The Ark of the Covenant series (post #10)
This post will be the last in our series on The Ark of the Covenant, and this time we’ll focus upon the Ark’s potential impact upon the world going forward. First, let’s get one thing clear: The Ark of the Covenant walks hand in hand with a Jewish Temple. Ideally, the Ark should sit inside a cube-shaped room called the Holy of Holies that serves as the innermost section of a Jewish Temple and is sectioned off from the rest of the Temple by a thick curtain. So, let’s talk about the possibility of a new Jewish Temple being built in Jerusalem someday.
Would it surprise you to learn that the Bible teaches that such a Temple will be built? 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 describes the Antichrist, the leader who will dominate the world as Satan’s Messiah during the seven-year tribulation period the Bible says is to come upon the earth. In verse 4 of that passage, we read these words as part of the description of the Antichrist:
who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
Obviously, in order for the Antichrist to sit in the temple of God, there has to be a temple of God. But right now there isn’t one. Surely, then, there is going to come a time in the future when the Jews will build another Temple. It’s even probable that the opportunity to build this new Temple will be part of a seven-year peace treaty the Antichrist will sign with Israel (Daniel 9:27). Halfway through this treaty, however, he will break it and take over the Jewish Temple as his own. Jesus called this act “the abomination of desolation,” and it will occur at the midway point of the tribulation period (Matthew 24:15).
Technically speaking, this future Temple will be the third Temple — Solomon’s being the first, Zerubbabel’s being the second, and Herod the Great’s being classified as an expansion of Zerubbabel’s rather than a new one built from scratch. That expansion was such a major overhaul that historians sometimes speak of Herod’s Temple as being distinct and separate from Zerubbabel’s, but the Jewish people don’t see it that way. For the record, this future third temple is also spoken of in Daniel 9:26-27; Daniel 12:11; and Revelation 11:1-2.
The Temple Institute is a Jewish organization in Israel that is fanatically devoted to getting a new Temple built in Jerusalem. For the past few decades the group’s members have been doing advanced research on the historical specifics of the previous two Temples and creating replicas of all the items that were used in Temple worship. As of today close to 100 such items have been created. Also, the Temple Institute has been involved in tracing ancestral bloodlines from the tribe of Levi in order to identify priestly candidates for the establishing of a new Levitical priesthood to serve in the new Temple.
For all their considerable efforts, though, The Temple Institute wakes up every day and faces a colossal problem for which they have no answer. That problem is: Any new Jewish Temple must be built on the same spot where the previous Temples stood, and right now the Muslim shrine The Dome of the Rock sits squarely on that spot. As a matter of fact, whereas Solomon’s Temple stood for approximately 400 years and Zerubbabel’s/Herod’s Temple stood for approximately 600 years, The Dome of the Rock has stood for over 1,300 years and counting. This means that something is going to have to give if a new Temple is ever going to be built to fulfill Biblical prophecy.
Various suggestions have been offered as to what might give. First, perhaps the Jews will relent on the location and build their new Temple on a spot other than the site of The Dome of the Rock. That’s highly unlikely. Second, perhaps The Dome of the Rock doesn’t actually sit exactly where the Jewish Temple once stood, which would mean that a new Jewish Temple could be built right beside it. Some experts see this is a very viable option, but their opinion is in the minority. Third, perhaps a massive earthquake will destroy The Dome of the Rock and clear the way for a new Jewish Temple to be built. This idea does sound plausible at first, especially in light of the various earthquakes that are mentioned as being part of the prophetic timeline. But even if an earthquake does take down The Dome of the Rock, wouldn’t the Muslims fight hard to build another Muslim shrine on the site? Finally, fourth, perhaps the Jewish military forces will one day rise up, take complete control of all of Jerusalem, expel the Muslims from the city, destroy The Dome of the Rock, and build the Temple in its place. Well, I’m not saying that can’t happen, but can you imagine the retaliation the Muslims would unleash if all that came to pass? Would a new Jewish Temple last a month?
For the sake of argument, though, let’s concede that somehow, someway, someday a new Jewish Temple is going to get built in Jerusalem. The question will then become: Must that new Temple house the Ark of the Covenant in order to be seen as legitimate in the eyes of Jews? Somewhat surprisingly, the answer to that is, no.
