The Mercy Seat: Christ Our Propitiation Exodus 25:17-22; 37:6-9; Romans 3:36
Clad only in a white linen garment, the high priest drew back the heavy veil in front of the holy of holies and was immediately enclosed by the glory of God. This indescribable moment must have left him weak as he viewed the shekinah glory of Jehovah God emanating from the mercy seat. So holy was the mercy seat, because of the divine presence of God, that no man except the high priest and Moses could come before it. The high priest came but once a year, and not without blood, lest he suffer certain death (Lev. 16:2).
The mercy seat, more than just the top of the ark, was the focal point of the tabernacle’s ministry. All that has been described thus far in the tabernacle has led us to this moment. With great expectation and a reverential spirit let us draw back the veil, enter the holy of holies, and see how beautifully the mercy seat points to the propitiatory work of Jesus the Messiah.
Properties Of The Mercy Seat
The mercy seat was made of pure gold, 3’9” long, 2’3” wide and rested on the top of the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:17). Yet it was considered to have a separate ministry of its own (Ex. 30:6; 31:7; Lev. 16:2; Num. 7:89). Here the mercy seat is not of acacia wood covered with gold as other pieces of furnishings in the tabernacle, but of “solid gold”. The gold is a figure of the deity of God. In the mercy seat we do not see the humanity of Christ, but only His deity. The Bible explicitly states that Jesus is divine (Jn.1:1; 10:30-33), as we have seen so often in previous articles. The gold also typifies that our redemption is all of God — He planned, provided, produced and will perfect it in us. The beaten gold is a picture of what our Lord went through to provide redemption for us.
On top of the mercy seat, at each corner, stood the cherubim made from beaten gold looking down towards the seat with their wings stretched out over its top (Ex. 25:18-20). Cherubim are angelic beings of the highest order created with great beauty and power. Even though they are above human imagination, earthly terms are used to describe their supernatural beauty. In Ezekiel chapter one we are given a multifaceted description of a cherub. They had the face of a man, lion, ox and eagle (v. 10); four wings (v. 6); with hands under their wings (v. 8); the sole of their feel was like a calf’s (v. 7); and their appearance shined like polished brass (v. 7), bright coals of fire and lamps (v. 13); and they moved with the speed of lightning (v. 14). You can imagine how the golden cherubim on the mercy seat must have shown like the sun as the glory of God was reflected off of them.
In Scripture the cherub is symbolic of God’s righteousness and judicial authority. They appeared at the gate of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24) guarding the tree of life with a flaming sword. This prevented sinful man from eating its fruit and thus living forever in his sinful state. Cherubim are described as four living creatures in Revelation 4:1-11. They stand glorifying God and ready to carry out His every command.
Privilege Before The Mercy Seat
The mercy seat was a place of meeting between God and Moses. It was here that Moses communed with God. It was here that God revealed certain commandments unto Moses as he guided the children of Israel through forty years of wandering. The words, “I will meet with thee” (Ex. 25:22) literally mean “I will meet with thee by appointment.” Moses was the only man privileged to come before God at an appointed time without sacrifice or blood in hand. What a tremendous privilege was given to Moses! It is recorded that God spoke to him “… face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33:1 1).
Priestly Preparation Before The Mercy Seat
The Scriptures give very little information concerning the high priest’s preparation for the Day of Atonement during the time of the Tabernacle. But Jewish historians have enlightened us on the priest’s preparation during the days of the Temple.
A week before the sacred Day of Atonement, the high priest left his family and home to reside in a specially prepared apartment in the Temple complex. A second priest was chosen as well just in case the high priest became ceremonially unclean for some reason, suddenly took ill or unexpectedly died. During the week of preparation he would refresh his memory on the laws, Scriptures and procedures involved in the most minute function which he was to perform. No one was allowed to disturb his preparation of heart and mind. Nor was anything to come in contact with him that might cause him to become ceremonially unclean. How unlike our Lord who ministered unto the needs of people, having one of the busiest weeks of His ministry before His crucifixion.
On the Day of Atonement, as the first glimmer of light crossed the horizon, the priest entered the holy place to prepare for this, the holiest day on Israel’s calendar. He would set aside his beautiful priestly garments, bathe his body completely and then dress in a simple white linen garment (Lev. 16:4) which symbolized that he was completely sanctified from all sin and ready to perform the most holy ministry of his priesthood. (TBD continued next issue)