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PERSONAL VIEW: Was Eden a Garden Temple? (2)

February 2018 | by Nick Needham

The fate of the earthly creation is bound up with the life of Adam. As long as Adam stands, the world stands; when Adam falls, the world falls.

It’s therefore not incredible or fantastic to see Adam as the priestly mediator between God and his earthly creation. The world has its relationship with God in and through Adam.

Consequently, when Adam disobeys, the whole world is defiled by human sin and human death. Sin ravages the earth (environmental exploitation, abuse of animals, wars, etc.) and the soil is desecrated by millions of dead human bodies. The world is transformed into one vast, stinking, planetary graveyard — a cemetery circling the sun.

To underscore further the centrality of worship in the biblical story, consider how closely related worship is to the fall of humanity. Begin by keeping in mind that the Garden of Eden is a sanctuary. In that light, how do we interpret the presence of the serpent (Satan) as he tempts Eve? Satan has invaded the sanctuary; God’s enemy has set foot in the temple of God.

Now if Adam is the priest of Eden, set by God to tend and keep it, it’s Adam’s duty to repulse this unholy intruder, to cast him out of the temple. Instead of which, Adam collaborates with Satan in his defilement of the sanctuary and violates God’s holy will. The fall of humanity was Adam the priest’s abject failure to preserve the purity of God’s garden sanctuary from the unholy incursion of Satan. Worship lies at the heart not only of creation, but of the Fall too.

Sacramental trees

We should also reflect on the role played in humanity’s fall by the trees in the centre of the garden: the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. As previously noted, these two trees embody God’s will in physical form, so that Adam’s relationship with God hinges on his conduct towards these trees.

Concerning the tree of knowledge, Adam is to abstain from eating its fruit. Concerning the tree of life, Adam is to eat of its fruit and live for ever; the reason why guilty Adam is banished from the garden is to shut off his access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24). It seems clear that the tree of life has a sacramental character; by partaking of its fruit, Adam will receive life eternal. We’re therefore justified in viewing the tree of life as a sacramental tree bearing sacramental fruit.

It also seems arguable that, if Adam had obeyed, God would eventually have allowed him to eat of the tree of knowledge. The path to true knowledge and true deification — the destiny accomplished for us in the Second Adam — lies in obedience, albeit the obedience of the life-giving and sanctifying cross, not the disobedience that led to an unhallowed and accursed death.

So, the tree of knowledge too can be seen as having a sacramental character, like its twin. Through eating its fruit, God would (arguably) have given obedient Adam and Eve the God-like knowledge and glory they wrongly tried to steal by disobedience, by ‘jumping the gun’ and eating without permission.

It’s therefore highly significant that Satan’s defilement of the garden sanctuary focuses itself in a successful attempt to pervert and so destroy Adam’s relationship to the sacramental trees. He eats from the sacramental tree of knowledge without permission; he is banished from the sacramental tree of life as a result. Once again, worship lies at the heart of the Fall.

Cherubim

Incidentally, the Edenic symbolism of Solomon’s temple is reinforced after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden by the divine appointment of cherubim at the entrance to the garden, guarding the way to the tree of life.

This recalls the profusion of cherubim imagery in the temple: the golden cherubim carved on the doors of the temple’s inner sanctuary, guarding the way into the most holy place; the gold-covered, olive-wood cherubim, ten cubits high, guarding the inner sanctuary itself; the cherubim woven into the veil that screened off the ark of the covenant; and, atop the ark of the covenant, the two cherubim guarding the mercy seat and the presence of God. Once again, we see that the Edenic garden and the temple echo and reflect each other.

Having seen the centrality of worship in the creation and fall of humanity, it’s no surprise to see redemption involving at its heart the restoration of worship. The history of Israel is an unceasing struggle between true and false worship: the worship of Yahweh and pagan idolatry in all its forms.

The bad kings (like Jeroboam and Ahab) are condemned for leading the covenant people into false worship; the good kings (like Hezekiah and Josiah) are praised for enacting liturgical reform. This aspect of the story gains a deeper dimension when we see it against the cosmic backdrop of creation and the Fall, where worship too was central.

Adamic priests

Viewed in this light, the covenant people are a new kingdom of Adamic priests, a priestly people (Exodus 19:6), called by the Creator God back to the pure worship of pre-Fall paradise.

The promised land is God’s new garden, the new Eden, from which idolatry is banished, from which the curse is lifted, conditional on Israel’s obedience — a land flowing with milk and honey, where there are no savage beasts defying human lordship (Leviticus 26:6) and where God’s presence once more dwells in the new temple. As I’ve already said, the temple is an architectural symbol of the Edenic garden, and the high priest is a new symbolic Adam.

The crucial distinguishing feature that makes this restored worship different from that of Eden is sacrifice. Because of sin, God is no longer accessible, except through blood-atonement.

Even this, like the symbolic cherubim who stand on guard in the temple, can be traced back to Eden immediately after the Fall, when God clothes guilty Adam and Eve in animal skins, covering their newly shameful nakedness with the garments of sacrifice.

It may, however, be worth reflecting on what is often forgotten, that the blood sacrifices of the old covenant had no atoning power. They never were real propitiatory sacrifices; they were prophetic sacraments of the one true sacrifice yet to be offered — that of the God-Man Messiah on the cross.

Jesus’ ministry

The restoration of worship moves into a new phase with the incarnation, the coming of God’s Son in human flesh. Again, this event is foreshadowed in Eden (Genesis 3:15).

Jesus’ ministry has to be seen in liturgical categories: he is the real priest, of whom the levitical priests were symbols; his physical body is the real tabernacle, of which the Old Testament tabernacle was a symbol; he offers the real sacrifice, of which the Old Testament sacrifices were pre-figurative; his cross is the real altar, of which all Old Testament altars were symbolic.

Jesus is in fact the new Adam, the new priest, come to replace the old apostate priest who welcomed the serpent into God’s sanctuary. Jesus has come to expel the serpent and restore the purity of the sanctuary, so that God may once more dwell amid a community of human worshippers. Jesus tends and keeps this new sanctuary, as its ever-living and faithful priestly guardian.

Ultimately the whole earth is to be the new Garden of Eden. And so, the central theme of worship, which first sounded forth in creation and in the Edenic garden sanctuary, sounds forth again in redemption, and more clearly than ever in and through the coming of the new and better priest, the Son of God, who reverses the cosmic catastrophe of temple-pollution initiated by the first Adam in Eden.

Heaven

The glimpse of heaven given in Revelation 4-5 is replete with temple imagery, so binding together the Edenic garden, the old covenant, and the new covenant into one big theme of worship. As John gazes into heaven, what does he see?

Dr Nick Needham lectures in church history at Highland Theological College, Dingwall, and is minister of Inverness Reformed Baptist Church.