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What Is the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant?

Emma Danzey

When you hear the word mercy, what comes to mind? Is it a courtroom situation? Is it a moment in parenting? Perhaps you even think of the Christian worship band, Mercy Me. When it comes to the mercy of God, the Bible uses the visual of a seat. A mercy seat was the lid on top of the Ark of the Covenant, but why? What did it mean? Today we will discover the beautiful visual aid that the Lord gave of His great mercy to those who placed their trust in Him.

What Was the Mercy Seat in the Bible?

Mercy Seat is mentioned in the design of the Tabernacle. Bibleinfo shares that the lid was created from gold and there were two cherub angels on each side of the mercy seat. The meaning of the seat was significant because God’s Shekinah glory appeared over the mercy seat. This was how the Lord communicated with His people.

Exodus 25:22 says, “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.”

My mind was absolutely astounded when I thought about the ultimate act of mercy performed by Jesus Christ. We all deserved the punishment of death and eternal separation from God. However, Jesus came down, He died on the cross, and His body was placed in a tomb. The day that Jesus came back three days later, we read about two angels at the tomb. They not only were at the tomb; one was sitting where Jesus’ head was, and one was sitting where Jesus’ feet were. I imagine the place he laid in the shape of a rectangle. This would have been exactly the same position as the Mercy Seat. An angel to the left and to the right of the seat of sacrifice and God’s presence.

John 20:12-14 says, “And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.”

The ultimate mercy seat, the moment of the Shekinah glory of God shone brightly as Jesus resurrected and two angels stood by just like the cherubs who were on each side of the Tabernacle Mercy Seat. No longer did only the High Priest get into the presence of the Lord once a year, but Jesus made a way for everyone who believes in Him to have immediate access to the Father. His Holy Spirit was sent shortly after and given to everyone at the moment of their salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14).

What Do We Know about the Ark of the Covenant?

Bethany Verrett from Crosswalk shares that the Ark of the Covenant was where God’s presence resided. It was rectangle in shape and the top was known as the Mercy Seat. She tells us that priests would have to be careful not to accidentally touch the Ark because they would die immediately. The glory of God is so powerful that to experience that kind of splendor, the Scriptures tell us that we would die. In Exodus 33:20 God tells Moses, “But He said, 'You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.’” Bethany continues to share that inside of the Ark of the Covenant holds the 10 Commandments (the law), Aaron’s budded staff (the priesthood), and a jar of manna (God’s provision).

Exodus 25 teaches us that the Ark of the Covenant was made out of acacia wood. It was overlaid with pure gold. It had four rings of gold and poles put through the rings underneath for carrying the ark. Then, there are two cherubs which are on top of each side of the mercy seat. This beautiful display was placed in the Holy of Holies.

Skip Heitzig from Crosswalk says, “Once a year, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and approached the mercy seat, the place where God was said to dwell, and sprinkled blood on it… In short, it was a testimony of their sin. It was a judgment seat, really, with the two angels looking down on the emblems of their failure.”

Heitzig goes on to explain how the New Testament describes Jesus as our propitiation for all sins. He teaches that in the Greek, the word hilasmos (atoning sacrifice) relates to hilasterion (Mercy Seat), so in 1 John 4:10, God is telling us that Jesus is our literal Mercy Seat, covering all of our sins by His blood.

Hebrews 9:1-10 goes into great detail about the earthly Tabernacle. Verse 7 says, “But only the high priest entered the second room, and then only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” Verse 8 teaches that as long as the Ark of the Covenant was being used, Jesus had not come yet. However, now the Holy Spirit has entered through Jesus’ sacrifice. Hebrews 9:11 describes Jesus as “the greater and more perfect tabernacle.” The Ark of the old covenant was a physical structure. The mediator of the new covenant was Jesus Himself. (Hebrews 9:15) Blood was necessary for both and the presence of God was at work in both. However, the second was the better gift to those who believe in Jesus and accept His mercy.

Is There a Mercy Seat in Heaven?

Hebrews is a book in the Bible that teaches on the royal priesthood of Christ. This book tells us that we have not entered into the presence of God by the blood of sacrifices, but by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:12). Hebrews 9:24 says clearly, “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” He goes on in verse 26 to say that Jesus “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

There will be a throne in Heaven. Jesus is already sitting at the right hand of the Father. Since Jesus is the Mercy Seat, we can be confident that there is a Mercy Seat in Heaven, and His name is Jesus. I imagine that any time we see His face, we will be reminded of His glory and the great lengths that He went to redeem us back to the Father. Mercy is not giving someone what they deserve. When we think of Jesus, it should remind us that God the Creator made a way to bring us back and not give us what we deserved from the start of sin. Jesus is interceding on our behalf. We no longer only have access to His presence through a priest once a year, because the Holy Spirit is present living inside of us every second of every day. We are so blessed to have the ability to live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) and walk in permanent forgiveness.

Why Should Christians Know about This?

As Christians, we respect that this was how the Lord’s presence came before Jesus. However, today we celebrate that there is now no need for the Ark of the Covenant because of Jesus and His new covenant. Bob Christopher from Crosswalk says it perfectly, “This mercy seat foreshadowed the work of Jesus. He is where God and man meet. He is our mercy seat.”

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/jgroup

Emma DanzeyEmma Danzey’s mission in life is to inspire young women to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. Emma is a North Carolina resident and green tea enthusiast! She is married to her husband Drew and they serve international college students. She enjoys singing, dancing, trying new recipes, and watching home makeover shows. During her ministry career, Emma recorded two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, ran the Refined Magazine, and served in music education for early childhood. Currently, she is in the editing stages of her first two writing projects: a Bible study on womanhood and a non-fiction book on singleness. You can visit her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com