One day a year (Day of Atonement / Yom Kippur), the High Priest would enter through the third veil into the Holy of Holies, with hot holy coals, incense, and blood (Lev.16).
This veil had golden Cherubim embroidered on it. A picture, or reminder, of the Cherubim God placed east of Eden guarding the way back to the Tree of Life (Ex.26:31; Gen.3:24).
Inside this innermost chamber was the Ark of the Covenant; a wooden box covered with gold and a solid gold lid, with two gold Cherubim at either end facing each other (Ex.25:10-22; Ex.26:34; Ex.37:1-9). Here the glory of God came to dwell (Ex.29:43; Ex.40:34-35). It was a picture of God’s throne in heaven, where He sits enthroned above the cherubim (Ps.80:1; 99:1; Is.37:16; 1 Chron.13:6; 1 Sam.4:4; 2 Sam.6:2; 2 Kings 19:15). God had told Moses that when it was built, He would come and speak to Moses from between the Cherubim (Ex.25:22; Nu.7:89).
Inside the Ark were the second copy of the two stone tablets of the law that God had written (Ex.25:21; Deut.10:1-5; 1 kings 8:9). The original tablets had been thrown down and broken at the base of Mt. Sinai, when Moses found the children of Israel had broken their covenant with God by worshipping a golden calf idol (Ex.32:19; Deut.9:10-17). These tablets were a testimony to The Word of God.
Outside and in front of the Ark was a golden bowel of Manna to remind the people of the bread with which God fed them in the wilderness, the bread from heaven which was God’s provision (Ex.16:32-34).
Also, outside and in front of the Ark was Aarons rod, with his name on it, that budded and fruited overnight to prove that God had chosen Aaron as High priest. Nu.17:1-11. The rod was a dead stick that came to life overnight. It is a clear symbol of resurrection; a testimony that Aaron was God’s choice. Numbers 17:8 says it budded, blossomed and produced ripe almonds all at the same time. The almond tree is the first fruit tree to blossom every spring, and the last fruit tree to set its fruit around 9 months later. This makes it a symbol of first and last.
God’s people were shut away from His presence. The Cherubim were still guarding the way back to Him, and Life in total fellowship and intimate relationship with Him, as it was in the Garden of Eden:
‘…but into the second [inner tabernacle, the Holy of Holies], only the high priest enters [and then only] once a year, and never without [bringing a sacrifice of] blood, which he offers [as a substitutionary atonement] for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. By this the Holy Spirit signifies that the way into the Holy Place [the true Holy of Holies and the presence of God] has not yet been disclosed as long as the first or outer tabernacle is still standing.’ – Heb 9:7-8
The High Priest would, once a year, represent the people and enter the inner sanctuary with blood to atone for, cleanse from, and take away the sin that was separating them from God. It was a picture, a foreshadowing, of what God had planned to finish once and for all. He Himself would come and atone, cleanse and take away sin forever. To make us anew, a new creation without the inbuilt iniquity, so that He can be in a glorious relationship with us:
‘Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].’ – 2 Cor 5:17 (See also 1 John 3:9).
When Yeshua died on the cross and completed our atonement, cleansing, and taking our sin away; the curtain before the Holy of Holies with the Cherubim, was torn from top to bottom (Matt.27:50-51; Mark 15:37-38; Luke 23:45-46). God removed the Cherubim guards that He had put there, and now the way is open for us to return to His presence In the Messiah. It is a representation of the torn body of the Messiah, that we may now enter in.
‘…by this new and living way which He initiated and opened for us through the veil [as in the Holy of Holies], that is, through His flesh…’ – Heb 10:20
The Ark represented God’s earthly throne, and the items associated with it represented the Messiah and are listed as being inside the Ark (Heb 9:3-5). Even the incense altar is spoken as if it was in the Holy of Holies. My take on this is that the curtain was gone so yes, the golden altar is in front of the Ark. The stone tablets, Manna, and the rod that budded, all together represent Yeshua.
The Word of God (John 1:1-5 & 14). The Bread from Heaven (John 6:35 & 38 & 58). The Almond Rod (raised from the dead). He is The Resurrection and The Life (John 11:25; Acts 2:29-32; Romans 1:3-4). After completing His mission as the Pure Passover Lamb of God, He was raised from the dead, the seal of God’s choice of Messiah (Is.26:19; Matt.22:31-32; Luke 20:35-38; Acts 3:15; Acts 4:2, 10; Acts 10:41-43).
The Almond Rod (first to flower; last to fruit) The First and the Last! Christ is called the first fruit from the dead
(1 Cor.15:20, 23). He is also called the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End (Rev.1:8, 11; Rev.21:6; Rev.22:13).
The Holy items, as God asked them to be placed in the Tabernacle, form a cross on the ground; therefore, you could say that The Cross is the foundation of the tabernacle. These Holy Items had to be carried by hand (Nu.4:15), never on an ox cart; Christ carried His own cross (John 19:16-17).
Such a great price God paid to be able to bring us back into intimate relationship with Him, never to be separated again. Halellujah.