Whatever happened to the ark?

Daniel 8:14 centers on the sanctuary or Temple, And the Temple's services revolved around the ark of the covenant. The author of this article suggests the fate of the earthly ark may have significant implications for the understanding of Daniel's prophecy.

A. H. Tolhurst is president of the Trans-Tasman Union, New South Wales, Australia.

William Miller's Second Advent movement arose, at least in part, because of Daniel 8:14. And it was a refined understanding of this verse that provided the basis for the formation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Probably the majority of exegetes outside of our church see the sanctuary referred to there as being the Temple in Jerusalem. I believe, however, that a study of the central furnishing of that sanctuary, the ark of the covenant, helps substantiate the Seventh-day Adventist position.

When God commanded Moses to construct a sanctuary in the wilderness, it was His plan to hallow that manmade tabernacle with His presence. Note Exodus 25:8, "Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them." God gave to Moses detailed instructions for the building, its decorations, and its furnishings. Exodus 25:10- 22 contains God's directions for making the ark of the covenant, a gold-overlaid cabinet that was to hold the tables of stone engraved with the ten-commandment law. The lid of the cabinet was made of solid gold and was known as the mercy seat. Above it stood two angel figures—cherubim—of beaten gold. The glory of God's presence was manifested above the mercy seat, between the cherubim.

The ark of the covenant was the focal point in the sanctuary. While the sacrifice of animals was necessary and important in what it symbolized, it was the ten-commandment law in the ark of the covenant that made the whole sacrificial system necessary. Only as men and women disobeyed the law of God were they declared to be sinners and in need of salvation.

The annual service known as the Day of Atonement also centered on the ark. On that day, according to Leviticus 16, the earthly sanctuary was cleansed. The high point of the service came when the high priest sprinkled the blood from the sacrifice of the Lord's goat on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. The atonement for the sins of the people, and the cleansing of the earthly sanctuary flowed from this act (see Lev. 16:15, 16).

When Moses completed the building of the tabernacle, the Bible says that the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle so that Moses could not enter (see Ex. 40:33-35). Clearly God hallowed the tabernacle with His glorious presence. In doing so, He validated the services conducted there.

When the children of Israel finally entered the land of Canaan and Solomon completed the construction of a glorious Temple, God chose again to hallow it by His presence. During the service of dedication when the priests brought the ark of the covenant into the Most Holy Place of Solomon's Temple, the glory of the Lord filled the house (1 Kings 8:6, 9-11).

About five hundred years before Christ, after the destruction of Solomon's Temple and the Babylonian captivity, Zerubbabel rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. However, nowhere in Scripture do we find that the glory of the Lord filled Zerubbabel's Temple. Apparently the Shekinah glory was not present, and the ark of the covenant was strikingly absent. (See Prophets and Kings, pp. 596,597.)

The missing ark

As Haggai prophesied, the glory of this Temple was to be greater than that of the first—because Jesus, the Desire of all nations, would walk in it. However, it seems significant that God apparently made a distinction between the Temple that contained the ark and the one that did not. The former contained the visible manifestation of His presence, and the latter did not. I believe it would be fair to say that a shadow rested upon the restored Temple.

Ellen White explains why the ark of the testimony was not there: "Because of Israel's transgression of the commandments of God and their wicked acts, God suffered them to go into captivity, to humble and punish them. Before the temple was destroyed, God made known to a few of His faithful servants the fate of the temple, which was the pride of Israel, and which they regarded with idolatry, while they were sinning against God. He also revealed to them the captivity of Israel. These righteous men, just before the destruction of the temple, removed the sacred ark containing the tables of stone, and with mourning and sadness secreted it in a cave where it was to be hidden from the people of Israel because of their sins, and was to be no more restored to them. That sacred ark is yet hidden. It has never been disturbed since it was secreted." —The Story of Redemption, p. 195.

