The Glory of the Garden
October 30, 2016
Many people think of the garden in Eden as, well, a garden. Eden can be thought of as a place filled with lush trees and beautiful flowers. A place of abundance and sweetness. A place that is charming and enchanting.
I’m sure that the garden in Eden was beautiful. But it was not ultimately so because of its pleasant trees or bountiful food. It was not ultimately so because the rivers were many. It was not ultimately so because the gold of its land was good. The garden in Eden was not beautiful because of what it looked like. It was beautiful because of what it was for.
And what was the garden in Eden for? The garden in Eden was a place for God and man to be together. It was a dwelling place. A place for covenant relationship. A place for fellowship and communion. That’s what the garden in Eden was for.
Therefore, it was more than just a garden. It was a temple-garden. And Adam was more than just a person. He was a priest.
We say this because of the fascinating parallels that today’s Scripture text has with temples and tabernacles in the Old Testament. For example, when we read that Adam was tasked by God to “work” and “keep” the garden in Eden, we are not reading farming language. We are reading priestly language. The same exact words are used to describe the work of the priest in the temple in parts of Scripture such as Numbers 3:7-8, where it is written: “They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle.” The temple and tabernacle had wood carvings that gave a garden-like ambiance. The tree of life that we read about in the garden in Eden is reflected in the lamp stand in the tabernacle - a lamp stand that according to Exodus 25:31 resembles a tree: “You shall make a lamp stand of pure gold. The lamp stand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it.” Gold and onyx were used for such sanctuaries. And they were even used for the garments that priest would wear. Both the temple of Israel and the garden in Eden had east-facing entrances. Both the temple of Israel and the garden in Eden were on a mountain. Later on in the story of Genesis, after the fall of Adam, we see that cherubim - winged angelic beings - guard the tree of life. It’s no coincidence that two cherubim covered the ark of the covenant in the temple (Exodus 25:18-22) and were worked into the curtains of the tabernacle. And the parallels go on and on.
But perhaps the most basic parallel that clues us in to the fact that Eden was a temple is this: the garden in Eden was the dwelling place for God and for man. It was a place for covenant relationship. It was a place for fellowship and communion. And perhaps the most ultimate parallel that clues us in to the fact that Adam was a priest is this: Jesus Christ, who is our great high priest, is described as the last Adam. For it is written in 1 Corinthians 15:45 these words: “‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
We know clearly from the New Testament that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the true temple and the ultimate great high priest for us. In John 2, when Jesus cleansed the temple and drove out all the money-changers and the animals, the Jews asked him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. And in John 1:14, where in it famously written, “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…,” that word in the Greek is actually not “dwelt.” It is the word for tabernacle or tent. Jesus Christ is the true temple because his name is Immanuel and because he is the fulfillment of God’s promise to be with his people and dwell with them. Jesus Christ is the true temple because he restores our covenant relationship with God. Jesus Christ is the true temple because through him and him alone, we can have fellowship and communion with God - for he himself is God. In the entire book of Hebrews, we are told that Jesus is our great high priest for us.
Brothers and sisters, here is the bottom line of the Christian gospel. We can have a relationship with God that we were meant to have in the beginning. And what was lost in Adam is restored in Christ. We lost the dwelling place of God. We lost our covenant relationship with God. We lost fellowship and communion with him. We lost everything that the garden in Eden was for.
But praise the Lord for securing for us a future in which we can be with God. Listen to these glorious words of God from Revelation 21. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away… And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb…”
Brothers and sisters, if Christ is the ultimate temple of God, and if we are united with Christ, then it is also true that we are the temple of God. Paul writes these words in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
This has massive implications for Christian life and holiness. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul writes to the church in Corinth about being careful toward unbelievers - not that we avoid them completely, but that we do not join with them in their sinfulness or allow them to influence us. But listen to the reason for Paul’s command in verses 14-18: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Brothers and sisters, we are the temple of God just as Christ is the temple of God. Let us be clear about our identity regarding this matter. Let us be reverent and holy in our words and thoughts and actions and decisions. Let us be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people; once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Finally, brothers and sisters, if Christ is the ultimate temple of God, then that means that must not seek to create our own gardens. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t plant gardens in our backyard. What I mean is that we should not try to build perfect places on this old and fading earth. We should not seek to approach God and be right with him on our own terms apart from Christ. We should not determine the purpose of life on our own accord. There was a garden in Eden back then. There was for Adam a priesthood back then. But now we have a better temple and a better priest.