Where is the Ark of the Covenant and will It Take its Place in the Third Temple?
The present author holds the view that the Ark of the Covenant of YHVH had not been lost, but hidden, and the time will come when it will be revealed again to take its place in the Third Temple that is yet to be built in Jerusalem. This view is based on the accounts of the Apocryphal books of Baruch the disciple of the prophet Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) and of Maccabees, which we will study below.
We read in the book of Baruch the disciple of Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) the prophet,
And it came to pass on the morrow that, lo! The army of the Chaldees surrounded the city, and at the time of the evening, I, Baruch, left the people, and I went forth and stood by the oak. And I was grieving over Zion, and lamenting over the captivity which had come upon the people. And lo! Suddenly a strong spirit raised me, and bore me aloft over the wall of Jerusalem. And I beheld, and lo! Four messengers standing at the four corners of the city, each of them holding a torch of fire in his hands. And another messenger began to descend from heaven, and said unto them: ‘Hold your lamps, and do not light them till I tell you. For I am first sent to speak a word to the earth, and to place in it what the Lord the Most High has commanded me and I saw him descend into the Set-apart of holies, and take from thence the veil, and the set-apart ark, and the mercy-seat, and the two tables, and the set-apart raiment of the priests, and the altar of incense, and the forty-eight precious stones, wherewith the priest was adorned and all the set-apart vessels of the tabernacle. And he spake to the earth with a loud voice: ‘Earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the mighty Elohim, and receive what I commit to thee, and guard them until the last times, so that, when thou art ordered, thou mayst restore them, so that strangers may not get possession of them. For the time comes when Jerusalem also will be delivered for a time, until it is said, that it is again restored forever.’ And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up. (2Baruch 6:1-10)
And in 2Baruch 80:1-3, Baruch gives us an account of the destruction of the Temple King Shelomo (Solomon) built from which it is evident that the angels had already hidden all the vessels of the sanctuary and the Ark of the Covenant, prior to the actual destruction. We read,
And now, my brethren, I make known unto you that when the enemy had surrounded the city, the messengers of the Most High were sent, and they overthrew the fortifications of the strong wall, and they destroyed the firm iron corners, which could not be rooted out. Nevertheless, they hid all the vessels of the sanctuary, lest the enemy should get possession of them. And when they had done these things, they delivered thereupon to the enemy the overthrown wall, and the plundered house, and the burnt temple, …
This account of Baruch found its continuation in a much later work (the Books of the Maccabees) according to which Yirmeyahu the prophet fulfilled the mission of the messengers of the Highest to hide the Ark of the Covenant before the destruction of the Temple. We read in 2Ma 2:1-8 that he hid not only the Ark, but also the Tabernacle Mosheh built.
It was also contained in the same writing, that the prophet, being warned of God, commanded the tabernacle and the ark to go with him, as he went forth into the mountain, where Mosheh climbed up, and saw the heritage of God. And when Yirmeyahu came thither, he found an hollow cave, wherein he laid the tabernacle, and the ark, and the altar of incense, and so stopped the door. And some of those that followed him came to mark the way, but they could not find it. Which when Yirmeyahu perceived, he blamed them, saying, As for that place, it shall be unknown until the time that God gather his people again together, and receive them unto mercy. Then shall the Lord shew them these things, and the glory of the Lord shall appear, and the cloud also, as it was shewed under Mosheh, and as when Shlomo desired that the place might be honorably sanctified. (2Ma 2:1-8)
Therefore, we see that the prophet was concerned not only of preserving the Ark of the Covenant of YHVH, but of the Tabernacle as well.
So, where was the Tabernacle stored after the building of the Temple?
We read in Hilchot Beit Habechirah 1:2 that the Tabernacle traveled with the Israelites for 40 years in the desert of Arabia. When the people entered the Land of Israel, the Tabernacle came with them. For fourteen years, the Tabernacle stood in Gilgal while the Israelites conquered and divided the land. Then they created a house of stone in Shiloh and spread the curtains of the Tabernacle over it. The sanctuary of Shiloh stood for 369 years. At the end of that period, the sanctuary was moved to Nov, and then to Givon.
In other words, according to the accounts of Baruch and the Book of Maccabees, the chain of events is as follows: the Highest sent five of His messengers to have the set-apart objects of the Temple hidden prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. Yirmeyahu the prophet executed the messengers’ mission by having hidden them in a cave in mountain Nebo. That was the same mountain Mosheh climbed up to take a look at the land Elohim gave to Israel.
Yirmeyahu sealed the cave where they would be guarded until the last times, so that the strangers may not get possession of them; they would stay there until Jerusalem will be delivered and restored again forever. The prophet hid them in the cave in order to fulfilled what the messengers said, “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up.”
However, according to another tradition of the ancient sages when King Shlomo built the Temple, knowing that it was destined to be destroyed, he built a place in which to the Ark was to be hidden if necessary, at the end of hidden, deep, winding passageways (Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Holy Temple 4:1, from Talmud, Yoma 53b).
So, when Shlomo built the Temple in Jerusalem, the relics of the Tabernacle were stored deep in the earth below it. According to tradition, since the Tabernacle was built by Mosheh with pure intent, it was never to be destroyed. It is ready for Elohim to once again come to rest there, as we read in Tana D’bay Eliyahu Rabbah 25.
Also according to the tradition (2 Chr 35:3; Mishneh Torah, loc. Cit.), King Yoshiyahu (Josiah) placed the Ark in the secret chamber twenty-two years before the Temple’s destruction, as the Sages interpreted the account in the Book of Chronicles. This tradition is based on what King Yoshiyahu said to the Levites,
Put the set-apart ark in the house which Shelomoh son of David, king of Israel, built. It is no longer to be a burden on your shoulders. (2Ch 35:3)
If King Yoshiyahu had hidden the Ark, he must have hidden it in his last year of reign (not on the Passover spoken in 2Ch 35:1). Or, he must have hidden it even before his death, in the battle of Megiddo with Pharaoh Necho, fearing that it might fall into the hands of the pagans (see Jubilees Table that there are exactly twenty-two years from his death to the destruction of the Temple).
