"Then make the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—from pure gold. It must be 45 inches long and 27 inches wide. Then make two cherubim from hammered gold, and place them on the two ends of the atonement cover." (Exodus 25:17-18)
This Atonement Cover took on great importance once a year on the Day of Atonement. The High Priest was to offer a goat as a sin offering and would then enter the Most Holy Place and sprinkle some of the blood of the goat on the mercy seat in order to atone for the sins of the people. Thus the blood of the sacrifice would rest on the flat surface between the two cherubim on each end of the Atonement Cover.
On the first Easter the women went to the tomb and were surprised to find the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. They were greeted by an angel announcing that Jesus had risen from the dead. They ran to tell the disciples and Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves, with Mary Magdalene following them. She lingered after they left and John reports in his Gospel: "Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot." This description of what Mary saw is remarkable.
The empty tomb of Jesus had essentially become the Most Holy Place. Just as the veil in the temple had been torn when Jesus died, now at his resurrection the stone had been removed, allowing complete access to the tomb. And instead of the Atonement Cover, there was a flat rock shelf on which the body of Christ had been laid, bloodied from the flogging and crucifixion. Instead of two cherubim of hammered gold, God sent two angels, one to sit at either end of the place where Jesus' body had been.
Interestingly, the Ark of the Covenant and its Atonement Cover no longer exist. They were lost, long before the coming of our Savior. After the time when King Josiah restored the temple of the Lord the Ark of the Covenant disappeared. The prophet Jeremiah said that this would happen.
"In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,” declares the LORD, “men will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made." (Jeremiah 3:16)
Thus, the Atonement Cover of the Ark of the Covenant was a foreshadowing of the new place of Atonement that God had in mind, the Atonement Cover of the New Covenant that Jeremiah spoke of.
“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel... This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD... I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
The fact that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive was the proof positive that his blood was indeed sufficient to atone for our sins, that his sacrifice was acceptable to the Father, and that we have been redeemed and made right with God.
What an awesome God we have who would give us this foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Jesus thousands of years beforehand! This demonstrates the truly unique and amazing character of Holy Scripture as the Word of God. It gives us all the more confidence to believe that the events recorded in the Gospel which procured our salvation really did take place and really do seal our salvation. Thank God for Jesus!