1 August 2015

The Ark of the Covenant

(Gospel e-Letter - August 2015)

The Ark of the Covenant was Israel’s most sacred religious article. It was a gold-covered wooden box containing the stone tablets of the Law (Deut 10:1-5). The lid, over which were mounted two golden cherubims, was the symbolic throne of God. It was known as the mercy seat (Exodus 25:10-22). The ark was kept in the inner chamber of the tabernacle (and later in the temple), the Holy of Holies. The ark symbolized God’s presence among his covenant people.

The original ark has long been lost; more importantly the old covenant has been replaced by the new, which is much better. It all began with the angel’s annunciation to a virgin Israelite woman, Mary. The child that was conceived in her by the power of the Holy Spirit was the Son of God. For this reason some Church Fathers refer to Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

When Mary gave birth to Jesus the people of Israel had the great privilege of having the Lord living among them. He was truly their Emanuel, ‘God with us’. Some Church Fathers also call Mary the ‘tabernacle’ of God, but the New Testament points to Jesus as the tabernacle. The apostle John writes that ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). The word translated ‘dwelt’ is the verbal form of ‘tabernacle’ – so we can say that the Word “tabernacled” among us!

What about our present time? Where is God’s presence among his people today, now that the Son has ascended into heaven? Jesus told his disciples that after he departure he will send the Holy Spirit. The promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. The people of God, the church, is the holy temple where God dwells by the Holy Spirit. God is present with us, especially in the assembly of the church.

Even so, this age will come to its consummation at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ when he will gather his people and take them into the very presence of God in heaven. That is the ultimate hope of all Christians.

The Ark teaches us how this hope can be fulfilled. While representing God’s presence with Israel, it also reminded them that sin was in the way. The people did not have free access to God’s presence. The Ark was kept in the Holy of holies, hidden behind the veil. Only the high priest could enter once a year on the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial animal on the Ark. The ritual showed that God’s wrath against sin can only be appeased by the death of a sacrificial victim. God could be merciful to sinners because someone else died in their place.

All this was a figure of Christ. He died on the cross, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. He did not enter a temple made with hands, but into heaven itself, in the presence of God on the basis of the infinite merits of his blood. God’s wrath is appeased. The veil was torn from top to bottom. The way is now wide open! Through Christ we can receive mercy and forgiveness, and enjoy communion with the Father now and for eternity.