The Mercy Seat
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Exodus, chapter 25:

Exodus 25

10And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof.
11And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about.
12And thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in the one side of it, and two rings in the other side of it.
13And thou shalt make staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold.
14And thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them.
15The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it.
16And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.

Pay particular attention to what follows, because this is the subject matter that we will be considering:

Exodus 25

17And 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.
18And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.
19And 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.
20And 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.
21And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.
22And 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.

Coupled with this message is verse 7 of chapter 37 of the book of Exodus. Keep in mind in chapter 25 the pattern for the gold pieces of furniture, and in chapter 37 the compliance with that pattern on the part of Bezaleel. In verse 7 of chapter 37, in the description of the manner in which Bezaleel went about making the Mercy Seat, we have an additional phrase which is not found in chapter 25:

Exodus 37

6And he made the mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half was the length thereof, and one cubit and a half the breadth thereof.
7And he made two cherubims of gold, [this is the phrase] beaten out of one piece made he them, on the two ends of the mercy seat;
8One cherub on the end on this side, and another cherub on the other end on that side: out of the mercy seat made he the cherubims on the two ends thereof.

Notice in verse 7 the phrase, “beaten out of one piece he made them,” and in verse 8, “out of the mercy seat made he the cherubims on the two ends thereof.” If it were not for these verses, we would not know that the Mercy Seat and the cherubim were made all out of one piece.

We have been talking about the Ark of the Covenant and its contents. The Ark of the Covenant was the piece of furniture in the last room of the tabernacle, the room which is called the Most Holy Place. The Ark of the Covenant itself was a chest in which were three things which were related to the history of Israel and which had a special spiritual lesson. The lid for the Ark of the Covenant was the Mercy Seat; it was a distinct and separate piece of furniture and should be so considered, making seven pieces of furniture there.

The Mercy Seat was kept in place by a crown of gold which actually, let us keep in mind, formed a lid for the Ark of the Covenant itself. As we study the Mercy Seat, we want to notice the material of which it was made; in so doing it will not be necessary for us to be as detailed in our discussion and as diligent in our search as we have been, because we have touched on it before.

According to the text which we read, the Mercy Seat was made of pure gold. As we examined the significance of gold earlier in our discussion, we found it was a symbol of divine glory; it was a symbol of deity. So in the Ark of the Covenant, which was made of shittim wood overlaid with gold, we find the humanity and the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ combined.

Deity Emphasized In the Mercy Seat

As we look at the Mercy Seat now, we notice the emphasis placed on the fact that it was made of pure gold. This indicates that none of the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ was emphasized in the Mercy Seat. Let me say that for you again, because it is important for us to remember if we are to understand the significance of the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat was made of pure gold. Pure gold indicated that the Mercy Seat was typical of the divinity, the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Emphasis was not placed on both His humanity and His deity as it was in the Ark; it was placed solely upon His deity. Now this is as it should be; it is in keeping with all the teaching of the Scriptures.

When one is studying types, the types must always bear out all the Scriptures. If a type contradicts the Scriptures in any way, then you are afield in your study of Christ. So we find that the Mercy Seat made out of pure gold is consistent with the truth that is taught in the Word of God about the atonement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. If we do not recognize that the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ is presented in the Word of God in various phases, we will be led astray in our understanding of the truth.

For example, in the symbolism of the tabernacle, the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ is presented in the brazen altar in the courtyard of the tabernacle. That is where the sacrifice was actually made, and that is one phase of the atonement. We will see before our study is completed that the second phase of the atonement is what happened at the Mercy Seat in the Most Holy Place. Typically, the Lord Jesus Christ shed His blood at the brazen altar which symbolized the Cross on Calvary, and He presented His blood at the Most Holy Place in Heaven.

If we keep in mind that there are phases of the atonement, we will understand that the Mercy Seat made of pure gold is in keeping with the truth that our salvation was solely the work of deity.

Ministry of Reconciliation

Turn with me, please, to II Corinthians, chapter 5. This chapter by itself does not teach that the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ played a part in our salvation:

II Corinthians 5

17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
18And all things are of God, [now notice] who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
19To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

We are interested in the statement that it was God–Jehovah–in Christ, the Anointed One, Who was reconciling the world unto Himself. There is no reference to the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ; hence, in the symbolism of the Mercy Seat, there is no reference to the shittim wood.

