Easter, Jesus’ Death on the Cross, and the Old Testament
Hebrews 8-10 tell us that the Old Testament sanctuary sacrificial system pictures and foreshadows Christ’s perfect sacrifice for us. Picture with me what Old Testament believers experience as they journey to and into the sanctuary of God—the temple of God—and how it points us to the cross.
- The Courtyard: The Ten Basins and the Large Laver/Large Basin
As Old Testament believers approach the sanctuary, they first arrive at the courtyard where they see the Ten Basins and the Large Laver. The Ten Basins were used for washing and rinsing the burnt offerings. The Laver or Larger Basin was used for the washing or cleansing of the priests.
Immediately their minds go to their sinfulness and God’s holiness. If even the priest has to be cleansed before entering the sanctuary, what does that say about us?
- The Courtyard: The Brazen Altar of Sacrifice
Before anyone could even think about entering the sanctuary—the Holy Place (not the Holy of Holies), they had to go to the Brazen Altar of Sacrifice outside the sanctuary. “Altar” literally means “place of slaughter.”
No one would come to the sanctuary empty-handed. Instead, they would have chosen a lamb without blemish as a guilt offering to be slaughtered at the altar of sacrifice to make atonement or a covering for their sin—serving as their substitute. This is a picture, a foreshadowing of Christ the spotless Lamb of God who died as the sinless substitute for our sin.
- The Holy Place/The Outer Sanctuary: The Ten Golden Candlesticks
Cleansed because of the sacrifice of a substitute, now they could enter the outer sanctuary—the Holy Place. This is not the Holy of Holies or the inner sanctuary. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and only once a year on the Day of Atonement.
As they enter the outer sanctuary, they see the Ten Golden Candlesticks, five on the right and five on the left. They illuminate the entire sanctuary. Their light communicates that God is the pure light of our dark and sinful world. They represents the holy purity of Yahweh. They foreshadow for us, Jesus who came as the sinless, pure Light of the world.
- The Holy Place/The Outer Sanctuary: The Table of Showbread/Golden Table on Which Was Placed the Bread of the Presence
Next they would encounter the Table of Showbread—hollowed or holy bread. It held twelve loaves made from the purest flower. The number of loaves represented the twelve tribes of Israel. The purity of the bread pictures all of Israel consecrated to God. It pictures their full surrender to their holy God. It foreshadows for us Christ as the pure Bread of Life.
- The Holy Place/The Outer Sanctuary: The Golden Altar of Incense
Directly before the curtain dividing the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, they would have seen the Golden Altar of Incense. On this altar, sweet spices are continually burned with fire taken from the Brazen Altar. The smoke and smell rises up, symbolic of a holy God accepting the prayers of His people because of the substitutionary sacrifices.
- The Veil Between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies
The last item they would ever see in the sanctuary was the Veil that separated the Holy Place (outer sanctuary) from the Holy of Holies (inner sanctuary). The Veil was the constant reminder that no one could ever enter the presence of God without the shedding of blood—again foreshadowing Christ.
It was this Veil that was torn in two when Christ died for our sin—indicating that we can now and forever enter the presence of our holy God because of Christ’s perfectly pure sacrifice on our behalf.
- The Holy of Holies
Though they could never enter the Holy of Holies, they knew exactly what was in it because the Old Testament describes it in detail. This interior portion of the sanctuary/temple was left in total darkness. Again, no one was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies except the high priest and that only once a year.
- The Holy of Holies: The Ark of Testimony/Ark of the Covenant/Ark of God/Mercy Seat
Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of Testimony, also known as the Ark of the Covenant. Its upper surface or lid, the Mercy Seat, was surrounded with a rim of gold. The Hebrew root word for “Mercy Seat” means to cover—indicating both a lid or top, but also to atone—to cover a debt, to pardon, forgive, and cover sin.
At each end of the Mercy Seat there were two cherubim over the Ark, with their faces turned toward each other. Their outspread wings over the top of the Ark formed the throne of God, while the Ark itself was God’s footstool. God told His people in Exodus 25:22, “There above the mercy seat between the cherubim that are over the ark of the testimony, I will meet with you.”
- The Ark of the Covenant: The Two Tables of Stone, the Pot of Manna, and Aaron’s Rod that Budded
Inside the Ark, God instructed His people to place the Two Tables of Stone—the two tablets that contained the Ten Commandments. They were a constant reminder of God’s absolute holiness and their inability to keep the law—and thus the need for a perfect substitute and pure sacrifice on their behalf.
Also placed inside the Ark was the Pot of Manna. Manna was the bread that God provided for the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings. It reminded God’s people both of God’s provision, but also of Israel’s sin because in spite of God’s provision, the people rebelled and longed for the food of Egypt instead of the Bread of God.
The final object placed within the Ark of the Covenant was Aaron’s Rod that Budded. The chiefs of the twelve tribes had brought to Moses a rod bearing the name of his tribe. These, along with the rod of Aaron for the tribe of Levi, were laid overnight in the tabernacle. In the morning, they found that while the other rods remained unchanged, Aaron’s rod “for the house of Levi” budded, blossomed, and yielded almonds (Numbers 17:1-10). This rod was preserved in the tabernacle (Hebrews 9:4) as evidence of Aaron’s divine appointment to the priesthood.
- The Day of Atonement
Prayerfully pondering the Holy of Holies, their minds focus on the Day of Atonement. First, they picture the high priest doing what was done 365 days a year—offering a spotless lamb as a sacrifice on the Brazen Altar of Sacrifice—picturing Christ, the spotless Lamb of God.
Next, they picture the high priest securing three sacrificial animals for the Day of Atonement—starting with a bull he slaughtered for his own sin offering. They picture the high priest taking some of the blood of the bull into the Holy of Holies and sprinkling it on the Mercy Seat seven times—foreshadowing Christ’s blood shed for us.
Then they picture lots being cast for the two goats—determining which would be slaughtered and which would be driven away. The goat for slaughter—the goat for the people’s sin offering—was sacrificed, and its blood was taken into the Holy of Holies and applied to the Mercy Seat, as the bull’s blood had been—picturing Christ’s blood shed for us.
Now the second goat—the Scape Goat which was kept alive—had the sins of the nation symbolically laid on its head. It was then driven away to carry away the wickedness, rebellion, and sin of God’s people—picturing our sins placed on Christ.
- The High Priest
Throughout their journey into the sanctuary of God, they would have focused on the high priest—the only person who could enter the presence of God in the inner sanctuary. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our merciful and faithful high priest who makes atonement for our sins. Jesus, unlike the Old Testament high priest, does not have to make a sacrifice for Himself—for He is without sin.
“Such a high priest meets our needs—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:26-27).
Entering the Old Testament sanctuary involves a dramatic foretelling and foreshadowing of everything Christ did for us. Hallelujah! What a Savior!