The mercy seat was a solid slab of gold that acted as a lid for the ark, and was held in place by the gold molding (Exodus 25:11) around the top of the ark. Two cherubim were placed at opposite ends of the mercy seat. They faced each other, and their "wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them"(v. 20, NIV).Somehow, the cherubim were not made separately and placed upon the mercy seat, but were "of one piece with the cover"(v. 19, NIV).
Besides the mercy seat, only the lampstand was made of solid gold, but it was smaller in size and weight. This made the mercy seat the most valuable article of furniture in the tabernacle, which is significant when we understand the true meaning of this item as it relates to Christ.
The term "mercy seat" comes from the Hebrew word Kapporeth, which means "atonement," or "to ransom or deliver by means of a substitute." In the Old Testament, this substitute was an animal, sacrificed for a variety of reasons and in various seasons, and repeated year after year. On the Day of Atonement, the blood of a bull was sprinkled on the front of the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14). The broken Law within the ark was a reminder that "the wages of sin isdeath" (Romans 6:23). But God had told the Israelites, "'When I see the blood, I will pass over you'"(Exodus 12:13, NIV). He also told Moses, "'The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have givenit for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life'"(Leviticus 17:11, ESV). Therefore, after the day's ritual was over, the people of God were once again forgiven of their yearly sins, covered by the blood of bulls and goats.
However, "in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year. For it is impossible forthe blood of bulls and goats to take away sins"(Hebrews 10:3–4, ESV). God was certainly appeased, for this was the atoning system He had established, but it was all a type that pointed toward the fulfillment of the Law in Christ.
Romans 3:24–25 says, "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood"(KJV).The word "propitiation" is from the Greek hilasterion, translating the Hebrew word Kapporeth, and means "to conciliate (an offended power), appease, placate, to make satisfaction." Romans 3:25 could also be read, "Whom God hath set forth to be a mercy seatthrough faith in His blood." It is the same word found in Hebrews 9:5 and 1 John 2:2. Jesus is now our atonement, who was "offered once to bear the sins of many" (Hebrews 9:28, ESV).
There is no idea that atonement "covers" our sins here. Christ Jesus did not come to cover our sins with His blood, but rather, in the words of John the Baptist (John 1:29), "'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" (italics mine). Jesus did not come to cover our sins like snow over a compost heap, but to take away our sins, removing them as far as east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
This helps us to understand why the mercy seat was the most costly article in the tabernacle.
For God to sacrifice His one and only Son was a gift beyond comprehension, impossible for man to purchase, and priceless beyond description. The author of Hebrews said, "Let us then withconfidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need"(Hebrews 4:16, ESV). The throne of God, the place where He judges our sins, has now become the throne of grace and mercy, for Jesus, the high priest, "the founder andperfecterof our faith"(Hebrews 12:2), has now, once and for all (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26, 28), made "propitiation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17).
The high priest ministered in the tabernacle year after year, standing on his feet. No chair was mentioned in the furniture of the tabernacle because the work of the high priest was never finished. But when Christ offered himself once for all, He returned to His Father and "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3; also Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 12:2). His work was complete, never again to be repeated, and Christ, who is at rest next to the Father in heaven, invites us all to enter into that rest (Hebrews 4:1).
By Jim Thornber