Creation Is God’s Temple

Scott Aniol

a picture of the earth taken from space

When the prophet Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up,” what he saw was the reality of God’s heavenly temple: “and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Heaven is a royal palace from which God sovereignly rules, but it is also a holy temple, filled with God’s glory. Psalm 104:1–2 says,

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, 2 covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent.

Notice that language: God stretched out he heavens like a tent—literally, like a tabernacle of his presence. Isaiah 40:22 similarly says that God stretched out the heavens like a tabernacle. God was giving Isaiah a vision of the palace/temple of heaven, an unseen reality that was meant to realign Isaiah’s understanding of what was happening on the earth.

In fact, God actually created this earth to mirror the invisible heavenly reality. As the angels sing in Isaiah 6:3, “the whole earth is full of his glory!” God stretched out the heavens like a tabernacle, and likewise, God created the whole earth to be his holy temple, filled with his glory. The same Spirit of God who gifted Bezalel with the skills to craft Israel’s tabernacle crafted the heavens and the earth as God’s earthly tabernacle (Gen 1:2).

In fact, the way that Genesis 2 describes the Garden of Eden deliberately foreshadows the description of Israel’s tabernacle later in Exodus 25–27. It is a place filled with gold and precious stones. Genesis 2 describes bdellium and onyx stones, and Ezekiel 28 adds sardius, topaz, diamond, beryl, jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle. A spring of water “was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground” (v6). And the Garden is filled with every kind of tree that was both beautiful and good for food.

The parallels with Israel’s tabernacle and temple are clear. When God commanded the people to build his sanctuary, the people brought precious metals and gems to adorn it. The implements of worship were covered with silver, bronze, and gold. And later when Solomon builds the temple, he spares no expense in adorning it with gold, sliver, bronze, iron, onyx, colored stones, “all sorts of precious stones and marble” (1 Chron 29:2–3). And like that life-giving spring in the Garden, Psalm 46 proclaims, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.” Finally, the Tree of Life in the Garden was symbolized by the golden lampstand in Israel’s sanctuary.

The Garden of Eden was God’s earthly sanctuary.

So the Garden of Eden was God’s earthly sanctuary. Genesis 2 tells us that after preparing this sanctuary, God created Adam in his own image, and put him in the Garden of Eden. The word translated “put” in Genesis 2:15 is not same term as the generic “put” in verse 8. In verse 15, Moses uses a verb that means “set to rest.” God placed Adam in his sanctuary as a place of Sabbath rest. Ezekiel 28 tells us that Eden was a sanctuary garden on the top of the mountain of God. Earth was the tabernacle, and the Garden was the holy of holies, where Adam dwelt in the presence of God. Notably, the verb for “walked” in Genesis 3:8 is used later to describe God’s presence in the tabernacle (Lev 26:12).

Genesis 2:15 says that God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Moses uses specific Hebrew words here—work it and keep it—that he would later use in Numbers to describe the priestly work of the Levites in the tabernacle, who were to guard God’s sanctuary and offer spiritual service before his presence. For example, Number 3:8 uses the same Hebrew words when it says that the priests “shall keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle.”

This is what Adam was tasked to do in the holy of holies of the Garden of Eden. He was supposed to guard the sanctuary, protecting it from anything unclean. And he was to offer perfect obedience to the Lord. If Adam fulfilled this role that God gave him in his sanctuary, Adam would be allowed to eat from the tree of life and enter eternal Sabbath rest in the presence of God in the highest heaven, which is foreshadowed in the weekly Sabbath day. In the beginning, man’s dwelling place coincided with God’s earthly dwelling. This was God’s design.

In the beginning, man’s dwelling place coincided with God’s earthly dwelling. This was God’s design.

But Adam failed. He failed to guard God’s garden sanctuary by allowing Satan—a created angelic being—to defile it. He disobeyed God’s command by eating of the forbidden fruit. And so as a result, Adam was expelled from the holy sanctuary of God’s presence. God placed cherubim at the entrance of the garden to prevent man from entering into that Sabbath rest in the sanctuary. And this is why cherubim were embroidered on the veil of the tabernacle that prohibited people from entering the sanctuary of God’s presence.

And yet we have hope. As Hebrews 4:8 promises, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” through the Jesus, the Son of God, “who has passed through the heavens” (Heb 4:14). Through faith in Christ’s atoning work, the people of God will one day enjoy the eternal rest in the sanctuary of God’s presence that he had intended in the beginning.

Through faith in Christ’s atoning work, the people of God will one day enjoy the eternal rest in the sanctuary of God’s presence that he had intended in the beginning.

And thus, the prophets describe eternal rest for the people of God as a return to the Garden sanctuary God intended all along. The prophet Joel predicts a time when a life-giving fountain will flow from the temple (Joel 3:17–18), and John saw “the river of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev 22:1). Isaiah predicts that the future city and temple will be built with precious jewels (Isaiah 54:11–12), as does John (Rev 21:10–21). And John also sees in the place of future rest a Tree of Life with leaves “for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2).

As Meredith Kline so beautifully states,

As human history has turned out, it is through Jesus, the second Adam, that God’s people find their way into the realm of Sabbath rest with God. It is he who leads them into the true and eternal Canaan, the new Eden. But this redemptive accomplishment of the second Adam illumines the design of the program originally assigned to the first Adam.

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Author a picture of the earth taken from space

Scott Aniol

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief G3 Ministries

Scott Aniol, PhD, is Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of G3 Ministries. In addition to his role with G3, Scott is Professor of Pastoral Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary in Conway, Arkansas. He lectures around the world in churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries, and he has authored several books and dozens of articles. You can find more, including publications and speaking itinerary, at Scott and his wife, Becky, have four children: Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline. You can listen to his podcast here.