Turn, please, to the Gospel of John, chapter 17. This is another passage of Scripture which emphasizes that there is no place for shittim wood in the Mercy Seat because of the phase of the atonement which it represents. In this chapter we have recorded for us the Lord's prayer. Usually we say that what is in chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew is the Lord's prayer, the prayer we repeat often. That is the disciples' prayer. It was the prayer He gave them when they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” John, chapter 17, is the Lord's prayer:

John 17

1These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
2As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
3And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
4[Notice] I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
5And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

Notice in verse 5 the request of the Lord Jesus Christ just before He went to the Cross. He had completed every thing that God had told Him to do with the exception of dying on the Cross. He was on His way to do that, so He said, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”

Mercy Seat Symbolic of the Throne

The Scriptures bear out the fact that God answered this prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ because God raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and set Him down at the right hand of the throne of God far above all principality and power (Ephesians 1:21). That throne is symbolized by the Mercy Seat in the second room of the tabernacle. There is no other seat in the Holy Place but the Mercy Seat. The human high priest, when he went into the tabernacle year after year on the Day of Atonement, dared not sit down because his work was not finished. But when the Lord Jesus Christ went into the tabernacle in Heaven, He sat down on the Mercy Seat because His work was finished. That is why we are told today that when we come to the throne of grace, we may find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Illustrates Suffering of Jesus

In the description of the Mercy Seat in chapter 25, we found that it was made of pure gold, and as we looked at the supplementary material in chapter 37, we found that it was made of beaten gold. I do not think that statement was recorded for us by accident. I think it is a reminder that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered in the flesh, that, as the Scripture says, He might bring many sons unto glory (Hebrews 2:10); and as He sits at the Mercy Seat today, He bears the mark of His suffering. Turn with me, please, to Hebrews, chapter 2:

Hebrews 2

10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

The pronoun “Him” in this verse refers to God. “Sons” in this verse refers to you and to me and to every believer. “Captain” in this verse refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. So we are told that in order to bring us to glory, in order to bring us someday permanently into the second room of the tabernacle, it was necessary for the Lord Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation, to be made perfect through suffering. Thus, the beaten gold on the Mercy Seat illustrates the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the most descriptive phrases concerning the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ as beaten gold is found in chapter 52 of the book of Isaiah. There we are told that the visage of the Lord Jesus Christ was marred more than that of any man. The word “marred” describes the beating of flesh. Just as a housewife might take a steak and tenderize it by beating it with some instrument, so the face of the Lord Jesus Christ was beaten and pommelled by the enemies of God, to such an extent that his visage was marred more than any man. We repeat that this is why the pure gold of the Mercy Seat was beaten that it might form an illustration of the sufferings of Christ.

Cherubim Related to the Mercy Seat

When we looked at chapter 37, verses 6-7, we found that the cherubim were beaten out of the same gold as was the Mercy Seat, and that suggests immediately that the cherubim are inseparably related to the Mercy Seat. We would realize the significance of that if we were to take the time to count in Exodus, chapter 25, the number of times that cherubim are mentioned; we would find that they are mentioned seven times. If that is true, then certainly we need to keep in mind that cherubim are worthy of our consideration.

Why are the cherubim mentioned in this passage of Scripture, and just what are cherubim? It would be wise for us to look at the Word of God and find out. Will you turn, please, to the first time that cherubim are mentioned in the Bible–Genesis, chapter 3. The word “cherubim” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word, and that word is plural. “Cherub” is the singular; “cherubim” is the plural. I believe that in our English text an “s” is added to the word. In chapter 3 of the book of Genesis, we have presented to us the story of the fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden. Notice verse 22:

Genesis 3

22And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
23Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
24So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

This is the first time cherubim are mentioned in the Bible; we see them at the gate of the Garden of Eden with drawn swords to keep man from going back into the Garden. You understand why. If man in his fallen state had gone back into the Garden of Eden and eaten of the tree of life, he would have lived forever in a sinful state. He could not have died. Those of us who have had experience with disease and sickness and death know that even though none of us welcome death, and even though our hearts are sad when our loved ones are called away, death does come as a merciful angel a great many times. It is a mercy for folk to be able to die. Suppose that an individual afflicted with a disease which is a result of sin–not his own personal sin, perhaps, but the sin of Adam (if man had not fallen, there would be no disease and death)–should live on and on and never die. That is what would have happened had Adam and Eve gone back into the Garden of Eden. So cherubim were placed outside of the Garden with drawn swords.

