“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.
“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 25:10-22, ESV)
The first piece of furniture the artisans are to make for the Tabernacle is the ark of the covenant. It was a box a little less than four feet long and a little more than two feet tall and wide, covered inside and out with hammered gold. Poles that fit through rings at its base were for carrying the ark, the only way it was to be transported. And inside it were to be placed the stone tablets on which God wrote the 10 commandments. It was the most holy piece of furniture of all.
Its lid, called the atonement or mercy seat, represented the place of God’s throne, with a cherub, an angel, on either side facing inwards as though worshiping Yahweh. This is where the blood of the sacrifice would be sprinkled to make atonement for Israel. This ark would be placed in the innermost chamber of the tent, the most holy place, and would be where Yahweh would speak to Moses and give Israel her marching orders.
In Romans 3:25, as Paul is describing the nature of our rescue by God through Jesus, he describes Jesus as the atoning sacrifice and he uses the term that refers to the mercy seat. Jesus has become the place where the blood was sprinkled, his own blood, as the sacrifice that once and for all purchased forgiveness for those who believe. The image so carefully expressed in the Tabernacle has been fulfilled in the ultimate reality it pictured. Jesus’ obedience to the 10 commandments was perfect and has been reckoned to our account, making us righteous before this holy God who Himself rescued us.