Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lamp stand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s rod that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the place of atonement. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings - external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
The first room of the tabernacle, or the cloth hut, had in it: the candlestick, which had seven branches and was used to give nightly light for the priests seven days a week; the table, on which the shew-bread sat; and the consecrated shew-bread, which consisted of twelve loaves, standing for the twelve tribes of Israel, and that was replaced every Sabbath with new, fresh bread. This room was the Holy Place, where the priests performed their daily duties.
Behind the curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place. The curtain was made of blue, purple, and scarlet, with cherubim worked into its fine linen, see Ex. 26:31. The colors of this curtain tell a story. The room is where God and man met, and only once a year. Blue stands for God, for men look to heaven for the God of grace and peace. Scarlet stands for man, for Adam means red man. And purple stands for God and man meeting, for blue and red make purple. Jesus is also represented here, as the God-man. Hebrews also called the body of Jesus, the curtain in chapter 10. Jesus is also our priest, or go-between, occupying a place between God and man, as purple is between blue and red.
Two handfuls of incense were to be burned on the gold altar in the Most Holy Place, once a year on the day of atonement. Lev. 16:13 reveals the probable reason for this. The smoke from the incense would conceal the mercy seat where God manifested Himself. This would prevent the high priest from seeing God and dying. The list of items found in the Most Holy Place in Heb. 9:4 refers to the day of atonement. The gold-covered ark of the covenant had inside of it the manna from heaven in a jar, which fed the people of Israel in the wilderness, the staff of Aaron that budded, showing that God had chosen Aaron and his sons as priests, and not the other tribes, and the stone tablets of the ten commandments.
The entire ark of the covenant, with its relics of the first Mosaic covenant, was covered with the mercy seat. This shows us that God always intended to make the new covenant of Jeremiah 31. God covered the entire first covenant with the mercy, grace, and blood of the better second covenant. Mercy triumphs over judgment. The mercy seat of propitiation is above the law.
The cherubim, or heavenly creatures, were built into the mercy seat, and their wings overshadowed the seat as they gazed downward, toward the place that God dwelt on the propitiation.
The atonement cover, or the mercy seat, is where God came to meet with the high priests. This special seat is where God dispensed mercy to sinful man. This seat, once sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice, became the seat of favor and grace, as it covered the tablets of law that were disobeyed. Now we can see what the Bible meant when it said that after Christ died on the cross, the veil of the temple, that separated the holy place from the Most Holy Place, was torn in half.
Jesus took His blood and sprinkled it over the mercy seat of Heaven and atoned for the sins of all who would believe in Him. The law, the Levitical priesthood, and the heavenly manna are all covered in the blood of Christ. Everything is under the blood of atonement and we are healed by the wounds of Jesus.
The people of the old covenant had no idea about the fellowship one could have with God under the new covenant, for the way into communion with God had not yet been disclosed. The restrictions placed upon the people, and the way in which the high priest had to approach God, was clear enough for anyone to grasp. God was, for all intents and purposes, unapproachable. But in the new covenant, God invites all who will, to come and sup with Him, through faith in His Son.
What a difference there is between the old and the new. The old was clouded with mystery, and bounded by many rules and laws, that only one man, once a year, could blindly enter the presence of God. The new is an open invitation to have fellowship with Abba Father, and is also a covenant of spiritual vision, for we can see the light of the gospel, in the face of Christ. Why do so many Christians follow God legalistically, in an old covenant way? Instead, they should realize that the only way to God is by grace, through faith in the cross of Jesus.
At its best, the law of Moses and the accompanying rituals of the priesthood are only shadows. How can a ceremony clear a conscience? How can a formal act, prescribed by law, bring peace to our inner being? They cannot! Only the greatest act of love can bring about the greatest results of reconciliation. No greater love has man, than that the Son of man lay down His perfectly lived life for those He graciously considers to be friends. This, and only this, can clear our consciences. Our awareness of right and wrong has been washed clean by the blood of Christ. We are clear of conscience because Jesus thoroughly straightened it all out. My good works do not have the slightest effect on the blood of Jesus poured over the mercy seat. I cannot add to my hope by my works. If I had to depend upon myself, either partially or totally, I would not have a clear conscience. But because Jesus is my Savior, and because He can never fail, I trust in Him and I am clean.
Many people think that the reformation took place in the time of Martin Luther, but it did not. Here in Hebrews 9:10, it says that the reformation happened when Jesus abolished the law, after having fulfilled it, and then rectified our relationships with the Father. Jesus set it right with God, that’s why He is the only Savior. Jesus’ death on the cross is our reconciliation with God. If you can, believe that all is well with God and yourself through the acts of the Savior. If you can’t, I am sorry. Maybe you will think differently when time has proven to you your inability to reach God by human effort. Receive a clear conscience today, by faith. Believe in the grand gospel of grace and have a hope that will never disappoint. Trust in Jesus and rebel against any notion that says, “It is not finished!” Jesus accomplished your salvation for you, all you must do is willingly receive it by faith, and then instinctively grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ our risen King! Amen!