The ark of the covenant has always carried an intrigue with it. Even Hollywood has paid the ark its due, so to speak. When the writer of Hebrews explains the spiritual significance of the various parts of the temple, he comes to the ark and says, “Of these things we cannot now speak in detail…” (Hebrews 9:5). When I first read those words, I remember crying out inside, No! Please, please, speak in detail! Of course, there is enough in Scripture to help us understand this mysterious box in which God came to dwell in the tabernacle and temple during the old covenant.
After choosing highly skilled artisans to construct the various aspects of the temple, God charged Bezalel to construct the ark. What must have been racing through Bezalel’s mind as he set out to put together the most important of all of the belongings in the house of God! The ark was a box with a very specific measurement, overlaid in pure gold, with a cover called “the mercy seat” and angels facing one another over that cover. It was there that the blood of the sacrifice was to be sprinkled after the offering was made to God.
Later in Scripture, we learn that there were three things kept in the ark: Aaron’s rod that blossomed, a golden bowl full of manna, and the Ten Commandments. These were all appropriate symbols of God’s redeeming work among His people. Aaron’s rod served as a symbol of the fact that God chose the high priest. Christ is the true and greater Aaron, who was chosen before the foundation of the world to stand as the High Priest among the people of God (Hebrews 4:14-16; Revelation 1:12-20). The manna pointed to Jesus as the bread that came down from heaven to give spiritual sustenance to the souls of the people of God (John 6:1-15; 22-59), and the Ten Commandments stood as the timeless, revealed will of God.
Interestingly, the blood of the sacrifice went on the mercy seat that covered the box and its belongings. It is the blood of Jesus which covers our transgressions of the law of God. When the blood was shed and sprinkled on the mercy seat, the glory of God appeared and He dwelt between the cherubim.
The most intriguing symbols on the ark, however, are the angels, facing one another over the mercy seat. This is, no doubt, a representation of the angels surrounding the throne of God in heaven. However, it was also a picture of that redemption to which all of this was pointing. When the apostles came to the tomb of Jesus they found two angels seated outside: one at the head and the other at the feet where the body of Jesus had lain. The angels were looking into the glorious work of redemption that God had accomplished in Christ. He is the glory of God who, by His resurrection glory, dwells in the midst of angels and men. Truly, the ark has so much to teach us about Jesus Christ, His death, and His resurrection glory.
Written by Nick Batzig