THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE BOOK OF EXODUS CHAPTER 25, VERSES 22:
25:17 And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. 25:18 And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. 25:19 And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof. 25:20 And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be. 25:21 And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. 25:22 And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.
Each of the vessels of the tabernacle was the support of something else. The altar in the court supported the sacrifices; the laver the water; the lampstand the lamps; the table the loaves; the altar of incense the incense; the ark supported the mercy-seat. We see in this a symbol of the person of the Lord Jesus as the support of His work. What the Lord Jesus is in the glory of His person, qualifies Him for the work He performs, whether on earth or in heaven.
We come now to the solid gold mercy seat. There is no wood of any sort involved here. All is of gold, and therefore it is the nature of God that is in view. The epistle to the Hebrews begins with the mention of the seven-fold glories of Christ as God’s Firstborn Son. He is the one in whom God speaks; the appointed heir; the maker of the worlds; the brightness of Divine glory; the exact expression of the essence of God; the purger of sins, and the seated one on heaven’s throne. He by Himself purged sins, which does not just mean that He did it alone; nor only that the glory resulting from what He did is rightly ascribed to Him, but also that what He did gained credibility because of who He is. He has sat down at the right hand of the majesty of God in the heights of heaven. This tells us that the work of sacrifice at Calvary was not only done by one who has an infinite grasp of the demands of the majesty of God, but also that God Himself is satisfied that those demands have been met. Only one who has the full approval of the throne may sit on its right hand side. Now the words “mercy seat” translate the Hebrew word “kaphar”. Something of the meaning behind this word can be gleaned from its use in other connections. The first use of the word is in Genesis 6:14, when Noah was instructed to cover the ark within and without with pitch (kaphar). The wrath of God expressed in a world-wide flood did not touch him or his family since they were covered and sheltered by the pitch. In Genesis 32:20 Jacob is about to meet his angry brother Esau, and so to appease (kaphar) him sends him a present. The offering will mean he knows acceptance instead of wrath. In Job 33:24 God says, “Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom (kaphar). It becomes clear that the word kaphar has to do with covering, sheltering, turning away wrath, delivering from judgement. Another way of approaching the subject is by noticing the Greek word which is used for the mercy seat in the New Testament. That word is “hilasterion” or place of propitiation. Now propitiation may be defined as “that aspect of the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary which has to do with the giving of complete satisfaction to God on account of the claims of His throne against sin, enabling Him to righteously forgive the repentant, believing sinner”. So when we discover that the word mercy seat means to cover, we should not think of the blood sprinkled on it as merely covering the sin, perhaps temporarily. The covering is a metaphorical term, a figure of speech to enable us to better appreciate what is happening. After all, other figures of speech are used with regard to the dealing with sin. For instance, God promises to cast our sins behind His back, Isaiah 38:17; to throw them into the depths of the sea, Micah 7:19; to separate them from us as far as the east is from the west, Psalm 103:12; to blot them out as a thick cloud, Isaiah 44:22. None of these figures of speech should be pressed to mean that what is done is partial or temporary. If God covers, throws, separates, or blots out, He does so effectively, for nothing else befits His glory. At this point it might be suggested that the Scripture itself says that “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins”, Hebrews 10:4, and therefore what happened in the Old Testament situation was a temporary measure until such time as Christ should come. Now whilst it is true that in themselves the bulls and goats of successive Days of Atonement could not take away sins, nevertheless it is also that what they spoke of, even the sacrifice of Christ, could. So the covering of the Day of Atonement was effective because God foreknew what His Son would do at the cross.
We should never underestimate the importance of that aspect of the work of the Lord Jesus at Calvary which is known as propitiation. This is because the honour of God, the blessing of men, the introduction of Christ’s millenial kingdom, and the new heaven and the new earth, all depend upon it. No wonder we find no measurement for the thickness of the mercy seat. For who, apart from God, can know the full worth of what was done at Calvary? The measurements that are given show that the mercy seat exactly matched the size of the ark. The latter being a symbol of Christ, we learn that what He did at Calvary can only adequately be measured by who He is in His person. There are seven references to the subject of propitiation in the New Testament, and they are as follows:
“And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner'” Luke 18:13. here we have a repentant sinner pleading the merit of the blood that was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement. Literally translated, his words were, “God be propitious to me on the basis of an accepted sin offering”. This is prior to the cross, of course, and now sinners may gain the benefit of the accomplished work of Calvary by the same means, faith and repentance.
