According to Hebrews 9:4, there were three things in the Ark of the Covenant. It reads, “in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.” These three items rested in the ark “under” the lid called the mercy seat.  There is much discussion of whether all three item were “within” the Ark or just “beside it.” Many commentators argue from several ancient texts that the Ark only contained the two tablets of the Covenant that Moses brought down from Sinai. The other two items were in the Holy of Holies but beside the ark and not within it. Regardless of their exact location the three items seem to be reminders of Israel’s failure, their sins. Guzik argues, “The manna reminded Israel of God’s provision and their ungratefulness.  Aaron’s rod reminded Israel of their rebellion against God’s authority. The tablets of the covenant reminded Israel of their failure to keep the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law.”[1]

In contrast to human failure with our ingratitude, rebellion, and disobedience is the life of Jesus who did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it on our behalf. This seems to be pictured beautifully by the mercy seat and its function. Hughes argues, “The mercy-seat symbolized Christ’s work. Moreover, Jesus fleshed out the contents of the Ark. He perfectly fulfilled the stone tablets of the Law (Deuteronomy 10:5; Matthew 5:17). Aaron’s staff that budded when it confirmed him as high priest (Numbers 17:1–11) is fully flowered in Christ’s priesthood. And the manna again speaks of him who is the ultimate Bread of Life (cf. Exodus 16:33, 34; John 6:35ff.).”[2]

No one could mediate regarding the sins of the people except the high priest. He would enter into the Holy of Holies only once a year to bring the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat. This obligation was solemnly entrusted to Aaron as High Priest and his descendants in each generation. This is recorded in Exodus 30:10. It reads, “Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.” The word “atonement” appears three times in that short verse.  According to Leviticus 16:17, “No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel.” It was the High Priest’s role and his alone. No one else could contribute to the atonement made for the sins of the people but the High Priest. Thus, Christ’s High Priestly commission was His and His alone. No one and nothing can be added to His work on our behalf. To attempt to do so is to defile the process. Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient!

[1] David Guzik, Hebrews, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), Heb 9:1–5.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, vol. 1, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 225.