And of course if King Shlomo had really built a hidden chamber for the Ark of the Covenant of YHVH from the very beginning, it also means that by his wisdom he had foreseen the Temple he built, the second, and the Third Temple that will be built by the Messiah as a continuum of a single Temple of YHVH, not three different temples.
It also means that the underground chamber he built was a part of the Temple as the other parts were and an extension of the most distinctive place of the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant of YHVH was: the Holy of Holies. Therefore, the underground hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant is no less part of the Holy Temple, and no less valid a place for the Ark, than the aboveground chamber: the Holy of Holies.
So far, we studied two possible cases of hiding the Ark of the Covenant of YHVH.
The first one we studied is based on the accounts of the Apocryphal books of Baruch the disciple of Yirmeyahu and the second case is actually based on the tradition of the rabbis.
Unfortunately, the Tanak (the Hebrew Canon) is silent on this matter. There is no clear evidence as to the whereabouts of the Ark, the Tabernacle, and the other set-apart vessels of the First Temple. And we have to say that there was a very strong reason for this: they must remain hidden until the Third Temple.
Yet, the Scripture is not completely silent on this matter. Referring to what appears to be the Messianic future, YHVH said thus,
And it shall be, when you have increased, and shall be fruitful in the land in those days, declares Yehovah, that they no longer say, ‘The Ark of the Covenant of Yehovah.’ Neither would it come to heart, nor would they mention it, nor would they visit it, nor would it be made again. At that time Yerushalayim shall be called the throne of Yehovah, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the Name of Yehovah, to Yerushalayim, and no longer walk after the stubbornness of their evil heart. (Jer 3:16-17)
How are we to understand this prophecy of YHVH? Does this mean that the most set-apart object in the Temple of the Highest will be no more, as many interpret it, or it was meant to say something else?
If He has hidden His Ark, so that strangers may not get possession of it (and no stranger ever claimed to get possession of the Ark), the Ark of the Covenant must be very precious to YHVH. If thirty thousand died in one day, because they used carelessly the Ark for an improper purpose to go to war against the Philistines, or when King David moved the Ark of the Covenant on a wagon despite the command to be carried by the Levites on shoulders and an innocent man died, YHVH must be very jealous of His Ark.
And despite all these instances and many others, it seems that YHVH will make people no longer say “The Ark of the Covenant of Yehovah” neither this thought would come to their heart and mind.
Again, how are we to understand Him?
We should acknowledge that there are more questions than answers. But, we should also acknowledge we cannot leave these questions unanswered. And the answer may be contained in verse 17.
We read in verse 17 that at that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of YHVH. The Ark was the throne of YHVH, inasmuch as He, in fulfilment of His promise in Exo_25:22, was ever present to His people above the Ark of the Covenant, from where He spoke to His people.
And I shall meet with you there, and from above the lid of atonement, from between the two keruvim which are on the ark of the Witness, I shall speak to you all that which I command you concerning the children of Israel. (Exo 25:22)
The Ark of the Covenant was therefore called the footstool of YHVH as seen in 1Ch_28:2, Psa_99:5, Psa_132:7, and in Lam_2:1. But in the Messianic kingdom, we read in the prophecy, His city Jerusalem is to be called, the throne of YHVH and it will be done in such a manner that Jerusalem is to take the place of the Ark, so that the people will never miss it.
That is not to say that the set-apart Ark will not be in the Temple, exactly where it was and it is supposed to be: in the most set-apart place in the third Temple. But, it is to say that the dwelling and enthronement of YHVH amidst His people is again to come down from heaven in a higher form.
Therefore, the Ark of the Covenant cannot and will not vanish in oblivion, but it will a lower place by comparison and only by comparison to YHVH’s appearance in His city. It will take its proper place, because an object made by human hands, even if that object is the Ark of the Covenant itself, cannot be compared to or even come closer to the glory of His appearance.
And if the new Jerusalem is to be the most set-apart dwelling-place of YHVH, and if it is to become the throne of YHVH instead of the Ark, then Jerusalem must itself become a sanctuary of YHVH as He will fill all Jerusalem with His glory. As a consequence of Jerusalem’s being raised to the glory of being YHVH’s throne, all nations will gather themselves to her, the city of Elohim, and to the Name of YHVH.
This will come in fulfillment of what it has been said, “Neither would it come to heart, nor would they mention it, nor would they visit it, nor would it be made again.” The presence of YHVH amidst His people Israel will be so magnificent, that the people will not desire even to mention the Ark of the Covenant with their mouths, nor would they desire to visit it, because who would want to do this when the presence of YHVH is in their midst.
And what is the presence of YHVH, because there is one Elohim and one Mediator between Him and men, and that Mediator is the Messiah Yeshua (1Ti 2:5-6). Because, let this mind be in us that the Messiah Yeshua, being in the form of Elohim, taking the form of a servant, humbled Himself and became obedient to death.
YHVH, therefore, highly exalted Him and gave Him the Name which is above every name, that at the name every knee should bow to the glory of Elohim the Father (Php 2:5-11). This presence is the One,
in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, who is the likeness of the invisible Elohim, the first-born of all creation. Because in Him were created all that are in the heavens and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or rulerships or principalities or authorities – all have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all, and in Him all hold together. And He is the Head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that He might become the One who is first in all. (Col 1:13-18)
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.