When the Israelites traveled from place to place in their wilderness journey, the pillar of cloud and the ark of the Lord led the way. Out of the six special pieces of tabernacle furniture, the ark is mentioned first. Why? The ark represented God’s power and authority in Israel’s camp.
God Must Be First in Everything (Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9)
The New Testament’s version of putting God first.
The ark consisted of a wooden chest measuring forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high. God’s “shekinah” presence rested with the ark in the Holy of Holies. God’s throne—represented in the golden mercy seat—sat upon the ark with a cherub at each end; their wings overshadowing the ark.
The Ark Points to Jesus Christ
God designed the ark to symbolize His Son, Jesus, with the wood representing His humanity. The gold—which completely covered the wood—represents His deity.
The contents within the ark included: the tablets of the law (Ex. 25:16), a pot of manna (16:32-34), and Aaron’s rod that budded (Num. 16-17). Of these items, Warren Wiersbe (Be Delivered) writes: “These objects tell us that the law of God was in Christ’s heart and He perfectly obeyed and fulfilled it (Ps. 40:6-8; Heb. 10:5-9); He is the Bread of Life, who gives eternal life to all who receive Him (John 6:32); and He lives by the power of an endless life so we can be fruitful for God (Heb. 7:16).”
Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement. Israel’s sins were covered for another year when he sprinkled blood from the sacrifices on the mercy seat (Lev. 16). Christ fulfilled this type when He died once for all the world’s sins. Jesus, the “Bread of Life”, clothed Himself in humanity that He might enter our world and sacrificially die in our place.
God’s Presence Nourishes His People (Exodus 25:23-29; 37:10-16)
When the priest walked from the outer court into the Holy Place, he would see the table of “presence bread,” on the right. The golden lampstand would be on his left, and the golden altar of incense ahead, which stood before the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.
Like the ark, the table—three feet long, a foot and a half wide, and twenty-seven inches high—reminds us of Jesus’ humanity and deity from the acacia wood overlaid with gold.
Each week, twelve loaves of bread were baked, (see recipe in Lev. 24:5-9). The old loaves were removed and eaten each Sabbath by the priests in the Holy Place while new loaves replaced the old. Wiersbe writes: “The loaves are called “showbread” (Ex. 25:30 NKJV) or “Presence bread (NIV), literally ‘bread of faces’. The presence of twelve loaves of bread in the Holy Place couldn’t help but remind the priests that they were serving the twelve tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people. Through these loaves, the twelve tribes were presented before God and God was present with them in their camp, beholding their worship and their daily walk. The tribes were also represented by the jewels on the breastplate and the shoulders of the high priest (28:6-21). When you combine the images of the jewels and the loaves, you learn that the Lord feeds His people, bears them on His shoulders, and carries them in His heart.”
The loaves of bread were considered a meal offering so no leaven would be in the dough (Lev. 2:1-11). The priests were to eat the bread in a thoughtful manner. The act of a defiled priest eating the bread or sacrificial meat belonging to the priests was punishable by death (Lev. 22:3-9).
Ancient Israelites followed the ark of the Lord and pillar of cloud. God’s children today are also led by God from His throne: communicated through His Word, the Bible, and through His indwelling Holy Spirit.
Although Moses was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies to receive God’s will for the Israelites when God spoke to him from the golden mercy seat (Ex. 25:21-22; 29:42; 30:6, 36; Num. 7:89), God’s people today may enter into His presence through the “mercy seat” of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:19-25).
God’s throne is no longer reserved for a high priest making atonement for sins once a year. Rather, God’s children may fellowship at the foot of God’s throne any where, any time, because Jesus’ sacrifice makes us right before God by cleansing us from our sin when we place our trust in Him and ask for His forgiveness (Heb. 9:11-10:14).
Paul used the comparison of the church to a loaf of unleavened bread (1 Cor. 5:1-8; 10:16-17) to emphasize that God’s people must keep themselves free from impurity. Jesus, the “Bread of Life”, not only offers eternal life, but also comforts and nourishes His children.
How are Christians called to act as priests today? What qualifies Jesus to be our mediator and Great High Priest under the new covenant? How is the church to “feed” the world?