In a nutshell, this day was the only day of the year in which the High Priest was able to enter the Holy of Holies (where God’s glory was visibly present) in the tabernacle/temple. On this day, he would enter with the blood of an animal that had been killed and sprinkle that blood upon the Mercy Seat (the lid over the Ark of the Covenant). This act did not forgive the sins of the people so much as it pushed the sins forward one more year until these sins were forever atoned for by Jesus on the cross as our ultimate Passover Lamb.
Why blood and why on the Mercy Seat?…
In my Bible reading this morning, I read how Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant into the newly constructed temple in Jerusalem. It was noted that one item still remained in the Ark of the Covenant hidden by the Mercy Seat…
“There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of Egypt.” (2 Chronicles 5:10).
On those “two tablets” were written the Ten Commandments. Those ten laws condemned everyone of us!
Don’t think so?
Have you ever told a lie? Then you’ve broken the 9th commandment.
Have you ever been angry at someone? Then you’ve broken the 6th commandment (Jesus equated anger with murder in Matthew 5:21-22).
Have you ever lusted? Then you’ve broken the 7th commandment (Jesus equated lust with adultery in Matthew 5:28).
We could keep going but you get the point.
As God’s presence rested over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies and He looked into the Ark, He saw the Ten Commandments. Those were a reminder that all of humanity had violated His most holy laws. The offense was so great that it demanded a death sentence. Someone/something had to die for our grievous offenses against a holy God!
So, resting between God’s presence and the laws that condemned us was the Mercy Seat. And on that Mercy Seat was sprinkled the blood of an innocent animal once each year. The blood of that animal was shed as a substitute. The animal’s life was taken in place of the guilty people.
The ultimate Lamb that was slain that did away with all other sacrifices was Jesus. It was in
this way that we could come into right relationship with God. He couldn’t do away with His holy laws. But, He found a way to uphold His laws while making us right with Him.
That is the beauty of the Day of Atonement and of the Cross. In these two, God maintained His holy standard and upheld His laws while at the same time made it possible for us to be completely forgiven and brought into relationship with Him because a substitute took our death sentence.