Alone, behind the Veil in the Tabernacle’s Holy of Holies, sat a single piece of furniture… the Ark of the Covenant. According to God’s instruction, the Ark was made of two distinct pieces. First, the chest, made “of acacia wood, forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high” (Exodus 25:10) and overlaid with gold. The second distinct piece was the lid of the Ark, called the “Mercy Seat.” God commanded Moses: “Make a mercy seat of pure gold, forty-five inches long and twenty-seven inches wide” (Exodus 25:17). It was a solid slab of pure gold that fit securely onto the top of the Ark.
Above the lid, and fashioned together with it as a single unit, were “two cherubim of gold … of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end. At its two ends, make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat. The cherubim are to have wings spread out above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and are to face one another. The faces of the cherubim should be toward the mercy seat” (Exodus 25:18–20). The golden cherubim above the Mercy Seat were bowed in reverent worship with the tips of their wings touching.
When you think of a cherub, does your mind go immediately to a Valentine’s Day card and the cute and cuddly little fellow with his bow and arrow? Those that Ezekiel saw outside the temple weren’t cute, but fearsome. “The likeness of the living creatures was like the appearance of blazing coals of fire or like torches. Fire was moving back and forth between the living creatures; it was bright, with lightning coming out of it. The creatures were darting back and forth like flashes of lightning” (Ezekiel 1:13–14, see also Ezekiel 10:3-5).
God told Moses, “I will meet with you there above the mercy seat, between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the testimony; I will speak with you from there about all that I command you regarding the Israelites” (Exodus 25:22). Moses, though not the High Priest, was specially invited by God to commune in His presence. “When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim. He spoke to him that way”(Numbers 7:89).
On the Day of Atonement, Aaron, the High Priest, would enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of the atoning sacrifice. “When he slaughters the male goat for the people’s sin offering and brings its blood inside the curtain … He is to sprinkle it against the mercy seat and in front of it. He will make atonement … for all their sins because of the Israelites’ impurities and rebellious acts” (Leviticus 16:15–16). In this way, the Nation’s sin was covered.
The Hebrew word, “kapar” is translated both “atone” and “cover.” Interestingly, the word which is translated “Mercy Seat” is closely related: “kapporet.” The “kapporet” was the lid, the covering of the Ark and the very place where the atonement, the covering for sin, was offered.
The Mercy Seat clearly pointed forward to the Cross where the Lamb of God (John 1:29) gave His sinless life as the atonement for our sin. His blood covers our sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented him as the mercy seat by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:23–25). “Christ has appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), he entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption … who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (Hebrews 9:11–14). “For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb” (1 Peter 1:18–19).