What is Covered by the Mercy Seat?
© C. O. Bishop 7/18/17 THCF 7/30/17
Hebrews 9:1-10 Hebrews 4:16
We have been working our way through the epistle to the Hebrews. Last time, in chapter eight, we saw Jesus revealed as our true High Priest, and as the mediator of the New Covenant, which was originally promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Now the writer is discussing, in more particular detail, the reality of Jesus in the Tabernacle and the Temple. He begins by discussing what was physically in the Tabernacle, and what was in the Ark of the Covenant, and the significance of the Mercy Seat. So we will discuss those things in that order:
What was in the Tabernacle?
1Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.
2 For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.
3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;
The Tabernacle, proper, also called the “tent of meeting”, included two compartments, both of which were closed to the public. The outer sanctuary, wherein were the golden lampstand (or candlestick, in this passage), and the table of showbread, which was changed daily, was open to the general priesthood, for their service. The inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only open to the High Priest, and that only once a year. He entered in once a year, with a blood sacrifice for the nation of Israel, and to offer prayer for the nation.
Inside the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only am incense altar, for burning incense…no other kind of sacrifice or offering…and the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant has been an object of mystery for thousands of years, but, in the matter of physical reality, it was simply a wooden box, approximately 27” x 27” x 45” long, and it was plated over with gold, with a solid gold lid that had images of cherubim on top, and with golden rings in the sides of the box, through which poles could be inserted by which to carry the box. That was it!
You can read the full description in Exodus 25:10-22. There are people today, who falsely claim to have built according to these directions and it turned out to be a radio transmitter (Erich Von Daniken, in his book, Chariots of the Gods) and others who simply claim that it generated electricity. These are all patently false claims, but they can only deceive those who fail to go read the instructions to Moses and see what the Ark of the Covenant really was. It was a BOX! Yes, it was gold-plated, etc., but it was still just a box! There were no wires: nothing that could generate any sort of physical power. The God who ordained it was the only power associated with that Box. When Uzzah touched the box, 400 years later, and was struck dead, he was struck dead by God, not electrocuted! Further, when Moses communicated with God, he did not need a radio, as Von Daniken claimed; and neither do you! God can hear you today, if you will talk to Him, just as He heard Moses 3,500 years ago in Egypt!
But, what was in the Ark of the Covenant?
4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;
The things in the ark, again, do not lend themselves to anything except symbolism. These three things were in the Ark of the Covenant, eventually:
- A golden jar of Manna (reminding them of God’s faithful supply),
- Aaron’s Rod that budded (reminding them of His promise of the resurrection), and
- The two stone tables of God’s Law (declaring His Holiness, Righteousness and Justice.)
The recipients of all three (the Nation of Israel) had rejected all three in unbelief.
- They had despised the Manna, saying they missed the leeks, onions, garlic, cucumbers and melons of Egypt, and they wanted meat, besides. They rejected the sustenance offered by God in every way, and they only desired to return to Egypt.
- They had disregarded the promise of the resurrection, living for the pleasure of this world only (Just as Esau had done, 500 years earlier, and finally,
- They had constantly disobeyed, defied and broken God’s Law; or at least only obeyed it at a surface level, and concerning matters in which obedience was relatively convenient. God’s Holiness was never central to their thinking, nor His Law central to their lives.
5 And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.
I really can’t tell you very much about the Cherubim…I have never seen a cherub, and the scriptures give no clear description. All I know is that they were the highest order among the angelic creation, and seem to have been “palace-guards,” of a sort. A cherub was placed to guard the way back to Eden so that Adam and Eve could not return there. Lucifer was originally a cherub, and was evidently the head of that group. We don’t know a great deal more about them.
