In the ninth chapter of the book of Hebrews, the inspired writer discusses the tabernacle arrangement of the Old Testament regime.
“And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of holies; having a golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was a golden pot holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat; of which things we cannot now speak severally” (Heb. 9:3-5).
The ark of the covenant was placed in that inner compartment, called the “Holy of holies.” Within the ark were: the golden pot of manna, Aaron’s almond rod, and the tables of stone inscribed with the ten commandments. On top of the ark was a lid called the “mercy-seat.”
In a manner of speaking, the mercy-seat concealed from the Lord’s view the ever-condemning judgment of the law. Each year, on the day of atonement, the high priest entered the Holy of holies and sprinkled blood on the mercy-seat.
The point conveyed by this imagery is this: It is only through the offering of blood that the condemnation of the law can be abated, and violations thereof covered.
In the Greek Testament, the original word for “mercy-seat” in Hebrews 9:5 is hilasterion, which denotes “that which makes expiation,” or “propitiation” (cf. ASV fn). It carries the idea of the removal of sin.
In Ezekiel 43:14 (LXX), the brazen altar of sacrifice is also called to hilasterion (the propitiatory or mercy-seat) because of its association with the shedding of blood for sin.
“from the bottom at the commencement of the hollow part to this great mercy-seat, from beneath was two cubits, and the breadth was a cubit; and from the little mercy-seat to the great mercy-seat, four cubits, and the breadth was a cubit.”
What is the significance of this? In the New Testament Christ, is designated as our “propitiation.”
“being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God” (Rom. 3:24-25; emphasis added).
Jesus is the covering for sin, as previewed by these Old Testament prophetic images. By means of his death, and our response to the requirements of “the faith” system, all our past sins are covered.
Later in Romans, Paul pinpoints precisely when this occurs.
“Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).
“But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18).
It is when we, upon the basis of penitent faith, are buried with Christ in baptism, to be raised in “newness of life.” By our obedience to the divine commands, we are made “free from sin.”
Too, whenever we sin as children of God, we may turn to Christ, who continues to be “the propitiation” for our sins — which blessing extends, potentially, to the entire world (1 Jn. 2:1; cf. 4:10).
Thus, underline “mercy-seat” in Hebrews 9:5. Marginally note: See Romans 3:25. Then, beside Romans 3:25 make this notation: See 6:3-4, 17-18.
Briefly, this ties together the Old and New Testament concepts regarding the covering of sin.