The “ark of the testimony” (Exodus 25:22) was a wooden chest about four feet long, about two feet wide, and about two feet deep (Exodus 25:10), made of “acacia [locust?] wood” (Exodus 25:10). A “mercy-seat [kipporeth] of pure gold” (Exodus 25:17) covered the ark. God talked with Moses “from above the mercy-seat” (Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89).
Once a year, “on the tenth day of” the seventh month, (Leviticus 16:29), our October, the high priest sprinkled the blood of a goat upon the mercy-seat “with his finger seven times” to atone for the sins of the Israelites (Leviticus 16:15, 19). This annual observance was called “the day of atonement” (yom hakkippurim, “Yom Kippur” (Leviticus 23:27).
The Place of Forgiveness
The word kipporeth, derived from kaphar, “to cover,” translated as the “mercy-seat,” is “only used of the cover of the ark of the covenant” (Gesenius, 412). Kaphar means “to cover” sins, to pardon, to obtain forgiveness (ibid.).
In the New Testament the word for the mercy-seat is hilasterion, “the place where sins are forgiven” (Hebrews 9:5, Newman, 86), the “means by which sins are forgiven” (Romans 3:25, Newman, 86). Literally hilasterion (eleos, “mercy,” and tereo, “hold”) is a “holding place for mercy.”
As the high priest brought goat blood and sprinkled it on the mercy seat, so Jesus brought “his own blood” figuratively to sprinkle on heaven’s mercy seat, having “entered the Holy of Holies once for all time, obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
Literally Jesus was never a priest on the earth, even on the day he shed “his own blood” (Hebrews 7:14). Figuratively God ordained Jesus as a high priest after he had returned to heaven, on the day of Pentecost, May 28, A.D. 30, when God said to him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek,” putting the ceremony in pictorial language, “You are my Son! Today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7; Hebrews 5:5).
The “blood of sprinkling” that Jesus, as a figurative high priest, brought “speaks better than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). Did Abel’s blood talk? God heard it and told Cain that “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out loudly to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10).
What did Abel’s blood say? Apparently the same thing as that many innocent martyrs for Jesus said as they “cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, holy and true Master, will you not judge and vindicate our blood among the inhabitants of the earth?’” (Revelation 6:10). Their blood and Abel’s blood apparently were crying, “Vengeance! Vengeance!” But Jesus’ blood cries out loudly, “Mercy! Mercy!” What a difference! Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus as “the Place” of Forgiveness
The word used by the writer of the book of Hebrews to designate the Old Testament mercy seat (hilasterion, 9:5) Paul used to designate Jesus “as the mercy seat” (Romans 3:25). If Jesus is our mercy seat, then an astounding thought strikes our minds: Jesus bringing his own blood and sprinkling it on himself!
This means “Christ, besprinkled with his own blood, was truly that which the cover or ‘mercy seat’ had been typically, i.e., the sign and pledge of expiation” (Thayer, 301). This means that Christ not only “propitiates,” but is “Himself the propitiation. To speak in the language of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the offering of Himself He is both at once archiereus (high priest) and thusia (sacrifice), . . .the two functions of priest and sacrifice” were “united in Him. . . . All this the word hilasmos [offering, propitiation, 1 John 2:2; 4:10], used of Christ, declares” (Trench, 294).
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33): “God has displayed him [Jesus] publicly as the mercy seat [hilasterion], through faith in his blood, as a demonstration of his righteousness in overlooking past sins” (Romans 3:25).