When God created Adam, he set apart sacred space in which he would enter into fellowship with his newly created image bearer. Just as He had created time and space (Gen. 1:1-2), setting apart a portion of that time to be sacred unto Him, so the Lord set apart a portion of sacred space in which man would worship Him. While the story arc of Scripture is that of man’s fall from fellowship with God and of his great rebellion against the God who had created him for fellowship with Himself, the climax is the restoration of man to fellowship with Himself in the New Heavens and the New Earth–the renewed Garden paradise from which Adam was exiled. Consider the six following thoughts on the importance of sacred space in the Scriptures:
1. The Garden was the place of God’s special blessing. The designation of one special place on the newly created earth marked out the unique place that man had in God’s world as His image bearer. John Calvin made the important observation about the reason why God specially planted a Garden for Adam: “Although the entire earth was so blessed by God that there was only fruitfulness and pleasure and joy everywhere, Adam…was the firstborn among men and enjoyed a more excellent portion. That is why God chose this place.” God intended to show man the special role that he would play in the world. The Garden was full of every kind of delightful plant and fruit tree for man’s enjoyment. The Lord reserved this special place for the crown of His creation. Matthew Henry summed this up when he wrote:
Man was made out of paradise, for after God had formed him, he put him into the garden. He was made of common clay, not of paradise dust. He lived out of Eden before he lived in it, that he might see all the comforts of his paradise-state owing to God’s free grace. He could not plead a tenant-right to the garden, for he was not born upon the premises, nor had anything but what he received. All boasting was hereby forever excluded.
2. The Garden was a reflection of Heaven. Eden was the prototypical earthly Temple–the dwelling place of God with man. The Garden of Eden was a reflected model of Heaven. Heaven is paradise. Every subsequent “sacred space” in the Old Testament was a model of the model of the Garden. The Garden was the Temple in which Man was to know what it was to delight in and worship God. By his obedience in the trial of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam was to secure the blessings of heaven for himself and his descendants. As their representative, Adam was to bring them to a higher state than that in which he had been creation. Adam was to merit security in holiness and blessedness by the voluntary condescension of God in the Covenant of Works. Though he did nothing to deserve to be placed in the Garden, because of the Covenant of Life, the Garden–by virtue of its heavenly reflection–was a pledge of the reward for his obedience.
Jonathan Edwards set out the relationship between creation and new creation in light of the Garden being a reflection of heaven. He wrote:
The place that man was introduced into when he was created out of this vile original, viz. into paradise, a garden of sweet delight and pleasure, was a type of heaven, that place of glory that persons are brought into by redemption; as is evident in that heaven is called paradise, or a garden of pleasure, and as such is particularly compared to this garden. Rev. 2:7, “Of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God,” where is a most evident allusion to the tree of life in the midst of the garden of Eden. Man was not made in this garden, but was made in some more mean place, and then brought and put into the garden (Gen. 2:7–8); as man in the new creation is first brought into being and spiritual life in this earthly country, in this barren wilderness, and then is brought to heaven. And ’tis here also that the saints are raised from the dead, from the dust of the earth, and then ascend up into heaven at the last day. And this introduction of Adam, the first head and father of mankind, into paradise, after he was made in the image of [God] and the son of God, and formed of the dust of the earth, represents the ascension of the second man, and spiritual head and father of men, into the heavenly paradise, after the man Christ Jesus was made in the image of God, or state of sonship in this world, and after his body was raised from the grave or dust of the earth.
Geerhardus Vos further helpfully explained the nature of the Garden and the Tree of Life when he wrote:
Paradise itself was an image of heaven. To this attaches the widely shared conception that man, if he would have remained unfallen, would have enjoyed the state of bliss not on earth but in heaven. The sacrament thus becomes an image and seal of higher spiritual good.
The remainder of the Scriptural record after man’s fall from Paradise is essentially “Paradise Regained.” The Tabernacle and the Temple were stepping stone in the restoration of God’s presence with men in Emmanuel, God with us. It should come as no surprise that these OT sacred spaces had symbols of Paradise in their constitution. Pomegranates, Palm Trees, Lilies, Cedar, etc. were all part of the typical sacred space until the coming of Christ. Jesus has opened the way to the heavenly paradise by His death and resurrection. He now dwells in the church–making His people into a fruitful Garden as we await His coming to consummate all things in the Garden-Paradise of the New Heavens and New Earth.
G.K. Beale sets out the Scriptural proof that the Garden was the prototypical Temple by appealing in Ezekiel 34. He writes:
It should not be unexpected to find that Ezekiel 28:13-14, 16, 18 refer to ‘Eden, the garden of God…the holy mountain of God’, and also alludes to it as containing ‘sanctuaries’, which elsewhere is a plural way of referring to Israel’s tabernacle (Lev. 21:23) and temple (Ezek. 7:24; so also Jer. 51:51). The plural reference to the one temple probably arose because of the multiple sacred spaces or ‘sanctuaries’ within the temple complex (e.g., courtyard, holy place, holy of holies)… Ezekiel 28 is probably, therefore, the most explicit place anywhere in canonical literature where the Garden of Eden is called a temple.
Phil Ryken captures the connection between the Garden and the subsequent “holy places” in the progress of redemptive-history when he observes:
[the Temple] really was like the gates of Paradise. And for many people the way of access was still denied. Unless they were priests they would never see the golden wonders inside. Only the High Priests would enter that most holy place. Yet however limited it was there was access. You see God was opening back up the way to Paradise. You might think of Solomon’s temple as a kind of spiritual portal. The paradise lost could be regained.