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus”, Romans 3:25. Here the Lord Jesus is spoken of as “a propitiation through faith in His blood”. The reference is really to a place of propitiation, indicating that the Lord Jesus is the one upon whom the work of propitiation devolves, just as the mercy seat was the focal point of the Day of Atonement ritual.
“Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people”, Hebrews 2:17. Since this is a work done by Him after He had become a priest, and since Hebrews 7:28 is clear that He did not become a High Priest until after the law was rendered obsolete by His death, then this has to do with a secondary way of making propitiation, when a priest ate the sin offering, see Leviticus 10:17. By associating Himself with what He did at Calvary, Christ currently preserves His people in a suitable state before God.
“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquitities I will remember no more”, Hebrews 8:12. Under the terms of the New Covenant the Lord undertakes, on the basis of proptiation, to show mercy to those who believe, on the basis of the work of Christ. He also pledges to remember their sins no more at all, and to do this for ever.
“And over it the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot speak particularly”, Hebrews 9:5. “Mercy-seat” means place of propitiation, a reference to the literal mercy seat in the tabernacle in the wilderness.
“And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world”, 1 John 2:2. The particular word for propitiation used here means a propitiatory offering. Since the one who offered Himself for sins at Calvary is now in the place of acceptance and honour in heaven, it is guaranteed that the work He did in relation to sins is valid and effectual. This is in relation to the fact that God is light, 1 John 1:5.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”, 1 John 4:10, where again the word means propitiatory offering, and now in relation to the fact that God is love, 1 John 4:10.
As we consider this subject in the light of the Scriptures, we could ask ourselves three main questions: 1. Why was propitiation necessary? 2. How was propitiation achieved? 3. What are the results of propitiation?
1. Why was propitiation necessary? Because sins offend God. As God is the Absolute Standard of righteousness and holiness, all deviations from this standard are highly offensive to Him. Such is the intensity of His holiness that the simple mention of it is enough to make the posts of the doors of the temple in heaven move, Isaiah 6:4. His reaction to sin and iniquity is to turn from it, for He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and He cannot look upon sin, Habakkuk 1:13. The very presence of sin in the universe is a grief to God.
Because as Moral Governor of the universe, He must be seen to deal with sins. God has enemies, both devilish and human, and He must be clear of any charge which they may level against Him that suggests He has ignored sins, or at least, ignored some sins. Eternity must not be allowed to run its course without this matter being settled. God deals with some sins instantly, but the majority seem to have gone unpunished. Sentence against an evil work has not been executed speedily, Ecclesiastes 8:11, since God is longsuffering, and waits to be gracious. This situation might give rise to the charge of indifference to sins, and so God must act to defend His honour.
Because God must have a just basis for continuing to have dealings with sinful men. One of the main purposes of the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement in Israel was that God might continue to dwell amongst them despite their uncleanness, Leviticus 16:16. So also when Christ, who is God manifest in flesh, was down here. It was only because God was not imputing trespasses so as to instantly judge them, but rather was working to reconcile unto Himself, that He was prepared to have dealings with men in the person of His Son. See 2 Corinthians 5:19.
Because if men are to be shown mercy, have their sins forgiven, and be reconciled to God, there must be a solid basis upon which these things can happen. God declares Himself to be a Saviour God- He cannot be fully satisfied solely by judging men . The fact that “God is light” demands that this be done, but “God is love” too, and delights to manifest Himself in grace.
Because the cycle of sin must be broken. In other words, if there is not to be an eternal succession of creations, falls, remedies for fall, and new creations, then there must be that established which is once for all, giving the complete answer to the question of sin. Unless this complete answer is given, the new heaven and earth will not be safe from disturbance.
2. How was propitiation achieved? The ceremonies of the Day of Atonement as described in Leviticus chapter 16 will help us here. We need to be very careful in our interpretation of them, however. We should remember two things. First, that the Old Testament teaches by way of comparison as well as by contrast. Second, that Christ’s ministry is in connection with a sanctuary which is “not of this building”, Hebrews 9:11. That means it is not part of the creation of Genesis chapter one. So even whilst acting on earth, He was operating in relation to a sphere that is not subject to the limitations of time, space, or matter.
