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QUESTION: Where Is the Ark of the Covenant?


I received the following questions in a single post via The Question Box at our church’s website, www.Plymouth-church.com. I have answered questions there for the past four years.

1. Where is the Ark of the Covenant? 2. Has God ordered us to make a similar Ark? 3. Is it according to the New Testament that some churches, like the Orthodox, use this or a similar Ark? Are they Biblically (especially New Testament) supported?

The ark of the covenant was an elaborate box located in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle that Moses had built while Israel was at Mount Sinai. A full description of this ark is in Exodus 25:10-22. Inside the ark were three items: the ten commandments written by the finger of God and given to Moses on Mt. Sinai,  a pot of the manna with which God fed Israel while they were in the wilderness, and Aaron’s rod that budded to show that God had chosen him as the high priest.

The lid of the ark was called “the mercy seat” or, as in the NIV, “an atonement cover.” This is where the high priest would sprinkle the blood of the atonement sacrifice when he entered the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16:14ff). It was here that the priest made atonement for himself and the people each year.

When Solomon built a Temple to replace the Tabernacle, the ark of the covenant was transfered there. After the armies of Nebuchadnazer destroyed the Temple, they took the ark of the covenant to Babylon along with “all the articles from the Temple of God, both large and small” (2 Chronicles 36:18). What happened to the ark after that is not clear. Was it among the articles Cyrus sent back to Jerusalem when he allowed the Jews to return? If so, it is not included in the list of Temple items in Ezra 1:7-11. The imagination of men has run wild about the ark and where it is.

That, however, is of little consequence to us, for our mercy seat is in heaven itself. Hebrews 9:11-14 describes how Jesus, as our High Priest, has entered into heaven to make atonement for our sins. Unlike Aaron, the first high priest in Israel, Jesus had no sins of His own.

Interestingly, the three items placed in the ark of the covenant in the wilderness have significance for us in Jesus. The tables of stone were also known as “The Covenant.” Our covenant is written, not on tablets of stone, but on our hearts (Hebrews 8:8-13; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18). Jesus spoke of Himself as “the bread [i.e., the manna] that has come down from heaven” (John 6:31-33). Aaron’s rod that budded were his (and his descendants’) credentials as the priests of God. Jesus’ credentials as our priest are described in Hebrews 5:1-10 as He was designated by God to be our high priest forever, based not on his ancestry (as were the high priests after Aaron), but on “the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16).

So the physical ark of the covenant has no significance for us, except as a foreshadowing of the real atonement made in heaven by Jesus. God has not told us to make replicas of this ark to use in our worship. We do partake of the “blood of the covenant” as a part of the Lord’s Supper as we remember the Christ who is our atoning sacrifice and eternal high priest.

As far as the practice of the Orthodox Church (I presume you mean the Eastern branch of Catholicism, a branch that does not accept the Pope of Roman Catholicism), I have no direct knowledge. They, along with the Roman Catholic Church, adapt many of the rituals of the Mosaic Covenant to Christian usage. There is little in the New Testament about “rituals” for Christian worship. (I have written elsewhere about this here. Perhaps that is one reasons denominations are so diverse in their worship practice.

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3 Responses

  1. Note: I received the following comment by direct email from the author of this question (even before the above post appeared on this blog. I had answered him directly as I customarily do with queries from our church webpage.

    God bless you! for your fast response. But the Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims about the Ark of the Covenant. What do you say about this?

    your brother in Christ

    tadesse

    • Tadesse,

      Sorry to be so long getting back to you on this follow-up question. There were a couple of reasons for this: I had a backlog of questions to answer – and I really knew nothing about the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its claims about the Ark of the Covenant. Having done some research, I now feel more capable of responding to your query.

      [Josiah] said to the Levites, who instructed all Israel and who had been consecrated to the LORD: “Put the sacred ark in the temple that Solomon son of David king of Israel built. It is not to be carried about on your shoulders. Now serve the LORD your God and His people Israel.” – 2 Chronicles 35:3

      Josiah, in the 12th generation from Solomon (see Matthew 1:7-11), was king in Jerusalem when he gave these instructions to the Levites concerning the Ark of the Covenant. This was 11 generations after the Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims the Ark was stolen by the son of Solomon by the Queen of Sheba, a union not mentioned in the Bible, but surmised from the statement in 1 Kings 10:11.

      “Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty”.

      It is a long leap from that statement to the conclusion that he impregnated her and she returned home to have her son. This son later returned to Jerusalem, was recognized as Solomon’s son, and was (supposedly) in a position for either him or his retinue to steal the Ark of the Covenant to bring it back to Ethiopia.

      The last mention (chronologically) in the Hebrew Bible about the Ark of the Covenant is in 2 Chronicles 35:3 above. It is not in the list of items taken to Babylon, but there is only a very generic statement about what was taken:

      “[Nebuchadnezzer] carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the LORD’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials.” – 2 Chronicles 36:18

      “All the articles from the temple of God, both large and small” would seem to include the Ark of the Covenant, especially since Josiah had recently told the Levites to put the Ark there. There is a tradition that the Ark was hidden in secret tunnels under the Temple and thus was not taken to Babylon.

      There are many variations on what happened to it after that, some even claiming that the Knights Templar looked for it and found it during the era of the Crusades in the 1100’s and after. What they did with it, if they in fact found it, is not clear.

      The point of all this is that the claims of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have rival claims.

      What happened to the Ark? The Bible does not tell us. Hence, I cannot say more than that.

      Would God have allowed such a relic to disappear from history? I think it highly likely that He would.

      People have a tendency to begin to worship such relics as if these were God Himself. Consider, for example, the way people burned incense to the brass serpent Moses made in the wilderness (2 Kings 18:4). They ascribe mystic, miraculous powers to them (as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church does to the Ark) that tend to take people away from what Jesus said to the woman at the well when she asked where men ought to worship, in Jerusalem or “on this mountain.”

      “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem….[T]he true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:21, 23-24.

      Since God Himself is spirit, we cannot restrict His worship to one place on this vast globe. Rather, He is near to every one of us and we can come to Him in worship from any place in the entire universe when we come in spirit and in truth. The new covenant does not speak of localized shrines as places of worship. I have written more on acceptable worship here at https://committedtotruth.wordpress.com/acceptable-worship/.

      Thank you for your continued interest in this question. I hope that this will answer your questions, or at the least give you food for thought.

      Jerry Starling

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