When we look for symbolism in the Scriptures, we notice the way the symbol is first presented, and from henceforth it is presented that way in the Scriptures. The cherubim had the office of guarding that which was related to life.

Testimony to the Finished Work

Turn with me to the last mention of cherubim in the Bible for the purpose of contrast. The last time they are mentioned they are not called cherubim; they are called “beasts”. In the book of Revelation we find that a better word is “living creatures”, because they were not wild animals. They were angelic beings. They were beautiful. The most important cherub in all God's creation was the Devil before he fell. He was a cherub, and his description is presented in chapter 28 of the book of Ezekiel. The Spirit of God says there that he was the wisest of all God's creatures and the most beautiful of all God's creatures. We emphasize that so you will see why “four living creatures” is a better term than “four beasts”. Notice chapter 4, verse 1:

Revelation 4

1After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
2And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
3And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
4And round about the throne were four and twenty seats [thrones] : and upon the seats [thrones] I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
5And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God [the sevenfold spirit of God] .
6And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
7And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
8And the four [preferably four ”living creatures”] beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
9And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
10The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

I trust you will get the contrast. In Genesis, chapter 3, the cherubim stood outside the Garden of Eden in the midst of the greatest defeat the human race has ever experienced. In Revelation, chapter 4, they stand around the throne of God singing, “Glory, glory, glory, honor to Thee.” The reason is that God has completed the work He had planned. In chapter 5 we find the redeemed, those who have been washed in the blood of the lamb–you and I and all other believers–gathered around the throne of God singing the song in verse 9:

Revelation 5

9…Thou art worthy to take the book [this is addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ] , and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
10And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

This is the song that the believer sings, but what are the cherubim doing while the believers are singing the song? What are the angels doing? All that the angels and the cherubim could do would be to say, “Amen,” and add a praise or two to the song of redemption. They cannot sing it, not having been redeemed. But notice in verse 14:

Revelation 5

14And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.

So you see that the four living creatures now in the throne room of Heaven have no drawn swords. There is no longer any need for protection. The work is finished. They are not in the throne room as protectors any more. They are in the throne room as a testimony both audible and figurative to the finished work of our God and His Christ.

Perhaps some of you are wondering why we say that the four living creatures are cherubim. Our answer will be found if you will look at chapter 1 of the book of Ezekiel and then at chapter 10; you will find that these creatures are identified as cherubim. In the passages in Ezekiel, the cherubim are active in protecting the throne of God. The throne of God is pictured as moving on great wheels across the universe as God performs the work that the Creator does; the eyes of God run to and fro, up and down the earth, seeking those whose hearts are perfect toward Him, that He may show himself strong in their behalf (II Chronicles 16:9). But in Revelation, chapter 4, the work is finished and the cherubim are inactive.

So it is appropriate to read about the cherubim in the Most Holy Place in Exodus, chapter 25. We read that the cherubim were there because it was the throne of God, and they were always around the throne. You will notice in verse 22 that after the construction of the Mercy Seat, God said:

Exodus 25

22And 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.

The Mercy Seat is the throne of God, and the cherubim are there to indicate that fact.

I would like for us to notice something about the pose of these cherubim, because I think the position in which they were found it significant. In the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle the cherubim were facing each other, but they were looking down at the Ark. They were looking down at the Mercy Seat. Their wings were spread as though they were overshadowing the Mercy Seat itself. This was not by accident. It was not just the way someone described it; it was the way it was.