So, for instance, the writer to the Hebrews indicates that the going forth of the Lord Jesus outside the camp, was the counterpart of the carrying of the carcase of the sin offering from the altar, where it had been slain, to a place of burning outside the camp. But this particular ritual took place almost at the end of the Day of Atonement proceedings, whereas the Lord Jesus went outside the camp before He died. We may say then that in one sense time is irrelevant as far as the work of Christ was concerned.
Again, what took place at the altar in the court of the tabernacle; before the ark in the Holiest of All; outside the camp at the place of burning, and in the wilderness where the scapegoat was taken and let go, all typified some aspect of the work of Christ. Place is irrelevant, too.
And so is matter irrelevant. Christ needed no visible ark to enable Him to convince His Father that His blood had been shed. When the repentant man of Luke 18 appealed to God to be merciful to him, (or, to be gracious towards him on the ground of propitiation made), he went down to his house justified, despite the fact that there was no ark in the temple. With these cautionary remarks in mind, we look now at Leviticus 16, and note those major parts of the ceremonies of that day which contribute towards making propitiation, the great end for which they were carried out.
A suitable sin offering was brought near. We must remember that the word “offer” that is used in Leviticus 16:6 means to bring near. A sacrifice must be offered before it can be laid on the altar. The blood that purges the conscience of God’s people is the blood of One who “offered Himself without spot to God”, Hebrews 9:10. That is, He presented Himself for sacrifice in all the spotlessness of His person, confident that He met the approval of His God. We are reminded of the words of the psalmist when he said, “Search me O God, and try my heart”, Psalm 139:23. The Lord Jesus is the only one who could utter such words in the confidence that nothing contrary to God would be found in Him. In this He is so different to Aaron, or as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, He is “separate from sinners”, for Aaron could not present himself to God, he must present a substitute, Hebrews 7:27. Nor could that substitute bring itself, having no consciousness of God’s demands. Christ has no such limitations, however, for He offered Himself, as Aaron could not do, and as an animal would not do.
An offering was made sin. In Leviticus 16:9 a different word for offer is used, one which simply means to make. So the animal, having had the sins of Aaron and his household figuratively transferred to it, is by that act made to represent those sins. Whatever happens to the animal subsequently happens to the sin. The apostle Paul takes up this thought in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he declares that “God hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him”. It is exceedingly solemn to think that whatever God’s reaction to our sin was, became His reaction to Christ as the sinner’s substitute. So we may learn in the fullest sense what God’s reaction to sin is by looking to the cross where He forsook His Son and poured out His wrath upon Him. Such is the intensity of God’s hatred of sin, and such is his determination to deal with it, that “He spared not His own Son”, not shielding Him at all from the fury of His anger; not lessening the penalty, nor relieving the pain. Who can tell the agony of Christ’s soul when He was dealt with by God as if He were sin! Of course, He remained personally what He always had been, pure and holy, just as the sin-offering is said to be most holy, Leviticus 6:17, but He was made sin as our representative.
The offering was slain and its blood shed. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul”, Leviticus 17:11. Such are the words of God to His people, teaching us that the shedding of blood is vitally important, for “without shedding of blood is no remission”, Hebrews 9:22. Accordingly, that sins might be dealt with, Christ “poured out His soul unto death”, Isaiah 53:12. He willingly laid down His life in accordance with His Father’s commandment, John 10:18.
The carcase was burnt. Having been presented to God as a living animal at the altar, and having been slain and its blood retained, the animal’s corpse must be taken to the outside place, that it may be subjected to the fires of Divine holiness until nothing is left. How significant the contrast to Christ. For He was subjected to the Divine Fires whilst still alive, on the cross. How He must have suffered! Can we begin to take it in? Will not all eternity be needed to set forth what He was prepared to endure in love for our souls? But endure He did, and exhausted the fire of God’s wrath against our sins.
The blood was sprinkled. We come now to the central action on the Day of Atonement, the sprinkling of the blood both of the bullock for Aaron and his house, and the goat for the nation of Israel, on the mercy-seat, or “the place for the covering of sin”. If God covers sins, then they are put completely out of His sight. We ought not to think of this covering as a temporary thing, or else we shall have difficulty understanding why God declared that Israel was cleansed from all their sins that day, Leviticus 16:30. It is true that the Scripture says that “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins”, Hebrews 10:, but what that blood symbolises, even the blood of Christ, can. And that not only after Calvary, but before as well.
