God’s Temple in Heaven and the Ark of his Covenant – Revelation 11:19

At the conclusion of the seventh trumpet, God’s temple in heaven was opened and John saw the ark of his covenant (Rev 11:19). Greg Beale suggested the seventh trumpet was model on the Song of Moses (Exod 15:13-18). If this is the case, then the opening of the temple and appearance of the ark of the covenant would recall God’s glory revealed at Mount Sinai.

Beale suggests this allusion based on 11:18, “the nations raged” (ἔθνη … ὠργίσθησαν). The words are the same in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 15:14 (Revelation, 618). The conclusion to the song of Moses describes God leading Israel out of Egypt and planting them on his own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established” (Exod 15:17), following by the statement “the Lord will reign forever and ever” (cf. Rev 11:15).  The “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail: would also be consistent with an allusion to Mount Sinai (Exod 19:16).

From the 13th century Morgan Bible

This passage may also reflect the “entrance liturgy of Psalm 24. This psalm celebrates the return of the presence of the Lord represented by the ark. Seow suggests it was “sung antiphonally, with those who led the procession and the ‘gatekeepers of the ark’” (cf. 1 Chr 15:23-24; ABD 1: 387). Verses 7-9 call on the gates and doors of the temple to open as the mighty warrior Yahweh returns to his temple. The difference is the Lord is leaving his heavenly temple, presumably to execute the final judgment at the end of the great tribulation since the kingdom of the Lord and of his messiah has come (Rev 11:15).

In the ancient world, temple doors opening by themselves were considered to be sign from the gods (Aune 2:676). Aune reports a Talmudic tradition that for forty years before the destruction of the temple the doors of the temple would open by themselves (b. Yoma 39b). in the context of First Jewish War with Rome, Tacitus lists shrine doors suddenly opening as a prodigy:

Tacitus, Hist. 5.13 Contending hosts were seen meeting in the skies, arms flashed, and suddenly the temple was illumined with fire from the clouds. Of a sudden the doors of the shrine opened and a superhuman voice cried: “The gods are departing”: at the same moment the mighty stir of their going was heard (trans. Clifford H. Moore and John Jackson, LCL 2:197–199).

The most intriguing feature of this verse is the sudden appearance of the “ark of his covenant.” After the ark is installed in the Temple (1 Kings 8), there is little reference to it in the rest of the Old Testament. Ezekiel’s temple does not mention the tables and lampstands, let alone the ark. The ark is only mentioned in this passage Hebrews 9:3-5 in the New Testament.

What happened to the original ark of the covenant? There are a number of suggestions. There is a tradition it was hidden by Josiah (b. Yoma 52b), or Jeremiah. In 4 Baruch (Paraleipomena Jeremiou) Jeremiah asks the Lord what to do about the items used in the temple service before Babylon destroys Jerusalem. The Lord tells Jeremiah to hide them until the coming of the “beloved one”:

4 Baruch 3.10–11  Take them and deliver them to the earth, saying, ‘Hear, earth, the voice of him who created you, who formed you in the abundance of the waters, who sealed you with seven seals in seven periods (of time), and after these things you will receive your fruitful season. 11 Guard the vessels of the (Temple) service until the coming of the beloved one.

In 2 Baruch 6.7 Baruch sees an angel rescue the temple items, including the mercy seat. The angel commands the earth to guard these items until Jerusalem is destroyed:

2 Baruch 6.7 And I saw that he descended in the Holy of Holies and that he took from there the veil, the holy ephod, the mercy seat, the two tables, the holy raiment of the priests, the altar of incense, the forty-eight precious stones with which the priests were clothed, and all the holy vessels of the tabernacle. 8 And he said to the earth with a loud voice: Earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the mighty God, and receive the things which I commit to you, and guard them until the last times, so that you may restore them when you are ordered, so that strangers may not get possession of them. 9 For the time has arrived when Jerusalem will also be delivered up for a time, until the moment that it will be said that it will be restored forever. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up.

As intriguing as speculation of where the ark went before the destruction of the temple in 586 BC, there is almost nothing in the Bible about the Lord rescuing it or a prophet hiding it in Jerusalem (or Ethiopia, or Washington DC). In Revelation 11:19 the point is to show the Lord has left his sanctuary in heaven and is about to render judgment on the nations who rage against his wrath.

Bibliography:  M. Haran, “The Disappearance of the Ark,” IEJ 13 (1963): 46–58.

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