The Holy of Holies - applications to the Christian

Today's theme is the "Holy of Holies" or "the most Holy Place", the smallest tent space in the tabernacle. I started looking at this topic by pulling relevant Bible verses, and when I reached six pages of biblical text I realised the size of the message is opposite to the size of space and time here this morning, and does not give us huge scope in exploring all. Let us now pray that what we may learn in this short lesson, may point us all to the bigger picture.

I am starting where many commentators started, in Exodus chapter 25 and verse 8.

Ex 25:8 "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. 9 "According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.

God wanted a place amongst His people. This is the crux of today's lesson. However, before moving further into the Holy of Holies, I would like to read a passage from the New Testament, where we are now at, a couple of verses to keep in mind for the next little while.

Heb 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The relationship at a close level started in Exodus (excluding Genesis, Adam and etc) with a sanctuary, a place that God dwelt with His people, but as we study this topic, let us remember that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of all people, the High Priest has dwelt amongst us as a man (the children of Israel only saw a pillar of fire or a cloud by day, and just a few saw in part, God's glory through the Shekinah glory) and has now moved from a tent, to a place where Jesus had no place to lay His head, to the throne of grace, a place all can come boldly. The story of the Holy of Holies has an amazing transition, we can touch on today. Let us therefore, keep these two verses in mind, the first of God wanting a place to dwell amongst His people, the second, a place where we may now come 'boldly to the throne of grace', ourselves, right now, right here.

Let us read some of those verses that describe the starting point, a tent in the desert. Exodus 26: starting at verse 26 we read of the veil that sectioned of the tabernacle tent, partitioning God from the people, creating the most Holy Place where God dwelt.

Ex 26:31 "You shall make a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim. 32 "You shall hang it upon the four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Their hooks shall be gold, upon four sockets of silver. 33 "And you shall hang the veil from the clasps. Then you shall bring the ark of the Testimony in there, behind the veil. The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy. 34 "You shall put the mercy seat upon the ark of the Testimony in the Most Holy. 35 "You shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand across from the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south; and you shall put the table on the north side.

God's measurements are exact. A variety of commentators discuss the meaning of the colours and the size. I do not intend to go into this area today, for one, it is out of my league. However, I cannot help but comment that the actual dimensions were equal to a cube. The new Jerusalem is a cube - somewhat larger, maybe 1400 kilometres cubed!! Impossible even to imagine. Also, note the colours - red, blue and purple; they weren't just the colours of the day! God does not build without intent.

Next, let us take a brief look inside the tent. As we just read, inside was the mercy seat upon the ark of Testimony. Exodus 25 starting at verse 10 describes this object:

Ex 25:10 "And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 "And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around. 12 "You shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners; two rings shall be on one side, and two rings on the other side. 13 "And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 "You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them. 15 "The poles shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 "And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you.

17 "You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width. 18 "And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 "Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. 20 "And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat. 21 "You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you.

22 "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.

Before we look a little more at the mercy seat and then the veil, we need to take note briefly as to what was inside the ark. Hebrew's chapter 9 starting at verse 2 is a good short summary of what we have just covered and includes these items:

Heb 9:2 For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; 3 and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, 4 which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; 5 and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

I will return to the items in the ark, and will discuss the veil, and take a look at the mercy seat, but first how does God view the Holy of Holies? A couple of verses gives us some insight. The first in is Isaiah, chapter 66, verse 1.

Is 66:1 Thus says the LORD: "Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?

Heaven is God's throne, earth is God's footstool. Put your imagination into gear here and think on this, God sits in the heaven's His feet on the earth. Israel could see God resting on earth by the pillar that stood above the most Holy Place. Psalm 80 verse 1 gives a further perspective:

Psalm 80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!

God was dwelling between the cherubim, on the Mercy seat. However, his pillar went up into the sky. I have not come across how tall the pillar was, but that it was there for all to see. One last thought on this topic, from Lamentations, and as this book's name states, it is a lament:

Lam 2:1 How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion With a cloud in His anger! He cast down from heaven to the earth The beauty of Israel, And did not remember His footstool In the day of His anger.

When God stopped dwelling amongst His people, his feet as it were came of the footstool, the ark disappeared, never to be found again, and never again did God's glory shine above the Holy place.

The mercy seat itself was a place where the blood of the sacrifice went. Just to place this into context, this was more than just where God had His footstool; it was where He spoke with Moses, where He accepted the offering of atonement each year. We need to read a longish passage in Leviticus to see the total process of sacrifice and offering in this place. Let us turn to Leviticus chapter 16 at this point:

Lev 16:1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the LORD, and died; 2 and the LORD said to Moses: "Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.

3 "Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering. 4 "He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.

If we deviate for a moment back into Exodus chapter 28, we can see that there were more garments, very specific for the Holy place that were removed before entering the Most Holy:

Ex 28:31 "You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. 32 "There shall be an opening for his head in the middle of it; it shall have a woven binding all around its opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it does not tear. 33 "And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: 34 "a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around. 35 "And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the LORD and when he comes out, that he may not die.

