QUESTION: Where is the Ark of the Covenant? On television I see people searching for the ark of the covenant. Yet in Revelation, John sees the ark of the covenant in heaven. Is this the actual ark? If so, they could stop searching.
ANSWER: The mystery surrounding what happened to the Ark of the Covenant has fascinated people for decades, a fascination on which ﬁlmmakers capitalized in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1980). Archaeologists and treasure hunters have sought the ark’s location. One of the most prominent modern “ark-hunters” is Ron Wyatt, a Seventh Day Adventist who believes that he has found the ark’s location. At this point, however, his claims about the ark of the covenant have not been veriﬁed.
In 2 Chronicles 35:3, the last place to refer to the location of the ark, King Josiah instructed the Levites to “Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, built.” This took place in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, as the nation turned away from idolatry and celebrated the Passover once more (2 Chronicles 35:19).
Forty years later, in 586 BC, the Babylonian army invaded Jerusalem, destroying both the city and the temple. The ark was never seen again. When the Israelites returned and rebuilt the temple, the Holy of Holies remained empty, partially fulﬁlling Jeremiah’s prophecy: “Then it shall come to pass… that they will say no more, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made anymore” (Jeremiah 3:16).
Jeremiah’s words also pointed to a later time when the Messiah would come and the ark would no longer be needed. According to John’s gospel, Jesus’ arrival fulﬁlled that prophecy: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus Christ became the visible presence of God on earth, fulﬁlling the ark’s purpose. And by shedding His blood at the cross, Jesus satisﬁed God’s righteous requirements in our place.
Scripture is not clear about what happened to the ark. Interestingly, Jeremiah 52:18-22 lists in detail the items that the Babylonians removed from the temple. The ark is not on the list. It could have been destroyed or be hidden away somewhere. At one point in the Book of Revelation, John says, “Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple” (Revelation 11:19). Did God miraculously remove the ark of the covenant prior to the destruction of the temple?
The reference to the ark in Revelation may or may not be the literal ark. John’s visions in Revelation are often symbolic (based on Old Testament imagery) and there are no other clear passages that speak to the ark’s location. Regardless, the passage makes a larger point. The ark of the covenant symbolized God’s presence among His people, but the ark was always hidden. No one saw it except the high priest.
In Revelation 11:19, however, the ark—God’s presence—will be visible to all! Those who through faith in Christ reach the heavenly temple will have free access to stand in God’s presence for all eternity!1
The mystery of the ark will continue to fascinate people. In the end, though, is ﬁnding the ark that important? If people wanted, they could stop searching. We don’t need an ark to be in God’s presence; we have Christ, “the Mediator of the new covenant… that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15).
Rev. S. Piet Van Kampen
Christ the King Lutheran Church
Green Bay, WI
1. Becker, Siegbert W. Revelation: The Distant Triumph Song. Northwestern Publishing House. Milwaukee: 1985, p. 178.