The Ark of the Covenant
Will it ever be found?
by Dr. David Reagan
It was in the mid-eighties,
and I was hosting a pilgrimage group on a tour of the Holy Land.
We had made the long drive from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem
and had arrived in "the city of the Great King" exhausted.
It seemed like I had hardly gone to sleep when I was jolted awake
by the telephone. Assuming it was my wake up call, I lifted the
receiver and mumbled, "Thank you."
I was surprised to hear a familiar voice on the other end. "Hello,
David, I'm calling from Texas!"
"From Texas!" I replied. "All the way from Texas?"
"Yep," answered my friend, "and guess what? They've
found the ark!"
"No, dummy, the Ark of the Covenant."
Needless to say, that statement really woke me up.
My friend proceeded to explain
that he had just read in the Dallas Morning News about the discovery
of the lost Ark of the Covenant. It had supposedly been found
on Mount Pisgah (Mt. Nebo) in Jordan by a religious group from
It all sounded a little far out to me. I suspected that someone
had lost touch with reality after having seen the currently popular
movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Nonetheless, I rushed down to the hotel lobby to get the latest
copy of The Jerusalem Post. Sure enough, there on the first page
was the story. The writer evidently shared my skepticism because
the headline read: "Thar's an Ark in Them Thar Hills!"
The story was right out
of Alice in Wonderland. Some end-time sect from Winfield, Kansas,
calling itself the Institute for Restoring Ancient History International,
had issued astatement claiming to have discovered the Ark in a
sealed passageway inside Mt. Pisgah.
They offered no evidence, even though they claimed to have taken
photographs. They also refused to reveal the exact location of
The leader of the group, who had a reputation for being anti-Semitic,
said he was going to prove his good will toward the Jews by turning
all his evidence over to David Rothschild.
When asked why he had selected Rothschild, he replied that he
considered Rothschild to be the leader of the Jews (an old anti-Semitic
attitude!). He also explained that he felt Rothschild had the
power to help his group in dealing with the Jordanian government
and the Vatican.
The headlines have since
subsided. The Kansas group has returned to its anonymity in the
wheat fields. And the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, has become
an adventure classic.
But the incident and movie motivated a lot of questions, some
of which relate to end time events. What was the Ark of the Covenant?
Why was it so important to the Jews? What happened to it? Will
it be found again? Is it essential for the rebuilding of the Jewish
and the Ark
The origin of the Ark is
to be found in Exodus 25:10-22. God ordered the Ark to be built
to house the tablets of stone on which He had written the ten
commandments. The Ark was a box approximately four feet long,
two feet wide, and two feet high. It was made of acacia wood and
was overlaid with gold inside and out.
The lid that covered the box was called the "mercy seat."
It was made of pure gold. Two gold cherubim were mounted on the
lid, one on each end. The cherubim faced each other, and their
wings were spread out toward each other, overshadowing the mercy
According to Hebrews 9:4, two other items were later added to
the contents of the Ark. One of these was a pot of manna, the
miraculous food that God supplied the children of Israel in the
wilderness (Exodus 16). The other item was Aaron's rod that budded
The Ark was housed in the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber
of the Tabernacle of Moses. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement,
the High Priest entered that Holy of Holies and sprinkled blood
on the mercy seat to atone for his sins and the sins of the nation
of Israel (Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9). Because God had promised
Moses that He would commune with Israel "from above the mercy
seat" (Exodus 25: 22), the concept developed that the Lord
of Hosts was enthroned on the cherubim of the Ark (see 1 Samuel
4:4 and Isaiah 37: 16).
of the Ark
Much has been made of the
symbolism of the Ark, and rightfully so. Suffice it to say that
every aspect of the Ark pointed to Jesus.
The acacia wood symbolized our Lord's humanity. The gold overlay
denoted His deity. The Law inside the Ark pictured Jesus with
the Law of God in His heart, living in perfect obedience to it.
The pot of manna spoke of Jesus as the Bread of Life or our life
sustainer. Aaron's rod that budded obviously prophesied the resurrection.
The mercy seat was also a symbol that pointed to the Messiah.
It was representative of the fact that the work of Jesus on the
Cross would cover the Law of God with His mercy. It is an illustration
of how the divine throne was transformed from a throne of judgment
into a throne of grace by the atoning blood that was sprinkled
As the children of Israel
wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, the Ark was carried before
them on golden poles by the priests, following "the cloud
of the Lord" in order "to seek out a resting place for
them" (Numbers 10:33). The Ark was carried into Canaan when
the Israelites crossed the Jordan, and it was instrumental in
their victory over Jericho (Joshua 6). During the 400 year period
of the Judges, the Ark was housed in the Holy of Holies at the
Tabernacle that was erected at the religious center of Shiloh
(1 Samuel 1:3, 3:3).
During the latter part of the period of the Judges, when apostasy
was rampant in Israel, the decision was made to carry the Ark
into a battle against the Philistines as a good luck charm (1
Samuel 4:1-4). This desecration of the sacred Ark enraged the
Lord, and He allowed the Philistines to win the battle and capture
the Ark (1 Samuel 4:5-11).
But the Ark proved to be a hot box for the Philistines. When all
sorts of calamities began to afflict them, they decided to return
the Ark (1 Samuel 5 and 6).
It was first taken to a small village called Bethshemesh which
was located on the border between Philistia and Judah. When the
people of that town ventured out of curiosity to look inside the
Ark, a great number were struck dead (1 Samuel 6:19-21). They
quickly decided to pass the Ark on to the village of Kiriath-jearim,
located just a few miles northwest of Jerusalem (1 Samuel 7:1-2).
It remained there for almost 70 years in the house of Abinadab.