Our Eternal Witness

I think it is significant that in the Holy of Holies there were two cherubim. Two is the number of witness in the Bible. That is why the Lord Jesus Christ sent the disciples out two by two, the number of witness. That is why the Word of God says that in the mouth of two, or at the most three, witnesses shall every word be established (II Corinthians 13:1). That is why the Lord Jesus Christ said that if two of you agree on earth as touching anything about which you pray, you can expect God to work (Matthew 18:19). Two is the number of witness. So the cherubim are presented at the Mercy Seat as eternal witnesses to the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But you will notice also that they are looking down at the Mercy Seat. I wonder why. I think there is an answer in the Word of God. Turn with me, please, to the first epistle of Peter, chapter 1, verse 10:

I Peter 1

10Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
11Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
12Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; [notice this phrase] which things the angels desire to look into.

Did you get the picture? The Old Testament prophets were writing about the salvation which you and I enjoy in this Age of Grace in which we live. They did not understand everything they wrote. They even searched to find out whether it applied to them or someone else. As they wrote, the angels read over their shoulders, as it were, the wonderful things they wrote, and desired to look into them.

Mystery of the Church Revealed

Turn, please, to Ephesians, chapter 3, because the interest of the angels and the cherubim–cherubim are not angels, but they are part of the angelic creation–is not a temporary thing. It is something that will last throughout all eternity. The Apostle Paul speaks of the ministry that was given to him, the ministry of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles and letting the whole world know that all could be born again:

Ephesians 3

7Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
8Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
9And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

The word “mystery” refers to the experience of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was not revealed in its entirety until the Holy Spirit came. Old Testament writers did not wholly understand the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was given to the Apostle Paul to reveal the truth concerning the Church. I did not say it was not mentioned in the Old Testament; I said that Old Testament saints did not fully comprehend it.

Why was it given to the Apostle Paul to portray the truth concerning the Church?

Ephesians 3

10To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,

Notice the phrase, “principalities and powers”. If you examine that phrase in related passages of Scripture, you will see that it refers to the angels, the cherubim, the seraphim, all of God's angelic creatures. What does this verse of Scripture say? It says that when these principalities and powers see the Church fully revealed, see the Church glorified, they will be able to behold the manifold wisdom of God. The wisdom of God is not found in science. The wisdom of God is found in what you and I will be like when God is finished with us. The angels long to see us fully finished. The cherubim will look on as they do in Revelation, chapter 4, saying, “Amen, God is wise. God is wonderful.” I believe that is why these cherubim were looking down at the Mercy Seat.

Message of the Mercy Seat

All of this time thus far is related to the materials of which the Mercy Seat was made. I would like for us to think about the message of the Mercy Seat. I believe that the message can best be understood by anticipating ourselves and noticing how the Mercy Seat was used. I say “anticipating ourselves” because in our study of the tabernacle we will make a journey with the priest from the brazen altar outside the tabernacle, past the laver on into the Most Holy Place, until he stands at the Mercy Seat itself.

What does the high priest do when he goes into the Most Holy Place on the day of atonement once each year? Turn with me to the book of Leviticus, chapter 16, and let us read the account there, because it will help us, I think, to receive the message of the Mercy Seat. What does the piece of furniture itself indicate as to spiritual truth?

Leviticus 16

14And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.
15Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:
16And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
17And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.
18And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about.
19And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.

We will not go into great detail now, so don't be too confused about the different kinds of animals and the entire operation of the priest. Let us notice only certain facts from this passage of Scripture. The priest offered a bullock on the altar. Later he offered a goat on the altar. He took blood from off this brazen altar and went through the Holy Place into the Most Holy Place, where the Mercy Seat was, and sprinkled blood upon the Mercy Seat not once, but seven times. He did that for atonement–for atonement for himself, for atonement for the altar, for atonement for the tabernacle. He did it seven times because seven is the number of perfection. It indicates to our hardened hearts that we have nothing to worry about, because the blood has been presented.

A Place of Acceptance

Many people see the Cross in the Mercy Seat. That is an error. The Cross is symbolized by the altar of burnt offerings. The Mercy Seat symbolizes the place where the Lord Jesus Christ offered His blood for your sins and for mine. Hypothetically only, because it could not have been in the plan of God. If when the high priest stepped into the Holy Place and offered the blood, God had said, “I don't want it.”, not one Israelite could have been saved. And if after the Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross and went to Heaven and offered His blood God had said, “I don't want it.”, [keep in mind that I am suggesting a hypothetical illustration because it could not have occurred] you and I would be condemned to an eternal Hell, for atonement is by the blood of Christ. So the purpose of the Mercy Seat was to provide a place where the believer was accepted through the blood shed at the brazen altar.

