After he mentions the contents of the Holy Place and the Most Holy place, the author of Hebrews then describes the gold angels on the mercy seat covering the ark of the covenant. Hebrews 9:5 says, “Above it (the mercy seat) were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” The mercy seat was “…the ornate ‘lid’ for the ark of the covenant, made with the designs of cherubim upon it. The blood of sacrifice was sprinkled upon it for the forgiveness of Israel’s sin on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 25:17–22).  As God looked down into the ark, He saw the symbols of Israel’s sin, rebellion, and failure. But when the blood of sacrifice was applied to the mercy seat, God saw that blood covering over the sin of Israel, and He looked at the blood instead of the sin of Israel.”[1] This was done once a year on the day of atonement. But Jesus does it once for all people, for all time! The sweet smelling aroma from the altar of incense that the priest brought into the Holy of Holies was the center of God’s attention, representing the sacrifice of His only begotten son who was “well pleasing” in life and in death. When God looks down on believers, He doesn’t see our sin, He sees His Son!

Several commentators, including John Calvin, argue that the details of the various items in the tabernacle are not important and the author of Hebrews means to dismiss the importance of seeing Jesus in each and every item. According to these commentators this is what the author of Hebrews means when he closes verse five with the comment, “Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” But I see the author of Hebrews implying just the opposite. The details are important to him and they deserve some attention that’s why he mentions them. He couldn’t speak of them “now” but may have spoken of them later. But now he was interested in pointing out the superiority of Christ to the entire religious system not the particulars. As Fruchtenbaum says, “The point of the whole overview is to show that the old system consisted of a system of barriers between the worshipper and God. The Outer Court separated Gentiles from Jews. The Inner Court separated Levites from non-Levites. The first veil separated priests from non-priests. The second veil separated the High Priest from common priests.”[2]

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the Temple was torn in half in the midst of the thunder and lightning of God’s wrath being poured out on Jesus on our behalf. Matthew writes in 27:51, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” In Genesis we see the “curtain” separating the spiritual realm from the physical realm torn open from top to bottom also. Matthew took the beginning of his statement from Genesis 28:12. It says, “And behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” Another way to look at the word “ladder” would be a “breach.” Some translations use “stairway.”  It connected the physical world with God at the top of the ascent. The angels ascending and descending were represented by those embroidered on the veil itself. Jesus told Nathaniel “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” He was making it clear that He was the “breach” between heaven and earth! The only way to the Father is “through” Jesus!

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

[2] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 114–115.