Now when the writer to the Hebrews referred to this mercy-seat, he used the Greek word which means propitiatory, the place where God is propitiated in regard to sins, and where those sins are atoned for. This makes clear that he did not see a distinction between covering and propitiating. There was a two-fold significance to this, however, as indicated by the two-fold sprinkling of each kind of blood, that of the bullock and of the goat. The blood sprinkled on the mercy-seat was to satisfy the demands of God, so that instead of anger because of sins, He could be merciful in dealing with them. This was because the blood was a reminder to God that a suitable sin-offering had been slain, and burnt in the fire. The blood sprinkled before the mercy-seat was to meet the needs of the Israelites, for it established a footing for them in the presence of God based upon the shedding of blood.
So with the work of Christ. He has fully met every demand that God could make about sins. As one of the Persons of the Godhead, He has Divine insight into God’s requirements, and He has fully met those requirements. We are assured of this because He has set Himself down with confidence at the right hand of the Majesty on high- He purged sins in harmony with the Majesty of God. But He has also established a sure footing in the presence of God for those who believe, so that the apostle Paul; can speak of the grace wherein we stand, Romans 5:1. So dominant is the idea of grace with regard to that position, that the apostle uses the word grace to describe it. Only those who have “received the atonement”, Romans 5:11, are in that secure place before God.
The sins were confessed and carried away. The sin-offering for the people consisted of two goats, one for the Lord’s interests, and one for theirs. One, as we have seen, was slain so that blood could be sprinkled on the mercy-seat. The other was called the scape-goat, or goat that was dismissed and went away. There was no double sin-offering for Aaron and his house, for he had seen the blood on the mercy-seat, and since he had not died, he knew it had been accepted, and his sins were gone. The rest of Israel did not have that experience, however, and so to reassure them, they were able to see Aaron lay his hands on their goat, confess over it their sins, and then watch the goat, which carried its dreadful load of their sins, disappear into the wilderness, guided by a man whose fitness lay in his ability to take the animal to a place from which it could not return. The writer to the Hebrews takes up these things in Hebrews 9:25-28, where he speaks of Christ appearing to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”- this is the counterpart of the blood on the mercy-seat. Then he speaks of Christ “bearing the sins of many”, and now he is thinking of the scapegoat. When the Lord Jesus was forsaken of His God upon the Cross, He was in a moral position equal to that of the scapegoat, which was accepted as an offering, but rejected because of the load it bore.
Just as there are two goats for the people, so there are two men acting on their behalf. There was Aaron, who went into the sanctuary with the blood of the slain goat, and there was the fit man, going into the wilderness with the live goat. The return of Aaron from the presence of God signified that sins were dealt with satisfactorily Godward, for he had not died. The return of the fit man, without the goat, signified that the burden of sin was removed from the people. An alternative rendering of the expression “fit man” is “a man standing ready”. So before John the Baptist announced the Lord Jesus to be the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world, he described Him as “one standing among you”- He was standing ready to do the work of Calvary at the time of His Father’s appointment.
3. What are the results of propitiation?
The demands of God were fully met. To satisfy God as the Moral Governor of the universe, an adequate and final answer must be found to the question of sin. The demands of His holiness and righteousness are such that every sin must be responded to. Only Christ is adequate for this situation. He it is who has “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”, Hebrews 9:26. To put away in that verse means to abolish. As far as God is concerned, and in this context, sin is not. No charge can henceforth be made against God that He has ignored the presence of sin. On the contrary, He has taken account of each and every sin through his Son’s work at Calvary. John wrote, “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world”, 1 John 2:2. Of course “the sins of” is in italics in that verse. But the words must be supplied because they are implied in the “ours” of the previous statement. If John had written “not for us only”, then he could have continued “but also for the whole world”. Since, however, he uses the possessive pronoun “ours”, then “the sins of” must be inserted. Now the apostle will write later that “we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness”, 1 John 5:19. He sees mankind divided into two clearly defined sections, believers, and the whole world. The same whole world whose sins God took account of at Calvary.
God’s dealings were vindicated. In Old Testament times God blessed men by reckoning them righteous when they believed in Him. Romans 3:24,25 indicates that the propitiatory work of Christ vindicates God for so acting. In can be seen now that God was blessing anticipatively, crediting believers with the results of Christ’s work before they had been achieved. He also remitted, or passed over, their sins in forbearance, holding back from judging those sins in virtue of what His Son would do at Calvary.
