Post last updated on April 24, 2022
Image credit: Cincinnati Art Museum
Certainly, scripture records many different activities in the Jewish temple, but perhaps the reader most quickly remembers those works that pertain to redemption: The priests of the Old Testament temple offered a variety of sacrifices on behalf of the people, many of which were concerned with the forgiveness of sins. The necessity of those sacrifices might lead some readers to think of them as essential to the original purpose and idea of the temple, but that can only be true insofar as Moses’ tabernacle follows after Adam’s Fall. Sacrifice, however, was not the original order of things.1Only after sin entered the world and death followed (Romans 5:12 ff.) is sacrifice introduced to serve the purpose of redemption from sin and death.
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Before Moses ever receives the pattern for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:9, 40), and long before David gives to Solomon the temple pattern that he had received from the LORD (1 Chronicles 28:11-12), the idea of a sanctuary becomes important in scripture. Although this word now frequently carries the idea of safety and refuge, it more properly describes a place that is set apart and reserved for a purpose—and scripture invests it with this particular meaning. A sanctuary is not a place that man consecrates to worship a deity; it is that place that God orders to reveal himself, there eliciting praise and worship.
This word finds its first biblical mention in Exodus 15:17. In that verse, it retains its important reference to a place chosen by God, wherein he may dwell among his people; but whereas the same word most frequently refers to the Jewish tabernacle and temple, Exodus 15:17 distinguishes it with another and revealing association: There, the land of Canaan is called the mountain of God’s inheritance, a sanctuary that he established.
This first reference instructs the reader to think of sanctuary as something more than a building; rather, the LORD sets aside certain places as arenas of his revelation. Accordingly, the Old Testament tabernacle and temple—holy places made with hands—were only one kind of sanctuary (Hebrews 9:24), but they were not the first kind. Evidently, the earthly form was first expressed in a garden—a place where God might manifest his presence and man might confess his love.
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We can consider this in respect to Eden, for the Exodus description of Canaan (15:17) reminds the reader of that garden. Apparently situated in proximity to a mountain (Ezekiel 28:13-14), the garden of Eden was separated from the rest of the world. Canaan was the mountain of God’s inheritance—a land flowing with milk and honey, but the garden of Eden was its lush antecedent. Indeed, Genesis 2:8 tells us that the garden was planted by the LORD himself. It possessed a unique and important order when compared to the rest of creation, for it bore the function of God’s revelation.
Importantly, Eden was a place occasionally visited by God. He made his presence known there—neither always nor fully, but sometimes and actually.2Genesis 3:8 gives the reader the impression that the LORD’s visits to Eden were not unusual, even though the circumstance of the day referenced there was unique. This fact is not to be understated: From the outset, the reader should understand Eden as a sanctuary where God’s presence was manifested to men. It was not yet the heavenly reality, but nonetheless aptly communicated aspects of the heavenly upon the earth.
The very features of the garden help us to understand its purpose. It was not a mere residence for the first couple, but life in Eden entailed experience and activity—divine presence and priestly service—that illustrated the privilege and occupation of the heavenlies. It is, therefore, not improper to think of Eden as a kind of temple, long before the Jewish temple was built. It first served as the place of God’s presence among his people; its order and activity elicited and demonstrated Adam’s worship. With it, we begin to see the development of a theme often visited in scripture. The scripture clearly confirms that the Old Testament temple was one example of that pattern (Exodus 25:9, 40; Hebrews 9:24, etc.), but something of the same order seems evident in Eden, also.
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The Bible gives us the impression that Adam was created from ground outside the garden (Genesis 3:23), but then brought into the garden by his creator. If this is so, a striking scene emerges. The LORD had, in Eden, created a sanctuary possessing unique features and beauty; the LORD then brings Adam into that place to serve in similar fashion as a priest.3The use of the word priest here might be questioned by some. After all, Hebrews 2:17 seems to reserve the role of the priesthood to reconciliation. That said, the priest did not only offer sacrifices that effected atonement; they also offered gifts to God (cf. Hebrews 5:1). It is also to be remembered that believers are made to be priests and kings of a kind (Revelation 5:10), which means we must leave room for understanding priesthood apart from atonement alone. For this reason, Peter speaks of believers as a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5). Indeed, Cain’s outward fault may have lain in his offering a pre-Fall offering in a post-Fall world (cf. Genesis 4:3), but this is speculation. Regardless, there is simply no reason to confine priesthood to the offering of bloody sacrifices, though that became necessary after Adam’s sin. Adam, apprehending all that is around him, as well as his station in that economy, is to then confirm the goodness and majesty of God. He must maintain the order of this sanctuary, and scripture is clear that God placed Adam in the garden to keep it (Genesis 2:15). There is an unmistakable notion of obedience in Adam’s vocation; and yet, that obedience proceeds in the form of love. Adam is never coerced.