Keep in mind that the Bible never mentions the Ark being in Zerubbabel’s Temple or in Herod the Great’s expanded and updated version of that Temple. And yet, despite the absence of the Ark, Jesus called that Temple “My Father’s house.” Even more than that, He felt compelled to cleanse it on two separate occasions (John 2:13-22; Luke 19:45-48). Furthermore, that Temple served as the religious heart of Israel for the four centuries between the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament.
But will the third Temple house the Ark? I suppose that depends upon whether or not the Ark can be found at that time. If the Jewish rabbis are telling the truth when they confidently state that the Ark is hidden in a cave underneath the Temple Mount, I’m sure they would do everything they could to bring it out and immediately place it inside the Holy of Holies of the new Temple. For that matter, even if the rabbis are wrong and the Ark is currently someplace other than under the Temple Mount, it’s possible that during those days God could allow it to be discovered wherever it is. As I said, though, even if the Ark is never found, Jewish history has proven that the new Temple could still be considered legitimate without it.
The fact is, though, that no matter how all of this plays out, the third Jewish Temple (Ark or no Ark) will not be in existence long. We know this because Bible prophecy explains that the third Temple will be replaced by yet another Temple for Christ’s 1,000 year reign upon this earth following the tribulation period. This “millennial Temple” is described in detail in Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48.
The Bible doesn’t specify precisely how the tribulation-period Temple will be destroyed to make way for the millennial Temple, but there are a variety of options. It might be destroyed as part of a great earthquake that strikes Jerusalem in the last half of the tribulation period, kills 7,000 people, and levels a tenth of the city (Revelation 11:13). On the other hand, it might be destroyed as part of a later earthquake that divides the city into three parts (Revelation 16:19-21). Then again, it might be destroyed as part of the Mount of Olives being split in two when Jesus touches down upon the mountain to walk this earth again, win the battle of Armageddon that closes the tribulation period, and establish his 1,000 year reign (Zechariah 14:4).
The point is that whatever the exact cause of the destruction turns out to be, the tribulation-period Temple will be destroyed somehow and replaced with the millennial Temple. And will this millennial Temple house the Ark of the Covenant? No, it won’t. We can say this with certainty because Jeremiah 3:16 says of those days:
“Then it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land in those days,” says the Lord, “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.”
You might ask, “But why won’t the Ark be in the millennial Temple?” The answer is: You don’t need the Ark when Jesus is personally on the scene! You see, having the Ark sitting inside the Temple was the Old Testament version of having the presence of God inside the Temple. The “mercy seat” that served as the lid to the Ark of the Covenant was quite literally God’s throne upon the earth. That’s why the Ark couldn’t be approached in just any way by just anybody at just anytime. In Christ’s millennial reign, however, Jesus will be personally, visibly, bodily reigning upon the restored throne of David in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 23:5-6; Luke 1:30-33). Therefore, the highest purpose the Ark always served will be swallowed up in a finalized fulfillment in Christ’s presence upon the earth, and that will render the Ark’s services null and void.
As for what happens following the millennial Temple and Christ’s 1,000 year reign, here again the Ark has no role to play. Following Christ’s millennial reign, Satan and his followers will be eternally judged, and then a new age (an eternal one) will begin as God will usher in a new heaven, a new earth, and an eternal city of New Jerusalem in which all of history’s saved will dwell for all eternity (Revelation 20:7-12; 21:1-21). Not only will the Ark not be a part of this New Jerusalem, the city won’t even have a Temple (Revelation 21:22).
And so, in terms of the Ark of the Covenant playing a role in future history, the Bible only leaves one possible option. That option is the Temple the Jews will build either early on in the tribulation period or perhaps even just before the period begins. If the Ark isn’t brought out of hiding to sit inside the Holy of Holies of that particular Temple, then I dare say the world has seen the last of the Ark, because there simply is no place for it in either Christ’s millennial Temple or the new heaven, new earth, and New Jerusalem that follows the millennial age. I realize this isn’t the exciting answer that most people want to hear, but it is the one the Bible presents as the truth.
As for me, I’m pulling for the Ark to be discovered and revealed one day, but if that never happens I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. I am, after all, a born-again Christian, and that means that my body has now become the dwelling place of God the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; and 2 Timothy 1:14). This places me in a far better situation than anyone who ever worshiped in a Temple in which the Ark of the Covenant was housed. Always keep this in mind, Christian, anytime you think about the Ark. Whatever awe and glory the Ark once held (and might still hold), none of it can compare to the intimate fellowship you get to experience with the Lord each and every day simply by waking up and breathing.