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3.11.19 - Revelation 11:19 Open Bible at Rev. 11:19 Listen to Rev. 11:19

the temple of God was opened in heaven
This is the heavenly temple (Isa. 6:1-4; Rev. 7:15+; 14:15+, 17+; 15:5-6+, 8+; 16:1+, 17+), not the earthly temple in Jerusalem (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. 9:4; Rev. 11:19+) and Noah’s Ark (Mat. 24:38 cf. Gen. 6:14, LXX). The ark of His covenant refers to the box which stood in the Holy Place containing items which testified of God’s relationship with Israel.2 This testimony had both positive and negative aspects:

The broken tablets of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32:19) were a witness to the great spiritual defection and breaking of the covenant by the people—a defection which almost cost them their existence as Abraham’s seed (Ex. 32:10; Deu. 9:14). The pot of manna recalled the violations committed against its gathering (Ex. 16:20) and the complaints against its provision (Num. 11:16). The rod of Aaron was a visible reminder of the treasonous spirit that sought to replace God’s appointed leadership (Num. 16:1-50). . . . The pot of manna revealed God’s 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. 16:35; Jos. 5:12). Aaron’s budded rod was graciously given to validate God’s proper priesthood (Num. 17:5; 18:6-9, 23) and to preserve the lives of those who would otherwise have perished for their complaints (Num. 17:10). Finally, the book of the Law was present with the Ark to testify to every successive generation (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. 7:6-9).3

There 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 36:18), as were the brass and other metals that adorned the temple (2 Kings 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 1:1-11).4

Numerous locations have been suggested for the earthly Ark of the Covenant:
  1. Shishak took the ark to Egypt (1K. 14:25-26; 2Chr. 12:2-4, 9).
  2. Nebuchadnezzar took the ark to Babylon (2K. 25:13-15; 2Chr. 36:17-19; Jer. 52:17-22; cf. Fourth Book of Ezra 10:19-22).
  3. Jeremiah hid the ark in a cave (2 Maccabees 2:4-6; Ezra 1:9-11).5
  4. Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) took the ark to Syria (1 Maccabees 1:21-24, 57).
  5. Titus took the ark to Rome.6
  6. The ark is hidden below the Temple Mount.7
  7. The son of the Queen of Sheba took the ark to Ethiopia.8
  8. The ark no longer exists and will never appear again (Jer. 3:16).9
  9. The ark was taken to heaven by God (see below).10

Some suggest that this passage proves that the ark has been relocated to heaven, but Scripture informs us that the earthly Temple was patterned after a greater heavenly reality (Heb. 8:4-5; Heb. 9:1-11). Thus, within the heavenly Temple we find many of the same implements as is the earthly Temple (Rev. 4:5+; 6:9+; 8:3+, 5+; 9:13+; 14:18+; 16:7+). The revelation of an ark in the heavenly Temple no more precludes the continued existence of the earthly ark then the existence of the heavenly altar of sacrifice means the earthly one has been relocated to heaven.

Leaving aside the question of the location of the earthly ark, as interesting as it might be, what is the significance of the ark revealed in heaven? As we noted in our commentary on Revelation 11:5, there is a unique relationship between the word of God and judgment. It is God’s word which establishes the righteous requirements for obedience and underwrites the definition of righteous judgment. The appearance of the Ark of His covenant emphasizes that which will be used as the standard for judgment. It is because of man’s willful disobedience and rebellion in the light of the standard of the law that God’s righteous judgment is required. His wrath is measured by the distance between the contents of the written requirements in the ark versus the actions of sinful men.

In a similar passage, “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.” There, the tabernacle of the testimony is seen to be connected to the seven angels having the seven plagues” (Rev. 15:5-6+). The mention of covenant and testimony indicate the righteous requirement of the law which judges those who are guilty and under judgment of God’s wrath (Rom. 2:12; 3:19-20). For “the law brings about wrath” (Rom. 4:15). Believers will not be subject to the written requirements which were taken away in Christ (Rom. 7:6; Col. 2:14). See commentary on Revelation 15:5.

Some believe the break between chapters 11 and 12 to be placed incorrectly and take this last verse of chapter 11 as being more closely associated with the opening verse of chapter 12.11 Both verses begin with the same conjunction (καὶ [kai] ) offering numerous interpretive possibilities regarding their association. The suggestion is made that the Ark of the Covenant suggests God’s remembrance of Israel which explains the shift in focus to the woman with child of the next chapter. But God’s promises to Israel flow primarily from other covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic, New, Land) than the Law of Moses, which the ark recalls. The Law of Moses is said to have been broken which necessitated the establishment of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Rather than a sign of God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel associated with the next chapter, it seems more natural to understand the appearance of the ark as denoting the standard of the law by which all the unredeemed stand guilty of impending righteous judgment. The mention of the manifestations of impending judgment would seem more naturally to be associated with the proclamation attending the sounding of the seventh trumpet bringing wrath than the scene of chapter 12 which sets forth Israel’s struggle to bring forth Messiah.

lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail
All of these manifestations speak of impending judgments of the seven bowls (Rev. 16+) 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. 11:15+), but before the seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out on the earth (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. 16:18+) and a plague of great hail (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.

Notes

1 Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 230.

2 Concerning the contents of the ark: Ex. 16:34; 25:16, 21; 40:20; Num. 17:10; Deu. 10:2-5; 31:26; 1K. 8:9, 21; 2Chr. 5:10; 6:11; Heb. 9:4.

3 Randall Price, In Search of Temple Treasure (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1994), 53,54.

4 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), Rev. 11:19.

5 The inventory in 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]—Josephus, The Complete Works of Josephus, s.v. “Wars V, v 5.”

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. 3:16). The ark, the sign of Jehovah’s 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.

10 Morris, The Revelation Record, Rev. 11:19.

11 [Scott, Exposition of The Revelation, Rev. 11:19], [Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1961), Rev. 11:19].


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