Once we remove the Platonic shades from our eyes and we investigate the biblical narrative we learn that heaven is part of the story from the get go. Scripture, I believe, is a fully integrated drama or story that is divided into “six acts” or “six chapters.” This story or drama has a plot, a goal or intent. The six acts or chapters are: Act One is Creation; Act Two is humanities Fall; Act Three is God’s relationship with
Israel; Act Four is the coming of the Messiah; Act Five is the story of renewed ; Act Six is the return of Jesus and his New Creation. We are actually living out Act Five. Each act or chapter informs and shapes the others …and as we will see the ending is deeply tied to the beginning. Israel
This six act drama of divine love tells us that “in the beginning” the Triune God created the heavens and the earth out of love. On the earth God cultivated a paradise for his image bearers. In this place shalom reigned between divine and human, humans and animals, males and females. This garden is simply called the “
” by Ezekiel (31.8-9). garden of God
This garden is the original holy of holies. Have you ever noticed that the biblical writers constantly use architectural imagery to describe creation? For example we read in Job
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know …
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone …
Who shut up the sea behind doors …
When I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place …
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouse of the hail? (38.4-6,8,10, 22)
You will find that the Hebrew Bible speaks of the pillars of the cosmos, heaven’s windows, it is described as canopy or tent. Imagine you are an Israelite in 750 B.C. and you hear these images from the priests and prophets … and the psalmists. What in your experience has cornerstones, doors, bars, storehouse, pillars and a canopy?
There are numerous parallels beyond the architectural imagery that have lead biblical scholars to conclude that the Hebrew Bible understands the Garden as the first temple. Here is a short list:
First, like the tabernacle and
is the place of God’s holy Presence. Indeed, it is interesting that the same Hebrew verbal form (hithpael), hithallek, used for God’s “walking back and forth” in the Garden (Gen 3.8) also describes God’s Presence in the tabernacle (Lev 26.12). temple Eden
Second, Gen 2.15 says that God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden to “cultivate it and to keep it.” The two Hebrew words for “cultivate and keep” (respectively ‘abad and shamar) are usually translated as “serve and guard.” In other places in the Hebrew Bible when these two words occur together they have the meaning and refer either to Israelites “serving and guarding/obeying” God; or (more often) to priests who “serve” God in the temple and “guard” it from unclean things (cf. Num 3.7-8; 8.25-26; 18.5-6; 1 Chron 23.32; Ezk 44.14). Adam and Eve seem to be called to priestly duties in caring for and protecting the
. When the first couple failed in this task it was left to cherubim to guard the tree of life. Garden of God
Third, that the Garden of Eden was the first temple is suggested by Psalm 78.69 which explicitly declares that the
was built “like the earth.” The Hebrew historians tell us that wood carvings in the temple gave it a “garden like” atmosphere. For example 1 Kgs 6.18, 29 says there was “cedar … carved in the shape of gourds and open flowers” and “palm trees and open flowers” covered both the inner and outer rooms” (cf. vv. 32, 35). Temple
Fourth, just as Eden’s entrance faced the East (Gen 3.24) and was situated on a mountain (Ezek 28.14, 16) so the temple faced East and was on a mountain … and Ezekiel’s end time temple was to face East and be on a mountain (Ezk 40.2, 6; 43.12). There is a river flowing out of
(Gen 2.10), the post-exilic temple did as well (The Letter of Aristeas 89 says, “And there is an inexhaustible supply of water, because an abundant natural spring gushes up from within the temple area”) as does Ezekiel’s and Revelation (Ezk 47; Rev 21.1-2). Eden
There are many more parallels between the Garden of Eden and
’s temple(s). When God created the world he fashioned a dwelling where he and his creatures could have intimate fellowship. That place, Israel , was heaven on earth. God’s dwelling was on earth with his beloved creation. Adam and Eve were placed by God in his house that he built for himself. They live in the royal palace. They were to tend the Garden in the same manner that the priests did the tabernacle and temple. They had unfettered access to God and were free as children running in their own home. There is no altar in this temple because there is no barrier to between God and humanity. It is no wonder that the rest of the Bible seems to have a longing for the Garden. Longing for the Presence of God that was lost ... Eden
I opened this blog with a comment on the narrative structure of the biblical text. I pointed out how the ending of the story is very much like the beginning. If what I have said is even remotely accurate (and I believe it is) then when we read that God has made his dwelling with humanity (Rev 21.3) and the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to the earth … we see happening in Revelation what has already happened "in the beginning" in Genesis 1 and 2. God built a house, a palace, a temple for humans and deity to dwell together. That place was in
. Revelation tells us that God has made his dwelling again with humanity, the curse has been removed. Humans and deity can live in the same place again. Heaven will once again be on earth. Eden
God dwelling with us … that was the goal from the beginning.
was heaven on earth … and God is looking to bring us back to it. The renewed and glorified earth. Eden