God made a covenant (a conditional covenant) with the children of Israel through  His servant Moses. He promised good to them and their children for generations  if they obeyed Him and His laws; but He always warned of despair, punishment,  and dispersion if they were to disobey. As a sign of His covenant He had the  Israelites make a box according to His own design, in which to place the stone  tablets containing the Ten Commandments. This box, or chest, was called an “ark”  and was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The Ark was to be housed in the  inner sanctum of the tabernacle in the desert and eventually in the Temple when  it was built in Jerusalem. This chest is known as the Ark of the  Covenant.

The real significance of the Ark of the Covenant was what took  place involving the lid of the box, known as the “Mercy Seat.” The term ‘mercy  seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse,  cancel or make atonement for.” It was here that the high priest, only once a  year (Leviticus 16), entered the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept and  atoned for his sins and the sins of the Israelites. The priest sprinkled blood  of a sacrificed animal onto the Mercy Seat to appease the wrath and anger of God  for past sins committed. This was the only place in the world where this  atonement could take place.

The Mercy Seat on the Ark was a symbolic  foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice for all sin—the blood of Christ shed on  the cross for the remission of sins. The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee and one  familiar with the Old Testament, knew this concept quite well when he wrote  about Christ being our covering for sin in Romans  3:24-25: “…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption  that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to  be received by faith.” Just as there was only one place for atonement of sins in  the Old Testament—the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant—so there is also  only one place for atonement in the New Testament and current times—the cross of  Jesus Christ. As Christians, we no longer look to the Ark but to the Lord Jesus  Himself as the propitiation and atonement for our sins.