Jewish tradition supports this explanation. The writer of 2 Maccabees 2:4-6 declares: "The document also described how the prophet, warned by an oracle, gave orders for the tabernacle and the ark to go with him when he set out for the mountain which Moses had climbed to survey God's heritage. On his arrival Jeremiah found a cave-dwelling, into which he brought the tabernacle, the ark and the altar of incense, afterwards blocking up the entrance. Some of his companions came up to mark out the way, but were unable to find it. When Jeremiah learned this, he reproached them: 'The place is to remain unknown' he said, 'until God gathers his people together again and shows them his mercy.'" This is a significant statement, for it is contained in a body of writing that originated from Jewish authors between the times of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The point here is not where the ark was hidden, but that it was removed from the Temple and, as we shall see, never returned. (Another ancient Jewish tradition says that the ark was hidden in the vicinity of Jerusalem.) The Jewish historian Josephus, writing in the first century A.D., described the attack on Jerusalem by the Roman general Pompey in 63 B.C. Pompey eventually broke into the city, and later into the Temple. The priests had apparently carried everything of value into the Most Holy Place, thinking it the safest place. However, much to the dismay of the Jews, Pompey entered this sacred chamber. Josephus describes what he saw there: "But there was nothing that affected the nation so much, in the calamities they were then under, as that their holy place, which had been hitherto seen by none, should be laid open to strangers; for Pompey, and those that were about him, went into the temple itself, whither it was not lawful for any to enter but the high priest, and saw what was reposited therein, the candlestick with its lamps, and the table, and the pouring vessels, and the censers, all made entirely of gold, as also a great quantity of spices heaped together, with two thousand talents of sacred money." The Wars of the Jews, 1. 7. 6. The most notable omission in the list is the ark of the covenant. It was not there.

Later, in A.D. 70, when the Roman general Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, his soldiers carried the seven-branched candlestick back to Rome. A stone relief illustrating the capture of this treasure can be seen today on the inside of the victory arch that Titus erected in Rome following his campaign in Palestine. Quite obviously, however, the ark of the covenant was not found in the Temple at that time either.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the whole sanctuary service centered around the ark of the covenant, with the tables of God's law inside. As noted earlier, the blood of the Lord's goat was sprinkled on the mercy seat during the services of the Day of Atonement. This was the vital part of the service that accomplished the cleansing of the sanctuary.

One could reasonably expect that an important (I think we can designate it "the ultimate"; see Dan. 8:17-19) cleansing of God's sanctuary, spoken of in Daniel 8:14, would take place with "all the props on stage," so to speak. And how could the sanctuary be considered "restored to its rightful state" (verse 14, R.S.V.),* i.e., fully functional, when that which was the focal point of its services was still missing? It doesn't seem likely that God would call attention through this important apocalyptic prophecy to an event whose validity could be questioned because insufficient care had been taken to make sure that the most essential items were there.

And so, because the ark has never been in any earthly temple since Daniel's time, it is not likely that any event in an earthly temple or sanctuary since that time could have been that to which God was pointing in Daniel's prophecy. (For example, following Antiochus Epiphanes' desecration of the Jerusalem Temple, that Temple was purified and functioned again as it had before Antiochus defiled it. But its functioning was still limited and incomplete. The ark had not been returned; the Shekinah was not there. This was not the ultimate cleansing and restoration implied by this prophecy.)

We must look elsewhere for the fulfillment. And the Bible points the direction our search must take.

Bible references to the ark

I think it is particularly suggestive that following Daniel's time the Scriptures refer only twice to the ark of the covenant. Both references are in the New Testament. The first, Hebrews 9:4, 5, points back to the first covenant, and the earthly sanctuary containing the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat. Clearly this is a simple reference to the tabernacle of Moses' time, and is not a description of the ark of the covenant subsequent to the Babylonian captivity. Significantly enough, though, this pas sage is making the point that the old covenant, with its sanctuary and services, has been superseded by the new covenant and Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. This post-Danielic reference to the ark, then, has its focus in the heavenly sanctuary.

The other reference is Revelation 11:19. This is the only scriptural passage in which an ark of the covenant is said to exist after the Babylonian captivity. This is the only time, following the secreting of the ark of the covenant in a cave, that the Scriptures specifically direct our attention to the ark.

Surely this must be the ark of the covenant involved in the cleansing of the sanctuary foretold in Daniel's prophecy. Note two things this passage in Revelation reveals about the ark. First, its location: "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail" (verse 19, R.S.V.).

And second, note the context of both time and event in which this revelation of the ark of God's covenant takes place: "the nations raged, but thy wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, for rewarding thy servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear thy name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth" (verse 18, R.S.V.). Clearly the heavenly ark is seen in the last days, and in relation with the judgment that results in the reward of the saints and the destruction of the impenitent.

In conclusion, then, the two points we have made bolster the Seventh-day Adventist understanding that Daniel 8:14 refers to the heavenly sanctuary. First, the ark of the covenant, upon which the sanctuary services all centered, has never been in any sanctuary or temple on earth since Daniel's prophecy was given. No earthly sanctuary has been completely restored. And the validity or efficacy of any eschatological cleansing under these conditions could well be questioned.

And second, the only two Biblical references to that foundational ark sub sequent to Daniel's vision refer either indirectly (by context) or directly to the heavenly sanctuary.

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A. H. Tolhurst is president of the Trans-Tasman Union, New South Wales, Australia.

June 1984

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