God’s glory is fully displayed. There is no attribute of God which has not been fully expressed at Calvary. This is why the apostle Paul speaks of rejoicing in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement, Romans 5:11. Atonement in this verse means reconciliation, one of the effects of propitiation. By His sacrificial work at Calvary Christ has brought the character of God out into full and glorious display. Those who are brought by faith into the good of that work are enabled to behold that display, and rejoice in it. Would we know Divine holiness, or righteousness, or love, or wrath, or any other aspect of the Person of God? Then we must look to the cross for the sight of it. We shall not be disappointed.
God’s mercy is available. The repentant sinner who called upon God to be merciful to him, is the first person in the New Testament to use the word propitious- “God be merciful to me on the basis of propitiation”. He went down to his house justified, Luke 18:13,14. Under the terms of the New Covenant, God promises that “I will be merciful (propitious) to their unrighteousness, Hebrews 8:12. The mercy-seat was the same width and breadth as the ark, telling us that the ark (the person of Christ) and the mercy-seat, (the work of Christ), were perfectly matched. But we are not told the thickness or depth of the gold of the mercy-seat, for there is an infinite supply of mercy for those who believe, enough to keep them secure for all eternity.
God’s forgiveness is assured. In Hebrews 10:5-8 we have the Spirit of Christ in the psalmist telling of His work of sacrifice. Then we have the Spirit’s testimony telling us of the results of that work, Hebrews 10:15-17. God promises emphatically that He will not remember the sins and iniquities of His people any more, since He brought those sins into remembrance at Calvary, and Christ dealt with them effectively there. “No more” means in no way, nor at any time. Note that God pledges to positively not remember, not negatively to forget. We may forget, and then remember again, whereas God promises never to remember for ever.
God’s people are preserved. After He was raised from the dead, the Lord Jesus indicated that He was about to “ascend to My Father, and your Father, to My God, and your God”, John 20:17. Thus He would still be the link between His people and God, maintaining them in His dual role of Advocate with the Father, and High Priest in things pertaining to God.
The basis of His advocacy is two-fold. His person, for He is Jesus Christ the righteous, and His work, for He is the propitiation for our sins, 1 John 2:1,2. The apostle John was concerned about believers sinning. The sins of believers are just as obnoxious to God, and just as deserving of wrath, as those of unbelievers. But we are “saved from wrath through Him”, Romans 5:9, as He pleads the merits of His work. He is, says John, the propitiatory offering for our sins. Not was, but is. In other words, the one who acts for us in heaven as our advocate, is the very same one who hung upon the cross as a sacrifice for our sins.
He is also our High priest. The language of Hebrews 2:17,18 is as follows- “wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted”. These verses form a bridge between chapter two, with its emphasis on the reasons why the Lord Jesus took manhood, and chapter three, which describes the way in which Israel were tempted in the wilderness. Note in particular the word “for” which begins verse 18. Too little attention has been paid to this word, and hence the connection between verses 17 and 18 has often been lost. The reason why we have a high priest who is merciful and faithful is that He has been here in manhood and suffered being tempted. When His people pass through temptation, then He undertakes to deal with their cause. Because He has been here, and has been tempted in all points like as we are, He is able to help us when we cry to Him for help. The word for succour is used by the woman of Canaan in Matthew 15:25 when she cried out, “Lord, help me”. He is able to point us to the ways in which He overcame in the wilderness temptation, and thus we are strengthened to resist temptation.
But what if we fall, and sin? In that case He comes to our aid in another way. We see it typified negatively in Leviticus 10:16-20. The priests were commanded to eat the sin-offerings, if the blood thereof had not been brought into the sanctuary. But at the end of the consecration of the priesthood, Moses was angry on God’s behalf, for the priests had failed in this. Moses said, “God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord”, Leviticus 10:17. One of the functions of priesthood, then, was to personally identify with the sin-offering by eating it, and by so doing bear the iniquity of the congregation, taking responsibility for their failure, but doing so safeguarded by the fact that a sin-offering had been accepted by God. As they did this the scripture explicitly says they made atonement for the people, Leviticus 10:17. We see then what the writer to the Hebrews means when he talks of Christ making reconciliation or propitiation for the sins of the people. He is indicating that Christ personally identifies Himself with His sin-offering work at Calvary, and thus takes responsibility for the failures of His people under temptation. This is acceptable to God, and His people are preserved, despite their failure.
