Tuesday, 25 December 2018
…and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. Hebrews 9:5
After mentioning the ark and its contents, the author next turns to that which was “above it.” What is now to be described is designed as a lid for the ark itself. The ark was an open box of wood, completely overlaid with pure gold. On top of that would rest this next item. What will be named is actually one solid piece, but the author describes it from the top down. That is recorded in Exodus 25:17-21 –
“You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. 20 And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you.”
As you can see, at the top of this are “the cherubim of glory.” What this means is they are the spot where the glory of the Lord would be seen from. This is recorded, for example, in Numbers 7:89 –
“Now when Moses went into the tabernacle of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice of One speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the Testimony, from between the two cherubim; thus He spoke to him.”
These were fashioned from the same gold, being one with “the mercy seat.” The Greek word is hilastērion, and it signifies the place of propitiation. It is the spot where the wrath of God is appeased, thus bringing about a state of propitiation between God and His people.
The only time the noun form of this word is seen, apart from this use in Hebrews, is by Paul. There he says that Jesus Christ is our place of propitiation; He is our mercy seat –
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26
John, however, uses a form of the same word, hilasmos, to twice describe Jesus as being the propitiation for our sins –
“And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” 1 John 2:2
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
With these references, we can see that Christ is the spot (the mercy seat) of our propitiation, and His shed blood is that which effects that propitiation. What is being seen in mere type and shadow is realized in the punishment upon Christ leading to His death on the cross. In other words, the wrath poured out on Him through His passion, and which ultimately led to His death, is what brings peace between God and man.
God’s entrance into humanity in the Person of Jesus was purposefully intended to bring about our propitiation after He fulfilled the law. In His perfect obedience to the law, He was – in Himself – seen to be the perfection of the law. In His death, the law was fulfilled and thus ended. At the same time, in His death, the wrath of God for the sin of those who transgressed under the law was poured out on Christ in an act of substitution (something allowed under the law), where an innocent died in the place of the guilty. In this act, propitiation was made between God and those who accept this act of substitution. And in the ending of the law, a New Covenant – in Christ’s blood – was enacted.
The author finishes with, “Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” The words, “these things” are referring to everything he has said from verse 9:1 until now. The meaning is that everything associated with the “ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary” of verse 9:1, and which has only been briefly described, actually has much more which could be explained. And so, to get a fuller understanding of these things, if that is something which would interest you, you may refer to the series in the Superior Word sermons beginning with Exodus 25:1 and continuing on through the rest of the book of Exodus, and then through the book of Leviticus. And indeed, why stop there? Just keep watching all of the sermons from the Superior Word as they are published.
Life application: If there is a need for propitiation, meaning mercy, then that must mean that God really is angry at those who need mercy. It cannot be that mercy is necessary if no offense exists. Therefore, there must be a means of obtaining God’s mercy, or there must be a complete removal of that which offends Him. Thinking this through logically, if God has performed that work Himself through the Person of Jesus Christ, and if Jesus Christ has said that He is the only way to be restored to the Father, then no person can be saved apart from Him. Further, as only He fulfilled the Law of Moses, then no person who attempts to please God through adherence to the Law of Moses can be saved. Those who were under the law, and who looked forward to Messiah, were saved in anticipation of Messiah. But once Messiah has come, only through faith in His work can anyone else be saved. Those who hold to the law for their justification cannot be, and indeed they are not, pleasing to God.
Lord God Almighty, thank You for Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.