Note at this point that when the priest enters the most Holy place he wore only the white garments, these as described were for the area outside of the veil. And so back to Leviticus 16 verse 5:

Lev 16:5 "And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering. 6 "Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 "He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 8 "Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. 9 "And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD'S lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. 10 "But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness. 11 "And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself. 12 "Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. 13 "And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die. 14 "He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. 15 "Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. 16 "So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 "There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 "And he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD, and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 "Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.

20 "And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. 21 "Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. 22 "The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. 23 "Then Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of meeting, shall take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place, and shall leave them there. 24 "And he shall wash his body with water in a holy place, put on his garments, come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people.

And, finally in this scripture reading, let us turn to Hebrews again, chapter 9 starting at verse 6.

Heb 9: 6 Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience-- 10 concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.

11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Here we need to compare these two sets of verses. The first from the Old Testament, the law, God's very specific instructions down to the clothes that they wore. The second, our place in the post resurrection world, where our salvation comes from the broken body of Christ, and the blood shed when He died for us on the cross. Note the solemn ritual, the order of service, the rank of the person doing the entering into the Holy place. How do we stack up? Don't get me wrong here, I am not advocating making ourselves fancy robes, nor wearing of bells, but I ask myself, do I have the right attitude, the cleanness of mind through confession, a contrite and humble heart? Do we really get down with God and confess our sins, and remember the sacrifice. The Israelites had a visual image to see, they actually saw animals dying, blood being shed. We have the Bible to remind us, and somehow, I suspect that we have lost some of the significance of the ceremony.

Time is disappearing. I want to cover a couple of little things that are of great interest, then finish with the veil. The ark had the mercy seat on top, and three items of significance inside as we read a little earlier. I will just read a few verse that note why these things were kept. The first is in Exodus chapter 16 starting at verse 32:

Ex 16:32 Then Moses said, "This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: `Fill an omer with it, to be kept for your generations, that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.'" 33 And Moses said to Aaron, "Take a pot and put an omer of manna in it, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations." 34 As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.

The second from Deuteronomy chapter 10 verse 1:

Deut 10:1 "At that time the LORD said to me, `Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain and make yourself an ark of wood. 2 `And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.'

3 "So I made an ark of acacia wood, hewed two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain, having the two tablets in my hand. 4 "And He wrote on the tablets according to the first writing, the Ten Commandments, which the LORD had spoken to you in the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. 5 "Then I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they are, just as the LORD commanded me."

The third is from Numbers chapter 17 verse 1. I shall skip a little through these:

Num 17:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 "Speak to the children of Israel, and get from them a rod from each father's house.--twelve rods. Write each man's name on his rod. 3 "And you shall write Aaron's name on the rod of Levi. . 4 "Then you shall place them in the tabernacle of meeting before the Testimony, where I meet with you. 5 "And it shall be that the rod of the man whom I choose will blossom; thus I will rid Myself of the complaints of the children of Israel, which they make against you." . 8 Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses went into the tabernacle of witness, and behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds. ..10 And the LORD said to Moses, "Bring Aaron's rod back before the Testimony, to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put their complaints away from Me, lest they die." 11 Thus did Moses; just as the LORD had commanded him, so he did.

I was fascinated by the rod story and want to read a little from my old friends in commentary MacDonald and Farstad [1]:

In order to emphasize to the people that the priesthood was committed only to the family of Aaron, God commanded that a rod for each tribe of Israel be placed in the tabernacle overnight. The rod of Levi had Aaron's name on it. The right to the priesthood belonged to the rod that blossomed. In the morning, when the rods were examined, it was found that Aaron's rod ... had sprouted with buds, had produced blossoms, and yielded ripe almonds. Aaron's rod pictures the resurrected Christ as the Priest of God's choosing. Just as the almond tree is the first to blossom in the spring, so Christ is the firstfruits of resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). The golden lampstand in the holy place was "made like almond blossoms, each with its ornamental knob and flower" (Ex. 25:33, 34). It was a priestly function to take care of the lampstand daily. Aaron's rod corresponded in design and fruit to the lampstand, thus signifying that the household of Aaron had been divinely chosen to minister as priests.

There are perhaps three whole sermons on the three items within the ark, the testimonies. As with Aaron's rod, we know that the ten commandments are not just for Old Testament times, though we are no longer under the law. Ray Comfort (Google for some great materials) states:

When you use the Law (the Ten Commandments) to show the world their true state, get ready for them to thank you. For the first time in their lives, they will see the Christian message as an expression of love and concern for their eternal welfare, rather than of merely proselytizing for a better lifestyle while on this earth. They begin to understand why they should be concerned about their eternal salvation. The Law shows them that they are condemned by God. It even makes them a little fearful.