In the passage of Scripture which we read, we were told that no man could come near the high priest after he left the altar of burnt offerings until he got to the Mercy Seat and back again. No one could come near him. If anyone did, death would follow. This is a perfect illustration of what happened in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ after the Resurrection. In chapter 20 of the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus Christ met Mary Magdelene, and she was ready to grasp Him by the feet. He said, “Do not touch me. I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father; but go tell my disciples that I am going to their Father and My Father.” That was the first time He had ever used that kind of language. Then in chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke, that very same night, He was with the disciples, and He said, “Touch Me; look at My hands; look at My side; look at My feet. Go ahead and touch Me.”

Some people find this a contradiction in the Word of God. There is no contradiction. Between the time when he saw Mary and the time when He saw His disciples, He had ascended into Heaven and had offered His blood. The Father had accepted it, and He came back to Earth to be with His disciples for forty days. Then He took them out to Bethany, and from there mounted an invisible stairway into Heaven and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. So the Mercy Seat symbolized the place where the divine requirements of God for your salvation and mine are met.

Our Propitiation

This becomes evident if we look at the word used in the original tongue to describe the Mercy Seat. There is one word in Greek and one in Hebrew that are used, and each of them portrays a very definite message. Chapter 9 of the book of Hebrews describes for us the furniture of the tabernacle:

Hebrews 9

2For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.
3And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;
4Which 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;
5And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.

Well, we have been speaking particularly about the Mercy Seat. The Greek word translated “Mercy Seat” here is hilasterion , and it is used in other places in the Bible to describe what happened at the Mercy Seat. We will turn first to the first epistle of John and notice how this word is used so that we will understand by the very meaning of the word what the Mercy Seat means. In the Hebrew Old Testament, which was translated into Greek by seventy Greek scholars–the Septuagint version of the Bible–in the book of Exodus, chapter 25, when the Mercy Seat is mentioned, this same word is used. We will see it in I John, chapter 2, translated not “Mercy Seat”, but by another English word that helps us understand what it means:

I John 2

1My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

Notice the word “propitiation” in verse 2. That is the same word that is translated “Mercy Seat” in Hebrews 9. What do we read in I John, chapter 2? That the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our propitiation. He is that which propitiated God. What does the word “propitiate” mean? It means several things. It means “to appease an angry God”. Someone says, “God was not angry; God is a God of love.” Yes, He was angry; He was propitiated by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word “propitiation” means “to pay the demand in full”, and that is exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ did.

Turn, please, to I John, chapter 4, and notice verse 10:

I John 4

10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

You see the word “propitiation” again. This is the word that is also translated “Mercy Seat”. God sent His Son to be the Mercy Seat for us, to be the place where God could meet man.

Turn, please, to the book of Romans, chapter 3, verse 23:

Romans 3

23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25Whom 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;
26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Notice our word “propitiation” again. Why was the Lord Jesus Christ set forth as the propitiation, as the Mercy Seat? In order that God could be perfectly righteous in forgiving sin. As far as the Old Testament saints are concerned, He could be perfectly righteous in accepting the animal sacrifice until such a time as His own Son came to be the propitiation for sin. So the Mercy Seat was that place where all the demands of God were met and the righteousness of God was declared.

A Place of Safety

There is another word that is used for “Mercy Seat” in the Scriptures. It is the Hebrew word which means “covering”. That is one of the significant functions of the Mercy Seat. We saw at the very beginning that the Mercy Seat was the lid of the Ark, and we have talked about what was in that Ark. One of the things that was in that Ark was the law of God on tables of stone. We have seen that if the Mercy Seat had not covered the law, men would die.

We gave you as a concrete illustration the story of the man who, when the Ark was being returned much later from near the border of the nation, looked in, and died immediately because he looked on the law without the covering of blood. Blood is necessary for the Mercy Seat. This word “covering” speaks of our security in the blood of Christ sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat.

