Here’s a great, two-fold question from a young man concerning the Ark of the Covenant: 1) What happened to the Ark, and (2) will it be ever be found again?
Here’s what we know for certain: The Ark of the Covenant, which had accompanied the Hebrews during their 40 year wandering in the wilderness, and was then situated at a variety of locations in conquered Canaan for several hundred years, was finally brought to Jerusalem by King David. His son Solomon built the First Temple and brought the Ark into the Holy of Holies (1 Sam. 5-6). It remained there until the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C.
There are many theories as to what happened to the Ark. Some contend that it exists still in a cave within the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Others believe it survives in Africa or Egypt. But there is no real definitive proof as to its survival or possible whereabouts.
The apocryphal book of Maccabees, which relates the historical uprising of the Jews in Israel against the Seleucid Empire and the establishment of the Jewish Hasmonean Empire from 164 – 63 B.C., refers to the disappearance of the Ark. It states that the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark in a cave on “the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God” (2 Macc. 2:4 RSV). The location was supposedly lost soon after, and Jeremiah is claimed to have prophesied that it would remain lost “until God gathers his people together again” in the days of the Messiah (2 Macc. 2:7-8 RSV).
The problem with this side-note in 2 Maccabees is that there is no record of such a prophecy in the book of Jeremiah itself. Indeed, Jeremiah prophesied that when the Messiah reigns on earth from Mt Zion, the Ark will not be recovered and “it will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made” (Jer. 3:16).
Most likely, from the limited information available, 1) the Ark was destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians (their record of the Temple artifacts brought back to Babylon does not include the Ark), or (2) The Ark was buried beneath the Temple just before the Temple was destroyed.
Jeremiah’s prophecy should remind us that the Ark ‘s purpose was fulfilled in the Old Testament, and its foreshadowing of the cross of Christ fulfilled in the New Testament. Other than satisfying a certain archeological curiosity, its recovery would serve no further spiritual value. And, when Jesus returns to establish His Kingdom, the Ark—if it were found—would seem as nothing more than a gold-covered box in comparison with the beauty, power, majesty and of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
Sources: T he Jewish Virtual Library is a division of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise; LIVIUS , Articles on Ancient History (online); 2 Maccabees, RSV; The Bible (NIV),