The Mercy Seat (Hebrews 9:3-5)

And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat” (Hebrews 9:3–5, KJV 1900)

It is rare for me to see a dad extremely angry with a child. However, one time, a young man did something that infuriated his father. He knew that something had to be done to placate this anger. That is, he needed to turn away his father’s anger in order to experience peace and happiness once again. Well, to turn the situation around it ended up costing the young man something that was dear to him.

The author of Hebrews has been describing the furnishings in the Tabernacle. The last one he mentions is the one in the holiest place, the ark of the covenant. The ark was a chest made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold inside and out. It measured approximately 45 x 27 x 27 inches. Inside the chest was Aaron’s budding staff, a golden urn holding manna, and the tablets of the covenant. The cover of the chest had two cherubim that overlooked the mercy seat.

The location of the ark in the holiest place was where God was seen to manifest His presence in a very special way. The ark constituted the throne of God. The Greek word translated mercy seat is hilasterion, which can be translated as a means of appeasing, a propitiation. The mercy seat played a very significant role on the Day of Atonement. This is when the high priest would enter the holiest place and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice for the sins of the people on the mercy seat according to the law (Lev 16).

The mercy seat on the ark presents a glorious picture of Jesus. The Greek word translated as mercy seat, hilasterion, is also used specifically in the New Testament to refer to Jesus. Paul wrote, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24–25, KJV 1900) Here, speaking of redemption, the verse indicates that Jesus is our “propitiation,” hilasterion, by His shed blood.

John uses a similar word to describe Jesus when he wrote, “And he (Jesus) is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2, KJV 1900) Jesus is the propitiation, the appeasement, for our sins.

The mercy seat on the ark in the holiest place of the Tabernacle was the place of appeasement for sin. Yet, it was a foreshadowing of the true holiest place in heaven where Jesus now is seated. Jesus offered His shed blood as the propitiation for our sins once and for all on the cross. He is our eternal great high priest, who offered the true and perfect sacrifice for sin. He is not only our sacrifice, but the person of our appeasement. He has settled the debt with God once and for all.

At one time, we like a child that had stirred up anger with our father, needed to appease the anger our Heavenly Father had over our sin. Only we could not do anything to solve the problem that we had caused. The great news is that Jesus presented His own shed blood and, in that presentation, perfectly appeased the wrath of God. Because of His work, we who believe have peace and a joyful relationship with God. Jesus is the propitiation for our sins.

Published by Steve Hankins, Th.D.

Steve has had extensive military, business and ministry experience. He has served for over 16 years in full time vocational ministry and many years of part time ministry in churches. He has led churches through start-up and recasting of vision. Now He resides on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he is working to help smaller churches and believers to renew their hearts and regain the joy of the Lord.

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