The Old Testament scriptures prefigure the New. That is, the Old Testament scriptures reveal certain things to us about the Lord Jesus Christ. They reveal these things in type and shadow. Type refers to kind, such as in dolphins are a kind of sea creature. Were I to describe the physical attributes of a dolphin while referring only to the word sea creature, perhaps you may arrive at the idea that I am describing a dolphin or perhaps you may conclude that I am describing another kind of sea creature with similar attributes such as a shark. Just as a shadow obscures the finer details and gives only the broad and basic outline of its object, so the Old Testament gives us a broad and basic look at the Lord Jesus Christ who is only finally fully and plainly revealed in the New Testament.
Another way to understand this is to think of the Old Testament as the scaffolding. During the construction of a building, builders erect a series of stairways and boardwalks that wrap around a building in progress. These stairways and boardwalks, called scaffolding, enable the workers to toil safely high in the air while they piece together the outside of the building brick by brick. The scaffolding is removed once the building is completed. In no way does the scaffolding tell us much about the interior details of the building, but it does give us a good idea of the shape and size of the building. So with the Old Testament. The building in question, namely the bride of Christ, is invisible because it is a spiritual temple; therefore, it helps sometimes to study the scaffolding that once wrapped around it; i.e. the Old Testament. With this in mind, let us examine one of these pieces of scaffolding to see what it might reveal to us about the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Ark of the Covenant
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.“You shall make a mercy seatof pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.
The ark of the covenant was an Old Testament object that typified the crucified, risen, ascended Lord Jesus Christ, ruling and reigning from heaven even now. It was a rectangular shaped box built with acacia wood (KJV says shittim wood, but it means the same) that stood about 4 ¾ feet in length, 2 ¼ feet wide and 2 ¼ feet in height. It stood about the same size as an average hope chest today.
Some interesting things about acacia wood; acacia wood, of course, comes from the acacia tree. Acacia trees only live from between about 15-30 years. They require very little water to survive, and so are found mostly in hot, arid climates. Because of their arid environment and short lifespan, their leaves grow at the top of the tree. This produces a flat, mushroom type of appearance which gives them the look of wearing a crown. More than this though, branches near these leaves are also studded with large, sharp thorns.
Because of the density of its core, the acacia tree is also renown for its resistant to decay. It is in every literal sense an incorruptible wood, which happens to make for excellent, long lasting furniture. In addition, the tree’s sap makes for an excellent pain reliever from joint pain, and it is still in use for this today.
In this acacia wood construction of the ark, we find a picture of Christ’s humanity. Conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin, He entered into the spiritual desert of our sin-darkened world. He needed no man or woman to nurture His spirit. Though alive in the arid, spiritual desert of our world, “the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40).
And though He did grow strong and was full of wisdom, and though He was God the Son of God, the light of the world, the only sinless man and the only one whose right it was to rule, the world thought nothing more of Him than to crown Him with thorns. He who from the beginning was with God and was God, and who did create all things, did nevertheless humble Himself to endure suffering, bloodshed and even death upon a cross.
Having endured the cross even unto death though, He suffered no decay in the tomb. He was not left to rot, but was instead incorruptible. He, by His death and His resurrection had provided the eternal medicine for His sin sick elect, and did in one stroke once and for all time cure their disease. By His stripes they were healed, and by the shedding of His blood He secured their eternal redemption.
But this same Jesus also ascended and now sits at the Father’s right hand. Therefore, we see the ark not completed with acacia wood, but rather overlaid with gold. This is not a babe in a manger whom we worship. Rather, this is the babe who grew up to become a man and then who died, rose, and then ascended to the right hand of the Father. This is the Lord Jesus Christ, the one with eyes like blazing fire, with a voice like many waters and a face as bright as the midday sun. This is the one who holds the seven stars in His right hand. He is not the babe swaddled and lying in a manger. No, this is the One who is not to be trifled with.
In some parts of the Bible, gold indicates both purity as well as ultimate authority, and therefore by extension, divinity. Gold was rare and valuable even in those days. It was the metal of choice used by Egyptian pharaohs to decorate their palaces. Gold in the construction of the ark shows us both Christ’s holiness as well as His authority over all principalities and powers in both heaven and on earth.
Resting atop the ark was the Mercy Seat, so called because it was to be regarded as God’s throne. Interestingly enough, however, no one ever sat on it, nor was anyone permitted to sit in its presence. The reason why no one was permitted to sit was because God had not yet rested from finishing His work of saving His people. Redemption had not yet been accomplished. Perfect atonement had not yet been made. In the Old Testament, God is shown as still at work bringing the perfect redemption of His people to fulfillment. No one was permitted to rest before God’s throne while the atonement that Christ would provide with His death was still as yet unfinished. One of the first things we discover after Christ rose from the dead is an angel sitting in the empty tomb.