The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were also unique to the garden. Importantly, Adam is commanded and warned not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; and yet, the reader has no record that Adam is instructed about the Tree of Life. It can be argued—and it may, indeed, be true—that the promise associated with the Tree of Life was implicitly understood by Adam, that its name alone and contrast to the forbidden tree suggested an apprehensible promise. In other words, if eating the forbidden tree would result in death (Genesis 2:17), it was reasonable for Adam to associate life with the Tree of Life.
That said, it is also important to consider the possibility that the initial silence in respect to the Tree of Life was purposed, that it presented a scenario in which God could be loved for his own sake. If Adam would love God without explicit promise, he loved God for who he was—and God’s goodness and love was already adequately revealed in the garden itself.
It is to be remembered that idolatry consists of an order in which both the idol and the idolater find their relationship in their mutual exploitation of one another. Neither love nor worship (properly speaking) can be a part of that kind of pagan service. The rituals, form, and building of the pagan temple serve selfish human interest, which devils leverage for their own praise.4See a previous post, When History Serves Prophecy (Part III) This tragically reverses the creation order. Unto this day, the idolater fashions an image of clay with his own hands and then places it in a grove of trees. He worships the idol to obtain his own desires. There is no greater bond in this transaction than self-love—and so he moves from one idol to the next. The object of his worship corresponds and changes with the subject of his desires. One day he reverences Ram, but another day he makes homage to Ganesh. The garden of Eden, however, was a realm in which God would be worshiped for his own sake—for who he is and not merely for what he gives. When God made Adam from the dust of the ground, he then placed him in the garden. God loved Adam for who he was, but it was yet unsettled if Adam would also afford such kind of affection.
It is certainly true that the presence of the Tree of Life in the garden of Eden suggested a more intimate fellowship between God and men than even Eden could yield; but if that intimacy would be known at all, it could exist only where love was first proven to be of the same character as that which is in heaven. (There, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost give and receive by one another without coercion.) To that end, the heavenly reality would eventually descend to the earthly stage: Eden was not the New Jerusalem. That city will descend upon a different mountain. (Revelation 21:1-10). And yet, none of this proceeds, except that the Lord Jesus first dies for the sins of man on another mountain still, Calvary. There, the Last Adam loved his Father for his own sake, for he said, “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
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The heavenly order, then, eventually arrives upon the earth. It is a treasure city, perched upon a high mountain. It is the fountain of a river. The LORD and the Lamb are its temple. A throne is there; the Tree of Life is there (Revelation 22:1-10; 22:1-5). Egypt was its counterfeit; Eden was its prophecy. Eden could be only prophetic and never fulfillment, for there man was naked and unashamed; but those who will inhabit the future city are clothed in fine linen, speaking of their better resurrection (Revelation 19:4). The Apostle Paul, then, writes believers that they do not look to be unclothed, as if the believer returns to Eden, but clothed upon (2 Corinthians 5:4), for it was always intended that something succeed Eden, a city that proceeded from the heavenlies.
Notes & References
|Only after sin entered the world and death followed (Romans 5:12 ff.) is sacrifice introduced to serve the purpose of redemption from sin and death.
|Genesis 3:8 gives the reader the impression that the LORD’s visits to Eden were not unusual, even though the circumstance of the day referenced there was unique.
|The use of the word priest here might be questioned by some. After all, Hebrews 2:17 seems to reserve the role of the priesthood to reconciliation. That said, the priest did not only offer sacrifices that effected atonement; they also offered gifts to God (cf. Hebrews 5:1). It is also to be remembered that believers are made to be priests and kings of a kind (Revelation 5:10), which means we must leave room for understanding priesthood apart from atonement alone. For this reason, Peter speaks of believers as a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5). Indeed, Cain’s outward fault may have lain in his offering a pre-Fall offering in a post-Fall world (cf. Genesis 4:3), but this is speculation. Regardless, there is simply no reason to confine priesthood to the offering of bloody sacrifices, though that became necessary after Adam’s sin.
|See a previous post, When History Serves Prophecy (Part III)