In this year's reading through Exodus, a triad of interwoven themes attracted my attention in a new way. In the instructions for building the tabernacle and its furniture, the ideas of atonement, testimony, and communion appear together in at least two places.
In Exodus 25:21-22, the Holy Spirit led Moses to record, "And you [Moses, Israel] shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I [YHWH] 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 was a golden box or chest. The stone tablets with the law of God were to rest inside it, so it was sometimes called "the ark of the testimony." The mercy seat was the golden lid for the ark. On it 2 magnificent golden cherubim spread their wings, a visual symbol of the presence of God; on it the high priest, and only the high priest, poured out the blood of the substitutionary sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, obtaining one more year's forgiveness of sins. From that place, the holy and living God condescended to meet with his stumbling, stiff-necked, loved, and chosen people.
Atonement, testimony, and communion.
In Exodus 30:6, 10, God's command to Moses about the altar of incense states, "And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you.... 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." Again, we see the triad of themes: atonement, testimony, and communion.
Having sat with those ideas for several days now, pondering why or how they are connected, I arrived at the following thoughts, which I encourage you to test against Scripture for yourselves.
Without atonement, testimony would be my guilty verdict and death sentence, and communion with the holy God would be beyond my reach.
Without testimony, atonement would be unknown to all but the eyewitnesses (and even they needed the risen Christ's explanation), and communion with God would be impossible, since I would still be His enemy without any knowledge of the remedy or access to the living God's living Word.
Without communion with God, atonement would deliver from hell without granting the delights of heaven, and the testimony of Scripture would be someone else's love letters.
All praise to the triune God that none of these are lacking. The combination of atonement, testimony, and communion in the tabernacle foreshadowed imperfectly the consummation of all three in the person of Christ, the Lamb of God, the Word of God, and the Son of God who reconciled believers to His Father by His death and made us sons and daughters of God with free access to Him through the Spirit. May we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to Him for providing so great and complete a salvation. Amen.