Mark 16:5-6 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.”
The moment Christ rose from the dead, God rested from His work. Rest doesn’t mean that He was tired. Rest in this sense means His work was complete. Like an artist who sets his brush down and then steps back to marvel as his completed work, so God has set His brush down to now marvel at His completed work. Adding so much as a single extra brushstroke to the artist’s painting would be an insult to the painter. Likewise, to add anything else to Christ’s perfect work of redemption is an insult to God. He has rested from His work.
This Mercy Seat was also overlaid with gold. Positioned at either end of the cover was a cherubim with wings outstretched, overshadowing the mercy seat. We are reminded here of the cherubim God placed at the tree of life in the garden of Eden to guard it. This image on the Mercy Seat served to remind Israel that no unrighteous sinner could ever approach the tree of life by the mere blood of animals or goats. The way to God’s presence had been barred by man’s sin.
Genesis 3:24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
This is why the lid would also have been stained red with splatters of previous blood sacrifices. Once a year every year, the high priest would enter the holy of holies to sprinkle the blood of an atoning sacrifice upon the mercy seat. None of these sacrifices could perfect the conscience of the sinner though, which is why the sacrifice had to be repeated year after year ad nauseam. These sacrifices served both to remind Israel of its sins, as well as to point to the day when a final sacrifice would be made that would be enough to finally and forever atone for the people’s sins.
The Mercy Seat was also the place where the voice and presence of God dwelt.
And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.
As for the ark, it was to reside in the Tent of Meeting (later the Temple) within a room called the Most Holy Place that was located at the back of another room called the Holy Place. A thick, heavy, blue veil separated the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place, and thereby kept the ark shrouded in perpetual darkness.
“And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place.
Keeping the ark shrouded in perpetual darkness signified that access into God’s presence was barred by man’s sin. God kept His presence hidden from His people for His people’s own sake, to keep from destroying them, for no unrighteous sinner could ever enter into God’s presence and live. At the moment of Christ’s death though, the curtain that had kept the ark hidden from His people for more than a thousand years was torn in two from top to bottom. God had now revealed His glory to His people. That glory is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the glory of God. No longer was the glory of the Lord shrouded in darkness, for He whom the ark had typified, was the light of the world. God’s people now had access into God’s presence by the sacrifice of the only One who had been found worthy.
The only time the ark was removed from the Most Holy Place was to lead Israel out from camp.
So they set out from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey. And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them. And the cloud of the Lord was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp. And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.”And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.”
Vacating camp without the ark leading the way meant certain death. In Numbers 14:43-45, after the first set of 12 spies had come back with an evil report, Israel rebelled yet again and went up against the Amalekites and Canaanites without the ark leading the way. They were defeated.
For there the Amalekites and the Canaanites are facing you, and you shall fall by the sword. Because you have turned back from following the LORD, the LORD will not be with you.” But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses departed out of the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.
In this we see a picture of the Lord Jesus as our king. He commands us, instructs us, teaches us, guides us, leads us. Where He commands we go. Where He leads, we follow. What He teaches us, we believe. What He commands us, we do. His is the voice of a shepherd. To listen to any other voice or to heed the command of any other shepherd means to invite certain death.
The Rod, the Tablets and the Manna
Inside the ark were kept three objects; Aaron’s rod that budded, the second set of stone tablets upon which God had written the ten commandments, and a single day’s ration of manna.
Deuteronomy 10:4-5 – the stone tablets
Numbers 17:1-11 – Aaron’s rod that budded
Exodus 16 – the manna
The significance of the stone tablets and the rod that budded are not difficult to see. After all, He had indeed satisfied the demands of His own law by dying the death the law demanded of His people for their sins, and He had, like the high priest’s dead stick restored to life, risen from the dead having made perfect atonement for His people as high priest after the order of Melchizedek. The significance of the manna, however, can be a little more difficult.
The manna shows us a picture of the Lord Jesus as our sustenance and provider. Manna means “what is it?” in Hebrew. It was essentially some sort of flour like substance that smelled like coriander but tasted like crackers made with honey. It could be used to make bread and cakes (something resembling cornbread) or other things. The important things to keep in mind about the manna was that God gave only enough of it each day to provide for each person’s nutritional needs for that day, and that it did meet the daily nutritional needs of every Israelite.
