What is the Ark of the Covenant?
The Ark of the Covenant is quite mysterious in its origins, its meanings and its future fate; also considered the central symbol of God's presence with the people of Israel, the original container for the Ten Commandments. The origin of the ark goes back to Moses at Sinai. It has been recorded that in the early years of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem that the ark was contained in the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary associated with the presence of Yahweh. Hebrews 9:1-10 shows that the ark was part of the old order with external regulations waiting for the new covenant, the new day of Christ to come to come with the perfect sacrifice able to cleanse us.
It is unknown when the theft or destruction of the ark took place. Research shows that it is very likely that the Babylonians captured or destroyed the ark in 587 B.C. with the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple. As the prophet Jeremiah predicted the ark was never rebuilt for the second temple, the holy of holies remaining empty (Jeremiah 3:16-17).
The Earthly Sanctuary?
"Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, 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; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail (Hebrews 9:1-5)
Limitations of the Earthly Service
"Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 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; 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. 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— concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:6-10)
Endnotes Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 2003