Where is the Ark of the Covenant?
by: Thomas S. McCall, Th.D.
The Ark of the Covenant disappeared off of the pages of history by the time
of the Babylonian Captivity. Nothing in the Bible is said about the Ark in
the Old Testament after the return from Babylon, but the Apocrypha states
that the Ark could not be found when the Jewish people rebuilt the Temple at
the time of Ezra and Zechariah. The explanation in the Apocrypha was that
Jeremiah hid the Ark in a cave in Mt. Nebo before the Babylonian invasion,
and that its location would not be revealed until God was ready for it to be
No Ark in the Second Temple
Thus, the Holy of Holies in the Second Temple was an empty chamber, without
the Ark of the Covenant. When the Roman General Pompey conquered Jerusalem
around 63 B.C., he demanded the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies.
When he did, he came out saying that he could not understand what all the
interest was about the sanctuary, when it was only an empty room.
The fact that the Ark of the Covenant was not used in the Second Temple has
led to the speculation of where the Ark is, or if it still exists on the
earth. The Ark was so important in Israel from the time of Moses through the
Judges and the First Temple era, that it seems remarkable that nothing is
said of it in the Bible after the Babylonian Captivity, until the Letter to
the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. In Hebrews it
is described as it was in the original Tabernacle made by Moses; and in
Revelation, the Ark is seen by John in heaven. In neither case is the Ark
mentioned as something that remains on the earth now.
Is the Ark Needed for the Tribulation Temple?
One question that arises is, can the Temple be rebuilt if it does not
contain the Ark? The Scriptures indicate that the Temple will be rebuilt and
standing during the Tribulation period, and that the Tribulation Temple will
be desecrated by the Antichrist. How can the worship of Yahweh be resumed as
it was in ancient times if there is no Ark in the Holy of Holies? We have
already seen, though, that the absence of the Ark of the Covenant did not
keep the Temple from being rebuilt at the conclusion of the Babylonian
Captivity. The Second Temple stood for over 500 years without containing an Ark, and it
was fully recognized as a valid house of worship for the Lord. Christ
Himself declared the Temple to be His Father's House. So it would not be
unthinkable to build the Tribulation Temple, even if the Ark is not
discovered. If the Ark does still exist, however, and it were somehow
discovered, it would certainly give rise to a strong movement in Israel and
around the world to rebuild the Temple to house the Ark properly.
Is the Ark Hidden in the Temple Mount?
There persists a legend that the Ark does exist on earth, but is hidden. A
recently published book by Randall Price, entitled In Search of Temple
Treasures, presents the various views on what has happened to the Ark. Some
of the traditions place the Ark outside of Israel, such as at Mt. Nebo,
Egypt and even far-off Ethiopia. But all of these traditions have problems
and seem unlikely, since there is a lack of any scriptural evidence for
them. A view that has predominated in rabbinic circles is that the Ark was hidden
in a cave beneath the Temple Mount in the very heart of Israel. The theory
goes that the priests hid the Ark beneath the Temple Mount, perhaps as early
as during the time of King Josiah, since the coming prophesied invasion by
the Babylonians was only a matter of time. By hiding the Ark and other
Temple treasures, the priests felt that the priceless sacred articles could
be protected from desecration by the pagan invaders.
Why Didn't Israel Use the Ark in the Second Temple?
As it turned out, the Babylonians did invade Jerusalem. They destroyed the
Temple and carried away many of the vessels and implements to their capital
city a thousand miles away. No mention is made in the Scriptures of the
Babylonians taking the Ark, the Menorah, or other key Temple items. If the
Ark and the other implements were hidden under the Temple, why weren't they
recovered and used after the Captivity? It's hard to imagine that the
priests would have knowingly left the Ark out of the Holy of Holies if they
could have utilized it during the 500 years of the Second Temple.
The explanation offered is that they felt that as long as Jerusalem was
subject to domination by the succeeding powers of Babylonia, Persia, Greece,
and Rome, the Ark and other treasures could be desecrated and captured by
the Gentile armies. Thus, the sacred items would remain in seclusion until
it was considered safe to bring them out to be placed in the Temple.
The Rabbinical Attempt to Find the Ark
At any rate, Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Yehuda Getz, the rabbis in charge
of the Western Wall area, are convinced that the Ark has been hidden in a
cave in the Temple Mount directly under the site of the Holy of Holies,
since the time of King Josiah. They probably represent the majority of
Orthodox rabbis in their views. They have a concept of vertical air space,
by which the space of the Holy of Holies sanctifies the ground directly
below it. Thus, the ancient priests would have been careful to locate the
cave repository for the Ark in the sanctified area below the Holy of Holies.
The evidence for all of these suppositions about the location of the Ark, as
Rabbi Getz concedes, comes more from the Talmud than the Scriptures.
Nevertheless, there is a large and growing group of Orthodox Jewish
adherents who believe that the Ark is in this cave below the Holy of Holies,
and awaits the right time to be found. Rabbi Getz believes that in 1982 he was very close, within 40 feet, to finding the cave in which the Ark resides. He was conducting a search in an old tunnel that had been filled with the debris of centuries, which runs
perpendicular to the Western Wall and under the Temple Mount. However, when
the Moslems discovered that there were diggings being conducted under the
Dome of the Rock, they threatened a general riot and the diggings were
stopped. The rabbi explains that, for the sake of maintaining peace with
their Moslem neighbors, the Israelis had to reseal the entrance to the
tunnel, and it remains blocked up to this day.
Temple Interest an Indication of the Imminent Rapture
The Scriptures are not clear as to whether the Ark of the Covenant still
exists on the earth, but they are clear that the Temple will be rebuilt and
standing during the Tribulation. There is no question that if the Ark were
found, it would give enormous impetus to the rebuilding of the Temple to
house it. Bible-believing Christians should keep a sharp eye out for any
developments surrounding the Temple Mount, realizing that it is a key
element leading to the Tribulation era. The closer we get to the
Tribulation, the closer we are to the imminent Rapture of the Church, which,
we believe the Scriptures teach, will precede the Tribulation. Even so, come
quickly, Lord Jesus.