The Ark of the Covenant was made of two separate pieces – the Ark of the Testimony and the Mercy Seat.
The Ark of the Testimony The
first piece acquired its name in the following manner, “And thou shalt
put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee” (Exodus 35:16).
What is the Testimony? The Ten Commandments are called “the testimony”
(Exodus 32:15), “the tables of stone”, “the tables of the testimony”
(Exodus 31:18), and the “words of the covenant” (Exodus 34:28). Only
when the Ten Commandments, or the Testimony, were placed in the Ark,
was the Ark called the Ark of the Testimony. This is the purpose of the
Ark; to be the residing place of the Ten Commandments. The Ark in
itself is not holy, but the Law is holy, and only when the law was
placed in the Ark, did the Ark become a holy object. So this was the
The Mercy Seat The second part was to be made
separate from the Ark. The Mercy Seat was the lid which had one
cherubim on each end. It was all made in one single piece.
two different parts symbolized their different character and purpose.
The Ark was made to house and represent the law, but the Mercy Seat had
a different, yet very significant job.
Let us start by looking
at the Hebrew word that the English Bible Translations have aptly
called “the Mercy Seat”. The Hebrew word that refers solely to the
Mercy Seat is “Kappôreth” which comes from the word “kâpar”. “Kâpar”
means, “to make atonement” or, “a place for atonement”. In the earthly
sanctuary, the Mercy Seat was the place where atonement was made for
the people and for the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus
Chapter 16). When we understand that the Mercy Seat is by definition a
place for atonement, the next step is to understand what atonement is.
“To atone” is to pay the penalty, or to settle the account. Since sin
is the crime, then atonement must be made for sin.
first part of the Ark of the Covenant, the Ark of the Testimony, is the
law, which is the plaintiff. We remember that John writes that “sin is
transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). The law is not only the
plaintiff, but also the “witness” against the defendant. Paul said “I
had not known sin, but by the law” (Romans 7:7). It is the law that
reveals the offence, and therefore it is the law that is the witness
As already mentioned, the law already existed before
Adam and Eve sinned. The law that was given to Moses on Mount Sinai,
was the “example and shadow” (Hebrews 8:5) of what was already in
heaven. When man broke the law by being disobedient against God, it
became necessary to add a new part to the Covenant to save man; the
offer of a Substitute’s blood. Since it is the law that demands the
offender’s death, it is also the law that must be satisfied. The law
must witness that atonement is made, and that the offender is punished.
the only way to “settle the account” or “to atone for sin” is for “the
sinner to die” (Romans 6:23). Forgiveness cannot be granted without the
account being settled. Paul states in Hebrews 9:22 that, “without
shedding of blood is no remission.” This tells us that the shedding of
blood is the only way to settle the account, or to atone for sin. When
we understand that the word “kappôreth”, of “kâpar”, means “to atone”,
and that the only valid atonement is blood, we understand that the
Mercy Seat was made to receive blood.
Whenever a blood
sacrifice was offered to God in the Old Testament, it was poured on or
beside an altar which was designed to receive the blood of the
sacrifice. The Mercy Seat is therefore by definition an altar, as it
was made to receive blood.
If the Scriptures state that,
“there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must
be saved” (Acts 4:12), then only the blood of Jesus Christ can be
offered to atone for sinful beings.
Let us sum up the purpose of the two parts to the Ark of the Covenant: First
part: The Ark of the Testimony containing the words of the covenant
(this covenant has been broken): God’s testimony, and also the witness
and the plaintiff. Second part: The Mercy Seat: the place for the atonement, the altar, where the plaintiff will receive justice, the blood.
have the words of the covenant (the law which was broken), and we have
the additional part which God added to the covenant after sin (the
promise of blood from a Substitute - the Messiah). When we join these
two together, we have the New Covenant, and when we put the Ark of the
Testimony (the law) and the Mercy Seat (the blood of atonement)
together we have the Ark of the Covenant. The blood of animals was
sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, but “it is not possible that the blood of
bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Therefore,
the blood of animals which was sprinkled on the Ark, was not valid for
atonement. The law demanded our own blood or Jesus’ blood. The Ark of
the Testimony therefore never received the blood it required, before
Christ’s substituting blood reached the Mercy Seat. We can therefore
conclude that the Mercy Seat was designed to receive the only valid
atonement, Christ’s blood. All the ceremonies which involved sprinkling
animal blood, were just to remind the people of the true Sacrificial
Lamb, Jesus Christ.
If the Mercy Seat is “a place for atonement”
and the only approved atonement is the blood of Jesus, then we can
rightly call the Mercy Seat, “a place for the blood of Jesus.”
and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each
other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall
look down from heaven.” (Psalm 85:10-11).