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Samuel Kuo
July 20, 2020
This entry is part 11 of 24 in the series 156 Pictures of Christ in the Old Testament
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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

Fact About Christ from page 13: Christ is the golden cover on top of the ark (also called the propitiation place or mercy seat)

Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation

– Romans 3:25 (same word in Hebrews 9:5)

The most famous piece of furniture within the tabernacle is the ark of the covenant. On top of this ark, there is a golden cover, called a “mercy seat.” This mercy seat is special. First, it is where blood is sprinkled on the Day of Atonement, one of the major Jewish holidays. Second, it is where God appears to the high priest. Let’s read the verses from Exodus about it’s construction and the verses from Leviticus about its use during the Day of Atonement. 

You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

– Exodus 25:17-22

And the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.

– Leviticus 16:2

“Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat.

– Levitcus 16:11-15

The mercy seat is made of all gold and sits on top of the ark. There are two golden cherubim on either side, looking downward. Leviticus 16:2 says that the Lord will appear in the cloud (from incense) over the mercy seat. Because of the tabernacle, the children of Israel can boast, “we have God among us.” Yet, there’s a condition. They need the mercy seat. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest goes into the Holy of Holies, within the veil. This is the most intimate picture of communion with God. The high priest is not to go at any other time, lest he die. But on that day, he will enter the Holy of Holies with incense and sprinkle blood on the mercy seat seven times. 

Picture the solemnity of this interaction. Once a year, the high priest is to meet God on behalf of all the people. That day, how aware of his own sinfulness and unworthiness he might be! How heavy the sins of the people might feel as they rest upon him! As he enters the Holy of Holies, puts incense onto the fire, and takes in the majestic sight of the ark and the mercy seat, he might consider the holiness and righteousness of God. Perhaps he feels that the cherubim are looking at him and at the Law, for the tablets of stone with the ten commandments are kept within the ark. He might have the realization that his life and the law don’t match. The people he represents and the law don’t match. Judgment, the cherubim would proclaim. But then, the high priest sprinkles blood on top of the ark, and the cherubim see blood on the mercy seat instead. The blood of the bull for himself, and the blood of the goat for the people. Propitiation has been made. The high priest can stand uncondemned. The cloud of incense, where God’s glory appears, is there covering the mercy seat, and intimate communion between man and God could be had.

What does the New Testament say about it?

Christ Jesus, Whom God put forward as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

– Romans 3:24b-25

Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat (ἱλαστήριον). Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

– Hebrews 9:5

This greek word ἱλαστήριον, or hilasterion, is only used in the New Testament in Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 9:5 and means “propitiation” or “mercy seat.” It is also the same word used in the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures used widely in Jesus’s time, to translate “mercy seat” in Exodus 25:17 and elsewhere. So we see that in scripture, propitiation by blood and the mercy seat are inextricably linked. Christ Jesus is put forward not just as a sacrifice by his blood as a propitiation, but He is also the mercy seat upon which the blood is sprinkled. 

So what does this picture say about Christ? 

Looking at the ark and mercy-seat together, we may see in them a striking figure of Christ, in His Person and work. He having, in His life, magnified the law and made it honourable, became, through death, a propitiation or mercy-seat for every one that believes. God’s mercy could only repose on a pedestal of perfect righteousness. “Grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 5:21) The only proper meeting place between God and man is the point where grace and righteousness meet and perfectly harmonise. Nothing but perfect righteousness could suit God; and nothing but perfect grace could suit the sinner. But where could these attributes meet in one point? Only in the cross.

– C. H. Mackintosh, Notes on the Pentateuch

It is all Christ! On the Day of Atonement, the mercy seat is the proper place where the blood of the offering is to be sprinkled. It is not enough to have the blood. You could think that the blood should be sprinkled on the high priest, but Christ is the mercy seat on which the blood is sprinkled! In Him is the proper place for righteousness and grace to meet. None other could satisfy the demands of the law. As the true offering, the blood is His. As the true mercy seat, the sprinkling of blood and the glory of God are upon Him.

What does this mean for me as a Christian? 

To Christ, and to no other, is where a Christian must go. There can be no fellowship with God without the appearing of God, and no appearing of God without atonement, and no atonement without the blood on the mercy seat. The blood on the mercy seat draws God’s eyes to see not the law’s demands, but Him in whom they were fulfilled and Him through whom grace can reign through righteousness to eternal life. Here lies the seat of God’s mercy. Here is our hope and eternal stand. And here is the appearing of God’s glory to all peoples, nations, and tongues, and to all the powers and principalities in the heavenly places. His glory will be forever displayed resting upon the blood of Christ on the cross. May we also see that it is Christ and Christ only.  

Have any inspirations or questions about the content of the article? Or do you just want to say hello and introduce yourself? We’d love to hear from all our readers! Leave a comment or send an email to with the title of this post in the subject line. If you are burning to engage with us, but don’t know what to say, here are some questions that could be a help: 

  1. Before the blood is sprinkled on the mercy seat, the gaze of the cherubim must have been condemning. The law is to be a tutor to guide us unto faith. How has God’s law brought you to realize your own sinfulness and need for a righteousness by faith?
  2. Not only does our eternal stand before God rest upon the blood on the mercy seat, but any day-to-day communion with Him as well. Have you ever tried to fellowship with God based on a false platform, such as practice, good works, status, or any others? 
  3. There are many other facts in this picture we didn’t discuss. The mercy seat made of all gold. The sweet incense beaten small. The sprinkling of blood seven times. Spend some time praying over these verses. May the Lord reveal to you more riches about these details. 
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