The innermost room of the tabernacle and, later, of the temple; also called the Holy of Holies. (Ex 26:33, ftn; 1Ki 6:16) This compartment in the tabernacle was apparently cubical, each of its three dimensions being ten cubits (4.5 m; 14.6 ft); the dimensions of the Most Holy in the temple built by Solomon were twice those of the tabernacle, so that it was eight times as large in volume.—Ex 26:15, 16, 18, 22, 23; 1Ki 6:16, 17, 20; 2Ch 3:8.
The high priest entered the Most Holy only on the annual Day of Atonement; at no time could any other person go beyond the curtain that hung between this room and the Holy Place. (Le 16:2) In the Most Holy the high priest was surrounded by the colorful embroidered cherubs on the tabernacle’s inner covering and on the curtain. (Ex 26:1, 31, 33) In Solomon’s temple the walls and ceiling were of cedarwood covered with gold, and cherubs, palm-tree figures, gourd-shaped ornaments, and blossoms were engraved on the walls.—1Ki 6:16-18, 29; 2Ch 3:7, 8.
The Scriptures outline three entries of the high priest into the Most Holy on Atonement Day: First with the golden censer of perfumed incense, fired by coals from off the altar; a second time with the blood of the bull, the sin offering for the priestly tribe; and finally with the blood of the goat, the sin offering for the people. (Le 16:11-15; Heb 9:6, 7, 25) He sprinkled the blood of the animals on the ground before the golden ark of the covenant, on the cover of which were golden cherubs and above which cover Jehovah’s presence was symbolized by a cloud. (Ex 25:17-22; Le 16:2, 14, 15) That cloud evidently shone as a bright light, being the sole light for this compartment of the tabernacle, which had no lampstand in it.
While the tabernacle was in the wilderness, above the Most Holy resided a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, visible to the entire camp of Israel.—Ex 13:22; 40:38; Nu 9:15; compare Ps 80:1.
No Ark in Later Temples. Just when and under what circumstances the ark of the covenant disappeared is not known. Apparently the Babylonians did not capture it when they pillaged and destroyed the temple in 607 B.C.E., for the Ark is not listed among the temple articles carried off. (2Ki 25:13-17; Ezr 1:7-11) In the second temple, built by Zerubbabel, and in the more elaborate temple of Herod, there was no Ark in the Most Holy. At the time of Jesus’ death God expressed his anger by causing the thick, heavy curtain that separated the Most Holy from the Holy Place to be ripped in two from top to bottom. The priests who were carrying on their work in the Holy Place were then able to see into the Most Holy and to have impressed upon them the fact that this compartment contained no Ark representing God’s presence with them. This action by God confirmed that the atonement sacrifices offered by the Jewish high priest were now no longer of value and there was no need for the services of the Levitical priesthood anymore.—Mt 27:51; 23:38; Heb 9:1-15.
Symbolic Use. The Most Holy compartment in the tent of meeting, or the tabernacle, contained the ark of the covenant; the cover of that Ark surmounted by two golden cherubs represented God’s throne. Therefore the Most Holy was used, figuratively, to represent the dwelling place of Jehovah God, heaven itself. The inspired letter to the Hebrews gives us this interpretation of matters when it compares the entry of Israel’s high priest into the Most Holy one day a year, on the Day of Atonement, with the entry of the great High Priest Jesus Christ into what the Most Holy symbolized, once for all time with his sacrifice for sins. It explains: “Into the second compartment [the Most Holy] the high priest alone enters once a year, not without blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of ignorance of the people. . . . This very tent is an illustration for the appointed time that is now here . . . However, when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass, through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained an everlasting deliverance for us. Therefore it was necessary that the typical representations of the things in the heavens should be cleansed by these means [blood of animal sacrifices sprinkled on them], but the heavenly things themselves with sacrifices that are better than such sacrifices. For Christ entered, not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.”—Heb 9:7-12, 23, 24.
So Jesus Christ as the great High Priest according to the manner of Melchizedek fulfilled what Israel’s high priest of the line of Aaron could do only typically when entering into the earthly Most Holy. (Heb 9:24) The spiritual brothers of Christ, joint heirs with him, are strengthened by the words of the same letter to the Hebrews, that “we who have fled to the refuge may have strong encouragement to lay hold on the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and firm, and it enters in within the curtain, where a forerunner has entered in our behalf, Jesus, who has become a high priest according to the manner of Melchizedek forever.”—Heb 6:18-20.
Again, Paul encouraged these Christians to feel fully free and confident to approach God and to hold fast to their hope without wavering by these further words: “Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness for the way of entry into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, which he inaugurated for us as a new and living way through the curtain, that is, his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with true hearts in the full assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled from a wicked conscience and our bodies bathed with clean water. Let us hold fast the public declaration of our hope without wavering, for he is faithful that promised.”—Heb 10:19-23.