“it will not be made again.” Jeremiah 3:16 tells us what ultimately happened or will happen to the ark of the covenant that Moses made (Exod. 25:10-22; 37:1-9). Furthermore, it says that there will not be another ark made for the Temple in the Millennial Kingdom (the Messianic Kingdom on earth). At some point the ark that Moses had made for the Tent of Meeting was destroyed—or it will be destroyed if it is still buried somewhere, which is very unlikely.
In the future Millennial Kingdom, there will be a Temple (Ezek. 40:1-43:27), but it will not have an ark of the covenant inside of it. We know that because Jeremiah 3:16 tells us that the ark will not come to mind or be remembered at that time. The last biblical record of the ark of the covenant is before Babylon conquered Jerusalem, and that, along with the fact that when the Persians conquered Babylon the ark was not returned to Jerusalem with the other treasures from Solomon’s Temple (Ezra 1:7-11), tells us that the ark was most likely destroyed during the Babylonian Captivity; it was likely melted down for its gold.
Supporting evidence that there will not be an ark of the covenant in the Millennial Temple comes from reading and comparing the building of Moses’ Tent of Meeting and Solomon’s Temple with the Millennial Temple. The ark of the covenant is mentioned in connection with both Moses’ Tent and Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:20-21; 2 Chron. 5:2-7), but no ark is mentioned in the Millennial Temple. The obvious reason for Ezekiel not having any information about an ark in the Millennial Temple is what Jeremiah 3:16 says: one will not be built for it.
The ark of the covenant played a significant role in the Old Testament, with the phrase “ark of the covenant” occurring over 40 times. There is a very good reason that an “ark” was necessary under the Old Covenant but not under the New Covenant. The ark of the “covenant” contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments, which were the very heart of the Old Covenant that God made with Israel (Exod. 25:16; 40:20; Deut. 10:5). Moses’ stone tablets had to be put somewhere, so they were placed into the “ark” of the covenant. The Hebrew word translated “ark” means “chest,” “coffin” or “box,” and our English word “ark” comes from the Latin arca, meaning “chest.” Thus, the “ark of the covenant” could have legitimately been called “the box of the covenant.” It was because the words of the covenant were placed in the “box” that it was called “the ark (box) of the covenant,” or we might even nuance the genitive to be “the ark that contains the covenant.”
But Israel did not keep the “Old Covenant” that they had made with God, so God said He would make a New Covenant with them (Jer. 31:31-34). But whereas the Old Covenant was written on stone tablets that had to be put somewhere, the New Covenant will be written on people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34; cp. Hebrews 8:10-12), and those hearts cannot be put in a box. Therefore, under the New Covenant, there is no need for a box and there will not be an “ark of the covenant” in the Millennial Temple.
The ark of God was vital under the Old Covenant for different reasons. One of them was that it contained the Ten Commandments, the “words” of the covenant (the Ten Commandments are actually called “the ten words” in the Hebrew text; cp. Exod. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:4). However, it was also where God dwelt and where He met Israel. Under the Old Covenant, God said He dwelt between the cherubim and over the gold cover of the ark, which was the “mercy seat” (1 Sam. 4:4; Ps. 80:1; cp. Exod. 25:22; Num. 7:89). In the Millennial Kingdom, however, the city of Jerusalem itself will be called, “The Throne of Yahweh” (Jer. 3:17); Yahweh will reign from Jerusalem (Isa. 24:23), through His Son, our Messiah, over the whole earth (Dan. 7:13-14).
A quick overview of the ark of the covenant and where God met His people is as follows: Moses built a Tent of Meeting that had an ark, a box, that contained the words of the covenant. God dwelt over that ark, between the cherubim. Solomon brought that ark into his Temple, and it was there until the Babylonian captivity. In 586 BC, the Babylonians burned the Temple down and the ark disappeared from history.
Then, between approximately 600 BC to 575 BC, God gave Ezekiel, who lived in Babylon, a series of visions about the glory of God. Those visions were related to the ark because that was where God dwelt. Before the Temple was burned down and the ark disappeared, when the Israelites were greatly sinning against God, God showed Ezekiel that the glory of God had left the Temple, then left Jerusalem. First, God’s glory moved to the threshold of the Temple, then to the East Gate of the Temple, then it left the city of Jerusalem and went to the Mount of Olives (Ezek. 10:4, 19; 11:23).
Later, after Solomon’s Temple was burned down, God showed Ezekiel a vision of a new Temple (Ezek. 40-43), which we know as the Millennial Temple. That new Temple did not have an “ark of the covenant,” but the vision God gave to Ezekiel showed the glory of God returning into the Millennial Temple from the east, entering the Temple through the east gate, and filling the entire Temple (Ezek. 43:1, 4, 5; 44:5).
There is no doubt that God gave Ezekiel the vision of the Millennial Temple to give His people hope that He would one day again dwell among them in His Temple. But the Jews did not wait for the Millennial Temple. When they returned from the Babylonian captivity, they built another Temple that we refer to as “the Second Temple,” or “Herod’s Temple.” When the Romans burned that Temple down in 70 AD, however, the Jews again found themselves without a Temple and without a place of worship.
Although the Millennial Temple was yet to be built (and is still in our future), God intensified the hope He gave His people by giving the Apostle John a vision of a New Jerusalem, the Everlasting City. It will be about 1380 miles (2220 kilometers) long, wide, and high (Rev. 21:16), and shaped like a pyramid, no doubt with the throne of God and Jesus at the top and the river of life flowing out from the throne (Rev. 22:1-3). The river of life flowing out from the throne and then down over the city is an amplification of what will happen in the Millennial Kingdom when the river of life will flow from the Millennial Temple and down Mount Zion to the east and to the west (Ezek. 47:1-9; Zech. 14:8). The New Jerusalem, the Everlasting City, will not have an ark of the covenant in it, indeed, it will not even have a Temple (Rev. 21:22). Instead of living in a Temple, God will live among His people (Rev. 21-22).
When God gave Ezekiel the vision of His glory leaving Solomon’s Temple before it was burned down, it is worth noting that He never said where the glory went after it went to the mountain “east” of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives (Ezek. 11:23). Furthermore, when the glory returns to the new Millennial Temple, God never says where it comes from except to say it comes from the “east” (Ezek. 43:1). Significantly, Jesus Christ ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives (Luke 24:50; Acts 1:9-12), and will return to the Mount of Olives when he returns to earth (Zech. 14:4). Then during his kingdom, he will enter the Temple to offer sacrifices through the east gate of the Temple (Ezek. 46:11-12). Did God somehow honor His Son by associating him with His glory? It seems a distinct possibility.
[For more information about the future Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].