J. V. Fesko Writes:
The connections of the Ark of the Covenant to Christ and the church are clearly spelled out in the New Testament, particularly in the books of Romans and Hebrews. We already know of the strict instructions regarding how the ark was to be transported, as well as the commands concerning the Day of Atonement, that Israel had to take extreme care in dealing with and handling the ark. Why? Because it was the very throne of God. No one could approach the throne if they were de led by sin.
Because all men are defiled by sin, only the high priest could approach the mercy seat, but only after purification rituals, making atonement for himself by slaughtering a bull, and then only by approaching the mercy seat with the blood of the sacrifice to make atonement for Israel’s sins. Only through the sacrifice of Christ can we have the forgiveness of sins: ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 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’ (Romans 3:23–25). The apostle John likewise writes that Jesus ‘is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2).
But the clearest and most powerful connection between the Ark of the Covenant and Christ appear in the book of Hebrews in the ninth chapter. The author of Hebrews rehearses the procedures of the desert tabernacle in great detail, how in the first section of the tabernacle were the lampstand and the bread of presence. Beyond this initial section of the tabernacle was the holy of holies, the place where the Ark of the Covenant rested. Once the high priest had made his personal preparations for his own sin, he would enter the holy of holies to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the nation. However, the author of Hebrews also explains that these rituals and sacrifices ultimately did not remove sin but were only shadows of greater things to come, namely the ministry of our great high priest, Jesus Christ. Jesus did not enter a tent made with hands, he did not enter the earthly copy. Rather, he entered the heavenly temple, and not by the blood of bulls and goats, but by his own precious blood. Christ’s blood alone brings cleansing, purification and the forgiveness of sins. For all of these reasons, the author of Hebrews writes: ‘Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant’ (Hebrews 9:15). Christ’s work as our great high priest supersedes the work of the Levitical priests who laboured under the Mosaic covenant.
In the light of Christ’s sacrifice, we can enter into the presence of God without fear. We no longer have to depend upon the yearly sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. We are no longer restricted by the limitations of the high priest entering the holy of holies and sprinkling blood upon the mercy seat. Instead, we have Christ, our great high priest, who has entered the heavenly holy of holies and has shed his own precious blood so that we may enter the presence of God. The author of Hebrews therefore writes: ‘Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and and grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV). Through Christ and his sacrifice, we can obtain the grace of forgiveness and God’s mercy. Christ is the propitiation for our sins: ‘In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:10).
So, then, the ark was the place where Israel made atonement for their sins, which is now fulfilled by Christ in his sacrifice for us.