23
Nov
2016

Joy-Full Fellowship (Part 1): The Garden

The theme of God dwelling with his people in joy-full (Ps. 16:11) fellowship is a vital vein that runs throughout the single story of the Bible stretching from Genesis to Revelation. We can simply refer to this theme as the Immanuel Principle—God with us. While the Bible is a large book written over the course of hundreds of years with many different genres and styles, by tracing this principle throughout Scripture we can begin to see its big picture (some people like to call this its meta-story). We can begin to see what God has done and is doing in the world, and where we fit in all of this. The Bible isn’t just a book filled with timeless truths and proverbial wisdom; it is, as Vos put it, “a historical book full of dramatic interest.” And the Immanuel Principle is the driving force of that drama.

In Revelation 21–22 John is shown a climactic vision of the new heaven and new earth descending as the final dwelling place of God with his people. He hears an accompanying royal proclamation from the throne knighting this new creation: “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” (Rev. 21:3). While you’re not going to read about this in any newspaper or hear about it on the evening news, the truth is that history has been and continues to move toward this appointed end: the maximal enjoyment of union and communion between the triune God and the church forever.

In fact, this consummative picture at the end of the Bible is the fulfillment of the purpose given to the creation and the mission given to Adam at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1–2. There it is laid out in blueprint form that God’s image bearers would expand Eden (God’s dwelling place) by being fruitful and multiplying until they filled and subdued the whole earth (Gen. 1:28). Everything was “very good” in these opening chapters, but nothing had yet been perfected—a higher, escalated life of union and communion with God in a holy and glorified realm had not yet been reached (see 1 Cor. 15:42–49). Even though sin appears to fatally puncture this Immanuel vein in Genesis 3, God continues his pursuit of creation’s goal, restoring what sin ruined unto its consummation, according to the riches of his grace.

In a previous post I summarized the biblical-theological case for Eden being a temple-garden. Within it the Lord placed man with the mission of working and keeping it (Gen. 2:15). This man, Adam, was invested as the Lord’s priest-king, and as such was commissioned to extend the boundaries of the garden, so that God’s dwelling place would encompass the whole earth. This is most clearly seen in the dominion mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). God’s goal for creation is made known in blueprint form in the creation account, namely that Eden would expand and the whole world would become his dwelling place. “This would be accomplished especially by Adam’s progeny born in his image and thus reflecting God’s image and the light of his presence, as they continued to obey the mandate given to their parents and went out to subdue the outer country until the Eden sanctuary covered the earth.”[1] From this we can understand why the new heaven and new earth is described in Revelation 21–22 with terms reminiscent of Eden. The eschatological goal of creation is pictured as completed with the earth having become a fit dwelling place for God. But how does it get there?

It does get there, Scripture assures us of that, but the path it takes is at times complicated and mysterious[2] because of the entrance of sin. “The biblical meta-story reveals that the process from blueprint to final reality is suddenly interrupted with tragic consequences for the whole of creation.”[3] Rather than guarding the garden-temple as God’s vice-regent and casting out the unholy serpent that opposed his word, Adam submitted himself and the entire human race whom he represented to the serpent.[4] Adam failed to bring about God’s eschatological goal for creation as he had been commissioned.[5] The holiness of the garden-sanctuary was compromised, it was not longer a fit dwelling place for the Lord. Subsequently, Adam was stripped of his priestly status and expelled from the sanctuary complex. His immediate access to God was lost and God’s blueprint was jeopardized, for “the very ones meant to extend God’s dwelling place throughout the earth are excluded from his presence.”[6]

So has God’s plan failed because of Adam’s disobedience? Has the Immanuel principle been forever lost? The Lord comes in judgment to pronounce curses upon the three guilty parties: the serpent, Eve and Adam. But in cursing the serpent he also holds out the prospect of hope, declaring the first gospel message, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). In the end, the serpent’s plot will not prevail; the Lord will see to it that his eschatological goal is one day realized. So begins the drama of redemption. God will restore what sin has ruined and bring it to its appointed end through a Savior. All hope now rests on this promised seed of the woman who will set things straight and bring the Immanuel principle to his fullest realization for the people of God.

But this promised seed does not immediately come. The rest of the Old Testament is occupied with preparing the way for his arrival through types and shadows, including the tabernacle and temple. It’s within this drama and new context of sin that the tabernacle narrative is to be understood as it uniquely contributes to the progressively unfolding plan of God to dwell with his people in union and communion forever. Beale writes, “The tabernacle sets the dwelling place of God in a sinful context.”[7] So we are left with both puzzlement (how can a holy God dwell with a sinful people in a sin-cursed world?) and hope (the seed of the woman will conquer) as man moves westward from God’s presence.

In our next article we’ll continue the story with a look at the Immanuel Principle in the patriarchal period.


[1] G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 622.

[2] See Beale, Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery.

[3] T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology, 26.

[4] Note the corporate language of Adam’s fault in Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 7 and 9.

[5] “When Adam failed to guard the temple by sinning and letting in a foul serpent to defile the sanctuary, he lost his priestly role, and the cherubim took over the responsibility of ‘guarding’ the Garden temple: God ‘stationed the cherubim… to guard the way to the tree of life’ (so Gen. 3:24; see also Ezek. 28:14, 16)” (Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 70).

[6] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 27.

[7] Beale, God Dwells Among Us, 52.

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