Under the Law of Moses, the mercy seat was “the lid or cover of the Ark of the Covenant” in the holy of holies. It was made of pure gold. At the ends of the mercy seat were two cherubim made of gold and made of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. The wings of the two cherubim were spread upward covering the mercy seat, with their wings facing one another, each turned toward the mercy seat. It was above the mercy seat and between the two cherubim that God would meet with Moses and speak to him about all that He would give him in commandment for the sons of Israel (Ex. 25:1, 10-22).
The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the holy of holies and a veil was made as a partition between the holy place and the holy of holies. Only the high priest was allowed to enter the holy of holies, and that only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. First, the high priest would offer the blood of a bull for himself and his household and would sprinkle the blood with his fingers on the mercy seat. He then offered the blood of a selected goat for the people and sprinkled it the same way on the mercy seat (Ex. 26:31-33; Lev. 16:1-17).
It is interesting that the same Greek word in the Septuagint translated ‘mercy seat’ is the same Greek word translated ‘propitiation’ in the NT (Rom. 3:25). It is the word hilasterion. This is highly significant and provides a beautiful type and anti-type. We can see this clearly in the context of Rom. 3:25 and Heb. 9. Since the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins (Heb. 10:4), and since man’s punishment must be equal to his crimes against heaven, God mercifully interposed with the gift of His grace through redemption that is found only in His Son whom He displayed publicly as a propitiation through faith in His blood (Rom. 3:24-26).
When Christ was crucified, the veil in the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom making way into the holy of holies (Mt. 27:51). Yet, Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, which was a copy of the true one, but when He ascended on high He entered into heaven itself now to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24).
Under the Law of Moses, when the high priest offered the blood of bulls and goats, it could only sanctify to the purifying of the flesh. It was only symbolic for the time and could never make the worshiper perfect as pertaining to the conscience (Heb. 9:9, 13). Now, through baptism we meet God at a spiritual mercy seat sprinkled with the blood of Christ. This is why baptism is an ‘appeal to God for a good conscience’ (1 Peter 3:21) because only the blood of Christ can give us a clean conscience (Heb. 9:13-14). When baptized we must have faith in the operation of God as we enter the death of Christ where His precious blood was shed (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-4, 17-18).
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son and set Him forth publicly as our propitiation, mercy seat, through faith in His blood. Now He has allowed us through prayer to enter, not the holy of holies made with hands, but into heaven itself, that we may come boldly before His thrown of grace with confidence that we may obtain grace and help in our every hour of need (Heb. 4:16). “Christ said that He is the way and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6).
We can be thankful to God that we now have all the truth in His word and that Christ is now both our mediator and our mercy seat! <Ron Mosby>