God’s purpose for the earth is furthered. When Adam the head of the first creation fell, all creation had to be subjected to vanity, or else a fallen man would have been head over an unfallen creation. Now that He has obtained rights over the earth by His death, the Lord Jesus is able to bring in new conditions for God. He can now righteously deliver the present creation from the bondage of corruption that the fall of man brought it into, Romans 8:19-23. Colossians 1:20 assures us that on the basis of the blood of His cross, all things, whether in earth or in heaven, can be reconciled to God, for that alienation between God and His creation which took place at the Fall of man, can be remedied.
God’s intention to create a new heavens and new earth can be realised. Unless the sin which has marred the first creation is dealt with, God cannot righteously introduced an eternal earth and heavens, for it would not have been evident that He was able to deal with the fall if the first creation. Having dealt with it through Christ, He is able to bring in new things that will never be spoiled. Daniel was told that Messiah the Prince would bring in “everlasting righteousness”, Daniel 9:24, and this He will do, on the basis of His death. It only remains for God to announce “Behold, I make all things new”, Revelation 21:5, and a “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness”, will be established, 2 Peter 3:13. At last there will be a settled and congenial place for righteous to dwell in, after all the turmoil brought in by Adam’s sin. At last those profound words spoken by John the Baptist will be fully brought to pass- “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”, John 1:29.
And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof. And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings- it seems from the few references to cherubim in the Scriptures that they can be said to protect the interests of the throne of God. Lucifer, Satan’s name before he fell, was “the anointed cherub that covereth”, Ezekiel 28:14, the word covereth being the same as is used in verse 20. The word is otherwise translated as “defend; hedge in; shut up, entwine as a screen”. How fitting that they should be represented here over the mercy seat.
There is a problem, however, in that they are said to be “of the mercy seat”. This means that Bezaleel took a solid lump of pure gold and not only fashioned the mercy seat, but with his hammer formed the beautiful cherubim of the same gold. Now we have seen that the gold represents the Deity of the Lord Jesus. But Deity cannot be shared with creatures, even if they are angelic.
We are used to the scripture using the creatures of earth as figures of Christ. The lion, the dove, the lamb, the goat, the bullock, they are all used as illustrations to bring out some feature of the Lord Jesus. Could it not be then that these cherubim are likewise being used as a figure? Just as the actual cherubim defended the interests of God’s throne, and safeguarded its righteousness, so Christ, by His work of propitiation has done the same, only to infinite degree. And their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be- in Old Testament times, the angels desired to look into the subject of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow, 1 Peter 1:12. The word for look means to bend down, to look carefully, and is the same word as is used of Mary Magdalene as she bent down and looked into the empty tomb, John 20:5. So here the cherubim face one another, and also look toward the blood-sprinkled mercy seat. Because the blood is upon the gold in the tabernacle, the cherubim are content, for the honour of God is preserved. Now, however, we know that He of whom these cherubim may speak is in heaven, His work on earth completed, and if there is any charge brought now in relation to sin, then the gaze of Christ is directed towards what He did upon the earth. Is this not the way the apostle John connected things, when he wrote about believers sinning, Jesus Christ as advocate with the Father, and propitiation for our sins? His advocacy for us is in view of His propitiation.
We could summarise the situation with the words of the psalmist: “Mercy and truth are met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; And righteousness shall look down from heaven”. Psalm 85:10,11.
And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel- how privileged Moses was. Only he had full access to God at the mercy seat. He could speak face to face with God as a man speaks to his friend, Exodus 33:11. Even Aaron the high priest could not do this, for he was only permitted to enter the Holiest of All once in the year, and then he was to make a cloud of incense to cover the mercy seat so that he did not die for having looked upon God. The ark could not be seen, for the veil covered it from sight when it rested, Exodus 40:3, and when it moved through the wilderness it was out of sight beneath its coverings. It was not to be touched, either, hence the provision of staves by which is was to be carried. And the blood-sprinkled mercy seat covered over the tables of the law, so that its condemning voice was not heard. How different are things now, for the apostle John can write, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life…that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ”, 1 John 1:1,3. Every true believer may now share in the sight and sound of Christ as He moved down here. That which the apostles knew, we may know, and share together in those things in which the Father and Son delight.