the west; it has been obliterated - never to be remembered against us again.
The crown around the outer edge speaks of Christ’s exaltation or kingship. Although Jesus was rejected by Israel we must ever remember that He was born King of the Jews and will one day be crowned Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He is all this, and more, because of His glorious resurrection.
These overshadowed the Mercy Seat and looked down on it. They were figures representing certain angelic beings.
Their responsibility seems to be that of guarding the infinite holiness of God. They guarded the east entrance to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve had sinned. They were placed there by God himself to guard the tree of life (see Genesis 3:23).
They were messengers of judgment. They looked down upon the blood-stained Mercy Seat and covered it with their wings (see Exodus 25:20). As long as they saw the blood-sprinkled Mercy Seat, symbolizing that God’s claims against sin had been met, judgment was stayed. As believers, we should thank God for the precious blood of Christ. It is the most precious thing in heaven or on earth (1 Peter 2:7 says, “Unto you, therefore, which believe He is precious.” See also 1 Peter 1:18-19).
The Shekinah Glory
This is an un-translated Hebrew word which means “There will I meet you.” The Shekinah glory, as God’s presence, was over the Mercy Seat. It was here that God said He would meet with His people; that is, over the blood which had been sprinkled thereon. God cannot and will not meet with mankind today except as He sees the blood of Jesus Christ.
There is no approach, no mercy, nor any salvation for anyone, except through both a personal recognition of the efficacy of Christ’s blood and a personal exercise of faith in that blood. This is the basis of all N.T. doctrine and there is no substitute for it. Any church or individual who digresses or deviates from this truth has become apostate and is open to the wrath and judgment of God (see John 3:36, 8:24 and 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
The Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22 and Hebrews 9:4)
We will look at the Ark in three ways: (1) Its physical characteristics (size and material), (2) Its contents (the tables of the Law, the golden pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded), and (3) Its relative position (in the Tabernacle, on its journeys, and its whereabouts today).
The importance Israel placed upon the Ark of the Covenant is astounding. The importance given to this Ark by God Jehovah is stupendous. In the Bible there are principally three arks: (1) Noah’s Ark, (2) The Ark of Moses, and (3) The Ark of the Covenant. Each one speaks of preservation. Each, in its own way, speaks of the Lord, our Ark of Refuge. The Law, God’s precepts, was also within the Ark. The way in which the Ark preserved God’s precepts to Israel is the same manner in which the Lord Jesus preserves our incorruptible inheritance in Heaven - the title deed to our salvation (see Heb 8:6, 13:20 and 1 Peter 1:4).
The Ark was small, yet it was a valuable treasure chest. It was 3 feet 9 inches long, 2 feet 3 inches wide, and 2 feet 2 inches deep - so small, yet so precious. There was a rim (or crown) all around it. The lid (or top) was covered with pure beaten gold, called the Mercy Seat. The materials used to make the Ark were wood and gold; these represent both His Deity and Humanity.
Forged to the Mercy Seat were two Cherubim. The area over the Ark was hallowed by God’s presence. It was there He said, “I will meet thee.” As Israel journeyed in the wilderness, only the Ark was carried on the shoulders of the Priests (see Joshua 3 and 6: Jordan and Jericho). The Ark was carried high, so that all could see it. Christ has been exalted high and lifted up to God’s right hand. Believers also should exalt Christ and proclaim Him to the world. See John 12:32, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
The Contents of the Ark
Inside the Ark were three items of considerable importance: (1) Two tables on which the Law was written, (2) A golden pot of manna, and (3) Aaron’s rod that budded (see Hebrews 9:4). The Ark and its contents speak preeminently of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Person and Work of the Lord is revealed here as in no other instance. We see Him as Son of man and Son of God, crowned with glory, ever living, and ever-present to those who call upon Him.
The Tables of the Law
Let us consider the Ten Commandments, which were written on the two tables of stone. Exodus 25:16 says, “And thou shalt put into the Ark the testimony which I shall give thee.” These commandments were to go with them on all their journeys and to be continually in their midst, displaying the holy character of God.
The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20:1-17 [read this passage]. The finger of God wrote them. These represent the written Word of God. The Law was holy and sacred—its place was in the most Holy of places. The Divine Law of God, the Written Word, is eternal (see Psalm 49:89), precious (1 Samuel 3:1), and endures forever (1 Peter 1:25).
No one, apart from the Lord, has ever kept the Law in its entirety. The Law being placed within the Ark typifies this. The Psalmist could say of Him, “Thy Law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8). The Lord kept the Law in thought, word, and deed (1 Peter 2:22, “He did no sin” - 1 John 3:5, “In Him was no sin” - 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He knew no sin.”). In contrast to the perfection, Paul declares that, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” His glory being the Ten Commandments.
Most commentators point out that we build a house first and then consider what furniture we should install. God works from the opposite direction. Exodus 25:8-10 says, “Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them…and they made an ark of shittim wood.” The Ark speaks of Christ – He is the center of time and eternity. God would have us to know that His beloved Son is “before all things.” The Ark was so small and yet so precious. In Christ, there is the perfect holiness of God and sustenance for His people of all ages. In Him, there is life, resurrection, and eternal glory.
The Golden Pot of Manna
The manna in the wilderness was a type of Christ. The manna in the Golden Pot remained fresh. Christ, the Bread of life, is sufficient for our daily needs. He is sufficient for our eternal needs. We know that the Lord’s body never saw corruption. See Psalm 16:10. We believe the manna is a type of Him.
Aaron’s Rod that Budded
[Describe Aaron’s rod - see also Numbers 17] We have here nothing less than life from the dead. This is a type of resurrection. This rod budded, blossomed, and brought forth fruit. John 11:25 says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in Me though he were dead, yet shall He live.” John 14:9 says, “Because I live, you shall live also.” Thank God for an omnipotent and living Lord and Savior.
The Relative Position of the Ark
Its Position in the Tabernacle
It was located before the Altar of Incense, however, the inner veil stood as a barrier between the two. The burning incense on this Altar is a picture of the believer’s prayers ascending to God. It is comforting to know that our prayers are so close to the throne of God and without a barrier in between.
The Ark located in the Holy of Holies is a type of Christ glorified in Heaven. He was both humanity and Deity (see Hebrews 4:15-16). Therefore, we have One in heaven who was like mankind. Because He is both man and God, He serves as our great High Priest before the Throne of God.
Its Position on the Wilderness Journeys
When Joshua was about to conquer Canaan, God commanded the priests to carry the Ark before the people (see Joshua 3:3-4). At other times, the Ark was in the midst of them. Just as the Ark was always there when it was needed, Christ is always there to help us. He is an ever-present help in time of trouble. “Let us therefore come boldly unto His throne.”
Where is the Ark of the Covenant Today?
There is an astonishing statement in Rev 11:19. John saw the Ark in Heaven. Was this the same Ark? One thing is certain, Christ the true Ark is there. The High Priest was only allowed to approach the Ark once a year, but Christ, who became our High Priest, is in the presence of God all the time making intercession for us. The Ark is no longer moving from place to place. So Christ is in the Lord’s presence “waiting” on the Father’s command to claim His own from the world (See John 14:3 and Acts 1:11). When He comes, it will be with a shout and great power; this is in stark contrast with His first coming as the meek and lowly One.