The pure gold Mercy seat, itself, on the other hand, was both the “lid” to the box—the covering for all that was within—and, it was God’s throne on earth. Give this some thought: Why would God seat himself upon His Mercy, covering the things within the Ark of the Covenant? There is something truly significant about this: He was Seated (enthroned), upon Mercy, Covering the things pertaining to His relationship with Sinful Mankind. So, let’s talk about that:
God’s Mercy and the New Covenant
God’s rule on earth has to be based upon His Mercy. Lamentations 3:22 says, “It is of His mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”
And, His Mercy is what is needed to cover the ungodliness recorded by the contents of the Ark of the Covenant, itself. Remember: everything in the Ark, though they were emblems of God’s goodness, because they had been rejected by Man, were also emblems of our sin and perdition.
By the way, it is not only the Jews who have rejected God’s rule, his promise, and His supply. We Gentiles routinely spurn everything of God as well. We mock him in our literature and our movies and our jokes. We claim to be our own source of authority, the “captains of our own souls,” the directors of our own futures, and the guarantors of our own sustenance.
Meanwhile we face world famines, a diminishing fresh water supply, drug-resistant diseases, and the inability to cure our own lawless social ills; yet we boast that we will emigrate to the stars. Really!? We can’t solve our problems here, so we think we can travel hundreds of millions of light-years away, and start over elsewhere? How sad and foolish it all must look from God’s perspective. How desperately we need His Mercy!
Only God’s Mercy can cover our rebellion, our pride and our disrespect. But, the Ark of the Covenant is long gone…so, where can we find the Mercy of God today? Let’s see whether the Scriptures can tell us:
6 Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.
7 But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:
Only the priests (plural) could go into the outer sanctuary of the tabernacle, and only the High Priest into the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, and that only once a year, with a blood sacrifice for sin. This is just historical fact. The recipients of the letter were primarily Jews, and they knew all of this. But the Writer goes on to teach them what they did not know regarding that history.
8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:
9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;
10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.
Notice that verses 8, 9 and 10 give the “expiration date”, effectively, for the old covenant. It was only good “While as the first tabernacle was yet standing”. It was only a “figure for the time then present”, and was imposed upon them “until the time of reformation”. The obsolescence was actually “built-in” in several ways: Every priest eventually died, thus requiring a new priest; the buildings fell into disrepair, or were destroyed, etc.; and the sacrifices had to be repeated, day after day and year by year.
But Jesus is not bound by any of these imperfections, nor can his ministry become obsolete: He made one perfect sacrifice which provides the believer with a perfect standing before God, and, to top it off, unlike either the priests or the tabernacle within which they served, He himself lives eternally to intercede for us.
Notice verse nine, which says that the gifts and sacrifices the priests offered at that time could not even make the priests perfect, let alone those whom they represented. All the sacrifices accomplished was to temporarily “cover” the sins of the people, including those of the priests. The word translated “atonement”, in the KJV translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, is the word “kaphar.” It means a “covering.” Fittingly, that is also the name of the lid of the Ark of the Covenant…the “kaphar.” And, what was it covering? Just the box? No, it covered what was in the box:
- The despised supply of God,
- The disregarded promise of God, and
- The disobeyed, defied and broken Law of God.
These emblems of our Stubbornness, our Unbelief, our pride and lawlessness were what was really in that box, though ironically represented by the very emblems of God’s Sustenance, Promise and Justice. So, it required God’s Mercy to cover it all.
That is why the lid was also called the “Mercy Seat”, and it was a pre-figuring of the Mercy-seat before which we now freely appear before God. Under the Old Covenant, God’s Mercy, through the blood sacrifices, covered our sins. But under the New Covenant, in the person of Christ, our sins are taken away. John the Baptist, in John 1:29, clearly declared Jesus to be the one to fulfill all those prophecies. (“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the World.”)
So, in light of all that history; applying it to our lives, today; for us, who have never seen the temple…What does it mean today? We have never seen the Cross, either; but we have placed our faith in the Blood of that Cross. And, the Blood of that Sacrifice is what stands between us and the Judgment of God, today. His Justice and Righteousness were satisfied by that sacrifice. His Mercy and Love were satisfied there, as well.