Ellen Davis carries this idea out exegetically when she explains the symbolism of the language of the Song of Songs:
The description of a locked garden can be seen as a highly imaginative but nonetheless surprisingly precise description of the Temple…Pomegranates, cedar, lions, lilies and palm tress—all of these are both features of the “paradise” that is both the lovers landscape and the woman herself. The language of the Song leads us into the locked garden of the Temple precinct, where true lovers of God may dwell in peace.
3. The Garden was to be Extended. At the creation of man, the Lord gave man the dominion mandate. Adam was to dress the Garden and keep it. He was to essentially develop the Garden by worship, obedience, cultivation and population. Adam was to turn the earth into the Garden. He was to make the entire earth a dwelling place of God with man. Man was to inherit the earth by obeying and worshiping, populating and cultivating. However, we know the sad story so well. Sinclair Ferguson puts it so well when he says, “Adam was made to tend the Garden and to expand the Garden and to enjoy the Garden, and the tragedy of his life is that he becomes part of the Garden. That’s the tragedy of the human situation. We end up part of the Garden. “From dust you came. I took you out of nothing. And you shall tragically return to dust.”
The second Adam, came to secure what Adam failed to secure. The writer of Hebrews tells us that it is still God’s intention to put all things in dominion under the feet of redeemed men and women. “We do not yet,” he writes, “see all things put under man. But we see Jesus, who, for a little while was made lower than the Angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He by the grace of God might taste death for everyone.” Jesus secures the new creation–the New Heavens and New Earth wherein righteousness dwells–by shedding His blood into the cursed ground. He has become the heir of all things. Everyone united to Him by faith is made the heir of all things together with Him.
4. The Garden was to be Populated. We often overlook the fact that population was an essential part of God’s plan for the purpose of turning the world into the Garden. The world was to be full of the image of God and to better reflect His glory in the emulation of His work of Creation. It was never God’s plan that one man fulfill the dominion mandate given at the original creation. Man was created with the purpose that he would live in fellowship and community with other image bearers. In a very real sense, the procreation that God intended for our first parents was to be seen as the process of blessing. How radically different is this after the fall. Now corruption is passed generation to generation. The bloody sign of the covenant had to be placed on the make reproductive organ after the fall to show that the only way that that guilt and corruption can be taken away will be in bloody judgment. This is probably also the reason for the uncleanness laws concerning female blood laws in the OT civil law. Interestingly, God redeems men and women–not by procreation but by reproduction, when the Son of God was born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law. He was circumcised with a bloody circumcision of judgment on the cross to take away the guilt and corruption of fallen men. As in the OT era, so too today, the Lord redeems men and women and sets apart their children to be holy unto himself (1 Cor. 7:14). As Malachi tells us concerning the union of man and women, “Why does He make the two one? He seeks godly offspring. Though we do not bring about the new creation through reproduction, God does still fill this world with God-fearing worshipers who will worship Him in truth together with their children after them. This is the heart of the Covenant promise, “I will be your God and a God to your descendants after you.”
Additionally, in the New Covenant era, God had promised that even the eunuchs would be fruitful (Is. 56:3-5). Believers, by sharing the Gospel, are used by God to bring forth spiritual children. The Apostle Paul, though single, nevertheless fathered many children through his ministry.
5. The Garden was to be Cultivated. Work was essential to the purpose of God for man. God had worked six days and rested one. Man was now to work six days and rest one. In the Garden, as spectacular as it must have been, man was given the task of naming the animals and using the resources that God had set at his disposal for developing the civilization. Adam was a Gardener, a zoologist and an architect. He was given the task of subduing the animals and cultivating the earth. Since the Garden was a type of the heavenly world and in a very real sense “the holy place,” we can say that all the work that Adam was to do was “Kingdom work.” We often speak of labors for the name of Christ today as Kingdom work. When we use the spiritual gifts that God bestows upon us for the building up of His body–the Church–we are cultivating the Garden.
6. The Garden was to be Protected. The Garden of Eden was the most Holy Place. It was to be kept free from any taint of sin or evil. When Adam was confronted with the temptation of the Evil One, he should have driven him out of the Temple. Adam should have cleansed the Temple. The words “serve” and “keep” in the Hebrew, when taken together, only appear in connection with the Priest’s service in the Temple. Adam, as the Priest of God, was to keep the Garden free from the pollution of evil. The Garden was to be the holy sanctuary for God to come and to commune with man. Of course, we see how Israel also failed to keep the Temple clean, when they allowed their pagan neighbors to remain in the Holy Land, and when they allowed idolatry into their practices throughout the Old Covenant era. When Jesus came, He referred to His own body as the Temple. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Jesus said that the Temple of His body would be destroyed and then raised up again. The cross was Temple cleansing. The guilt, corruption and filth of our sin was laid on Him. He, by Himself cleansed the Temple as the Great High Priest, through the offering up of His body on the tree. Believers now constitute the Garden-Temple. We protect the Temple by abiding in Christ and His finished work on the cross. We n0w are the sacred space in which God is pleased to dwell.
While God originally set apart the Garden of Eden for man to live with Him in unbroken fellowship and communion, His plan was that everything should be Garden. That is the picture we get at the end of the Bible. The Book of Revelation paints the picture for us of the whole earth being populated with redeemed humanity. The Tree of Life is present there, with its leaves for the healing of the nations. The church of God is a fruitful Garden in which God will dwell for all eternity. The New Heavens and the New Earth will be full of righteousness and peace and joy. It will be a place of blessing. A sacred space for all of eternity.