Q: #555. What happened to the Ark of the Covenant?
A: First, let me explain what the Ark of the Covenant was. In short, it was a chest, made of acacia wood (shittim wood – KJV), and overlaid with gold both inside and out, which was “about” (the measurements are given in “cubits,” which was an imprecise unit of measurement) 47″ long, 27″ high, and 27″ wide. A complete description can be found in (Ex 25:10-22)(Ex 37:1-9). God ordered that this box be created to hold the tablets of the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses (see: Ex 25:16,21, Deut 10:1-2). (Heb 9:4 says that a pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that had budded were also placed inside [also see: Ex 16:32-34, Num 17:10-11].)
This Ark was placed inside of a room in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple called the “Holy of Holies” (see: 1 Kin 8:1-9). This room could only be entered into once a year by the High Priest, to make atonement for the sins of the Israelites (Lev Ch. 16).
On certain occasions, the Ark was taken out of the “Holy of Holies,” like when God ordered the Israelites to move (Num 4:4-6)(Num 10:33-36), or for some other reason (Josh Ch. 3)(Josh Ch. 6)(Judg 20:27). (At times, it was also taken out when God didn’t order it: i.e. 1 Sam 4:1-11). I mention this because, at some point during the reign of King Josiah, we see that it wasn’t in the “Holy of Holies” since Josiah asks the Levites (caretakers of the Ark) to “return it to Jerusalem” (2 Chr 35:1-3), which they certainly did. This is the last time we see the Ark.
So, what happened to it? The Bible doesn’t “clearly” tell us (one possible theory is in Revelation, see below). Of course, this being the case, theories abound. One website discussing this mentions that there are at least 20 different theories! I am not listing all of these “theories,” however, here are some of the more prominent ones.
#1. In 586/587 B.C., when King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and destroyed both the city and the Temple (after looting it), he also destroyed the Ark (likely after taking the gold off of it). Another theory says that he stole the Ark, rather than destroying it.
***Note: (2 Kin 25:13-17)(Jer 52:17-23) lists the things that were looted from the Temple, and the Ark is not mentioned.
#2. King Josiah knew that the invasion was coming, so he took steps to hide the Ark under the Temple Mount, and it remains there today.
***Note: The “Temple Mount” is where the Dome of the Rock is located in Jerusalem today. It is now an Islamic holy site (the building with the “gold dome”). Scientists have desired to run tests to see if the Ark could be hidden there, but those in charge of the Dome refuse to allow this. (It is also worth asking the question, if the Ark had been hidden under the Temple Mount, why wasn’t brought out of hiding, and placed back into the Temple when it was later rebuilt?)
#3. It is being kept (and guarded by monks) at a church in Ethiopia called the “Church of St. Mary,” located in the city of Axum (Askum).
***Note: There is a whole legend surrounding this theory, and how the Ark ended up in Ethiopia, which involves a son born to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
#4. It is secretly hidden in the Vatican.
#5. After learning that Nebuchadnezzar was about to invade Jerusalem, Jeremiah hid it in a cave at Mt. Nebo, and then sealed the entrance (2 Maccabees 2:4-7: an apocryphal book mentions this). It is believed to still be hidden there today.
#6. (Rev 11:19) indicates that God took it to Heaven, and it is still there now.
#7. It is buried under the “Hill of Tara” in Ireland.
#8. It was swallowed up by the earth (2 Baruch 6:1-10: an apocryphal book).
#9. It is buried at Mt. Calvary, below the tomb where Jesus was laid.
Will we ever find out where the Ark is? Perhaps. Will we see it again during the Tribulation, when “some” believe that Temple is going to be rebuilt (2 Th 2:3-4)(Dan 12:11)(Mt 24:15)? I guess we will see. Until it is found, the search will certainly continue (as portrayed in the movie “The Raiders of the Lost Ark”).