The scriptures say that Jesus completed his sacrificial work, and then sat down…where? The only place He could sit down was in the throne with God, the Father. So that is where He is today, still on the job, interceding for us. Jesus is our Mercy Seat—our atonement—our covering. More than that, He has taken our sins away!
So…going back to our original question:
What is covered by the Mercy Seat?
The short answer: Everything!
All of our rebellion is covered by the Cross, all of our mistaken pride, and our stubborn self-will. All of our lies, by which we deceive ourselves and others. All our cruel unkindness by which we mistreat others. All our lack of forgiveness and our implacable hearts. All of our self-pity and narcissism, our lusts, our unholiness, our arrogance, and our fears. Calvary covers it all.
And, what is really important, here, is to see that His sacrifice at the Cross was a one-time sacrifice to “Take away the sins of the World”. That is what John the Baptist meant in John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God (the sacrificial Lamb) which taketh away the sins of the World.”
So…did that include the sins of, say, Adam? Or Abraham? Yes! Their sacrifices looked forward, in faith, to HIS sacrifice. And, if the cross took away the sins of Adam, it also took away the sins of the sons of Adam. If it took away the sins of Abraham, it also took away the sins of those who are Abraham’s heirs by faith.
Jesus said that those who do not believe are condemned already because they do not believe. The penalty of their sins was actually paid at the Cross. But, in choosing to reject that fact, they remain under the judgment of God. They can still change their mind, if they are willing to do so.
When you chose to place your trust in the completed work of Jesus—in His blood sacrifice for your sins—from God’s perspective, your sins were permanently removed from you. You are still living out the physical reality of your life, with all its trials: but in God’s economy, you have been permanently placed into Christ, so that where He is, you are! Read Ephesians 2:4-6…read it slowly, and think about what it actually says! You have already been resurrected with Jesus, and have already ascended… and are NOW sitting with Him in heaven! Where He is, you are!
I have always had a hard time with that concept…But God says that it is important for us to grasp that truth, and for us to rest in what it implies. The work is done! We are not to slave away, fearfully trying to “do enough Good” in the world, so that God will accept us: He has already accepted us! I am already forgiven! I am already accepted in the Beloved!
John 5:24 says that my Past is covered: He says that I have crossed over from Death into life. Incidentally, that is actually not a simple past-tense, but a perfect tense: a completed action in the past, which has continuing effect for the future. “It is finished!”
My Present is covered: He says that I have Eternal Life, now! I don’t have to wait until I die to find out whether I “graduated” or just “flunked out.” This is a very precious promise to me, because if I had to wait, knowing my failures and sin, I would be without hope.
My Future is covered: He says that I will not (ever) come into condemnation. I will never be condemned for my sins. I do not have to live in fear of the righteous judgment of a Holy God, because that righteous judgment was poured out on Jesus, at the Cross. “He who knew no sin was made to be sin, for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain Mercy, and find Grace to help in time of need.” This is where we find Mercy today. The Ark of the Covenant (as well as the whole temple on earth) was lost almost two thousand years ago. But the real Mercy seat still awaits our response of faith. Jesus sits enthroned, and His throne is the throne of Grace. We are to approach Him in full confidence, knowing that His work is complete, and that we are fully accepted in Him.
When is the “Time of Need?” It is now! Daily! Moment by Moment! All of our life is a crisis, apart from Christ. As an unbeliever, had I died at any time prior to coming to faith, I would have been eternally lost. I literally had no hope. Even as a believer, today, when I am out of fellowship with God, I am reduced to living by my own strength and wisdom, and, for all practical purposes, I am again without Hope.
Our “Time of Need” is a moment-by-moment dependency upon the Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness of God, as well as His Supply and Sustenance. We find all of these in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus teach us to believe your promise, and to trust your Word. Draw us along into a full relationship with you by faith and teach us the gentle life of obedience to your Spirit. Fill us with your Mercy and Grace.