Look at how John Wesley reconciles the use of the Law (to produce the fear of God) with love: The second use [of the Law] is to bring him unto life, unto Christ that he may live. It is true, in performing both these offices, it acts the part of a severe schoolmaster. It drives us by force, rather than draws us by love. And yet love is the spring of all. It is the spirit of love which, by this painful means, tears away our confidence in the flesh, which leaves us no broken reed whereon to trust, and so constrains the sinner, stripped of all to cry out in the bitterness of his soul or groan in the depth of his heart, "I give up every plea beside, Lord, I am damned; but thou hast died" (emphasis added). Perhaps you are tempted to say that we should never condemn sinners. However, Scripture tells us that they are already condemned (John 3:18). All the Law does is show them their true state[2].

We need to see our condemned state to realise that we need salvation, if we don't see the need for saving, we won't reach out for the boat (as it were), or in this case, the saving blood of the Lamb of God, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Law therefore was the testimony in the ark to this need. In this brief side look let us finish this with some words from Psalm 119 - a very long Psalm, primarily about God's law!!

25 DALETH. My soul clings to the dust; Revive me according to Your word.

26 I have declared my ways, and You answered me; Teach me Your statutes.

27 Make me understand the way of Your precepts; So shall I meditate on Your wondrous works.

28 My soul melts from heaviness; Strengthen me according to Your word.

29 Remove from me the way of lying, And grant me Your law graciously.

30 I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me.

31 I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame!

32 I will run the course of Your commandments, For You shall enlarge my heart.

The manna too, is a core ingredient of today's Christian, despite it being a testimony for the children of Israel. the Bread of Life. We might read from John chapter 6:30

Therefore they said to Him, "What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? 31 "Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 "For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34 Then they said to Him, "Lord, give us this bread always." 35 And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.

Or Matthew 26:26

"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body.""

MacDonald and Farstad note: The Lord Jesus revealed Himself as the bread of God which came down from heaven and gives life. He was showing the superiority of the bread of God to the manna in the wilderness. The manna did not impart life but only sustained physical life. It was not intended for the whole world but only for Israel. The true bread comes down from heaven and gives life to men-not just to one nation but to all the world.[3] Thus the significance of having manna in the ark, moves forward into the context of the Christian today, with Christ as our bread, our sustenance, our life giving force.

What a section, and this is such injustice, I trust you go from here and find all that I have missed. However, we must move forward to the veil. I will begin with two verses across the Biblical spectrum. The first comes from Exodus, a clear and concise warning, the reason for there being a barrier between God dwelling amongst His people, and the people themselves:

Ex 33:20 But He said, "You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live."

The second is from the New Testament, noting that indeed, no-one had seen God:

John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

The veil was in place, in the tabernacle, more of a large curtain, by the time the temple was built, it was a massive structure, some commentators noting that it was thicker than a man's hand width. God kept His glory separated from the people. The other main factor of the Holy of Holies was who could enter. It was one person, once a year. That was it. The rest of the sacrificial system took place outside of the most Holy Place, and always by priests. However, as we all know, things changed at the death of the Lord. Mark, 15:37 tells us what happened.

Mark 15: 37 And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. 38 Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, "Truly this Man was the Son of God!"

Note the two items here, the veil of the temple is torn, a Gentile discovers God. What a remarkable event! How do we know God tore the veil - the way it tore makes the point strongly. It was torn from top to bottom. If we were to tear a curtain, we would start at the bottom, and still have difficulty tearing that last part where it hangs. God had no such difficulty. But, a most remarkable part was the recognition and confession of the centurion, certainly not a Jew. He understood, not at the temple and seeing the veil being torn, but out of the city on Calvary, that Jesus was God. He was the first confession we see, after death and before the resurrection. I suspect that we may meet this man in heaven! The veil being torn opened the way to not just the Jews, but to all people of all nations and all heritages. The doors to heaven were opened, for all who believed to enter. Let us go to Hebrews 10:19 to see God's Word on this topic:

Heb 10:19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,

The veil needed to be rent wide open for this to occur, for all of God's people to enter the Most Holy place. And we can read further, in Ephesians chapter 2, starting at verse 14:

Eph 2:14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the SpiritSo, in conclusion, here we have the final part of the story. God came and dwelt amongst His people, in a tent to begin with, in a partitioned section called the Holy of Holies, or the most Holy place. I touched on the fact that God was not only separated by a veil, but only one person could come into God's presence, only once a year, and surrounded by incense, with blood for atonement. We noted that God left that place, and the Holy of Holies was bare, the ark gone for good. A long period past, then the Lord Himself came, the great High Priest, the final and perfect sacrifice. Now the veil was not needed, now God came back to dwell amongst His people, he dwells within all those that believe, through the Holy Spirit. It begs the question, a question I ask regularly - what is the state of the Spirit's home at this point? How Holy is the most Holy place. Surely God deserves no less, than was originally intended.

[1] MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. 1997, c1995. Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. Thomas Nelson: Nashville.

[2] John Wesley, quoted in Comfort, R 2002 Revival's Golden Key Unlocking the Door to Revival, Bridge-Logos Publishers Gainesville, FL" pg 39. Also on line at < > accessed 29 May 2009.

[3] op. cit., MacDonald.

Stephen B Simon (CCC May 2009)
\Types\Holy of Holies (SBS)
May 2009