This means the manna provided different nutrients to different people. Not every Israelite would need an extra boost of vitamin C or A that day, but some would. The manna provided this. Some might need less salt while others needed more. The manna provided this. Some might need an extra dose of amino acids or minerals, while others less. The manna provided this. The point is that even though the manna carried the same fragrant aroma and taste for everyone, it nevertheless provided varying nutritional values for each person depending on their physical needs.
In addition, God supplied only enough manna to provide each person with the nutrients they needed for that day. When Israel yet again rebelled against God’s word and had gathered more than God instructed them to, what they had gathered in addition turned to worms overnight.
This was meant to teach them that they had a daily dependence upon God their provider. Going out again and again each day meant that they would be coming again and again to God for their provision. Of course they failed to see this, because this knowledge was not mixed with faith, but this knowledge does show us something today.
Jesus called Himself the bread of life. In so doing, He was teaching us that as He had met Israel’s physical needs in the wilderness by providing bread for them every day, so He too meets our spiritual mental, emotional needs on a daily basis. Just as not every individual in Israel needed an extra dose of vitamin C at the same time, so too not every one of His elect need a word of encouragement to endure the pain of persecution. Not all of us today are being persecuted. Some of us are going through something entirely different. Perhaps we are facing some sort of temptation, while others of us are facing a personal tragedy. Still others may be suffering from some physical or emotional illness, while others are suffering from doubt. The point is that no matter what our needs, Christ is our provision. He is our bread of life. How does He do this though? How does He provide our needs?
Christ is proclaimed in the gospel; therefore, if Christ is to meet our needs, then it must be through His gospel that He does this. Bear in mind that the ark of the covenant was also called the ark of the testimony. The testimony by which God feeds us today is the testimony His apostles have left us. That is, their personal eyewitness account of His person, His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection, and His ascension is the testimony which the Spirit of Christ uses to feed us Christ, our daily bread. This one and same gospel feeds all the various needs of His people.
Consider for a moment the needs of a believer who may be facing the prospect of a job loss. He hasn’t actually lost his job, but things at his place of employment are not looking so good. Naturally, this person is worried. He concerns himself with thoughts about what might happen tomorrow or next week if he loses his job. How is going to pay the rent? How is going to pay his bills? Where is he going to live if he loses his house? How is he going to eat, where is he going to sleep, how is he going to stay warm now that winter is returning? He soon finds himself unable to sleep, his mind racked with worry and fear about what might happen tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. In effect, what he has left to him is a basket of worms.
In effect, this kind of worry is actually unbelief. Not all kinds of worry are unbelief, but this one is. It is unbelief, because in all the scenarios he is playing out in his mind, all of them lack the fundamental truth that God is in control. Rather than asking what might happen were God to resolve the situation at work, he instead imagines all the worst outcomes that could happen were God not in control.
But now let us suppose our believer is reminded of the gospel. He hears once again that good news of God’s sovereign grace revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. He is reminded of God’s sovereignty not only in election, but in all things. He remembers that the Lord Jesus, who lives and reigns and has all authority in heaven and on earth, also works together all things for the good of those who love Him. He now begins to consider the prospects of his future with the truth of the Lord Jesus in mind. So what if he loses his job? First, the Lord Jesus is in control, so it’s not like He didn’t know this was going to happen. Second, the Lord Jesus actually ordained it, from eternity even, and He did so with the intent of working it for the benefit of the believer to the glory of His praise. The Lord Jesus is in control. If He can cloth the lilies of the valley, then surely He can cloth one of His own.
The gospel refreshes our believer. He finds himself able to sleep that night. The next day, however, he finds himself worrying again. And so he must return to the hearing or preaching or reading of the gospel again. Day after day he must train himself to return to the gospel found in God’s word. He must every day return to eat of Christ’s flesh and drink of His blood. If he tries to gather more for future worries or future concerns that he doesn’t even have right now, then he finds himself in possession of a basket of worms, because God has made it so that His people must return daily to Him for their provision. This serves to remind them daily that He is their provision.
False gospel churches confuse this badly. They divide God’s word into theoretical and practical. They treat the gospel as if it were a necessary obstacle to the practical teaching they hold as more important. But the gospel is the practical. The gospel is what God feeds His people with, and the preaching, hearing and reading of it is how He feeds them. A pastor who isn’t preaching the gospel to his congregation every time they gather is a pastor who isn’t feeding his flock. If a pastor is even in the least bit concerned with teaching ten steps for a successful life rather than preaching the gospel, then he isn’t shepherding a flock. He is hosting a business seminar instead.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the bread of life. He is our manna.