(The 70 years were the last 20 years of Samuel's judgeship, the
40 years of Saul's kingship, and the first seven years of David's
reign in Hebron, before he moved to Jerusalem).
When David arrived in Jerusalem, the first priority of his administration
was to provide the Ark a proper resting place because He was anxious
to bring the symbol of the presence of God back into the life
of the nation (Psalm 132:1-5). The Ark's return was an occasion
for great rejoicing (1 Chronicles 15). David placed it in a tent
on Mt. Moriah where it remained until his son Solomon built the
Temple. The Holy of Holies in that Temple became the final resting
place of the Ark (1 Kings 8 and 2 Chronicles 5).
The Lost Ark
No one knows for sure what
happened to the Ark. The last time it is mentioned in Scripture
is in 2 Chronicles 35:3. That passage makes it clear that the
Ark was still in existence at the time of the spiritual revival
led by the boy king, Josiah. Within 22 years after Josiah died,
Judah fell to the Babylonians (586 B.C.), and the Ark disappeared.
Some scholars believe it was simply destroyed when the Temple
was burned. Others believe it was captured as a prize of war,
taken to Babylon, and probably melted down for its gold.
But the strongest tradition is that it was taken out of the Temple
by Jeremiah and hidden. Some are convinced he hid it in the ground
on the Temple Mount. But most who hold to the Jeremiah rescue
theory believe he either hid the Ark in a great cavern beneath
the Temple Mount (known today as Solomon's Quarry) or that he
hid it somewhere near Mt. Nebo in the modern day nation of Jordan.
The latter theory finds support in the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees.
The narrative in that book says, "the prophet, warned by
an oracle, gave orders for the tabernacle and the ark to go with
him when he set out for the mountain which Moses had climbed to
survey God's heritage. On his arrival, Jeremiah found a cave-dwelling,
into which he brought the tabernacle, the ark, and the altar of
incense, afterwards blocking up the entrance" (2 Maccabees
Another theory regarding the fate of the Ark is that it was translated
or raptured, being taken up to Heaven to prevent it from falling
into the hands of the Chaldeans. This theory is based upon a reference
to the Ark in Revelation 11:15. This passage is a flash-forward
to the end of the Tribulation when Heaven opens and Jesus returns
in wrath. The writer states that when Heaven opened "the
ark of His covenant appeared in His temple." Those who reject
this theory argue that the Ark seen in Heaven in this passage
is the heavenly reality of which the Ark of the Covenant was only
an earthly shadow or copy (Hebrews 8:5).
Regardless of what happened
to the Ark, the Scriptures suggest that it will never be found
again. This comes as quite a shock to some Christians who have
assumed that the Ark must be found before the Tribulation Temple
can be built and animal sacrifice reinstituted. Others have simply
assumed that the Ark would be replaced in the Holy of Holies when
the Lord's Millennial Temple is built.
But Jeremiah says point blank that "the ark of the covenant
of the Lord . . . shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember
it, nor shall they miss it, nor shall it be made again" (Jeremiah
3:16). The context of this passage is the Millennial reign of
Jesus, so it does not rule out the possibility of a discovery
prior to that time. Conceivably, the Ark could be discovered,
and Satan could use its discovery to incite the rebuilding of
a Temple where an apostate sacrificial system would be reinstituted.
We know that such a Temple will be built, but I doubt if its construction
will be motivated by the discovery of the Ark.
The important point to keep in mind here is that the rediscovery
of the Ark is not essential to the rebuilding of the Temple. After
all, the Temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel following the Babylonian
captivity, and the Ark had already been lost by that time. There
was no Ark in the Holy of Holies during the time when Jesus worshiped
in the Temple.
Nor is the Ark needed for the Millennial Temple. Ezekiel describes
the Temple in great detail (chapters 40-42), and he never mentions
the Ark. There is a Holy of Holies (Ezekiel 41:4), but it is empty,
and it is not separated from the Holy Place by a veil.
Jesus has already entered the heavenly Holy of Holies in our behalf
(Hebrews 4:14-16, 8:1-6). He has torn away the veil that separated
us from God, and He serves as our High Priest, having offered
His own blood as the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 9:11-16).
He serves as our Mediator before the Father's throne (Hebrews
Thus, during the Millennium, there will be no need for a human
high priest or an Ark with a mercy seat. Jesus will continue to
function as mankind's High Priest, just as He will continue to
serve as humanity's Mercy Seat (Haggai 2:20-23).
The True Ark
With regard to this concept
of Christ as our mercy seat, let me add a penetrating insight
which I picked up from John MacArthur, one of this country's greatest
preachers. He pointed to a simple historical verse that contains
a profound truth about Jesus being our mercy seat.
The verse is John 20:12. Speaking of Mary looking into the empty
tomb of Jesus, the verse says, "she beheld two angels in
white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the
body of Jesus had been lying." What Mary saw, MacArthur observed,
was the new mercy seat, the perfect mercy seat.
Consider again what Mary saw. She witnessed two angels sitting
at each end of the slab which had held the broken body of our
Lord. That scene points us back to the Ark of the Covenant where
two cherubim hovered over its blood splattered mercy seat!
There is no more need for the Ark. Jesus has fulfilled all that
the Ark stood for. He was deity who took on flesh. He rendered
complete obedience to the Law, being made perfect and becoming
the source of our salvation (Hebrews 5:8-9). His blood was shed
for our sins, and His victory is attested by the fact and the
power of His resurrection.
Just as the Ark was designed to be a symbol of the presence of
God in the midst of His people, Jesus is the ultimate expression
of God's love and care and presence. He is our Ark. He is our
Law. He is our Manna. He is our Budded Rod. And, thank God, He
is our Mercy Seat.