This is the heavenly temple (Isa. Isa. 6:1-4; Rev. Rev. 7:15+; Rev. 14:15+, Rev. 14:17+; Rev. 15:5-6+, Rev. 15:8+; Rev. 16:1+, Rev. 16:17+), not the earthly temple in Jerusalem (Rev. Rev. 11:1-2+). The chapter begins and ends with Temples: the earthly Temple in Jerusalem and now this Temple in heaven is opened to reveal its contents to John (and subsequently to the reader). See Temple of God.
the ark of His covenant
The MT text has the ark of the covenant of the Lord. Ark is κιβωτὸς [kibōtos] , meaning box, chest,1 and is used to describe both the Ark of the Covenant (Heb. Heb. 9:4; Rev. Rev. 11:19+) and Noahs Ark (Mtt. Mat. 24:38 cf. Gen. Gen. 6:14, LXX). The ark of His covenant refers to the box which stood in the Holy Place containing items which testified of Gods relationship with Israel.2 This testimony had both positive and negative aspects:
The broken tablets of the Ten Commandments (Ex. Ex. 32:19) were a witness to the great spiritual defection and breaking of the covenant by the peoplea defection which almost cost them their existence as Abrahams seed (Ex. Ex. 32:10; Deu. Deu. 9:14). The pot of manna recalled the violations committed against its gathering (Ex. Ex. 16:20) and the complaints against its provision (Num. Num. 11:16). The rod of Aaron was a visible reminder of the treasonous spirit that sought to replace Gods appointed leadership (Num. Num. 16:1-50). . . . The pot of manna revealed Gods loyal love in that He continued His constant care of the nation by giving her daily bread until everyone finally reached the Promised Land (Ex. Ex. 16:35; Jos. Jos. 5:12). Aarons budded rod was graciously given to validate Gods proper priesthood (Num. Num. 17:5; Num. 18:6-9, Num. 18:23) and to preserve the lives of those who would otherwise have perished for their complaints (Num. Num. 17:10). Finally, the book of the Law was present with the Ark to testify to every successive generation (Deu. Deu. 4:9) that God had chosen the nation not because of anything she had done but because of His own sovereign love and gracious choice (Deu. Deu. 7:6-9).3There has been much speculation concerning the location of the earthly Ark of the Covenant.
The ark of the covenant disappeared when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple and carried Judah captive into Babylon 600 years before Christ. At that time all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord were also taken to Babylon (2 Chronicles 2Chr. 36:18), as were the brass and other metals that adorned the temple (2 Kings 2K. 25:13-20). No mention, however, was made of the ark, the most important and perhaps most costly (the ark was overlaid with gold and the mercy seat and cherubim were of pure gold) item in the temple, as well as certainly the most significant item to the writers of the accounts in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Jeremiah (chapter 52, as well as the book of Lamentations). Neither was there any mention of the ark when Cyrus commissioned the rebuilding of the temple and sent back all its vessels as well (Ezra Ezra 1:1-11).4Numerous locations have been suggested for the earthly Ark of the Covenant:
- Shishak took the ark to Egypt (1K. 1K. 14:25-26; 2Chr. 2Chr. 12:2-4, 2Chr. 12:9).
- Nebuchadnezzar took the ark to Babylon (2K. 2K. 25:13-15; 2Chr. 2Chr. 36:17-19; Jer. Jer. 52:17-22; cf. Fourth Book of Ezra 10:19-22).
- Jeremiah hid the ark in a cave (2 Maccabees 2:4-6; Ezra Ezra 1:9-11).5
- Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) took the ark to Syria (1 Maccabees 1:21-24, 57).
- Titus took the ark to Rome.6
- The ark is hidden below the Temple Mount.7
- The son of the Queen of Sheba took the ark to Ethiopia.8
- The ark no longer exists and will never appear again (Jer. Jer. 3:16).9
- The ark was taken to heaven by God (see below).10
lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail
All of these manifestations speak of impending judgments of the seven bowls (Rev. Rev. 16:1+) which are in accord with the wrath of God based upon the righteous law as recorded in the Ark of the Covenant. See commentary on Revelation 4:5. The ark is revealed after the sounding of the seventh trumpet (Rev. Rev. 11:15+), but before the seven bowls of Gods wrath are poured out on the earth (Rev. Rev. 16:1-17+). When the final bowl is poured forth, the manifestations of judgment seen in this heavenly scene are delivered to earth : lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake (Rev. Rev. 16:18+) and a plague of great hail (Rev. Rev. 16:21+). These manifestations underscore the connection between the heavenly Ark of the Covenant (containing the testimony, the Ten Commandments) and the final judgment of the God-rejecting world below. See commentary on Revelation 16:21.
2 Concerning the contents of the ark: Ex. Ex. 16:34; Ex. 25:16, Ex. 25:21; Ex. 40:20; Num. Num. 17:10; Deu. Deu. 10:2-5; Deu. 31:26; 1K. 1K. 8:9, 1K. 8:21; 2Chr. 2Chr. 5:10; 2Chr. 6:11; Heb. Heb. 9:4.
5 The inventory in Ezra Ezra 1:9-11 lists gold and silver dishes, silver pans, gold and silver bowls, and other articles for a total of 5,400 items. The Ark of the Covenant is not specifically listed.
6 Vespasian resolved to build a temple to Peace, which he finished in so short a time, and in so glorious a manner, as was beyond all human expectations and opinion: for he having now by Providence a vast quantity of wealth, besides what he had formerly gained in his other exploits, he had this temple adorned with pictures and statues; for in this temple were collected and deposited all such rarities as men aforetime used to wander all over the habitable world to see, when they had a desire to see them one after another: he also laid up therein, as ensigns of his glory, those golden vessels and instruments that were taken out of the Jewish temple.Flavius Josephus, The Complete Works of Josephus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1981), s.v. Wars VII, v7. Elsewhere, Josephus records the Holy of Holies was empty: The inmost part of the temple of all was of twenty cubits. This was also separated from the outer part by a veil. In this there was nothing at all. It was inaccessible and inviolable, and not to be seen by any; and was called the Holy of Holies. [emphasis added]Ibid., s.v. Wars V, v 5. [emphasis added]
7 Certain Rabbis claim to have seen the Ark in a tunnel under the Temple ground in Jerusalem. The Israeli government sealed the entrance with cement because of protests from the Arabs, because it was near the Dome of the Rock. There is no proof that the Ark is there. [www.bibleandscience.com]
8 Supposedly, King Solomon had a son by the Queen of Sheba named Menelik. When he grew up Menelik returned to Jerusalem for a copy of the Ark of the Covenant which Solomon gave to him. But Menelik secretly switched the real Ark with the replica. Menelik took the real Ark back to Ethiopia. Traditionally, Sheba is located in Saudi Arabia not Ethiopia.[www.bibleandscience.com]
9 Certain it is, that the ark in the future is not to be brought to light, spite of speculation and guess-work to the contrary. On this Jeremiah speaks with no uncertain voice (Jer. Jer. 3:16). The ark, the sign of Jehovahs presence and faithfulness, will no longer be needed in the palmy days of the kingdom, for that which it signified will then be an accomplished reality. Jehovah will have made good His unchanging grace to His people, and His throne and presence in their midst will gloriously supersede the ark in the tabernacle and temple of old.Walter Scott, Exposition of The Revelation (London, England: Pickering & Inglis, n.d.), Rev. 11:19.