While the Israelites had no children’s-story Bibles, they were given pictures of the Gospel in the Old Covenant types and ordinances. Among them were the Passover, Exodus, sacrificial system, festivals, priesthood and ceremonies of the Tabernacle and Temple worship. There is one picture to which I often have loved to return – the picture of the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark was the most significant object in Old Covenant worship. It was a box – overlaid with gold – in the most holy place. It contained “a golden urn holding the manna, Aaron’s staff that budded and the tablets of the covenant.”
The mercy seat covered the box. Two cherubim, facing one another, overshadowed the mercy seat. God manifested his presence above the mercy seat – between the cherubim.
What did this elaborate picture portray? The Ark was a picture of the person and saving work of Christ.
The manna in the golden bowl represented the life-sustaining food that God gives his people in Christ. When Israel was in the wilderness, the Lord sustained them with this mysterious bread.
When Jesus fed the 5,000, he said, “Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven…i.e. He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33).
Christ’s flesh and blood is life-sustaining food of believers.
In Numbers 16-17, we are told that jealous men called Aaron’s priesthood into question. God commanded that the rebels take their rods and lay them out next to Aaron’s. The rod that blossomed showed who the Lord had chosen to be priest. Jesus is the great High Priest, chosen by his Father from all eternity (Isaiah 42:1; Heb. 5:4).
The Ten Commandments were inside the Ark, showing that the moral law of God forever stands before the presence of God. This also represented that the law would be kept in Christ. He fully obeyed all the commands of God for his people.
The mercy seat covered what was inside the Ark. When the priest entered the Holy of Holies, he sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat. The sin of God’s people formed a barrier between them and the Lord.
God has to look at man through the lens of the law on account of his holiness. How can unrighteous man stand before the presence of the righteous God?
The dilemma is resolved through the blood of Jesus. The blood of Christ stands between the law of God and the presence of God on the heavenly mercy seat.
The symbolism of the Ark reached its climax on the Day of Atonement. God showed up, between the cherubim, when the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the mercy seat. This was a picture of the angels in heaven standing before his throne – praising him day and night.
It also was a picture of the restored presence of God through the resurrection of Christ. When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb seeking the body of Jesus, she found “two angels – one at the head, one at the feet – where the body of Jesus had been.”
The presence of God has been restored to the believer in the resurrection of Christ.
God has given us the most intricate pictures of the Gospel in his word. We must study them diligently. The more we discern the work of Christ in the pictures, the more we will grow in our gratitude and love for him.