The original Hebrew word is translated a number of different ways in the Scripture. Remember the story of Noah's ark. We looked at it as one of the three arks in the Scripture: Noah's ark, Moses' ark, and the Ark of the Covenant. Noah's ark was pitched within and without with pitch to keep the water from coming in, to provide that the ark would float on top of the water. The ark of Moses was pitched within and without with pitch. That word “pitch” is a translation of the same Hebrew word. So what does the Mercy Seat signify? It signifies a place of safety.

Leviticus, chapter 17, verse 11, is a verse that every person ought to commit to memory if he is to be theologically correct. If I could say that one verse is more important than another in the Word of God–certainly I would hesitate to say that–I would say that this verse is the most important, for it has all the truth you need to know to be saved.

Leviticus 17

11For 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.

Notice the word “atonement” in that verse. It is the same word that is used to describe the Mercy Seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant.

The Mercy Seat, then, is that place where atonement is made for the soul. Keep in mind that atonement was not completed at the Cross. If the Lord Jesus Christ had not been raised from the dead, if He had not been able to carry His blood into the Most Holy Place and present it as an atonement for sin, then the Lord Jesus Christ would have died as a martyr for a forsaken cause. Many people have been crucified. There was not anything spectacular about that. It was that he both died and rose again and ascended to the right hand God that makes complete our atonement.

Verse 11 does not permit any such preaching as you hear in many of our churches today that the Lord Jesus Christ was a great teacher and a great man, but he was not any better than anyone else. The Lord Jesus Christ would have had no more effect on the world with His teaching than many other people had, had He not died and risen again. The life of the flesh is in the blood. That is why He had to die. That is why He rose again. He did not have a body of flesh and blood such as you and I have. He had a body of flesh and bone. The blood had been shed, and he offered it upon the altar (the Mercy Seat) to make an atonement for your soul.

One Sacrifice for Sin

What practical application does that have for us? Turn with me to the book of Hebrews, chapter 10. If you know what we find here simply as a matter of information, it will not be much good to you. But if you know it as a truth that you can apply to your own heart, then our time spent together will be worthwhile:

Hebrews 10

11And every priest [that is, every human priest] standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
12But this man [Jesus] , after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God [at the Mercy Seat];
13From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
14For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

Who are sanctified? You and I, every born-again believer. He perfected forever them that are sanctified. Aren't you rather foolish to go about striving for perfection? Aren't you rather foolish to spend time trying to propitiate God when you cannot do it? It is an utter impossibility.

Hebrews 10

15Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,
16This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;

What a difference. In the Ark of the Covenant there were two tables of stone. The law was written on the two tables of stone, but He does not write laws on tables of stone anymore; He writes them in the hearts of men and in their minds making it possible for us to live to please Him.

Hebrews 10

17And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
18Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.

This simply means that God said, “I will not remember your sins against you any more.” If sins are remitted, if sins are forgiven and forgotten, then you do not need to offer any more sacrifices for sin.

I wish you could realize that because there are many sincere people who do not grasp this truth and who are continually offering a sacrifice for sin. Oh, they don't realize they are, but they promise God that if He will just let them go to Heaven, they will do anything for Him, and on and on. They do what they can to offer a sacrifice. You do not need any more sacrifice for sin. The Lord Jesus Christ has finished the work.

Full Assurance of Faith

Now, the practical application, and this is indeed blessed:

Hebrews 10

19Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
21And having an high priest over the house of God;
22Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

It is wonderful to have full assurance. Do you have full assurance? A lot of folk don't. When they feel that they have done pretty well and have not made too many mistakes and have not committed too many sins, they have full assurance. It is wonderful to have full assurance all the time, full assurance based not upon what we do, but upon what He has done.

Hebrews 10

22Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
23Let us hold fast the [confession]…

Not the “profession”. This is not a suggestion that you strive hard to make a good life. It is a confession. These folk have made a confession of faith.

Hebrews 10

23Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
24And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

Did you notice how you do that?

Hebrews 10

25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Because the Lord Jesus Christ went into the Holy of Holies in Heaven, as Aaron, the high priest, went into the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, you and I may have boldness to come into the very presence of God, and to ask Him for mercy and grace in our time of need. We do not need someone else who can pray better than we do. We do not need some official of the clergy to do it. We can do it ourselves because He has opened the way.

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